“Learning Agenda” is one of the current popular topics mentioned frequently by development partners and implementers. A Learning Agenda is simply a plan for generating important and relevant evidence and then disseminating that evidence in such a way as to encourage its timely use to inform planning, evaluation, and decision-making in programs and policy. Often, a lot of time and resources are invested in conducting valuable research, however, the end result is primarily publication in reputable academic journals. While publishing in reputable journals is desirable for sharing research findings publicly, the ultimate goal of development-related research should go beyond simply publication to creating lasting change through impacting related programs and policies. In part, this means that attention should be given to alternate formats and settings for presenting learning and research in order to best meet the needs of the intended audience and ensure that findings are able to be readily understood and applied. Another approach would be to address the mindset that evidence to inform programs should solely come from rigorous academic research, which leads to overlooking important learnings captured through other means such as, field observation of program implementation and routine M&E, which can also provide valuable insights into challenges and solutions.
The Tufts’ Research and Learning Landscape Assessment conducted at the beginning of the Growth through Nutrition Activity in 2017 found an increased emphasis on the generation and use of evidence for program and policy purposes among both government and development partners in Ethiopia. The Federal Ministry of Health Knowledge Management Initiative, the inclusion of learning components in many development projects, generation and use of evidence in development of key policy documents (i.e. National Nutrition Program II), the National Food and Nutrition Policy, and the increasing number of learning and knowledge management platforms have in the last few years been laying a stronger foundation for learning and knowledge management. However, there is still more to be done to ensure sustained momentum and the continued increase in the use of evidence and sharing of knowledge to support program and policy refinement.
Tufts University is one of the implementing partners of Save the Children International (SCI), leading the learning component of Growth through Nutrition – a five-year USAID funded multisectoral program aimed at reducing stunting by 20% by the end of the project year (2021) in Ethiopia. The project’s Learning Agenda Strategy was developed in 2017 in a consultative process involving government ministries, development partners, research institutions, and project implementing partners, and paved the way for the implementation of the project’s Learning Agenda. Some of the approaches for implementation of the strategy include generating evidence through operation research, disseminating research findings and reports using various learning and knowledge management platforms (i.e. project knowledge management website, learning events, and project research and learning working group meeting), capacity building for research and learning through online and in-person trainings, providing technical assistance to project implementing partners on research activities, and more. The various learning and knowledge management tools that Tufts has developed as a part of the Learning Agenda can be valuable resources to capture, organize, and disseminate learning and knowledge for program and policy purposes. The panel discussion held on the topic “Bridging the Gap between Research and Policy” by bringing together donors, civil society, and academia was an example of one of the efforts made in encouraging and addressing barriers to addressing the translation of research to policy and programs.
As part of the Growth through Nutrition Activity, Tufts has also sought to collaborate with other existing national research and learning platforms to ensure the various platforms work in a complementary way and to encourage use of research findings to shape nutrition-specific and sensitive programs and policy critical to supporting the country’s goal of eradicating malnutrition by 2030. We have come a long way in implementing the learning agenda strategy and hope to continue the implementation of the strategy by complementing the work of the government, development partners, and the research and learning community in Ethiopia and to serve as an example for future projects to continue to build upon.
By Rahel Gizaw
Rahel serves as the Senior Learning Advisor for Tufts University on the Growth through Nutrition Activity