Green Rural Livelihoods | Introduction and Updates from WELL Labs

We are excited to introduce the Green Rural Livelihoods project, a collaborative effort between WELL Labs and Rainmatter Foundation. Our aim is to enable the discovery, accessibility and scalability of knowledge resources to address challenges related to land, water and livelihoods in rural India.

Success stories are limited to isolated pilots.

We need innovative solutions to address the worsening economic and environmental challenges plaguing rural India. There are solutions that work in specific contexts and for specific regions, but there is limited access to knowledge around how to take these successful pilots to other contexts. Hence, despite ongoing efforts by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), philanthropies and governments, transformative change has been limited. Currently, there are no pathways to achieve impact at scale.

Playbooks and platforms can help address this challenge.

We are creating a space that facilitates free and open access to information. A space that connects experts and seekers. For example, if a small CSO wants to help a group of millet farmers start a collective to ensure fair prices and reduced costs for inputs, what steps should they follow, who should they liaise with to establish market linkages, how can they follow sustainable methods while earning a profit? Knowledge is scattered and not in easily-digestible forms, which is why we want to unlock the potential of successful pilots by curating a platform that compiles resources and spells out how-tos on every aspect of a process

The playbooks hosted on a digital platform will be accessible to CSOs, producer collectives (farmer producer organisations, self-help groups), and government agencies, enabling them to access knowledge on themes previously unavailable to them.

The envisioned platform will consist of the following information:

  • Playbooks: Comprehensive how-to manuals focusing on various thematic areas to enhance rural livelihoods and the environment. Examples include soil composting and poultry farm setup.
  • Vendor Lists: Two types of vendors will be available on the platform:
  • a. Service Directories: Individuals and organisations selling resources necessary for implementing activities outlined in the playbooks.
  • b. Trainers: Individuals and organisations offering training to guide CSOs and other users in implementing the playbooks.
  • Events: A list of live or virtual events hosted by trainers from the vendor lists.
  • Forums: A space to promote organic knowledge exchange and expert advice

While some of these terminologies, like playbooks and platforms may seem open-ended and value at the moment, over the course of our next few updates, we will provide sharper definitions for what they mean.

Credit: Sameer Shisodia, Rainmatter Foundation

About WELL Labs

Water, Environment, Land and Livelihoods (WELL) Labs co-creates research and innovation for social impact in the areas of land and water sustainability. We design and curate systemic, science-based solutions using a collaborative approach to enable a high quality of human life while simultaneously nurturing the environment. Here’s more information about us.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or would like to discuss specific aspects of the project in more detail, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Your feedback and collaboration are highly valued as we work towards our shared mission. Please write to us at [email protected] or [email protected].

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This is really good.

I ask questions with two purposes

  1. Learn
  2. Create a public database so methods such as Embedded retrieval can be used to make these evidence-based databases into organized knowledge resources available for everyone.

Good to know about WELL labs.

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Thank you, Suman. We look forward to your feedback on our work as we continue to share our updates with you and the larger grove network.

This is a great initiative Anjali. A couple of suggestions which you have already mentioned above but listing them anyway.
For the playbooks, It might be good to look at some of the existing playbooks (may be from adjacent sectors) to start visualizing how it would look. Similarly, for the vendor list, It would be just put the imagination if there is something from the adjacent sectors.

Would be better to call them Service providers or service partners rather than Vendors. Besides trainers there might be a value in having access to practitioners/experts. Trainers train while practitioners will have more knowledge on practice.

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Thank you for the suggestions, Manu.

This is exactly what we have in mind for these efforts. We have thoroughly vetted existing playbooks from multiple sectors and in the next one month we should have an answer to what does a good playbook look like, and how do different users access information through different playbook formats.

On the service providers, great suggestion - we do plan to call them service providers, this was a sample illustration. Trainers will include practitioners as well and the idea will be to have a wider audience access these practitioners that they would probably not have had access to without this platform.

More details on our next update, which we will post before the end of this month.

