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How we are building and facilitating SALSA communities of practice in the Reference Regions

The community of practice (CoP) in SALSA project is intended as a multi-stakeholder learning and policy dialogue platform to consult, validate and progress the research and to enrich the knowledge base on relevant questions regarding small farms, small food business and their contribution to food security.

In every participating country, the respective partners are expected to facilitate a reference region or a national CoP (RR CoP) with regional / national stakeholders’ participation. Depending on local contexts and situations, SALSA partners may need to use different approaches to launch or activate CoPs and work with different stakeholders. For instance, when in some regions partners may use already existing CoPs, networks, learning alliances etc. in other regions they may need to initiate new collaborative learning and knowledge exchange platforms.

We intend this discussion as a forum to share and exchange experiences, ideas, tools etc. regarding our work in communities of practice.


As an example, we share some experiences of the Latvian team in working with the RR-CoP gained so far. These experiences are organized below as bullet points of the activities or decisions taken and related lessons learnt.

  • The initiation of the CoP started when preparing some tasks and interviews for WP2 and WP3. We identified several relevant experts on the Latvian RR, staple products and small farms for the expert interviews. This was done on the basis of publicly available information, our own networks, former contacts and knowledge and the suggestions of other experts. We kept in mind that these persons would be also potential CoP participants.   Lessons / tips: The field experts have their own networks; try to understand how these can relate to the SALSA RR-CoP.
  • When communicating to the identified experts and during the expert interviews, we also presented SALSA project, its multi-actor approach and CoPs, and asked for or estimated the experts’ readiness to take part in the project’s other activities. Therefore we identified the more proactive and engaged experts keen in the SALSA research issues who manifested their interest and willingness to follow the developments in the project and contribute to certain CoP (or other project’s) activities within the field of their expertise.   Lessons / tips: Interviews and direct face-to-face interactions are key to build relations, gain mutual credibility and trust with the stakeholders who are keen to promote small farmers’ position in the agri-food system. Having had a successful interview is a precondition to contact the expert later and invite him/her to get engaged in the next SALSA activities. The experts who were most interested in the SALSA project were those stakeholders who have already been engaged with small farming issues both in practical or research terms or who are at leadership positions of small farmers’ or other agricultural organisations. Some of these experts have already been actively involved in lobbying and engaged in consultative groups formed by relevant public authorities.
  • We found useful to organise small group discussions / focus groups on specific issues. In our case, these groups were used as a task force to discuss the application of the collected statistical data and brainstorm about the production/consumption/processing/trade of the selected staple food items in the chosen RRs.   Lessons / tips: Such smaller and focussed group discussions are effective to establish as parts or subgroups of a RR-CoP for some specific tasks. Smaller groups are mutually stimulating for the participants, they help to establish closer links between stakeholders and engage them in joint work.
  • We have been developing an e-mail list of all the interested stakeholders to be used later to keep them informed on the SALSA progress and invite them to the forthcoming activities (e.g., regional workshops, focus groups).   Lessons / tips: It is important to keep contact information and records of the potential RR-CoP members, who then might be contacted for inviting them to RR-CoP activities, circulating SALSA draft documents, newsletters, etc.

What are your experiences with the community of practice in your region? How have you launched it? How do you identify, establish contacts and engage with its participants? Do you face any difficulties?

Dear Collegues In Poland RRs we have similar experience like our friends from Lativia.1) We strongly colaborate with Agricultural Counseling Centers in RR. People from Centers have really good knowledge in farms situation in RRs, and they are interested in future of these farms. We inform them about the SALSA project, present and give them a lot information about it. They supported us in SALSA project also (for instance they helped us in staple product selection). Each adviser from Agricultural Counseling Center in Poland must have network of contacts to famers from his area of activity. We asked them to transfer them information about SALSA project. In such way (step by step) we build network of people/farmers informed about and involwed in SALSA project,2) We use events on our University to present SALSA project. 29.06.2017 University of Agriculture in Krakow, in collaboration with the Agricultural Advisory Centre in Brwinów, Krakow Branch Office organised its next, seventh scientific conference. The subject of this year's conference was "The innovativeness of rural areas in urbanised territories". During these conference I presented SALSA project. There were more than 300 people, each of them got leaflet about SALSA project,3) We presented SALSA project to students from University of Agriculture during last months. Most of them are from countrysides, a lot of them are from our RRs. In the next years they probably will work in institutions connected with agriculture, in farms, food companies, etc. We belive that they are future of Polish agriculture so it is important to inform them about such project.


How to proceed? In Latvia, we had not identified a particular organisation or an established network working specifically with small farmers with whom to ally in organising SALSA CoP activities. Therefore our CoP has been organised so far primarily through SALSA-related activities linked to the implementation of specific WP 2 and 3 tasks. A range of stakeholders have been identified of potential interest in / for SALSA. Part of these contacts came from previous projects we have worked on, one specifically on small farms. Another contacts were identified and established when organising project activities of WP2 and WP3. Among these contacts there was a range of stakeholders – researchers, advisors, local municipalities who work with small farmers, and small farmers and small food businesses themselves and their organisations. We started a list that contains all these persons, their contacts and contribution to the project in order to keep a track and for a further communication.

