Mapping the World: the INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange

It all started with mapping the local: the Tilburg Urban Farming community. This January, however, I ended up mapping the global end of the agricultural spectrum: the INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange, held in Lusaka, Zambia. It was a wonderful meeting of minds of people from all over the world working on and passionate about the intersection of Gender, Nutrition, and Agricultural Extension.

The INGENAES conference crowd

Knowledge and learning exchanges as well as network building are key components of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded Integrating Gender and Nutrition within Agricultural Extension Services (INGENAES) project. The project aims to stimulate the intersection between the sub-domains of gender, nutrition and agricultural extension services so that not only are farmers maximizing their participation in the agricultural value chain, but the nutrition needs of themselves, their families and communities are also served with the additional aspect of the pivotal role of women in this field. The January 2017 INGENAES Global Symposium and Learning Exchange in Zambia aimed to use mapping to catalyze this process, connecting practitioners and researchers across the sub-domains of the field, including participants designing and committing to follow-up activities back home.

Mapping the Conference

Our goal with this initial experiment was not to set up a fully participatory community network mapping process, as this would have required a much longer time frame and many more resources. We focused on the following questions:

  • What would an initial map representing both the diversity and common ground in this emerging field look like?
  • How to create it with contributions from the participants?
  • How to use the map to give conference participants some sense of what their emerging field literally looks like?
  • Can we design practical maps-based conference activities that help conference participants contribute to further field building?

To answer these questions, renowned group facilitator Nancy White,  INGENAES Associate Director Andrea Bohn, and I came up with a participatory process involving producing the actual map, facilitated sensemaking sessions, lots of commitment, as well as the essential bit of fun! We wanted to make the mapping and facilitation processes “dance together”, as it were, with the maps helping to set the agenda for engaged conversations held in the facilitated sessions, while also capturing conference results and “seeds for action” to be followed up on after the conference.

The conference map

The online conference map (as an artifact) is both an input to and an outcome of the mapping process that happened prior to, during, and after the conference. Key elements it includes are ThemesCountries, OrganizationsProjects/InitiativesWisdoms, and Actions . To make the map more readable, we included a number of views that show subsets of the elements and connections of the map: Collaboration Ecosystem, Themes, Organizations, Countries & Projects, Themes & Projects, Organizations & Projects, Themes & Wisdoms, and Themes & Actions.

The INGENAES conference map

The mapping process

The process consisted of three stages: (1) seeding the map (prior to the conference); (2) seeding collaborations (during the conference); and (3) growing the collaborations (after the conference).

Prior to the conference

We first defined the conceptual model for the map, comprising of the core types of elements and connections to be mapped, plus a taxonomy of themes relevant to the INGENAES domain. Next, we set up the tools ecosystem, consisting of the Kumu map, an online survey tool, and online discussion tool Disqus (which Kumu allows to be integrated with the map). We then collected initial data by asking all participants to fill out a form describing one of their flagship projects. The results were then used to create the seed map, consisting of a network of the collected elements and connections, and relevant views on this map.

We also designed an extensive content & process strategy on how to gather “wisdoms” and “(seeds for) actions”, drawing from Nancy’s inspiring “plumbers & poets” facilitation philosophy. The process design for the group interactions drew heavily from Liberating Structures, a set of 33 structures designed to liberate the knowledge and participation of everyone. These have shown to work very well in complex settings such as multidisciplinary field building.

During the conference

We started by introducing the mapping process via telling a “mapping story” using the metaphor of us being a band of “hunters/gatherers of wisdoms and actions”.

Tellling the mapping story

Having sensitized the participants to the ideas behind participatory mapping, the hard work of “harvesting wisdoms and actions” got started. In the sessions facilitated by Nancy, participants first started to share and capture lessons learnt as wisdoms. On the final day, participants interacting in small groups produced 98 “seed actions”, to be used for post-conference commitment and follow-up.

Conference participants capturing wisdoms & actions

Throughout the conference, participants could submit wisdom and action forms, which we partially grouped on the wall behind our “mapping station”. The collected forms and groupings made provided additional inputs to be added to the map by me in my role as map maker.

Trying to make sense of the submitted wisdoms & actions

In addition, all the while Nancy graphically recorded her impressions of the wisdoms and actions being shared on a large, wall-sized paper. This rich graphical picture further captured lessons learnt, complementing the online map.

Graphically recording the wisdoms & actions

The mapping process was amplified by the actions of the Social Media Reporters, a team of young Zambian reporters who were tasked with collecting stories and spreading the word about what was happening at the conference via social media. They for instance (re)tweeted messages about updates to the map. As we had the mapping station as our joint base, it was easier to keep each other informed about what was going on and needed to happen.

Working together with the social media reporters

After the conference

Participants were intrigued by the potential of participatory community network mapping as an approach to better capture and use conference outcomes, as exemplified by one of the comments received in the evaluation:

“I got a peek at many, but now need to go deeper. The Map and links will help”

Still a lot of work is needed to turn this pilot into a robust methodology. In an upcoming paper, we will share more details of the conference case. Furthermore, INGENAES is supporting a next round of methodology development, focusing on a specific country case. Stay tuned!

Conference mission accomplished!