How to affect policy and practice

04 Dec 2015
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From output to outcome

The ultimate aim of the CoCooN programme was to generate insights and mechanisms for solving, mitigating and preventing resource conflicts. It also had to give policymakers concrete and innovative ideas for more effective natural resource related conflict management. And activists and practitioners tools to increase awareness, start dialogues, and influence policy with evidence. What strategies did the research teams use to influence policymakers? And what impacts has the programme had?

CoCooN has delivered improved insights into policy interventions, action research and working with a theory of change. Both the researchers and their subjects actively took part, looking to solve problems and so bring about social change. To understand how change could happen, all the research projects needed a theory of change. As change is hard to achieve they had to understand the power dynamics and find innovative ways of influencing policy.

CoCooN - NEBE projectThe NEBE project in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia made use of the Power Cube, a framework developed at Sussex University in the United Kingdom. The researchers examined not only the visible powers, but also hidden and invisible powers. ‘To develop effective impact strategies it is important to recognize these powers at all levels,’ explained Teyo van der Schoot, consortium partner from the Dutch development NGO Hivos. Visible powers are the formal structures that can be influenced by lobbying, negotiation, manifestation and participation, but hidden powers and invisible powers are more difficult to influence. ‘To address those hidden and invisible powers media and awareness campaigns can be useful,’ said Van der Schoot.

The researchers reached out to policymakers in various ways. Academic results and publications were translated into accessible policy briefs and recommendations, and public meetings were held. The GOMIAM project organized a public meeting in Paramaribo, Suriname, on responsible small-scale gold mining in the Amazon, the goal being mercury-free exploitation. The meeting was attended by government representatives, concession holders, academics, civil society representatives, and small-scale gold miners, and attracted local media. In the Jatropha project in Ghana and Ethiopia a stakeholder meeting with policymakers was held on policy responses to prevent adverse impacts of investment in biofuels. In a more direct form of policy influencing, partners in the REINCORPFISH research consortia provided input to implementation plans for a South African law to guarantee better protection for small-scale fishers against violations of their human rights and livelihoods by commercial fisheries and investors.

Initiating dialogues

CoCooN Conference - Letty FajardoThe Lands and Rights in Troubled Waters (LAR) partners in Colombia and Brazil initiated two strategic meetings with the EU External Action Service in Brussels to discuss how the sustainability standards for soya and palm oil trade could be better monitored and improved. ‘We used the top-up phase to influence policy at the international level,’ said Tim Boekhout van Solinge, coordinator of the LAR project. ‘International businesses have to become more accountable for human rights violations within their value chain. Sustainable commodity value chains and responsible markets can only be realized when grievance mechanisms are taken seriously. This makes evidence and fact-finding essential.’ Although it is important to initiate dialogue with governments, he found it much more difficult to reach out to businesses to improve their practices.

As mistrust is a component of conflict, the researchers used the various networks of partners to start dialogue. ‘The most important success factor for gaining trust is personal contact,’ said Letty Fajardo of UDAPT, a civil society organization for indigenous communities and a consortium partner in the NEBE project. ‘It is not helpful that many key governmental actors changed seats during the course of the research.’ The involvement of Dutch embassies could have helped the research teams generate more impact on policy. ‘A more active approach by the embassies could have opened important doors and opportunities to reach high profile national policymakers,’ explained Marjo de Theije, coordinator of GOMIAM.

Working with the media

In the REINCORPFISH project, working with the local media was important for raising awareness and getting recognition of the conflicts between major fishing operations from India and small-scale fishing communities in Sri Lanka. It helped bring a turnaround in public perception, especially among policy makers and intellectuals. The research team ALSO hired a documentary maker. The film will be broadcasted in cinemas in India and Sri Lanka. ‘We hope it will generate a new momentum in talks about our policy recommendations and our aim of starting a multi-stakeholder dialogue to end the illegal fishing by Indian boats in Sri Lanka,’ said Maarten Bavinck coordinator of the REINCORPFISH project.

Groundwater - YemenThe Groundwater project in Ethiopia, Yemen and the Palestinian Territories also made use of videos to increase awareness of the urgency of the problem of groundwater management. ‘In Ethiopia we made effective use of photography to show government representatives where water pumps were not working,’ said coordinator Frank van Steenbergen. At the global level, the research team contributed to the Global Framework for Action on Groundwater Governance.


How fruitful were the efforts of the CoCooN research teams in solving, mitigating and preventing further conflicts? As one participant said during the conference, ‘Five years is not enough to generate substantial change. For real change, a time span is needed that goes beyond the horizon of the current CoCooN projects.’ Many agreed. But according to Jan Joost Kessler from AidEnvironment, a member of the final review team, it might be difficult to pinpoint change. Processes that contribute to conflict mitigation will be identified during the last phase of the programme.

