Influencing Policy in a Practical Sense

Chris Henderson from Practical Action speaking to COP CAS students back in Reading, UK, via a video link

Climate change affects everyone. In fact, the worst effects are far removed from those in the corridors of power, and many profound discussions occur between individuals and organizations at all levels across the globe. The huge variety of individuals and organizations at COP is therefore not surprising, and the wide range of different skill-sets, competencies, and levels of influence displayed is important in order to facilitate fruitful discussions. NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are one of the largest groups of non-party stakeholder participants at COP, so we wanted to find out what role they play, and how they work to influence climate policy.

Dominic Jones and Babra Kavuta speaking to Chris Henderson of Practical Action via video link

Yesterday afternoon we were lucky enough to talk to Chris Henderson, who is the senior Policy and Practice Adviser for Agriculture for the NGO Practical Action. He gave us his insights in how NGOs are taking a critical lead in mitigating the effects of climate change. Chris highlighted his experience in both NGOs, government and donor work.

Chris told us his work at Practical Application is very evidence-based and he is interested in adding value in the agriculture sector as he is working with people who are affected by the impact of climate change. This is in contrast to when he was managing funds and looking for bilateral relationships while working with donor agencies like the DFID, and the EU. He gave us the impression that it can be difficult to have an influence on policy from this space as political backing can be a strong forcing on policy. In addition to this, managing the large resources can be a problem which can reduce the focus on the core use of those resources to make a meaningful change in the world. Therefore, working in organisations like Practical Action gives an opportunity to focus on what works, what’s not working and why, and then find possible solutions to that. However, many organisations are severely underfunded which means they need the support from the donor community.

This was Chris’ fourth COP, and we learnt through this interview how the COP meetings have grown both in attendance and popularity where different NGOs, donors, policy makers and civil servants are coming together to find ways and means of mitigating, adapting and sharing ideas on what works and what is not and how these can be improved in order to reduce carbon emission. COP is a massive process which is hard to find out how to engage with and be effective as different activities and talks are happening at the same time which makes one miss other relevant talks. That’s certainly something we can relate to, how do you choose from all of the sessions? This is due to Practical Action having a smaller presence than some other NGOs. However, other organisations which are represented by teams can develop relationships, and thus influence the outcome of the meetings.

One of the things that Chris mentioned that Practical Action is especially interesting in understanding is ways to increase adaptation which are tailor-made for each situation i.e. for developing countries Vs developed countries. As it is now the progress on adaptation is woefully slow which is affecting the ways of life of the highly-affected people. The COP process, where different actors come together to share ideas and influence policy makers to adopt climate friendly policies which will support climate change adaptation, is the perfect arena for exploring and addressing these things. These are not simple issues, and the solutions require using a bottom up approach, empowering co-development by, for example, using existing social capital, human capital and technology to enhance the resilient capacity of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

One thing which needs to be taken into consideration is how development partners like NGOs compete over resources and space to disseminate their information without necessarily paying attention to what other development sectors are doing. Worth mentioning is how implementing organisations compete for resources and how researchers compete to disseminate the results of their findings while neglecting the findings of others which is an integral part in the learning process as it builds on solution building. It was indicated that people also go to events where there is like-mindedness which really doesn’t help hence the use of Inter-disciplinary approach is very important otherwise conferences can be a “dumping of information” unlike coming up with solutions how things can be done to change the world.

We really appreciated Chris taking the time to talk to us. We thought he was doing us a favour, however it turns out that he was just as pleased to speak to us. He told us he wanted to connect with students through Institutes such as the Walker institute, as one of the things he hopes to do is to build partnerships to proliferate learning. Skills and developments learned “in-the-field”, working as an NGO aren’t necessarily the things that would be picked up at an academic institution.

On the other hand, the techniques of analysis possessed by researchers and academics would be of huge benefit to NGOs. He highlighted that it was key for organisations with different competencies to work together, to best make use of the resources they possess. We feel you Chris, and we couldn’t agree more.

Find out more about Practical Action, who they are and what they do at