When the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network met this week, little did they know that destruction would actually be written into the agenda. Albeit constructive, creative destruction of course.
Disruptive technology, or disruption caused by technological innovation and change, is today’s tech-savvy way of denoting positive change in an unpredictable environment. But disruptive, destructive processes are also at the heart of the institution and individual learning process.
If you’re set in your ways, you’re less prepared when change inevitably happens. What’s more, as was outlined on day one of the Network’s discussions using the Ecocycle Planning model, renewal and birth of new ideas – which inevitably follow destructive processes – enable growth, progression and innovation.
With science-based innovation at the heart of the CGIAR’s vision of impact on poverty reduction, food security and climate-smart resource management, mainstreaming gender is essential to ensure change is delivered equitably.
But what exactly does that mean? Using the Ecocycle planning model, researchers reflected back on gender research within the CGIAR to see the bigger picture of gender work, and how their activities fit into it.
Not a spectator sport: capacity development
Debate around “creative dissidence” and the Ecocycle process led to reflections about work processes. Some felt the destructive process “is our job.” Others reflected on the restraints that can lead to “prolonged labor,” or projects, activities or concepts which get stuck at birth.
Sometimes it’s a question of team dynamics: creative people who want to move on to the next idea when others are in the process of taking it to the next level, for example. Sometimes a project will stay in “prolonged labor” because the team doesn’t have the right skills; or institutional bureaucracy takes its toll.
But the shift from carrot-or-stick dialogue to engagement is one which, it was reflected, leads to change. “When people can see the value of something for their own work, you have a better chance of influencing them,” noted Nancy White, facilitating the Network discussion.
Creative destruction, though, is not about knowing the solution and imposing it. “Do we want to inspire others to work in gender research, or require them to adopt? If we want to change the system, we have to engage,” noted White.
When a project gets stuck, that’s where creative destruction comes in. Telling people they are wrong puts them off. “You need methods that engage people in the creative destruction process: creative destruction is a participatory sport, notes White.” That’s how renewal and innovation begins.
It takes two to tango
Some noted a “fundamental epistemological challenge”: that the research system is fundamentally informed by a research framework that is not gender responsive, is perhaps what needs challenging.
Yet: “Gender experts need to listen very carefully too: it’s a two way process,” argued others. It might require some creative destruction, which is not about knowing the solution, but working towards one together with others.
Seeing solutions despite challenges is exactly what the creative destructive process requires for innovation. And to some extent, that is about personal attitudes, and “where you are in the process,” noted Simone Staiger, knowledge management specialist at CIAT.
Noted White: “You have to figure out: Is it the work? Or is it how we’re doing it? Or who’s doing it?” Good leaders prioritize – and in a healthy system, you need something in all phases of the Ecocycle.
Getting down to specifics
It seems obvious that for gender to be mainstreamed into the CGIAR’s activities, it needs to be included in research proposals. Yet the differences between male and female perspectives within communities are often overlooked.
Imagining a moment in May 2006, looking over research proposals, members of the Network were asked to reflect: What would a research proposal with amazing gender mainstreaming actually look like?
The perfect proposal, it was discussed, might include clear objectives, activities and a budget which outline control over financial resources from the outset. The activities would be set within a realistic time-frame, with an understanding of what is involved in gender research, questioning and processes.
Some noted that the time poverty trap between birth and maturity means many researchers don’t have time to publish the data they collect. Others reflected that unrealistic time-lines, which do not reflect the nature and complexity of the gender research or activity to be undertaken, can hinder progress.
“If there’s nothing in the renewal phase, you have to ask yourself whether you are in the right place.” You need to pick your battles – figure out where you can win in any given situation, says White.
If a process is transformational, it doesn’t mean starting from scratch. It means learning from it, destroying it, and taking progress to the next level by engaging others to include your vision in joint research work. Follow the discussion on Twitter @CIAT_ using the hashtag #GenderNetwork