Smallholder farmers should play an active role in defining, implementing, and evaluating projects intended to improve their productivity and lives. When agricultural development projects include systematic farmer participation and feedback, they tend to be better-targeted, locally owned, and hence more sustainable. Over the past few decades, various approaches and research methodologies have been developed to transform "top-down" projects – in which farmers are the passive "recipients" of donor-driven programs – to farmers as the leading “protagonist” or proactive "constituent" co-owning projects intended for their benefit. Yet, in spite of these efforts, real farmer participation in agricultural development projects remains a challenge. Donors like the Gates Foundation are geographically and culturally distant from rural communities in Africa and South Asia, and there are no easy ways to collect information and communicate with smallholders. Grantees, whether in the public, private or NGO sectors, are ultimately responsible to the donors who fund them instead of to the farmers they are supposed to serve. Smallholder farmers and implementing organizations should work hand-in-hand in a joint learning process and be mutually accountable for results. Accountability should be multi-directional – implementing organizations should be accountable to farmers to ensure projects bring results, while farmers and communities should be held accountable to the role they have agreed to play. Systematic feedback loops are critical in building accountability of all parties. In order to dramatically increase local ownership and effectiveness of agricultural programs, innovative approaches to capture feedback and ensure their systematic use are needed.
There are several challenges to building better feedback and accountability systems between all parties involved in agricultural development projects:
- Organizational Response: Even if farmer feedback is collected, organizations face challenges in effectively using the information for project-level or organizational decisions. This becomes even more challenging in terms of demonstrating real impact for women smallholder farmers who have unique and changing needs;
- Learning from Experience: The development process often experiences several cycles of success and failure before patterns emerge that can help organizations shape better programs or approaches. Most organizations don’t have the learning processes in place to build and spread best practices in feedback systems, and most funding cycles are not long enough to permit such learning;
- Incentive Systems: Most organizations are incentivized against responding to farmers due to pressure from donors and others to a) show progress is 'on track' and without problems; b) show success in short-term cycles rather than longer-term commitments; c) keep costs down; and d) not complicate already complex development work;
- Feedback Mechanisms:
- Reach/Cost – It is very expensive for implementing organizations to communicate regularly with rural smallholder farmers, who tend to be difficult to reach. Costs can be high for organizations seeking feedback, and for smallholder farmers giving feedback;
- Representation – Smallholder farmers include large populations with diverse economic, social, demographic, environmental, and behavioral conditions that make accurate representation difficult;
- Measurement: Measuring "accountability" and "sustainability" is difficult, and the factors that influence these issues are hard to identify and analyze. Measurement approaches often focus on impact assessment, capturing material and technological improvements instead of values or behavior change (i.e. asking people who are intended to benefit from social change what they think about plans, performance and results).
The aim of this call is to request innovative solutions to build effective feedback and accountability systems in agricultural development programs. We are looking for tools or approaches that enable farmer voices to be consistently heard in all project phases. Your submission may address one or more of the following categories:
- Systems that enhance existing organizational feedback practices, e.g. new practices to make farmer feedback publicly available at regular intervals and in transparent and easily accessible ways;
- Systems that evaluate existing feedback practices used by your or other organizations. This evaluation should provide evidence of how the organization learns from farmer constituent feedback and shares these practices with others; and
- New practices/systems to be used throughout all project phases to increase constituent feedback and/or enable communities to hold programs or stakeholders accountable.
What We Are Looking For:
Proposals must closely align with the Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development Program and:
- Convey a clear and testable hypothesis for how the innovation will improve feedback and accountability:
- Substantially lower the cost of farmer feedback and accountability systems;
- Increase feedback frequency (at least monthly or quarterly);
- Demonstrate the effectiveness of feedback in making better decisions, in particular, addressing women smallholder farmers’ unique and changing needs;
- Trigger organizational and community learning processes that take into account both standard measurements of material/economic metrics for project success and qualitative metrics for how the project contributes to human wellbeing;
- Be adaptable and scalable across a range of projects, organizations, local contexts, regions and geographies;
- Demonstrate that farmers’ needs and perspectives were integral in the design of the proposed solution and will impact all phases of project development and management;
- Describe how farmer feedback will be collected, who will use the information/feedback, and how the information will be used (instead of only referencing the technology platform you are targeting);
- Include a paragraph on what Phase II would potentially look like and what is needed for sustainability.
Examples of what we will consider funding:
- Initiatives that supplement existing feedback systems to improve the impact of farmer voice and increase organizational willingness and readiness to be assessed and held accountable;
- Innovative solutions to incentivize multi-directional accountability (donor – implementing organization – constituents), including best practices to document and make available all feedback;
- Solutions that show how constituent voice is impacting implementing organizations and other partners on a regular basis;
- Novel practices or technologies that enhance farmer voice at all project stages (design, implementation, evaluation) and assessment of the implementing organization by constituents;
- Applied research applicable to NGOs or for-profit organizations that enhances farmer constituent voice, promotes a culture of learning, or ensures multi-directional accountability practice.
We will not consider funding for:
- Ideas that are not directly relevant to agricultural development and smallholder farmers in our focus geographies (Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia);
- Ideas without a clearly articulated and testable hypothesis and metrics;
- Traditional market research approaches;
- Traditional community mobilization and feedback approaches that do not significantly lower costs;
- Ideas that do not demonstrate improved accountability (must have effective M&E);
- Ideas that would work in only one geographic location or with one specific population or subpopulation;
- Proposals that indicate the technology platform but do not outline the specific usage, user, or the challenge being addressed;
- Models that do not provide a plan for sustainability and/or that require long-term financial subsidies;
- Theoretical research;
- Ideas for which a relevant indicator of success cannot be demonstrated within the scope of the GCE Phase 1 award ($100,000 over 18 months).