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AfriAlliance MOOC: Highlights from the discussions

The AfriAlliance MOOC on Social Innovation in Water and Climate Change is now underway, with >830 participants.

Over the course of 6 weeks, participants are learning about the concept of social innovation and discussing how it can be applied, including in their local own contexts and countries. 

Each week, we feature here the topics and trends emerging in the MOOC discussion forums. Using the text analysis tool 'Gavagai Explorer', we summarise the issue, concerns and ideas of the participants. Take a look below at the evolving discussion on social innovation in this MOOC.

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Module 5 - Sentiment Graph

Module 5 - A Social Innovation process in practice: a case study of the AfriAlliance Action Groups

In Module 5, participants learned about social innovation in practice and took a detailed look at the AfriAlliance Action Groups. Frequently discussed terms in the discussion forum included ‘Action Groups’, ‘stakeholders’, ‘project’ and ‘community.’

With the focus of the module on the AfriAlliance Action Groups, it is not surprising that these were the main focus of the discussion forum. However, the discussions often focused on the long-term sustainability of Action Groups, and the issues that they can face in maintaining a longer term impact. This is reflected in the relatively negative sentiment of this term displayed in the graph above. Despite this, participants were enthusiastic about the possibilities of Action Groups for social innovation, and proposed a range of solutions to the long term sustainability issues that had been raised.

As in many of the previous module, the role of the local community was a key focus of the discussion forum, and was one of the most mentioned terms during the module. The term ‘community’ was also strongly linked with the term ‘stakeholder’, indicating the role that many participants suggested for local communities in the Action Group process: communities should be actively involved in all stages of this work. While it was suggested that external support may be needed at first, communities can be strengthened and capacity built so that Action Groups can become entirely community-run projects.

Module 4 - Sentiment Graph

Module 4 - Sentiment Graph

Module 4 - Social Innovation and Integrated Water Resources Management

In Module 4, participants learned about social innovation in the context of integrated water resources management (IWRM). In this module’s discussion forum, we can see that high level management processes were a key feature of discussion – with frequently discussed terms including: ‘management’, ‘governance’, ‘IWRM and ‘national’. Naturally, the term ‘social innovation’ was also regularly mentioned.

Interestingly, of these high level management terms, all besides ‘national’ were discussed with a strong positive sentiment. While the role of good governance at all levels in managing water resources was discussed, participants were often critical of current national IWRM policies, suggesting that trans-national and river basin approaches are more beneficial. Although in many discussions governance at a national level was still identified as key in the IWRM process, it was suggested that we should be looking beyond only this level when considering innovation in IWRM.

In addition, the frequent mention of ‘examples’ indicates that this discussion forum was particularly rich in the sharing of experiences, with participants providing examples of ways in which they have experienced or witnessed social innovation with IWRM. The strong positive sentiment associated with the term ‘example’ clearly highlights the fruitful discussions stemming from these exchanges.

Module 3 - Sentiment Graph

Module 3 - Sentiment Graph

Module 3 - Social Innovation in Water Monitoring

In Module 3 of the MOOC, participants learned about social innovation in the context of water monitoring. In the discussion forum this week, the terms water, water quality, monitoring, capacity development, technology and people (see sentiment graph above) came up frequently.

Due to the Module topic, the terms ‘water quality’ and ‘monitoring’ were key terms and were frequently discussed in the forum. However, both terms were often mentioned with a relatively negative sentiment – reflecting the challenges that many of the participants have experienced in these areas. The discussion often centred on the societal impacts that have been caused by inadequate water monitoring programmes in many areas of Africa. In particular, ‘capacity development’ was highlighted as an issue in many current programmes, as can be seen from the below average sentiment linked with this term.

At the same time, the terms ‘technology’ and ‘social innovation’ were discussed very positively by participants. In the discussion forum of Module 3, information exchange among the MOOC participants was particularly rich, with participants suggesting concrete technological solutions as well as comprehensive social innovations to the water monitoring challenges raised by others.

Module 2 - Social Innovation: the AfriAlliance Approach

The second module of the AfriAlliance MOOC introduced the participants to the AfriAlliance approach to Social Innovation. In the discussion forum this week, the terms water, community, social, sanitation and people (see sentiment graph below) came up frequently.

The impact of social innovation in communities emerged as a key discussion point, with the term ‘community’ being mentioned in 40% of posts. Rural communities were of particular focus in the discussions, with the term ‘farmers’ linked with ‘community’, as well as the term ‘rural’ occurring in 12% of all posts. At the same time, the term ‘small’ was used by participants with a relatively negative connotation, reflecting the need to upscale innovations (one of the core principles of Module 2). Therefore, the discussions from Module 2 reflected both the opportunities offered by social innovation at community level, as well as the importance to move beyond small scale innovations where possible.

The sentiment graph also displays other terms that were discussed with relatively negative connotation: process, sanitation, training, rural, help.  This reflects the considerable discussion of the challenges associated with water and climate solutions in rural areas, in particular difficulties with obtaining support, funding and capacity to sustain these innovations in the long term. In particular, the provision of adequate sanitation solutions in rural settings was highlighted as challenging – participants frequently mentioned that such innovations regularly break down and can’t be maintained.

Similarly the term ‘training’ was discussed related to the importance of capacity development for the implementation  and maintenance of innovations. Several participants shared experiences of when a lack of trained personnel resulted in the sub-optimal implementation of an innovation or project, in various African contexts.

Module 1 - Introduction to the MOOC

The MOOC kicked off with an introductory module, that provideded an overview of the course and allowed participants to get to know each other in the discussion forum. 

As can be seen in the graph below (created using Gavagai Explorer), the key topics discussed in the forum this week were: water, participants' current work, learning opportunities and the MOOC itself. The participants were particularly positive when discussing social innovation and they also expressed their excitement for the rest of the MOOC, and the opportunity to learn more about social innovation.