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Engaging with Non-Government (Community-based) Organisations

Men in lab in Fiji

In 2004, ACIAR approved a strategy to increase the emphasis on practical implementation of the results of ACIAR-supported research projects. It was agreed that the balance of ACIAR’s investment be shifted such that a greater proportion of projects deliver tangible benefits to end-users (farmers, natural resource managers or policymakers) within the near-to-medium term.

To achieve this, three categories for assessing the time taken to a project delivering impacts to end-users have been developed. The “Guidelines for the Development of Project Proposals” (Project Guidelines) explain these changes in detail. In designing projects these guidelines should be consulted, along with the relevant ACIAR Research Program Manager, and relevant Country priorities. The three categories are:

  • Category 1: likely to achieve impact within 5 years (near-term)
    40% of ACIAR’s project expenditure will be aimed at near-term projects
  • Category 2: likely to achieve impacts in 5-10 years (medium-term)
    40% of ACIAR’s project expenditure will be aimed at medium-term projects
  • Category 3: likely that benefits will take more than 10 years (long-term)
    20% of ACIAR’s project expenditure will be aimed at long-term projects

A key element of many Category 1 projects and some category 2 projects will be linkages with NGOs, Community-based organisations and other relevant agencies capable of delivering benefits arising from ACIAR projects to end-users. This includes supporting the development and extension of the results of our past research.

ACIAR engages a wide range of partners in its projects in both partner countries and Australia. These include research, development and extension agencies from all levels of Government, private consultants, volunteers, industry associations and individual companies, as well as non-government or community-based organizations.

ACIAR recognises that some project proponents may wish to engage with specialist development and extension organisations in developing projects. ACIAR has engaged several agencies in recent projects extending past-project results. To help project proponents in defining pathways for the delivery of benefits ACIAR has increased opportunities for development and extension agencies to become involved in new projects.

There is a range of ways in which ACIAR projects and NGOs can work together. Some of these include:

1. Fostering technology adoption

Many ACIAR projects develop technologies suitable for dissemination to smallholder farmers and farming communities, as well as natural resource managers and policy makers. ACIAR is keen to explore opportunities with agencies positioned to help in this dissemination. This includes in situations where prior ACIAR activities have developed technologies to a maturity such that they are ready for dissemination.

Under its enabling Act, the Centre has a mandate for community extension only of the results of projects funded by ACIAR. To this end we are seeking to cooperate with NGOs with an ongoing link in target communities. Partners should be engaged with target communities for the long-term. We are most attracted to cooperation with NGOs in fostering technology adoption in situations where there is an opportunity to link to an on-going presence of the NGO partner in the target community.

This may involve the design and funding of a project activity that follows on from an earlier ACIAR-funded research project. In several successful cases, this has involved establishing a new collaborative project between the NGO and the Australian and developing country “technology providers” who had been involved in the earlier project. A single technical intervention is only part of the development picture - farmers are looking for livelihood/ income solutions - and as mentioned above, this means that we need to find partnerships with groups that are active in “target” communities for the longer haul. 

Large-scale community development is a long-term and costly process. ACIAR will focus its support on community-level activities at a pilot scale, but we see it as the community development partner’s responsibility to carry out subsequent “scale out” of the work to other districts and provinces in the partner country.

2. NGO as a central partner in initial project activities

This approach may be particularly appropriate for projects focussed on farmer “participatory action research”. An example is the recent World Vision partnership, disseminating the results of past ACIAR-supported research into areas of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

The focus of such projects would be on integration of an active NGO project in particular provinces of an ACIAR partner country which requires particular technology interventions. These interventions would match with results arising from a mature or completed ACIAR project activity (which would gain from farmer-level extension of the results).

3. Utilise a small contract with an agency to meet a specific need for assistance on a particular technology

ACIAR supports, on occasion, small contracts with agencies to meet a specific need. This may be where an NGO can provide specific assistance on a particular technology or intervention. This may involve linkages with a target community in need of a technology that has been developed through an ACIAR project, but does not need long-term assistance to implement this.

In such cases long-term linkages with technology providers may not be needed. Occasional access to skilled advice may instead be required.   

