Giulia Torri

Knowledge is a powerful tool that drives development and shapes the trajectory of organizations. Understanding how to share knowledge effectively is key to enhancing the impact of projects and enable scaling up of initiatives. This blog presents an innovative approach to uncovering good practices in knowledge sharing, and explores what we have learned about knowledge sharing in IFAD.

In the context of the corporate-level evaluation (CLE) on knowledge management (KM), IOE was interested in learning how knowledge-specific approaches and innovations have moved through IFAD’s work and identifying the mechanisms that enabled effective replication in countries across the global portfolio. To do this, we conducted a mapping of knowledge generation and sharing practices, focusing on IFAD’s “signature solutions”. The CLE has used the term “signature solutions” to identify IFAD-championed approaches that were found repeatedly in countries and operations.

Signature solutions: a glimpse into transformation

IFAD's signature solutions encompass a suite of initiatives designed to empower rural communities and enhance their livelihoods. For this analysis, ten signature solutions were identified based on the extent to which the solution was IFAD-branded and the availability of information on its use. The signature solutions selected were: Leasehold forestry, Public-Private-Producer Partnership (4Ps), Small-scale irrigation (SSI), Homestead gardens (HG), Gender Action Learning System (GALS), Learning Routes (LRs), Seeds Certification, New Ruralities, Experience Capitalization and Farmer Field Schools (FFS).


The methodology used involved tracking and mapping the knowledge journey – how these solutions were introduced, shared and used in IFAD. First, we identified relevant solutions through the Rural Solutions Portal and through the findings obtained from the country case studies, considering the extent of IFAD branding of these solutions. Next, a "snowball search" methodology was developed to track knowledge sharing of signature solutions across IFAD platforms. We used the IFAD website, IFAD intranet and IFAD Finder, and cross-referenced information across external search tools to find missing resources and obtain the full picture. The scope of the mapping was comprehensive, building a picture from documents dealing both explicitly and tangentially with the targeted solution, including videos, lectures, project reports, and academic research. After this, we compiled the data to build a comprehensive table containing vital information about each document and reorganized the information to follow a chronological order. With this database, we visualized knowledge-sharing paths as timelines, distinguishing between actions, publications, events and communications, and distinguishing between the type of stakeholders reached (internal or internal) to identify the discreet paths these solutions travelled to become hallmarks of IFAD’s work, and what forces helped them along.


Partnerships are a key to developing local solutions

IFAD's approach to scaling up local knowledge has been deeply intertwined with partnerships and collaborations with external agencies and organizations. Solutions such as Leasehold Forestry, Small-Scale Irrigation, and Homestead gardening, were local practices in rural communities that IFAD incorporated into its project designs. While solutions like Experience Capitalization and Seeds Certification were not inventions of IFAD, the organization actively engaged and contributed to the generation of knowledge surrounding them. Seeds Certification was shared primarily within the context of the project implementation in Sudan. Collaborations with external partners led to impactful solutions, such as the development of the 4Ps approach with SNV for the Partnering Value project and the New Ruralities grant in collaboration with CEPAL.

Scaling up requires effective knowledge sharing

The wider spread of solutions required sustained support and a combination of effective knowledge-sharing practices. GALS stands out as a prime example of effective knowledge sharing, displaying continuous and widespread adoption since its development, allowing the solution to be disseminated outside the gender field. Linda Mayoux, who invented this approach, actively engaged in knowledge sharing through interviews, and initiated an influential Community of Practice on GALS to share project-specific knowledge and insights that helped GALS gain traction in projects.

Collaborations with external agencies, as seen with FFS, significantly amplified its dissemination, with uptake into the work of other organizations. Noteworthy knowledge-sharing practices, such as featuring solutions in IFAD President's speeches and comprehensive project reports, played a pivotal role in advancing replication possibilities. The organization of events based around sharing knowledge on these solutions also substantially contributed to the scaling-up process. Through widespread adoption and seamless integration into IFAD’s knowledge base, the solution becomes an inherent part of projects and programmes.

Scaling up involves adaptation and contextualization

The wider adoption of innovative knowledge-based solutions goes hand in hand with their adaptation to the local context. For instance, FFS serve as platforms for peer-to-peer learning, resulting in improved farming practices and heightened productivity. Likewise, LRs offer experiential learning opportunities, allowing farmers and development practitioners to glean insights from successful approaches and customize them for their specific contexts. The CLE mapping shows that the knowledge sharing around these solutions serves a variety of purposes: informing the design and implementation of IFAD projects, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of target communities, sharing with a broader audience, and applying solutions across different regions for cross-context learning. Notably, FFS and LRs, deployed across all five regions, stand out as distinctive solutions, showcasing adaptability and contextual variations, such as the Aqua-based Business Schools in the Philippines.

Communities of practice support dissemination and replication

This research showed the ways knowledge around signature solutions has been shared within and outside of IFAD by following the trail of documents, events and research. Collaborations with external partners and effective championing by leadership, coupled with strong data-backed research and an incorporation of local knowledge, helped these approaches gain traction and adapt to project- and country-level contexts. The mapping also identified how Communities of Practice (such as the one on GALS) help to increase engagement with new methodologies to improve project outcomes. While the research focused on documented knowledge sharing, the gaps also emphasized the informal and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing that is integral to the spread of these approaches and their wider adoption.

Despite the success of these solutions in the field, their dissemination and reach has declined.  Since 2019, this mapping shows that there has been a notable decrease in the dissemination of solutions, especially around LRs, 4Ps, GALS, Seeds Certification, New Ruralities and Experience Capitalization. From 2020 onward, the reach of these solutions to external audiences has significantly diminished.

Going forward, a renewed emphasis on innovative partnerships, proactive knowledge-sharing practices and adaptation strategies will be essential to ensure a more sustainable and effective impact of IFAD's solutions in the agricultural and rural development landscape.


IOE Toolbox on knowledge management

May 10, 2024

IOE Toolbox on knowledge management

May 10, 2024