Most of these identified stakeholders have been directly involved in the implementation of WP2 and WP3 tasks as informants or local contact persons who linked us to local small farmers and small food businesses. Establishing relations with local leaders or reference persons eased our access to farmers: these local experts could provide us with contacts, and in several cases they personally introduced us to the identified farmers. In general, people have been very welcoming and open to cooperate. But they have also their own busy agendas; therefore some delays happened and short, purposeful interactions have been preferred.

After the fieldwork was done, we left the field. In order to stay in touch with stakeholders, we had prepared and sent them a SALSA newsletter with information on the project and preliminary results of the research (attached, in Latvian). The newsletter was sent also to farming media or journalists to raise their awareness about the project and small-scale farmers.

Attached files: 

Dear All,

The approaches taken in Latvia and Poland are very interesting and inspiring - thanks for sharing.  

We like very much the experience of Marta and her colleagues in Poland regarding working in partnership with advisers, but unfortunately it's impossible to emulate here in Romania since the public agricultural advisory system is very weak and fragmented (and undergoing constant restructuring!) whilst private advisers are only working with large-scale farmers.  It's also interesting to note from Latvia the importance of contacts with individual experts, especially those who have been actively involved in lobbying or previous consultative groups.  This is very relevant to our own experience.

Regarding our own experiences here in Romania - we consider the CoP to be very important at both regional level and national.  As leaders of WP6 (enabling conditions) we are particularly keen to establish a CoP that will - as the SALSA Impact and Comms Plan highlights - provide both a "learning and policy dialogue platform".  Our approach at the moment is threefold:

1) Strategic planning - since the beginning of June we have a new colleague in our team, a communications specialist, who is helping us to prepare our own Impact and Communication Plan based upon D7.4.  We find the D7.4 Plan very useful, but to make proper use of it we need to tailor it to our own context

2) Building a national CoP from the top-down - during April and May of this year we had the opportunity to interact with a World Bank study on "Smallholder Inclusion in Agri-food Value Chains in Romania".  This was a very useful opportunity and opened doors to a lot of interesting data and contacts with key stakeholders at national level.  These included the major supermarkets, a number of whom have a clear commitment to sourcing fresh and processed products from small farmers.  One of the main challenges we have set ourselves for the national CoP is therefore to bring the policy-makers, major retailers and small holder representatives together for a discussion about national food security issues in Romania.  From the available statistics it's obvious that there is a chronic weakness in the capacity of the Romanian agri-food system to a) meet the consumption demands of the Romanian (especially urban) population and b) shift the country from its persistently negative agri-food trade balance whereby lots of low value bulk commodities are exported and high value produce and products are imported.  In this way we hope to position SALSA in Romania as a project of real relevance to an issue of national strategic significance

3) Building regional CoPs from the bottom-up - this is challenging!  There are few existing networks connecting small farmers, especially in our selected reference regions.  Local people are happy to chat informally, but not so willing to commit to anything more formal - including longer term engagement with the project.  In order to build some credibility we are focussing first on informing the local community leaders (e.g. the local "mayor") about our interests and activities.  But inevitably some suspicions remain and progress is slow.  One mistake we have made is not producing a simple, easy-to-read description of the project in Romanian - this should have been our first priority!  We would be interested to know if other partners have written a specific leaflet for their farmers / stakeholders - or simple translated the project leaflet.

All the best,

Mark and Raluca

Highclere Consulting


Dear Sandra and SALSAs!

I just read the first reports on national/RR-regional CoP building, and the related experiences from Latvia, Poland and Romania. All three reports are very very useful and inspiring for others. Each report also includes very useful advise on how to build a CoP and enhance engagement.

Without adding to this, I'd just like to encourage others to read these reports, to try out themselves, and to let us know on TECA in this forum what experiences you make. Engaging with relevant stakeholders, trying out, exchanging and learning (including from each other) along the way is a vital part of SALSA. It can make field work and the organisation of workshops etc. easier. Most improtantly, national/RR-regional consultations will increase in importance as the project proceeds and we move into discussing findings, drawing conclusions and recommending actions in support of small farms, small food businesses and the further development of (local) food systems.

Thanks again to those who contributed already - great stuff!!!


After a few 'pilot' interviews with farmers we realised that we REALLY DID need a simple, easy-to-read description of the SALSA project written in Romanian using a language (plus images) that interviewees could relate to.

I've inserted below what Raluca and Alina have produced - plus the PDF version is also attached.

It's a clear and simple leaflet with a nice clean design.  We will continue to adapt and develop the leaflet according to our needs and the specific target groups we are working with.  But we feel that these kind of simple communication tools are an important part of the process of building the SALSA CoP.


Highclere Consulting

Have you seen this really useful guide on "how to design and facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships", developed by people from Wageningen University? The link to the web site (which has the full guide and a separate tool book) is www.mspguide.org/msp-guide. I include the guide below - but the tool book is more than 5 MB, so I can't upload it on TECA.

Attached files: