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Philosophy and Principles

Innovation platforms are made up of various actors who communicate, co-operate and share tasks to carry out activities needed for innovation to take place (1)
(1) Nederlof ES, Wongtschowski M, Lee F van der. 2011. Putting heads together: Agricultural innovation platforms in practice. KIT publishers, Amsterdam
. There are a few principles that are important: 
  • Diverse composition of stakeholders. 
  • Address a shared problem or opportunity, not the agenda of one or two members only. 
  • Facilitation by a neutral person/organisation with convening authority. 
  • Initial success motivates the members to commit to the platform. 
  • Change resulting from the innovation should benefit multiple members. 
  • Exchange and learning should remain central. 
  • Platform members must show respect to each other despite of diverging opinions and knowledge. 
  • Systems for ensuring transparency and accountability must be in place. 
Platforms can exist at multiple levels. Local platforms, for example, tend to address specific problems or opportunities such as improving the efficiency of a specific value chain. Local platforms are well placed to test new ideas and generate action on the ground. Platforms at national or regional levels often set the agenda for agricultural development, and allow stakeholders, including farmers through their representatives, to influence policies (see Case 1). Linking platforms at different levels offer several benefits such as: sharing successful ideas, empowering local actors to influence policy, fostering dialogue in policy making, developing value chains, and increasing legitimacy and learning (2)
(2) Tucker J, Schut M, Klerkx L. 2013. Linking action at different levels through innovation platforms. Innovation Platforms Practice Brief 9. ILRI.

Case 1

The Ghana Oil Palm platform was set up in the context of the Convergence of Sciences-Strengthening of Innovation Systems program in Ghana, to address problems related to processing oil palm into cooking oil, soaps, cosmetics and biofuel. The platform (called a Concertation action and Innovation Group - CIG), was formed at national level but operates largely in Kwaebibrim district, one of Ghana’s main oil palm-growing areas. Linked to the platform are two local platforms which aim to support small-scale processors in improving their output for export and for industrial markets: (1) An experimentation group that tests processing practices and (2) A district-level stakeholder group, which sets the agenda for experiments; and plays an important role in lobbying the district administration (3)
(3) Nederlof, E.S. and Pyburn, R. 2012. One finger cannot lift a rock. Facilitating innovation platforms to trigger institutional change in West Africa. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute.


A lot can be said about how innovation platforms are set-up and put into motion. We organize the information in “steps”. Needless to say, these steps are a simplification of reality and aimed only to help readers understand the basic dynamics around innovation platforms (4)
(4) This section draws on: Tennyson R. 2005. The Partnering Toolbook. Published by GAIN, IBLF and UNDP, London. Critchley W, Verburg M, Veldhuizen L van. (Eds.) 2006. Facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships: Lessons from Prolinnova. Silang, Cavite, Philippines: IIRR/Leusden, ETC.

1. Ask yourself: is an innovation platform the best tool? Consider the costs to be incurred, the issues at stake (i.e. do you want to disseminate an idea or to solve a problem? - the former can probably be done in much cheaper ways), and whether platform members are willing to work together (see Case 2). If an innovation platform looks right to you, then define your (general!) topic or theme, and at what level the platform should operate, e.g. district level, provincial level, or national level. 

2. Look at what is already in place - do not start from scratch if not needed. Build on previous partnerships and initiatives. Ask potential partners which initiatives they have been involved in, and whether the innovation platform will add value to on-going initiatives. (Re-)consider, on that basis, whether a new innovation platform is really the best tool to use - or if existing multi-stakeholder structures could be used instead. 

Recommended tools: interviews with key partners, stakeholder analysis.

3. Identify potential platform members: This step can be done either in a meeting with several initiators, or prior to that. It includes: 

Identify which actors (individuals, partner organizations, etc.) would add value to the platform. Do not limit the choice to like-minded partners or usual suspects; but do realize that the agenda needs to move forward quickly (i.e. not be dragged by endless discussions with actors unwilling to cooperate). 

Select the most appropriate actors and secure their active involvement by discussing with them, prior to the meeting, about their interest and concerns. 

Recommended tools: stakeholder analysis, interviews with key partners.

4. Jointly develop an action plan: this step is best done in a meeting/workshop; but can be prepared by discussing with key actors - and marginal actors likely to be excluded from the discussion, such as women farmers - beforehand. It includes: 

  • Define main concerns and opportunities the platform could focus on. 
  • Prioritise these - focus on a few, concrete, and tangible issues; for which there is energy and enthusiasm in the group. 
  • Define a few concrete activities, and define who is responsible for making those happen, by when. One way to define activities is to let actors themselves say what they want to do, or be responsible to do, to help solving a certain problem. 

Recommended tools: action planning, ranking of priorities.

5. Define roles and responsibilities: in a meeting, define the platform’s governance structure and the general division of responsibilities (see section on governance below). 

Recommended tools: open discussion at meeting.

6. Keep partners engaged: a common challenge of innovation platforms, as partners may stop coming to the meetings after a few initial well-attended gatherings. A few tips: 

  • Commitment grows from successful first actions: the earlier platform members start seeing benefits of the platform, the better. 
  • Choose the “right” individuals to participate; those preferably not sitting too “high” in an organization hierarchy (and who will probably not have the time to attend the platform’s meetings) nor too “low” (with little or no decision making power, frustrating him/herself and others by taking too long to make things happen). 
  • Task the facilitator to make an additional effort to engage those who may not be at ease to speak out at meetings, such as women farmers. 

7. Revisit, re-plan: a platform may start with a specific problem. Once this is solved, it needs to move on. Re-planning is therefore an important step, to be taken often. It involves: 

  • Check how far you are in solving the problem (or taking full advantage of an opportunity) prioritised. What has gone right so far? What hasn’t? What could we learn from that? 
  • Discuss whether it is time to choose other topics, and go again through a process of prioritisation and action planning. 

8. Plan for the long term: often, innovation platforms start up as part of a project. What happens after the project ends? It is important to say that a platform has its existence justified only if it continues to catalyse positive action. So once that positive action ends, the platform may as well be dissolved. If the platform partners intend to continue working together, they have to make agreements - as early in the process as possible - on how the functioning costs of the platform (meeting venues, broker, implementation of activities) will be covered.