"The impacts of climate change have required wide scale adaptation, especially in sectors like agriculture directly impacted by weather and climatic conditions. Therefore there is a need to transform agriculture sectors quickly and efficiently. Rapid sharing of practical and scientific information is therefore essential for the sectors to respond adequately to adaptation and mitigation requirements."
This guidebook synthesises lessons learned from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) Programme's work with online communities of practice. It is designed for facilitators and moderators of new or existing communities and managers of units and institutions engaged in setting up and facilitating communities of practice. These might be people working on knowledge management, participatory approaches, stakeholder consultations, and networks to enhance online capacity development efforts. The guidance is valid for all sectors, but focuses on challenges related to natural resource management under climate change in the development context.
As explained here, member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) called in the Paris Climate negotiations (2015) for stronger capacity development at all levels to be able to address climate change. However, many practitioners in the agriculture sectors lack vital and digestible information and opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills. New large-scale development paradigms like climate-smart agriculture (CSA) place an additional burden on practitioners to absorb new and complex information. Online knowledge-sharing platforms present an efficient way to exchange and explore ways to adapt practices, enhance the mitigation potential of agriculture, and focus research efforts and policies more effectively. Communities of practice can improve access to: information and guidance; rapid, interdisciplinary collegial support; support of ongoing activities; inspiration for innovations, actions to be taken, and opportunities to seize; and stronger collaborations and networks for long-term engagement between key actors and stakeholders in the agriculture sectors. These actors are often working with rural communities who have been traditionally hard to reach, such as farmers and extension agents.
The writers define communities of practice and their moderation and facilitation, complementing general tips with examples from professional insight and activities carried out as part of MICCA. (The guidebook draws on the experience from 11 communities of practice, with a membership of over 11,000 people from 127 countries.) The main goal of the MICCA Programme is to support developing countries in their contributions to mitigation of climate change in agriculture and facilitate their move towards CSA. MICCA has found that online communities of practice have played an instrumental role in raising awareness, enhancing understanding and co-learning, and building new partnerships to support the transformation. Specifically, the MICCA team members felt it was essential to connect with others working in the same field and enhance sharing of knowledge to advance the technical work. An initial network of colleagues who responded to a needs assessment survey called for an instrument to rapidly promote appropriate agricultural practices directly to the farmers and bring the results from the field directly to decision-makers, researchers, and development actors in an impactful and quick manner. With this rationale, the MICCA team first established one online community of practice as a way to share information and field experiences on the integration and adoption of climate-smart practices. As the initial community and online learning event proved to be beneficial to the members, 10 other communities have subsequently been established. This guidebook from the MICCA team synthesises the lessons learned to help others searching for effective ways to set up and organize online communities and their facilitation.
Among the lessons learned: Online communities often face the following challenges: competing for members' time and attention; creating a shared understanding of complex concepts in a wide range of contexts; and technical difficulties related to ease of use of online fora. To encourage the organic development of online communities, this guidebook advises that the organisations and persons engaged in facilitation consider the following:
- dedicate sufficient human and financial resources allocated to support the facilitation and moderation of the communities and the organisation of learning activities;
- facilitate flexibly accommodating organic change within the community;
- choose easy-to-use online forum or fora taking into consideration the community's objectives and the needs of the intended audience;
- clearly define the focus and domain of the community with the members;
- suggest strategic direction for the exchanges in order to advance meaningful results for the members;
- share high-quality materials and avoid overload;
- dedicate specific time for learning through online learning events that take place during a limited period of time; and
- request experts to become members and actively contribute to the community's exchanges.
The guidebook has been split into 6 different sections, each of which may be more relevant depending what stage of planning and establishment a reader's online community is at. Figure 5 on page 5 shows the various stages of establishing a community of practice and corresponding section with the most relevant information to refer to in the guidebook.
e-agriculture.org, March 16 2017. Image credits (left to right): © UygarGeographic/Shutterstock.com, © Pinkypills, © HABesen/Shutterstock.com, © FAO/Marco Longari