What happens when detailed plans for bringing together different actors within an institution, included in the design stage, do not initially work at the point of operationalisation? This was a challenge we encountered early on in the AURA programme with the setting up of representation from the Academic, Library, ICT, Research, and Teaching (ALIRT) team.
ALIRT team concept
The concept of the ALIRT team was a strategy to bring on board the academia and the service departments of IT and the Library in order to drive a common agenda. Often in capacity building programmes, the roles of the service departments, especially IT and the Library, is relegated to a mere service and do not play a role in conceptual and strategic aspects of programmes. The ALIRT concept is a novelty that has a huge potential in reversing this relegation and improving results of the AURA programme at institutional level.
The implementation of the AURA programme, from the point of application, has progressed through an institutional assessment, diagnostics and, most recently, face-to-face training. The ALIRT team was already conceptualized in the programme design, however, at the point of application, we had not yet had a chance to build these relationships internally.
Assessment with the ALIRT team
In preparation for the institutional assessment, the Strathmore Team organized members of the ALIRT team as the core group that would work with the AURA team on the institutional assessment. The application papers for the AURA programme included the structure.
We started to prepare for the assessment with the ALIRT team who were eager to contribute and fully engaged at this point – the assessment drew on their expertise and utilized their time well. The institutional assessment report presents evidence that all members of the ALIRT team were able to contribute effectively to the design of interventions that address the maladies that continue to depress research outputs.
Once we had become an AURA partner, however, the situation drew more from the resources available from the PCs rather than the ALIRT team who then became somewhat disengaged. The activities at this point included developing the diagnostics and the face-to-face events.
The ALIRT team could have been more functional if we had been able to apply the concept of co-creation which is fundamental in the implementation of the AURA Programme – this would have provided an opportunity to re-assess the meaningful engagement of the ALIRT team in the process.
However, when the programme kicked off, the role of the ALIRT as a team, and of some members, became blurred and this led the ALIRT team to became dysfunctional. Attempts to revive the ALIRT team failed at this point. It is important, therefore, to rethink the roles and the engagement of the ALIRT team in the programme. Maybe raising their role to a strategic level and having face to face interactions between the different implementing institutions could be one proposal.
The thinking behind the ALIRT team in the design and implementation method of AURA was great but when it came to putting it in practice, the idea posed a number of challenges for internal engagement. Unfortunately, we missed an opportunity in not being able to open the space to critically explore the value of the ALIRT team as the programme evolved at this point. Also, as the AURA programme has developed, there has not been much demand for an ALIRT team at Strathmore. However, this may not be the end of the ALIRT team as there could well be new opportunities to review and redefine the ALIRT team role as the programme develops.
Stephen Ng’ang’a and Cavin Opiyo are based at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya.