From Trainers to Playbooks: Insights on Improving the Green Rural Economy Platform

On January 23, we launched the Green Rural Economy platform at a two-day event at the School of Ancient Wisdom in north Bengaluru. In part 2, we delve into the features of the platform and the issues that need to be addressed for it to be an effective platform for change.

Feb 29, 2024

Members of multiple environmental and development organisations discuss different aspects of GRE at the launch. Photo by RB Productions.

There is consensus on the broad rationale behind a Green Rural Economy platform. Now, we get to the hard part – how do we start sketching out the details and breathing life into this blueprint? On January 23, we launched the platform at a two-day workshop in Bengaluru to a group of civil society organisations, which was the first step to establish a consortium that curates knowledge in usable formats and facilitates spaces for collaboration to drive sustainable change across rural India.

In Part 1, we described the problem statement – a lot of undocumented tacit knowledge resides with experts scattered across the country, but is not disseminated at a larger scale. In this blog, we take a closer look at what exactly this platform entails and summarise some of the key suggestions and feedback that came up during the two-day workshop.

A platform that is neutrally-owned and inclusive

A key part of this initiative is that it is not owned by a single entity, it is a consortium with a purpose to ensure that all the knowledge that we hold as individual organisations can be documented and shared for uptake at scale. It is also cognisant of the fact that contexts vary, from how much it rains to the kind of governance and social structures in place. 

WELL Labs Executive Director Dr Veena Srinivasan presents the Green Rural Economy platform at the two-day workshop.
WELL Labs Executive Director Dr Veena Srinivasan presents the Green Rural Economy platform at the two-day workshop. Photo by RB Productions.

Executive Director of WELL Labs, Veena Srinivasan, said that it is because contexts change that the platform also cannot be limited in how it’s engineered. ‘Everything on this platform will not be digital; knowledge exchange will go beyond that… With knowledge, you need connections – service providers, experts, answers to questions.’

Read | GRE Clinics: Matchmaking in the Development Sector 

The design interface of the platform, in its entirety, was designed by Platform Commons, an organisation that builds custom software for the non-profit sector. They will spearhead future development of the platform. The prototype of the platform was created by aikyam fellows (previously Tech4Good/T4G Labs), a non-profit that aims to make technological solutions more accessible for grassroots organisations.

Working groups discussed first impressions and possible improvements

We launched the website and shared a QR code with the audience for them to start exploring this first iteration of the digital platform. Rainmatter Foundation’s Sameer Shisodia encouraged attendees to go over the different themes listed on the website, from backyard poultry to millet cultivation. Once users clicked on a theme, a number of options opened up that reflected all the different features that the platform was meant to host – ​​events, playbooks, vendors, trainers, as well as partners with expertise. The workshop attendees were then split into groups to weigh in on these main pillars of the GRE platform, and the challenges and opportunities they foresee.

Playbooks: How-to manuals on various themes to enhance rural livelihoods and the environment.

Vetting and quality control

To ensure that the guides are based on actual work, two options were proposed – either only vetted organisations can upload documents or the submission process is opened but there must remain some degree of moderation on what actually makes it to the platform. On the other hand, there was also a fear of scrutiny and interference by state actors. Some practitioners could feel wary because their methods, though effective on the field, may not have an academic publication backing it up.

Incentives

For organisations to actually contribute playbooks, there need to be incentives in place. For one, being a vetted contributor on the platform could be aspirational as it gives credibility. Second, it also provides an opportunity for organisations and experts to be discovered and asked to participate in events, which further improves their visibility. Finally, attribution to the original author can demonstrate scalability of the organisation’s playbooks as it is used across geographies.

Read | Field Notes from Lohardaga: How a Grassroots Organisation in Jharkhand Shares Knowledge

Format

There were concerns raised regarding the consistency of these playbooks and the need to have standardised templates in places. Participants at the workshop emphasised on the need to structure playbooks in a way that the content is not technical, practice-oriented and thus easy to use, and filled with pictures and examples that can clarify complex processes. Video summaries could also help distil the subject for a larger audience – this was refrain throughout the feedback sessions.

However some talked about the lack of capacity in terms of converting the knowledge they’re sitting on, and fitting it into the playbooks template.

Complexity

Another suggestion was to have layers of complexity. The option of adding ‘light content’ allows an organisation to gauge interest in the subject before expending the effort to flesh out the playbook. It could lead to connections, with a knowledge seeker reaching out to the organisation for support.

Accessibility

Language is an important point we are already aware of and this was reiterated during the working sessions. It was also pointed out that users from different parts of the country may have different terms for a tool or approach, which means that there may be value in glossaries that capture the diversity of language in India. Moreover, to make the platform even more user-centric, the suggestion to include a decision tree was also made, as it would help novices know what to ask to understand a subject better.

