Since early 2014, Common Ground Consulting has been providing a wide range of technical assistance and training support to USAID’s Enabling Environment for Agriculture (EEA) Activity (working through Chemonics) and their many PSO and CSO partners. Our work has included administration of the Organizational Capacity Assessment (OCA), the development of capacity building plans, the design and delivery of cohort-wide trainings, the provision of targeted technical assistance, and the piloting of specific initiatives to support the broader agricultural sector. We have designed curriculum, offered cutting-edge best practice interventions, facilitated conflict resolution efforts, and challenged the status quo within government, among PSOs and CSOs, and within EEA and USAID.
Over these past five years, our work has evolved and deepened in ways we never imagined. We have made 19 trips—spanning 331 days on the road—in support of EEA’s important work. We built lasting, high-trust relationships that allowed us to offer candid, partner-specific advice at every level of our work. And we worked hard to exceed expectations with each engagement. Monitoring and evaluation of our work has always been extremely positive from our colleagues on the project, our partners in the field, our government liaisons, and EEA’s USAID contracting officers.
Asked initially to provide advocacy training and a handful of partner assessments, over time we’ve been provided with a tremendous amount of autonomy to engage with the EEA team on the development of new initiatives, creative problem-solving, and pushing local partners—including the government of Uganda—to take a critical look at the decisions they’re making and embrace a forward-thinking, change-oriented agenda. This long-term relationship has included two indefinite quantity services contracts (IQS’) and several extensions of those contracts based on our high quality work.
During our tenure, we worked with two chiefs of party, the deputy chief of party, many senior EEA staff, and countless PMU points of contact. We maintained solid relationships with our USAID contracting officers and the larger U.S. Mission in Uganda—including with Ambassador Malac. We provided direct support to more than two dozen partner CEOs and board chairs and trained hundreds of people across Uganda’s agricultural sector through 150+ days of training on a wide range of topics (many of these provided at both introductory and advanced levels):
- Advocacy Campaign Development
- Public Policy Development
- Stakeholder Engagement
- Management Skills
- Board Governance
- Fundraising and Development
- Association Management
- Membership Recruitment and Retention
- Organizational Development
- Monitoring and Evaluation
- Logic Modeling
- Facilitation Skills
- Youth Development
- Gender Equity
- Strategic Planning
- Coaching and Mentoring
- Data Collection, Use, and Management
- Communications & Storytelling
- New and Social Media
As our work has crossed so many result areas within EEA, we have found it useful to frame our work according to the following categories:
Advancing Agricultural Advocacy — A specific objective of our early EEA work was to enhance the capacity of Private Sector and Civil Society Organizations (PSOs and CSOs) to contribute to agricultural policy decisions through targeted advocacy-focused training. We adapted our CGC Advocacy Planning ToolkitTM for the workshop, providing a systematic way for participants to 1) Identify a problem; 2) Research issues surrounding a problem and identify the stakeholders who care; 3) Plan a set of activities; 4) Act on the plan; and 5) Evaluate the results of their efforts. The toolkit helps participants identify specific targets for their advocacy, create SMARTER objectives with clear monitoring and evaluation (M&E) indicators, and carefully select their advocacy and lobbying activities.
Assessing Needs & Institutional Strengthening — Early in the project, we all quickly realized that the capacity of our partners to engage in advocacy activities was extremely limited, so our work evolved to include partner assessment using our Rapid Capacity Assessment Process (Rapid S.T.A.R.T). These assessments lead to the development of individualized capacity development plans and targeted support from Common Ground and the project overall.
CGC has conducted our Rapid S.T.A.R.T. (Strategy, Action, & Results) assessment methodology with dozens of organizations in countries around the world. We’ve designed the process to quickly help projects and their partner organizations identify and prioritize the areas where strategic capacity building help will make a difference. At EEA, we began by administering a customized assessment tool (an Organizational Capacity Assessment (OCA)). With that data, we brought leadership together and then delved into difficult issues quickly and with a focus on identifying practical solutions and actionable first steps. Our intention was not to address every issue an organization may have been struggling with, but to pinpoint those problems that, when solved, would have the greatest positive impact in the shortest amount of time. This built trust and allowed us to tackle more challenging issues as the work moved forward. Common Ground has drafted 20+ detailed S.T.A.R.T. (and F.L.I.G.H.T. (Follow-Up and Insights)) reports during our time working on the project.
Although institutional strengthening and capacity building is the focus of many USAID projects, in the case of EEA it is not an end in itself, but rather a means to enable non-state actors to better advocate for policy positions with the Government of Uganda. Unfortunately, when organizations are as weak as many of our partners have been, their ability to advocate effectively is severely constrained by their lack of capacity. We have worked hard to try to balance these concerns, building the necessary capacity among our partners in an effort to enable them to define their policy positions and advocate effectively on behalf of their issues. Common Ground has produced more than 30 reports describing our training and capacity building activities over the years.
Investing in Local Capacity Expertise — After the initial 18 months of CGC providing targeted institutional strengthening assistance supporting dozens of local organizations, we proposed and implemented our Consulting Academy ModelSM to enhance the ability of local experts to offer many of the services we were providing. We created a 19-member consultant pool that has delivered an estimated 80% of EEA’s capacity building services since the core Consulting Academy workshop in January 2015. We’ll cover this initiative in more detail later in the report.
Modernizing Government — As our work with PSOs and CSOs started paying dividends—and those groups began to exercise their advocacy muscles—Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) reached out asking for EEA’s help. They wanted to better understand advocacy, stakeholder engagement, data demand and use, as well as monitoring and evaluation (M&E). CGC has since then played a lead role in delivering targeted training and technical assistance to every level of the Ministry on multiple occasions.
Nurturing Servant Leaders — We proposed LEAD UGSM based on CGC’s leadership model in an effort to spark explosive growth in the agricultural sector by solving Uganda’s most deeply entrenched sector problems. We chose leaders who had demonstrated their ability to be successful despite an environment that does not make it easy. We’ll cover this initiative in more detail later in the report.
Imagining a New Future — Working at the direction of LEAD UG, CGC produced a video we hope they will use to change the conversation about Ugandan agriculture. Uganda’s President Museveni is a primary audience for the video, which we still hope will receive attention from Ugandan media, donors, and key agricultural opinion leaders.
In the past, Common Ground has also produced a marketing brochure on behalf of one of our youth-lead partners, YOFACO; written the strategic plan for LEAD; and produced two infographics on behalf of the project—one that described in detail the GoU’s budgeting process (produced in partnership with the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG)), as well as one that outlined youth and gender perspectives on Uganda’s seed policy.