Kristin Lindell has a bachelor’s in International Relations and two masters’ degrees in International Development and Economics. As an undergraduate, Kristin took advantage of several opportunities to explore poverty and development outside of the classroom. First, she volunteered in a children’s school in a small town in northern Brazil. Then, she traveled throughout the U.S. and to a refugee camp in Thailand to study refugees from Myanmar for her senior thesis. After graduating, Kristin took off to Spain to continue her studies in the international development sector. Just recently, she returned from rural Panama, where she headed up a non-profit’s research and evaluation department. Kristin has been working in Ethiopia for five months. Below, find her initial thoughts and hopes for co-creation within Nuru Ethiopia. In the spirit of the Jack Johnson song…

It’s always better when we’re together: Strengths and Needs in the Co-creation Process

For the past several months, the Nuru Ethiopia Scout Team has been bringing the classroom to the field through the Program Planning Process and the idea of co-creation that lies behind it. 

Currently, the concept of co-creation signifies that each person on our team participates fully in the program planning process for the Nuru Ethiopia Agriculture Program—from identifying the needs, to building out the strategy, to creating the budget and staffing model.

Upfront, co-creating the program planning process means that many months need to be spent facilitating a series of different topics ranging from the definition of meaningful choices to logic models to the attitudes of a servant leader. Hence, some of the challenges to this approach include the time it takes to facilitate the understanding of concepts and technical tools as well as the push to make sure that 6 months of training remain engaging and relevant for the three different teams on the ground here in Ethiopia—Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E), Leadership, and Agriculture.

The benefits, however, far outweigh the potential drawbacks. If we examine the real-time changes caused by co-creating, the positive outcomes become evident. Firstly, the Agriculture Program will be better designed because of it—with our unique skill sets, the M&E, Leadership, and the Agriculture team, all make complementary contributions that have helped shaped the progress of the Agriculture program model to date. With this process, the whole team takes ownership over the program being designed—each piece of the model needs to be learned and hashed out as a team. In the end, the program planning process serves two main purposes. On one hand, it instills leaders with the knowledge and technical skills needed to run the Agriculture program model but it also prepares the team to innovate in the face of future obstacles. 

Specifically for M&E, co-creation has meant facilitating the learning process for how to conduct a Strengths and Needs Assessment as a group, analyzing the data together, and then as a team, selecting the main problem the different kebeles face related to hunger and low crop yields. Together we learned about different techniques used to collect data, from surveys to group methods, such as pairwise ranking, timelines, and seasonal calendars. We also co-created the questions for these methodologies. When it came time to visit the field to conduct the Strengths and Needs Assessment, the Nuru Ethiopia team ran the show. The resulting Problem Statement and Strengths and Needs Assessment Report represent an important part of the foundation of the Agriculture Program Model.

Together, we learned that farmers in all three of the kebeles (neighborhoods) that we plan to work in suffer from hunger. Their hunger season lasts anywhere in between four to eight months depending on environmental fluctuations—these changes in particular have a big influence on the livelihoods of farmers here. In the past, extreme weather such as drought and heavy rains as well as infestations of local pests caused severe famines. During these times, many people became sick and many others migrated from their communities. Presently, farmers cannot produce enough food to cope with the hunger season, which makes them more susceptible to shocks in the future.

Yet, farmers are also resilient. They diversify risks by planting many different crops during two main planting seasons. Some of these crops include maize, haricot bean, sweet potato and teff. In tough times, they support each other and work together to confront problems.

In truth, without co-creation and the program planning process, we might not have been able to understand in such detail the situation of the farmers who we plan to work with in the future. And the more that we can learn about the situation of those suffering in extreme poverty, the closer we are to finding a solution that addresses their specific needs while simultaneously works to strengthen the resources they already have.