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Process learning: field testing a social and behaviour change guide for nutrition-sensitive agriculture


By Sarah Titus

Sarah Titus is the food security and nutrition manager with Save the Children for USAID’s global nutrition project, SPRING. She has a Masters of Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University and over a decade of experience working in livelihoods and food security programming for international NGOs.  

Among the project staff sat an agricultural officer, an older gentleman who had been working in the development field for several decades. He looked concerned as the SPRING team spoke with workshop participants about opportunities to enhance the nutrition-sensitivity of the agriculture practices their project promotes. When the SPRING team discussed how participating in value-chain projects could increase the burdens on women’s time and labour and therefore pose a risk to their own and their children’s nutrition, the agriculture officer finally spoke. He said, “For 30 years, we have been told that we need to involve women more in agriculture and income-generation projects, and now you are telling me this is a bad thing?” His frustration was evident. What was he supposed to do with the new information we were providing?

This incident occurred at a workshop in May 2015 to pilot test the Behaviour Change Guide for Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture, being developed by the Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project. SPRING is a five-year, USAID-funded project that works to strengthen global and country efforts to scale up high impact nutrition practices.

The SPRING team is developing the guide to respond to a growing need for practical advice on how to make agriculture more nutrition-sensitive. Following the release of SPRING’s conceptual framework linking agriculture and nutrition (see reference at end of article), we recognised the need to help implementers operationalise the three main pathways linking agriculture and nutrition—income, production, and women’s empowerment. The guide introduces key concepts and models from the fields of nutrition, agriculture, and social and behaviour change (SBC). When applied to project design, implementation and monitoring, these concepts can form an effective approach for achieving nutrition improvements through agriculture. Box 1 gives an overview of guide content.

Box 1: Summary of SPRING’s Behaviour Change Guide for Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture

Key components of the guide include:

- Review and application of the agriculture-to-nutrition pathways

- Identification of priority agriculture practices that contribute to nutrition outcomes

- Guiding questions to refine and prioritise key nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices

- Presentation of key Social and Behaviour Change (SBC) models and how they can be applied

- Tips for targeting priority practices

- Elements of an SBC strategy

- Additional resources for SBC strategy development

To ensure that the guide is as accessible, relevant and useful for agriculture project designers and implementers as possible, the SPRING team is field-testing the content, format and tools included in the guide. The testing protocol used in the first field site consisted of: a learner needs assessment; workshop slides and handouts; a session observation guide; and a workshop evaluation. We conducted the first field test with a USAID project in Central Asia that is working to strengthen value chains and build the capacity of small- and medium-size enterprises. The testing involved three SPRING staff and a range of project participants, including nutrition and gender specialists, monitoring and evaluation officers, and agriculture officers.

Learning from the field test

The field-testing protocol emphasised process learning for both SPRING staff and the value chain project participants so that all stakeholders benefited from the effort. Key findings and results included:

  • A clear need to change the sequencing of the material to ensure users of the guide have background and understanding of the conceptual pathways between agriculture and nutrition before introducing exercises and concepts associated with behaviour change communication.
  • Addition of a list of key terms and definitions related to both nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programme approaches. 
  • The benefit of having three technical SPRING staff with agriculture and nutrition SBC expertise lead the workshop proved critical to the testing process. With three facilitators, it was possible for every session to have one presenter, one participant and one observer who captured notes on clarifications needed on the slides, use of language, and instructions for exercises. This feedback is helping to strengthen guide content and structure.

What of the frustrated agriculture officer who was wondering why increasing women’s participation in agriculture and income-generation activities was suddenly problematic? His question prompted great discussion among project and SPRING staff. Women have always been participants in agriculture; what is different now is that their contributions are better recognised and there is an understanding that they, too, need access to supportive services (e.g. extension, technologies and credit). At the same time, workshop participants discussed the importance of strengthening compensating measures in communities and families to support women’s participation, while also ensuring they have enough time, energy and other resources to care for themselves and their children. This discussion resulted in historically siloed staff coming together and developing a common language that will help them to continue to work together across their sectors.

SPRING recognises the challenges inherent in asking practitioners to change the way they work - in any sector. We are excited to help and the field testing process is proving fruitful in this regard. On the one hand, it is helping SPRNG to ensure applicability of the guide. At the same time, it is provoking rich discussions and better understanding of terms and approaches among development experts in different sectors who are grappling with the challenges inherent to integrated programming.

Our learning from the field test has resulted in some significant adjustments to the guide’s format and is informing changes to the protocol before testing the guide with a second project towards the end of 2015. From that second round of process learning, we anticipate finalising the guide, disseminating it widely, and using it - along with other design and monitoring-related tools - to provide technical assistance to Feed the Future partners in various countries throughout the coming year.

For more details about the development of the Behaviour Change Guide for Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture and other aspects of SPRING’s work, please visit here or contact here.

For more information, consult  the Improving Nutrition through Agriculture Technical Brief Series, for a detailed introduction to the pathways-between-agriculture-and-nutrition framework (SPRING, Understanding the Primary Pathways and Principles: Brief #1, Improving Nutrition through Agriculture Technical Brief Series, Arlington, VA: USAID/Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) Project, 2014). Available here.


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