Our grass-root experience of development work in African communities has revealed a disturbing trend: outside providers offer solutions to low-income households with the best of intentions, but then things often go wrong. There frequently appears to be a gap between the intentions and assumptions of these outside providers and the perceptions and social dynamics of low-income households themselves. In short, solutions often do not have the intended results and then create more problems than they solve.
To bridge the gap between the intentions of outside providers and the eventual results when these solutions are applied, the Nova team has developed an effective participatory action research and development (R&D) process, that has proved to be very successful in designing innovative solutions for low-income households to improve their quality of life and to ultimately promote the Nova vision of a healthy household culture in Southern Africa.
We believe that the secret to our success is that we engage households from the outset when we commence on a R&D process to design a solution for a particular problem in a particular community.
Research & Development Methodology
In designing ways to improve the quality of life of households, we have to understand the way in which a household would function when a given solution has become part of it. Even more importantly: the residents that we work with must begin to "see" the idea as a possibility for themselves, and begin to design ways in which this idea could work in their context. When that happens, it is an indication to us that we are on the right track.
In the early phases of the designing of this understanding we begin with a concept rather than an actual design. The concept is formed through practice research and in-depth interviews with residents and researchers from various disciplines, both in Nova and those in our wider networks. The concept will then be discussed with the residents, until they begin to think about it, reformulate it and begin to design ways in which it could work in their context. Together, we implement it on a small scale. It is evaluated with the residents, improved and iterated until all agree that it complies with the given criteria. We set for ourselves high standards. We want results that are:
- Desirable to end-users
- Beneficial (not replacing one problem with another)
- Replicable (the ability to be widely implemented)
When the experiments have been done with enough houses that we can have confidence that the concept has been proved, we search for ways to take it to scale with network partners.
Nova has developed sophisticated and comprehensive instruments for measuring the impact of our efforts on the quality of life of households.
Nova's Phased Approach
The phased approach graph, which can also be seen as a learning curve, could be explained as follows:
- Phase 1: All the role players participating in the project must reach consensus on the aims and procedures to be followed.
- Phase 2: Second phase: Researchers and experts from different backgrounds and a representative number of household members from a particular community put their heads together to reach consensus, firstly, on what the needs and problems are, and secondly, to decide together what the best possible solutions are to solve those problems, arranged in a priority list.
- Phase 3: The most promising solutions are implemented on a small scale, evaluated, improved and iterated again, until one of them complies with all the set criteria.
- Phase 4: The solution that complies with the criteria is implemented in one community and evaluated and improved again, if necessary.
- Phase 5: The solution is implemented on a large scale by Nova
- Phase 6: The solution is transferred to an agency other than Nova, such as a network partner, for large scale implementation
- Phase 7: The project or programme is terminated
NOTE: there will eventually be a seventh phase, when the project is phased out.
- The validity of our approach was first proved when Nova developed a successful method to reduce air pollution caused by domestic coal burning. This method was called Basa Magogo by the community of eMbalenhle near Secunda, South Africa. Nova has implemented the method widely, and succeeded in verifying the resultant reduction of greenhouse gasses. Nova is now trading significant quantities of carbon credits generated in our Basa Magogo projects.
- Nova established the Functional Household Programme (FHP) jointly with the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. This FHP received the THRIP Excellence Award for work with a social significance from the South African Minister of Trade and Industry in 2005.