4. NGO involvement in communication activities

This may include development of extension information (based on the results of ACIAR-funded research or on ACIAR technical publications) in local languages, farmer workshops or other communication activities. These activities may be both short- or long-term in nature, and may or may not require linkages with the technology providers.

ACIAR makes all of its publications available free of charge to developing country organisations. Translation of these publications is welcomed, provided that ACIAR is aware of such initiatives and has the support of the publication author(s).

5. The involvement of volunteers in project activities, through appropriate agencies

ACIAR has worked with Australian Volunteers International, VIDA (Volunteering for International Development Australia) and Australian Business Volunteers to facilitate the placement of experts with project partners in developing countries. In both cases the agencies involved work with ACIAR to identify possible placements and linkages to ACIAR projects. Volunteers may have relevant expertise in science, administration or communication dissemination.

Key issues for consideration in project development

ACIAR’s project development processes are highly interactive, with the ACIAR Research Program Manager playing a key role. Project proponents should consult with the relevant Research Program Manager before developing detailed proposals. The Annual Operational Plan identifies priorities by Country and Research Program, and should also be consulted.

If development of a new proposal is supported in principle, ACIAR and its current NGOs partners have found that several broader issues often require particular attention:

  • The teams need to be clear on who will provide the extension expertise
    This could be the technology provider, or the community development facilitator or a third party. The design of these collaborations between ACIAR, an organisation that supports the generation of technology, and an NGO organisation that specialises in community development needs to ensure that the “middle ground” between the two organisations, that of technology adoption (extension) is not overlooked.
  • Optimising the field level operations of the collaborative program
    In many development projects, teams of national staff, recruited by NGO from a social development background, are given the responsibility for determining how they interact with farmers, both on a day-to-day level, and also at the long-term process level. While this team is given training and support from the national technology, rarely will the team have strong expertise in agricultural technology. Project partners, including national and Australian NGO offices need to ensure that they provide support to field offices, particularly in project design, participatory technology development, monitoring, evaluation and reporting. This support is most urgent in the start-up and early implementation phase, especially in ACIAR collaborations that may require field teams to step outside the normal NGO mode of operation.
  • ACIAR strongly encourages the involvement of the (existing) government extension services in the projects alongside NGOs
    ACIAR can provide funding within projects to assist in fostering such linkages. 
  • Technologies almost always require local adaptation
    Presentation of technology packages to farmers as “black boxes” that cannot be altered can be quite counter-productive. How can local refinements to the technology be made? The teams need to ensure that the extension methodology to be used appropriate for a near subsistence, development situation.
  • Has the capability of farmers to manage future technology been enhanced sufficiently
    Adoption of a single technology rarely signifies success in terms of rural development. What comes next? One approach is to create long-term learning communities within the NGOs existing community development program structure. These farmer groups can undertake a series of learning cycles centred on technology adoption/ adaptation for improving income generation. Training workshops for NGO field teams should be given prior to the teams implementing the collaborative project.
  • Sustainability of project impacts (after the ACIAR project funding finishes) requires special attention.
    It can be addressed through all project components having established effective community groups that will continue to manage technology adoption.

Project Development Guidelines and Proforma

ACIAR has a single project proposal proforma for use in all projects. However, we realise that the emphasis in proposal documentation for project with strong NGO involvement will differ from that of standard research projects. Project proposals involving NGOs will need to clearly describe:

  • A summary of the participatory development process to be implemented
  • How the project activities will contribute to and be integrated with the longer-term community development processes of the NGO at the project site. This should also include information on the consultation with the existing communities that has already taken place.
  • The relationship to (and how the proposed work builds upon) the earlier or concurrent ACIAR research project/s, how the proposed project will involve existing research and extension services.
  • The procedures to be put in place to ensure that all the information generated during the project is well-documented, and that suitable mechanisms are developed for making the information available to others who wish to replicate the project process at other sites.
  • How the NGO and the extension services plan subsequently to scale up project activities to other districts or provinces, and what activities will be undertaken within the project to prepare for post-project expansion.

This guide is not intended to be comprehensive in outlining the full range of possible interactions. Project proponents should consult the:

  • Annual Operational Plan
  • The relevant ACIAR Research Program Manager
  • The project development guidelines.