Juggling Zoom calls, cups of coffee, dogs and small children

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Samantha Willan and Alice Kerr-Wilson on putting together the pieces of the capacity development workshop jigsaw

As the two-day What Works (WW) capacity development workshop drew to an end just over a week ago there was a real buzz and excitement in the room. Partners, the technical support team and we (the organizing team) had worked hard, learnt so much and were very pleased with our final products, especially the five minute PPT presentations delivered at the What Works Annual Scientific Meeting. These were concise, visually powerful, moving overviews of projects’ baseline data presented by partners, some of whom had never spoken in a large conference before, and they were fabulous.

When we started planning the workshop back in January, Samantha sitting in sunny Durban, South Africa and Alice in cold, dark Roskilde in Denmark, with early morning Zoom calls, cups of coffee and interruptions by small children and dogs, we couldn’t have imagined that partners would enjoy and gain so much from the workshop. Both partners and us have come so far since the last capacity development workshop in September 2016 in Dubai.

We started by hearing from partners what they wanted to focus on and their skill gaps and reflecting on the What Works priorities for the next 18 months, while trying to keep focused on what can realistically be achieved in two days. It was like slowly working our way through a giant jigsaw puzzle, at first, we had very little idea how all these pieces would fit together, yet the more we did the clearer the picture became.

The week of the workshop marked the final phase of completing the puzzle. Much has been said about the presentations, with many of the seasoned researchers and scientists sharing their awe at the partners’ ability to present so succinctly. However, that was just the icing on the cake, they were the culmination of very intense work over the two days: refining the story of the research, shaping key messages, strategically identifying stakeholders, thinking about how to target them, which research uptake products to write and how to convey all this evidence and knowledge through a visual story that moves the audience.

However, this workshop was not a one-off capacity development moment, it is part of a process. The work began for partners long before we all arrived at the workshop, and will continue from here. Capacity development is central to all we do at WW, and we think that might be a part of the secret behind how this workshop came together. Another key part of the puzzle may be that we see capacity development as multi-directional, we are all learning, it is not simply grantees learning from scientists. This was evidenced last week when a number of technical staff and senior scientists reported that they had learnt so much from partners during the workshop.

So, yes these two days were wonderful, we all worked hard, over long hours and produced great work. But, the successes of this week do not stand alone, they’re part of two and a half years of work on supporting capacity development, and it continues.

And this work does not stop here, while we may have completed the jigsaw puzzle that bought all the pieces for this workshop together, there is a much bigger capacity development puzzle that we will all continue to contribute towards in the What Works programme.




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