A recent HarvestChoice team retreat hardly fits Webster's idea of "an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable".
Inspired by the fruits of a recent planning session convened by the UMN HarvestChoice team with CSIRO in Canberra, the IFPRI HarvestChoice team recently gathered for an annual retreat in a new location; Ballard, Washington, a trendy outpost of Seattle, where our small hotel nestled within walking distance of SpatialDev and a short cab ride from Tableau and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Arriving from the other Washington, the University of Minnesota, and Nairobi, Kenya, HarvestChoice team members assembled to christen the new and still near-empty offices of SpatialDev (our Seattle host and spatial application development partners) for 3 agenda-filled days of strategic planning.
Our goal was to refresh our vision and re-assess priority tasks and responsibilities around the team’s core thematic activities and outputs: characterization and evaluation of households and smallholder production systems, assessing crop and livestock productivity constraints and opportunities, evaluating market opportunities, our data framework and infrastructure, communications and outreach, and partnership building. Within each theme, we mapped out deliverables: datasets, tools and maps, manuscripts, as well as pathways of outreach, partnerships and communications, all of which will shape the lasting impact of HarvestChoice.
Beyond solidifying our work plans, three events highlighted the retreat:
- A visit to our major funder, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its “living buildings” with transparent, collaborative spaces, roof top gardens, and panoramic views of the Space Needle were impressive as were the circles of conversations about farming, agronomy, data, technology and ecology. And once again, Prabhu Pingali, Director of Policy for BMGF’s Agriculture Development Program, expressed his great support of HarvestChoice.
- A learning trip to Tableau, our oft-used data storytellers on the web, brought home to us the ambitiousness of our goals:
One “Aha!” moment for me came during our Tableau visit, when the client support staff repeatedly emphasized how the uniqueness and intricacy of the HarvestChoice applications demanded the maximum of Tableau’s capabilities. -Ulrike Wood-Sichra, HarvestChoice Database Manager
P.S. Do you know the link between Tableau and Pixar’s Woody and Buzz Lightyear?
- Our daily technical discussions with SpatialDev on the vision of and the pathway towards the spatial and tabular data and analytical platform needed to best serve HarvestChoice user needs:
To achieve our goals, the “what” of our work, we recognize the need to invest in the framework that supports “how” we are doing it. To that end, we are focusing thoughtful attention to designing a data infrastructure that supports our hundreds of variables, defined by various dimensions, in different places, and through time. HarvestChoice partners with SpatialDev to develop elegant solutions to this multi-dimensional challenge. -Susana Crespo, HarvestChoice Research Analysis
The retreat reached its crescendo on the final day when, during a session with SpatialDev, we experienced another eureka moment. As we grappled with figuring out how to bring together various data services - our MAPPR spatial data explorer tool, gridcell spatial database, new time series and project M&E data management tools and the like - everybody started scribbling, gesturing and marking up the white board, each in their own language and applying their own particular insights, but in ways that rapidly and remarkably converged into a clear vision for the next stage of evolution of the HarvestChoice platform.
It definitely pays to get the HarvestChoice team together in the same room, minus the usual, everyday interruptions, both to take stock of where we’re going and how we’re getting there, and for each of us to better appreciate our personal contribution to that journey. But most importantly, the retreat helped us reflect on how we can better organize ourselves to be more effective in generating and sharing data and knowledge so as to better service the needs of sub-Saharan Africa policy and investment practitioners.