Mentoring and capacity building around knowledge networks

Over the period of 2010-2011, IDS began a process of handing over the reigns for leading and hosting the AfricaAdapt network.

AfricAdapt is an independent, bilingual (French/English) web platform/network developed within IDS and focused exclusively on facilitating the flow of climate change adaptation knowledge. It is aims to make connections between researchers, policy makers, civil society organisations and communities who are vulnerable to climate variability and change across the African continent. It is part of the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa programme (CCAA), a research and capacity development initiative by the Department for International Development, UK. and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

One of the network’s lead partners, ENDA Tiers Monde (based in Senegal), was chosen to take on the role of leading and hosting the network, and 2010-11 saw the implementation of an ‘organisational hand-over’ from IDS to ENDA. This period of time provided an opportunity to undertake a planned mentoring programme to build the capacity of the host organisation and in particular the lead officer in ENDA.

While mentoring is much discussed in development circles, there seem to be very few examples and case studies of planned mentoring. Mentoring was part of the systemic capacity development strategy for AA. IDS mentored two Knowledge Sharing Officers each for two years. A paper in the IDS Bulletin on Capacity (PDF) is one of the few reflections on this. "Context and Position in a Systemic Approach to Capacity Development (pages 100-107) (PDF)" by Carl Jackson 2008. There is therefore considerable room for learning.


  • As with all training/teaching situations a successful outcome for a mentoring programme is contingent on a thorough needs analysis and careful curriculum design to match the learning needs and styles of the mentee. Again we note that while lip service is often given to needs analysis there are few clear examples of such. In this case practical outcomes of the needs analysis followed – For instance, "The NNC indicated that he experienced difficulty reading dense academic material." – "As a result a number of Pocketbooks were purchased (Posner & Applegarth 2008; Fleming 2008; Richards 2009; Townsend 2007). These proved to be very useful as they are small, written in simple, concise English and well illustrated with cartoons (much to the approval of the NNC)." 
  • It may have been better to have used a standardised template for each session including a heading for the mentee "Things to think about before the session" to aid prior reflection, ‘think time’ and ‘sleep time’. "The mentor kept private hand written notes and at night wrote a more detailed computer journal that he agreed at the outset to share each night with all the mentors. In order to prevent a list of learning it was decided to ask the mentee to use a question based approach using the "Focussed Conversation Method" (Spencer 1989; Stanfield 1997; Hogan 2003) This process helped the mentee to identify not only thoughts but also feelings." 
  • It is necessary at times to be assertive with partners regarding how much learning or work can be accomplished effectively in a short space of time. The expectations of the partner were much higher than the professional trainers at IDS thought possible within the given time for training and mentoring.
  • Include cultural reflections. The mentee needs to think about the links between his/her cultural background and the learning concepts in advance of mentoring sessions. This is an important lesson for all of MK4D. We so often assume that people are aware of their cultural nuances. Everyday English language is so filled with metaphors that we may not always notice. Often these are culturally based. This may cause problems for non-native speakers of English. The mentee sometimes chose metaphors for himself, for example: focussed concentration recommended by the Imam for prayer is useful to focus on big tasks at work, the "lion strategy", the metaphor of a journey for the handover of AA from IDS to ENDA and the "English double decker buses" turning into ‘car rapides’ which are iconic symbols in Senegal.

Project details

start date
29 August 2010
end date
31 March 2011