This is the beginning of a story. I don’t know how long or short a story it is going to be nor where the plot is going to take us. It is the story of a Community of Practice. A Community of Practice on gender-responsive research for scientists exploring how people can best use and conserve agricultural and tree biodiversity for healthy people on a healthy planet.
The story begins about three years ago at Bioversity when Maria Fernandez was asked by Bioversity and the CGIAR Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry to conduct a scoping study of what was needed to make sure that gender was well represented in our research. She went to many countries across many continents and wrote a report, one recommendation of which was “build a gender Community of Practice within Bioversity”.
About the same time, I was finishing my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice with a research project on Communities of Practice in the context of AWARD, a program which promotes the careers of women agricultural scientists in Africa. It was a match made in heaven! Bioversity needed a CoP, I had studied all about CoPs, what could be better?
You might expect at this point that we would leap in and the CoP would take off. Instead, things have been slow as all the people involved have had multiple commitments, making it difficult not only to plan and communicate but also to gauge how best to move ahead. Time, time, time, it is never enough. Especially as this was or is an extra thing not our core business, even for those scientists who work on gender in their research. Additionally, we were finding it difficult to understand what kind of institutional mandate we might have, and who else was out there who should or could be involved.Without an understanding of who the ‘community’ actually was and what it needed, it was hard to act.
And, let’s face it, I was scared too. Scared of failure — Having studied CoPs, i knew that there is a long literature trail of case studies of failed CoPs, set up with good intentions but that then go nowhere. Scared too of success — What if it really did turn into a buzzing hive of activities? Would we have the capacity to cope?