PRCI train-the-trainer model builds the next generation of global researchers

Core Center training through PRCI Innovation Lab teaches skills to young researchers

Training researchers is a key part of the capacity strengthening aspect of the MSU Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity and Influence (PRCI).  The USAID funded lab partners with research institutions in low- and middle-income countries to bridge training gaps and build researchers’ capacity to produce rigorous, relevant policy research that leads to improved policy in their countries. These trainings focus on giving scholars cutting-edge skills they need in research design and data analysis, as well as soft skills like effective policy communication. The Core Center Training Program focuses on strengthening the capacity of research and outreach staff in competitively chosen Centers for Policy Leadership (CPLs).

Using a train-the-trainer approach, the PRCI program is designed to put CPLs in a position, by the end of the project, to lead diverse capacity strengthening activities for policy influence research in their networks and countries. One trainee turned trainer is Dr. Zena Mpenda, from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania, who recently was part of the presentation team on how to address gender in value chain analysis.

Mpenda said of the experience, “sharing what one has learnt with peers is one of the best approaches in research training. It becomes more evident on identifying challenges, small mistakes, or oversights that one can make while conducting research.” 

Through this collaborative process, trainers leverage their knowledge to build skills needed in the global research community to address pressing issues of food security and climate change. Trainings for the CPLs are led by a coalition of consortium partners, including the Institute for Statistical, Social, and Economic Research – Ghana (ISSER), the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand, and Cornell University, all coordinated and led by Michigan State University. The three African CPLs are the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research – Bureau of Macroeconomic Analysis (ISRA-BAME) in Senegal, the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) in Uganda, and the Innovation Lab for Policy Leadership in Agriculture and Food Security (PiLAF) in Nigeria. Building partnerships between institutions of learning creates avenues for global scholars to set their own research agendas and create policy change based on solid empirical evidence in the regional landscape of their agri-food systems.

The SUA research team had the opportunity to work with PRCI through ReNAPRI. “The organized research meetings, sequencing of activities and level of engagement/commitment into research activities offered by the partners from MSU and IFPRI is an experience learned and appreciated”, said Dr. Mpenda. “Peer review supporting one another in an effort to learn from each other and share experience on the aspect of diverse research activities, plans, and strategies was a new dimension that underscores the benefits of the PRCI program.”

To date, there are 26 training modules, with more on the horizon. All the modules are available for asynchronous learning, providing an ongoing public learning resource. The modules consist of recordings of live virtual trainings along with supporting materials. In the second cohort, 140 participants have attended the live online lectures, and the asynchronous learning modules have had over 4,000 page views.  

The PRCI training model supports more than just global researchers. Closer to home, MSU Ph.D. student in the department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) Hanna Carlson said, “I've really enjoyed working as a research assistant with PRCI. As an AFRE Ph.D. student studying economic development, one of the reasons I picked MSU was the collaborative relationship they have with research institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is essential to collaborate with researchers on the ground in these countries because then it is a mutual learning experience that allows better research from all parties involved. As a contributor to these trainings, I've built relationships with people all over the world.”

In July, PRCI will have a training series on avoiding unintentional plagiarism that will be conducted by scholars from the three African CPLs who participated in the first cohort. The original training last year was led by PRCI Technical Training Co-Lead and AFRE Associate Professor, Saweda Liverpool-Tasie; PRCI Technical Training Co-Lead and AFRE Associate Chairperson, Nicole Mason-Wardell; and Paul Samboko, a Zambian master’s student in AFRE. AFRE Associate Professor Veronique Theriault is now co-leading the Technical Training with Mason-Wardell and Carlson.

“PRCI takes very seriously its commitment to working with our partners to help them build their capacity to produce high quality research and bring it to bear on policy decision-making”, said PRCI Director Professor David Tschirley.  According to Tschirley, “the training-of-trainers approach is central to this, and I am thrilled that we have made so much progress under PRCI in moving from a process led by MSU and IFPRI researchers to one where our partners are doing more of the training even as we backstop them and provide other, new trainings.  It’s a great model and really satisfy to see unfolding in real time.”

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