Meanwhile, the projects can already point to some positive impacts. In Colombia the team of researchers in the GOMIAM project worked with small-scale miners on a manual for formalisation, which should prevent the use of violence against small-scale gold miners. Information provided by the Colombian Fair Trade scheme Oro Verde has been used, with help from Solidaridad, to develop initiatives for a Peruvian scheme. And in Brazil and Colombia, the LAR team taught local community members how to use drones, trap cameras, user friendly spectrofluorometers and mobile phone GPS systems to collect evidence to back up their claims of human right violations. ‘Giving local communities the tools to monitor and collect evidence of illegal deforestation is a key step towards prosecuting the violators,’ said Tim Boekhout van Solinge. Brazilian prosecutors have shown interests in the project and started working with the local communities to collect data.

Lasting impact

The oil and mining project (NEBE) in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador has shown that conflicts can be prevented through better and independent monitoring of pollution and oil spills in the Amazon by local communities, for example using drones and GPS tools on mobile phones. But Letty Fajardo warned that advance technology cannot map all violations and damage at the local level: ‘Technology does indeed open up new opportunities for local communities, but their information must be brought to independent agencies to be useful,’ she said. ‘And such technology can only find visible evidence. An attack on indigenous sociocultural values is far more difficult to monitor.’

Reincorpfish_ credits joeri scholtens5Within REINCORPFISH the established dialogues in Sri Lanka and South Africa could be the platform that empowers fishing communities. In Ghana the researchers have started a process for creating an institutional framework to guide large-scale foreign land acquisitions for commercial purposes at the national level. Also, national land use plans will be prepared that respect local land tenure practices and resist short-sighted decisions in response to community hypes.

Although conflicts might not have been solved yet, CoCooN has brought different stakeholders closer to each other, improving their knowledge and understanding of the conflicts. The newly established cooperation between academic researchers and civil society representatives has been useful in developing plans for strategic influencing and media involvement and could last even when the programme finishes in April 2016. Finally, formal and informal networks and dialogues between stakeholders that were the result of the CoCooN projects will put the knowledge gained into practice and continue to mitigate and prevent further conflicts.

Blog written by Evert-Jan Quak of The Broker



  • 07 Dec 2015

    at 10:11 Jeroen Verheul, Ambassador for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote

    The experience with CoCooN will provide further direction for the development of the knowledge platforms set up by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs some 3 years ago. Those platforms bring together diverse stakeholders on the priority themes for development policy: food and business, security and rule of law, sexual and reproductive health and rights, water, and inclusive growth. Connecting researchers, implementers and policy makers is a challenging task, as this CoCooN Conference has once again demonstrated. But it also provides evidence that it can be done: researchers and activists have become much closer in the six research projects. The important task now is to extract lessons from the CoCooN experience on improving the flow of knowledge to policy makers. Based on those practices we can identify if, where and how they can be applied on the ongoing work with the knowledge platforms. But the conference provides more than just process oriented recommendations for the way forward. The research shows that much needs to be done to make private flows contribute to sustainable and inclusive development. Agenda 2030 provides us with that challenge: how can we strengthen synergies between different types of flows and actors in order to enhance development outcomes. The Netherlands’ development policy has taken on that challenge for a number of years already, since the integration of the aid, trade and investment policies under one minister. Substantial progress has been achieved, but CoCooN shows that more needs to be done and that such action is feasible. Promoting responsible business conduct is one way forward, focusing partnerships in the framework of support to dialogue and dissent is another. Fortunately the Netherlands presidency of the EU early 2016 will provide ample opportunities to scale up Netherlands experiences to EU level and to learn from best practices in other member states. The Global Value Chain conference 7 December 2015 in Amsterdam will provide one of the platforms for that endeavour.

    Jeroen Verheul, Ambassador for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs


  • 07 Dec 2015

    at 14:08 Marjo de Theije, coordinator GOMIAM-project, CEDLA wrote

    This article gives a glimpse into the diversity and multi layeredness of the conflicts around natural resources in the South that we worked on in the CoCooN program. It also shows how a synergy between science and advocacy, academics and local communities, was reached. It is amazing to see how all projects became much more concrete and practical solution oriented in the process. For me this is the biggest lesson of CoCooN. Anthropologists are advocates of contextualized and participative knowledge building and holistic approaches, which is easily translated into collaboration between different academic ánd other “disciplines”. The cooperation with ngo’s, activists and consultants introduced another timeframe in the project, which was important for the concrete impact of GOMIAM, by reacting fast and delivering on demand. I also think that we could develop many more solution-oriented applications and policies from this now that we came to this point. In our project we focused on policy impact in the Amazonian countries, but I think that the knowledge base and network should be used by the Dutch policy makers (Foreign Affairs) also. The CoCooN-ers can act as independent knowledge brokers in this complex field of action.

    Marjo de Theije, coordinator GOMIAM-project, CEDLA


  • 23 Dec 2015

    at 19:23 Frank van Steenbergen wrote

    It is also a matter of whose reality counts. In retrospect we should also see whose questions were answered and highlighted – and where the added value is.


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