Discussions at the Green Rural Economy platform launch.
Discussions at the launch of the Green Rural Economy platform.
Participants at the launch of the Green Rural Economy platform discuss the features of the platform and how it could be improved to effectively address the needs of grassroots organisations and individuals working in rural areas. Photo by RB Productions.

Service directories would list vendors and trainers

Credentials

Similar to playbooks, there were questions on how we would ensure that the trainer details furnished on the platform are reliable. Participants discussed mandating that trainer credentials are visibly captured, including their experience or qualifications, language fluency, location and cost of training sessions.

Levels

As we discussed having levels of complexity to playbooks, we also explored whether trainers too could be categorised based on need. For example, a trainer with a high degree of expertise may not be able to visit often but they can conduct workshops and address rarer problems that would require their skills to resolve. Field trainers would be more present and larger in number. They can carry out less complex trainers but more frequently. The need to classify, according to the services they provide and the level they operate, was raised in terms of vendors too.

Read | Five Lessons We Learned As An Ecosystem Builder

Accessibility

Concerns were raised that access to vendors is a problem in remote areas, where even if a vendor helps set up a solution, they may henceforth be less accessible for support and troubleshooting. This would require vendors to train CSO staff so that they are able to handle basic problems. One behaviour observed was that organisations were open to hiring trainers for new areas/ but for core work they preferred training their team on these skills

Miscellaneous

A range of other issues were also discussed. One point was about incorporating a tendering process to help with selecting vendors objectively. Additionally, referrals from other CSOs on tried-and-tested vendors and trainers, coupled with resources or logistical partners they used during implementation would also help an organisation make use of this platform.
Participants also mulled over categorising the directories as well across themes, geographies, type of service (manufacturer, retailer, O&M), customer service support, and the kind of training offered.

Events and Forums: Spaces to promote knowledge exchange and expert advice

Curation

Participants spoke about there often being a flurry of events that they are invited to, exposing them to more resources than they can sift through and cull out. The question of curating events to ensure its usefulness to under-capacitated organisations was raised.

Types

Participants raised specific ideas for events such as organising ‘tele-repair’ training sessions as well as mela of sorts that would allow multiple CSOs to gather and showcase their products and services. Given that events could be resource-intensive, the need to have smaller, asynchronous exercises for organisations to familiarise themselves with each other’s work is another idea the platform could take into consideration.

Knowledge sharing: WELL Labs researchers discuss with Community Resource Persons in Lohardaga village in Jharkhand to understand how they access and share knowledge.
WELL Labs researchers speak to Community Resource Persons and PRADAN’s field staff in Lohardaga, Jharkhand, to understand how they access knowledge. Credit: Partik Kumar.

This could also be in the form of bi-monthly webinars where an organisation can present on an activity they undertook and the challenges they faced followed by a brainstorming session where others can weigh in and help out. The discussion on curating of the events vertical also covered the possibility of adding features such as a ‘Give’ and ‘Ask’ sections, where people can make it clear what support or service they need or what they have expertise in and can offer.

These were valuable insights that will be used to improve the GRE platform

These insights and suggestions are invaluable as these come directly from potential users and organisations that the GRE platform is meant to benefit. There were also some points raised regarding the website itself. This includes, as also mentioned above, language options and an intuitive mobile version as this is most likely to be the medium that people on the ground will use. Participants also talked about having chatbots that would allow people to ask questions, and subscription services that would relay major new updates about an intervention or field.

The workshop around the launch achieved one of the main goals – to collaboratively build and nurture this platform in a way that it actually benefits everyone who is a part of it.

Read | The Launch of a Consortium-Led Platform to Build Green Rural Economies

As next steps, the consortium will continue its research and conversations with grassroots organisations to define the most pressing whats – user needs, pain points, barriers to adoption – and ideate and test ways to alleviate these problems. Based on the ‘honeycomb of livelihoods’ we discussed in the previous blog, working groups were created involving the organisations who attended the workshop. These groups were split according to themes – from farm inputs to natural resource management. The immediate goals of these groups include consolidating known solutions from partner organisations as well as expand and source solutions from beyond our immediate network.

We will continue refining our approach to transforming systems through the Green Economy consortium. If you would like to know more about the platform or become a part of it, please write to [email protected] or [email protected]

Attendees at the event included representatives from BuzzWomen, Bharat Rural Livelihood Foundation, Gram Vikas, Lipok Foundation, Industree, Pradan, Rainmatter Foundation, Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), Art of Living’s Sri Sri Rural Development Programme (SSRDP) Trust, Himalay Unnati Mission (HUM), Shivganga Samagra Gramvikas Parishad (Jhabua), Waste Warriors, WELL Labs and Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

This event summary was collated by Smita Kumar, Lakshmi Pranuti Choppakatla, Meghna Majumdar, Srushti Paranjpe and Aditya Maruvada based on discussions held at the workshop.

Edited by Kaavya Kumar

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