Climate change is a major challenge for smallholder farmers in developing countries and resilience is one of the key approaches to tackle climate change’s negative effects. Funding and interest for measuring and building climate change resilience have recently increased within the development sector. However, measuring resilience as a step towards improving livelihoods is still difficult and it is only a first step. We wanted to go one step further and bring together resilience measurements with existing solutions and local knowledge to empower farmers. Using a 5-day Google Venture “Design Sprint” methodology, we created a theory of change, digital mock-up of a mobile app and tested it with development practitioners. The feedback we received was positive, so much so, that we are now working on a prototype and plan to test it with farmers in a developing country in the next few months.
This past summer’s heat wave has not only caused countless lost hours at work in urban areas but has very badly affected farmers’ harvests in Europe, where the smallest grain harvest in six years was expected. While we can’t definitely say that it is climate change destroying those harvests, as climate change progresses such events will become both more frequent and extreme. In the developed world, governments have announced (financial) support for the yield losses farmers are facing. In developing countries, however, where these effects are most strongly felt, farmers fail to have access to such safety nets.
We, that is John Choptiany, Samuel T. Ledermann, Daniele Conversa (working on IT at FAO) & I, have all worked with farmers on climate resilience in the past by developing and implementing a tool (i.e. SHARP) to measure climate resilience or help to upscale an innovative agricultural system (i.e. Push-pull) across sub-Saharan Africa. While resilience is becoming increasingly important in development and research, even just measuring it is still a challenge. With a Google Venture “Design Sprint”, funded by the ETH’s WFSC, we set out to develop a tool that could not only help farmers measure their climate change resilience, but empower them to improve their resilience. We had been thinking about this for the last two years, but thanks to the “Design Sprint” method we found a well-designed, time-boxed way to take a significant step forward in a short period of time.
So, what’s the Google Venture “Design Sprint”? It’s a five-day method to identify an issue, draw up a number of potential solutions, pick one of those solutions, prototype it and test it with potential customers. It is based on principles from the lean start-up and human-centered design methodologies and builds on years of experience from its authors (Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz) who have employed the method with new start-ups and established large companies. If you want to read more in-depth about how we applied the method during our sprint have a look at my article in Ad-Hoc (in German only).
So how was it?
For us, the method worked extremely well, as the book and corresponding website (www.gv.com/sprint) are entertaining and practical (including checklists and suggestions for software that could be used to prototype). Also, in theory, given that you are only meant to work from 10 am to 5 pm each day with a one-hour lunch break, the method allows for concentrated and energetic ideas while still allowing time for everyone to answer their emails and attend urgent issues from their everyday jobs. However, in practice we worked many more hours than the method advises.
By our fourth day, we came up with the prototype of a potential tool for farmers (see picture below); the goal is to help farmers assess their resilience and connect them with an existing pool of scientifically-sound solutions to their resilience challenges. The tool works to measure the farmers’ resilience and understand the unique characteristics of the farmer in order to tailor specific solutions to their needs. Understanding how rural transformations occur, we are explicitly enabling farmers to connect to other farmers. In this way we are treading a fine line between a techno-centric and a farmer-centric approach, by allowing for the co-production of knowledge, including feedback systems and sharing of local solutions into the global pool. This avoids the problems of donor funding cycles and outside influence, giving more power to the farmers themselves.
In this process, the Google Venture “Design Sprint” was invaluable, as it allowed us to work in an extremely effective and efficient manner on the topic. The clear time-limitation of one week helped us to focus and the practical nature of the book, combined with our various expertise and experiences, ensured we didn’t get lost on the way.
And now? The way forward
The critical feedback we received from development professionals was encouraging and in a next step we aim to complete building a working prototype and test it with farmers in one or two developing countries to find out if there’s a potential market for such a product. This way, we aim to truly put the farmers at the centre of it all and hopefully build a scalable app that can help to positively impact the world. The WFSC’s Ambassador grant was instrumental in making this sprint a reality. Through that it allowed me to learn and implement a new method, learn more about climate resilience and start us on our path to creating a venture to support smallholder farmers to become more climate-resilient.
Do you want to be part of this endeavor or do you have experiences from your own work you would like to share with us? We are always eager to learn and improve so just get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Gräub works at the intersection of technology, nature and agriculture to positively impact the world. In this, he loves to connect unusual dots and people to creatively change existing structures and approaches.
His over 8 years of work experience include working for start-ups, corporates an NGO, the UN and a government. He is a change agent with over seven years of experience in policy work, research and managing projects within start-ups, an NGO, the UN and a government agency.
Benjamin originally studied International Affairs & Governance as well as International Management and just loved the ETH WFSC summer school he attended in India in 2014.
“We would like to thank ETH’s World Food System Center and Stiftung Mercator Schweiz for their generous support to this workshop through the WFSC Ambassador Fund.”