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Learning alliances: from innovation to transformation

Published on: 14/02/2012

Change at sector level, requires change by constellations of individuals and institutions. Learning alliances are an approach to change that brings together representatives from government, civil society, research institutions and the private sector to do joint research, find solutions and take action.

Urban water management in AccraLearning and adaptation are critical building blocks of a service delivery approach in water and sanitation. One of the important ways to support positive change throughout the WASH system is to bring together people with a stake in the outcome, enabling them to air different points of view, share experiences, work on improvements and eventually achieve a shared vision and consensus for action.

Learning alliances are an approach to learning that brings together representatives from government, civil society, universities and other research institutions and the private sector to do joint research and find solutions.

In practice, the approach consists of connected multi stakeholder platforms, created at key institutional levels (typically national, intermediate and local/community). Each platform brings together a range of partners with complementary capabilities in such areas as implementation, regulation, policy and legislation, research and learning and documentation and dissemination.

These platforms are designed to break down barriers to horizontal (among stakeholders working at the same institutional level, for example civil servants and NGOs) and vertical information sharing (for example between citizens and national government officials) and thus to speed up the process of identification, development and uptake of innovation.

Why use a learning alliance approach?

Learning alliances can serve a range of strategic objectives:

  1. Provide a space for deep reflection on specific WASH issues
  2. Create feedback mechanisms between existing Multi-Stakeholder Platforms – both horizontal (i.e.between districts) and vertical (i.e. between district and national level) linkages
  3. Generate evidence on WASH challenges, solutions, innovations and opportunities to inform decision making and scaling up of proven & promising approaches to services delivery
  4. Facilitate joint reflection, analysis and action planning
  5. Embed results of action research in the appropriate sector institutions / agencies
  6. Create and support a critical mass of change agents
  7. Accelerate the process of generating information, joint reflection, sense making, planning and adaption – through dedicated facilitation, knowledge and information sharing.
  8. Influence policy processes

Learning alliances in practice: process, results and practical guidelines

IRC and partners have been applying a learning alliance approach in a range of projects and covering a wide range of aspects.

The SWITCH project  focused on sustainability challenges in urban water management. In cities in 12 countries, it set out to test what was needed for a transition to more sustainable urban water management through a combination of demand-led research, demonstration activities, multi-stakeholder learning (learning alliances), and capacity building on Integrated Urban Water Management.The 5-year programme was a rich learning ground about multi-stakeholder learning and change at individual, organisational and city level. A book called SWITCH in the City: putting urban water management to the test contains reflections on lessons, a collection of case studies and learning alliance facilitation guidelines.

In WASHTech , learning alliances in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Uganda worked with the research teams to jointly develop, test and embed a Technology Applicability Framework (TAF ) and Technology Introduction Process (TIP). These alliances built on existing platforms, groups and learning events at national and decentralised levels.

One of IRC's earliest applications of learning alliances was in the Euro-Med Participatory Water Resources Scenarios (EMPOWERS), a research and development project that aimed to improve the access of poor users to water through improved water resource management. EMPOWERS was implemented from 2003 to 2007 in Egypt, Jordan and West Bank/Gaza.




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