22 African Youth Are Now Certified Research-to-Change (R2C) Mentors!

Rachel DickinsonRebooting Systems, Reimagining Projects

The Research-to-Change Mentorship Academy (R2CMA), led by Root Change and IREX as part of the 5-year USAID-funded Youth Excel program, was a 10-week, hands-on, virtual course for young researchers, evaluators, or practitioners passionate about using data to make informed decisions within a local organization. Youth under the age of 35 applied to be part of the course in teams of 2-3 individuals, and identified a local organization (formal or informal) as their “practicum partner.” Practicum partner organizations served as clients with real-world problems for participants to explore throughout the course, which offered a unique experience. As Nancy Wairimu Njuguna from Kenya explained, “I have not been in any kind of research where we have had to work collaboratively with our [organization] but this one we have had to work hand-in-hand.”

Course facilitators were Root Change’s own Rachel Dickinson, Angela Serrano, and Justin Bench. The course featured eight guest speakers from Root Change and IREX. Course participants and practicum partners were from four African countries (listed to the right), and were working on issues related to sexual and reproductive health rights, democracy and governance, workforce development, youth leadership, and technology. Successful participants received a certificate from George Mason University and their practicum partners received certificates from the Youth Excel program, certifying them to replicate Research to Change processes within their own organizations or with other clients as mentors. 

So, what is Research-to-Change (R2C)? It’s an approach that embeds research into program implementation, enabling organizations to gather data, take what they learn, and turn it into what they do in real-time. R2C is not a one-time effort; rather, it is a continuous learning and adaptation journey, as shown in the diagram on the left.

The R2CMA course, described in this highlight video, included nine modules. The basis of the course was the R2C Toolkit, a step-by-step guide produced by Brian Batayeh, Implementation Research Specialist at IREX, under the Youth Excel program. The guide walks users through how to understand the problem at hand and stakeholders involved, define research to change goals, design tools to gather the necessary information, ensure ethical research practices, and finally share back those findings for feedback and program strengthening. 

In addition to the toolkit, the mentorship academy also included modules on soft skills required to lead a successful R2C journey. These modules introduced tools and practices for establishing working relationships in teams, conflict resolution, asking probing questions, helping practicum partner organizations explore their priorities, and pulling insights and recommendations from data. Course participant, Lazarus Kioko Muthenya from Kenya, explains, “We learned that asking good questions is a skill.” Lead course instructor, Dr. Beryl Levinger, Chief Learning Officer at Root Change, provided much of the course content that supplemented the R2C Toolkit. She emphasized that as a consultant or mentor, your job was to dig deeper to better understand the nuances and root causes of the problem. As she taught in Module 3 about inclusive consultant practices, “The problem that your client gives is never actually the problem.” 

Towards the end of the course, Dr. Levinger also taught participants to use a top-down pyramid structure for presenting findings and recommendations that leads with the main point and uses rules of 2-3 to provide evidence. An example can be seen below in the final presentation from Uchenna Imo and Rachel Idim from Nigeria, who were exploring why there was a low level of commitment from volunteers and team members in their practicum partner, BrenCare Foundation’s events.

Towards the end of the course, Dr. Levinger also taught participants to use a top-down pyramid structure for presenting findings and recommendations that leads with the main point and uses rules of 2-3 to provide evidence. An example can be seen below in the final presentation from Uchenna Imo and Rachel Idim from Nigeria, who were exploring why there was a low level of commitment from volunteers and team members in their practicum partner, BrenCare Foundation’s events.

Interested in doing R2C within your own organization? Check out the online R2C Toolkit, join the R2C technical interest group where Youth Excel will be providing ongoing discussions and light-touch training on R2C practices, or, better yet, ask us to connect you to one of the mentors from the course so they can guide you through the process!