Great Anajali.

Thanks. Looking forward for the updates.

Update from WELL Labs:
In our first post, we mentioned that ‘playbooks’ would be an integral part of the Green Rural Livelihoods project. But to see whether playbooks would be useful at all, we first wanted to understand how knowledge is disseminated in this space.

We talked to eight CSOs working on rural livelihoods to get a sense of how they:

  • Access information about interventions they want to implement but are not familiar with
  • Find processes followed by other CSOs which are worth learning or imbibing
  • Disseminate information about solutions they are experts in implementing
  • Document their best practices for others who might want to replicate their success

In a blog post, we’ve outlined what we mean by playbooks and a few early insights from these conversations with CSOs. Read here: Can ‘Playbooks’ Promote Green Rural Livelihoods? Insights From Our Early Conversations with CSOs

Update from Well Labs:

Following our conversations with the 8 CSOs, we conducted an intensive workshop with PRADAN. We understood the possible use-cases for a platform that would host playbooks, service providers and vendors. We decided to craft the product for the Community Resource Persons (CRPs) who are responsible for implementing the green interventions on the ground. We visited the field and spent time with them to understand their needs and aspirations. Following this exercise, we decided to work on:

  1. A platform/intranet that higher level executives in NGOs could use to pool, curate and find knowledge of different aspects. This platform would house playbooks, vendors, service providers, and events. Subject matter experts can add and edit playbooks and relevant information about vendors, service providers, and events.

  2. A mobile based product that would derive information from the platform but that would be used by the CRPs on the ground. For this we are exploring AI powered whatsapp chatbots, besides other alternatives.

We have been able to put together a few mock-ups of how we envision the platform may look like. In these mock-ups we have highlighted the navigation journeys for two different types of visitors: User and Contributor.

The User would be able to browse through the repository of playbooks, vendors and directories. They can access all the knowledge and information, but cannot add to or edit this knowledge. We also envisioned integrating an AI based Question bar feature right at the beginning as a way to direct the user to what they are specifically looking for within the site.

The Contributor on the other hand is an executive or a subject matter expert. Besides accessing knowledge, they can even fork existing playbooks or make entirely new playbooks from scratch based on the templates we have created.

For the first version of the platform, we want to focus on two/three thematic areas and flesh out completely different aspects of tagging, the taxonomy and other aspects. We have also highlighted the most important features that we feel could become a part of the platform. We would love to know what you think of the mock-ups and are keen to get feedback on user adoption, user interactions, the features we could prioritize for a minimum viable product, and how we can test chunks of user experiences in parallel.

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The first point in the above post: Most CSOs in the rural livelihoods space were sceptical of a digital solution without handholding support.
We have had a similar experience. This was not just with playbooks but as practitioners apply the knowledge gained from physical training on the field, they had questions, doubts and need clarifications. We have found a guided mentoring approach where in the practitioners meet weekly on any chosen virtual platform provides a handholding and confidence to the front line to succeed.

You can know about the approach ‘Echo Model’ here. https://www.echoindia.in/
Or reach out to me and we can talk.

Update from WELL Labs:
Our team visited Lohardaga in Jharkhand to understand how Community Resource Persons (CRPs) and other field extension workers access and share knowledge. Our interaction with them was facilitated by PRADAN, a grassroots civil society organisation that works to improve sustainable livelihood opportunities in rural India.

This field visit was incredibly useful because it helped us understand the scope of the work done by the PRADAN’s field staff and CRPs and how they carry it out. Importantly, we got a clear sense of the challenges they run into in terms of accessing up-to-date knowledge that is critical for them to support their farmers as effectively as possible.

We summarise our learnings in this two-part blog series.
In the first, we explain the different groups of people involved in carrying out rural development projects in the region and summarise how knowledge is typically shared from one level to another: https://bit.ly/3QRPRoH
In the second part, we explain five key insights and look at some of the urgent needs of these grassroots workers in terms of how they manage and share information: https://bit.ly/46xbIaC

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