Most years, ILRI brings together a wide mix of staff in an ‘annual program meeting’ (APM). This year’s event was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 15–17 May 2013, and focused on ILRI’s 2013–2022 strategy.
Jo Cadilhon was one of the organizers of this year’s APM. Here he reflects on the event and how it went.
La mayonnaise a pris!
That’s French for ‘the mayonnaise has gelled’. It is a direct analogy to the delicate process of transforming one egg yolk, a teaspoon of mustard and a worryingly large volume of vegetable oil into delicious mayonnaise. We use this phrase in France to picture how a complex process requiring the collaboration of many different viewpoints and personalities has somehow magically turned into an outcome everybody will appreciate and endorse.
That is what happened at ILRI’s annual program meeting two weeks ago in Addis Ababa. Although confident the process would work out, the organization committee had been a bit worried that our 200 colleagues attending the meeting would not buy into our facilitated process of knowledge sharing and strategy building. But in the end, it worked fine. I’d like to highlight two self-facilitated activities that I think allowed us to move forward into implementing the five success critical factors and partnerships that are embedded in the new ILRI strategy.
ILRI’s Stuart Worsley started off an enormous open space marketplace where anyone who wanted to discuss a particular topic could shout out their passion about it and invite colleagues to come discuss this with them. Some of the topics that led to heated discussions included mainstreaming gender in ILRI’s activities, improving communications and collaborations across ILRI, and how to unlock the genetic potential of existing local livestock breed types.
When thinking about how I could participate in this open space, I remembered having had a difficult time settling in at ILRI in Nairobi and finding myself lost in the different concurrent and consecutive bureaucratic procedures to be followed. So I proposed to discuss the key elements to be included in an induction booklet for ILRI colleagues settling into their new duty station. I was pleasantly surprised to get a round of applause when I announced my discussion topic: This seemed to resonate with many colleagues. My group consisted of around 20 participants, with a few ILRI old-timers and many newcomers who were sharing the challenges they were facing and providing constructive suggestions on how ILRI could improve the settling in process for new staff members and students.
Crucially, colleagues from ILRI’s human resources and capacity development units were also part of the group. They pledged to start work on updating the induction booklet for new staff and students along the suggestions made and told me afterwards that this discussion had been very useful for them and their work.
I am thus proud to have helped ILRI launch a process that will help make it ‘fit for purpose’.
The following day, I started off a self-facilitated Samoan circle discussion focusing on the six most important issues to be tackled by ILRI to start unlocking livestock development potential through research, influence and capacity development, which are ILRI’s three new strategic objectives.
Those six most important issues were selected by colleagues through a dotmocracy process out of all the discussion topics of the previous day facilitated by Stuart. I was startled at how the intense talking dynamic of the previous day was transformed into equally intense listening power from over 100 people concentrating on the discussion of six colleagues sitting in the inner circle.
I think the Samoan circle enabled us to share different visions of the issues ILRI now needs to address. It also allowed us to start building all participants’ endorsement on the course of action we need to take collectively to deliver ILRI’s new strategy. The main lesson I have learned as an organizer of this year’s ILRI annual program meeting: In this very large group mixing scientists and administrators, both have channeled their professional enthusiasm into contributing elements to deliver larger strategic objectives for their organization.