Be flexible and responsive.
This principle is about having the flexibility to work deeply with collaborators in a shared learning environment, where almost everything about a project or plan could change from what is anticipated or assumed at its inception – from the important questions to the approaches used to the nature of the outputs.
Such flexibility and material responsiveness is partly a state of mind, but it’s also about the institutional capacity and willingness to substantially change plans or make limited plans at the start. It can be difficult to deviate from detailed formal plans, which are often required by funding bodies before deep engagement and collaboration occurs. To overcome these barriers and achieve more mutually beneficial outcomes, we may need to plan projects or processes in coarse, overarching ways that allow for subsequent flexibility without the need for formal variations and re-approvals.
How this principle was used in AdaptNRM
In AdaptNRM, we changed our plans for engagement approaches, our timelines for engagement to better align with less-busy periods for NRM groups, and even the actual intent and nature of our outputs – all as a result of embracing shared learning. Some of these changes were easy to make given the broad nature of the original project planning, but others required a great deal of additional paperwork and approval, taking staff time away from delivering our products.
For example, our original idea for the Weeds module Key Messages document was to provide a concise summary of the major points covered in the Technical Guide (≈70 pages). In fact, most of these key points had already been identified and used as the basis for the Weeds section of the AdaptNRM website, with the idea they could then be transferred to a 4-5 page Key Messages document.
However, feedback from a number of NRM planners suggested that the main use for this type of document would probably be with stakeholders: preferably as a highly accessible tool to improve awareness of the Weeds module, of the scientific basis for weed management planning under climate change, and of the main changes that might be needed in strategic planning, weed management, and monitoring. While retaining scientific integrity, this required a different style of document; namely, a very brief overview of the science, a focus on weed management planning, explanatory diagrams, links to further resources and, very importantly as stressed by NRM planners, a maximum length of 2 pages (i.e. one piece of paper to bring to the table, increasing the likelihood stakeholders would read and absorb it, thereby leading to greater uptake). The original draft was accordingly completely redesigned to better meet the application needs of NRM planners.
Ideas for how you can apply this principle
- The need for flexibility to achieve shared learning could be kept in mind at the very start of planning projects and activities.
- Is it possible to avoid detailed planning at the outset to increase capacity for shared learning and co-design?
- Are you able to negotiate with funding bodies about the kinds of project changes that require variations and formal approvals, in order to increase the ability to modify the project as a result of the shared learning process without creating additional paperwork and delays?
- Be explicit with science information providers that you expect them to be likewise flexible and responsive so that they provide more relevant and usable information.