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Service areas

This page contains details on Supras’ Service areas.

See also the page on Sources.

Natural resource management

Supras works on natural resource management (NRM) in various ways, including operational work, training and capacity building, networking, publishing, and research. Be it in agriculture, coastal zone management, fisheries, forestry or pastoralism, in traditional or modernizing subsistence practices (or livelihoods), the constraints and incentives involved are of key importance. Natural resources are important factors of production, and their sustainable management is crucial. At the same time local peoples are often alienated from local natural resources in that they do not own and/or have easy access to them. Thus, on the one hand, a concern with protecting common property resources (CPRs) or commons is key, while, on the other hand, arguing in favor of providing these same people with legal title to land and natural resources is crucial. For management of natural resources, use of the practices, models, and approaches inherent in Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) has proven useful, and Supras is collaborating with CBNRM Net on applying CBNRM lessons and practices, and disseminating them.
Sources: Kirsch-Jung and Soeftestad (2006); Soeftestad (1996b, 1999b). [access]

Capacity building

Capacity building as a term and approach has undergone some key changes over the years. It is now understood as a quite broad term, as witnessed by this definition proposed by UNDP: “the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular), human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems ... capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate”. Supras adheres to this definition. Relevant stakeholders are located in the public sector, civil society and the private sector. It follows that capacity building is much more than training. Supras works primarily on human resource development, and also on organizational development, and to a lesser extent on institutional and legal framework development.
Sources: Borrini-Feyerabend (1996, 1997, 2000); Davis and Soeftestad (1995); Soeftestad (1999b, 2001a, 2002). [access]

Civil society, culture, institutions, and social organization

These are the broad facts, patterns of organization, and values that are necessary for conceptualizing and understanding livelihoods at various societal levels. The growing emphasis on them go hand in glove with the growing emphasis on preparing projects that reflect beneficiaries’ own world views, social organization, preferences, and values. They furthermore have to be understood in terms of the intimate relationship between Nature and Culture found universally, for example, how languages reflect and are reflected by the relevant environment and determine and channel communication, and how biodiversity conservation is dependent upon understanding Nature and Culture not as apart but as parts of a whole. Beneficiaries are less and less viewed as only beneficiaries, that is, being at the receiving end of a development intervention, they are increasingly understood as stakeholders with views on how to do development interventions. This has come to be understood as a crucial factor for preparing development interventions that are lasting. Culture, civil society (including NGOs), and institutions have to be understood as positive aspects of the local setting that should be utilized. Finally, it is often argued that local people are responsible for specific problems, for example, overgrazing. If so, by the same token, the same people should be directly involved in any development intervention in order to address these problems.
Sources: Davis and Soeftestad (1995); Soeftestad (1996a, 1997, 1999a, 2001b, 2004); Soeftestad, Alanon, and Diz et al (2004). [access]


To say that all relevant stakeholders in public sector, civil society, and private sector should be involved is one thing, exactly how to do that is quite a different issue. Governance is here understood as the process of decision-making and the processes by which decisions are implemented (or not). The ideal governance system is often referred to as good governance, and adheres to strict standards of abuse, corruption, and the rule of law. Elements of good governance include: (1) Accountability, (2) Consensus orientation, (3) Effectiveness and efficiency, (4) Equity and inclusiveness, (5) Participation, (6) Responsiveness, (7) Rule of law and (8) Transparency. In practical terms, this means public involvement and public consultation. Furthermore, the scale dimension is important. Within a country, stakeholders (specifically beneficiaries) are often linked vertically, as well as hierarchically. A practical approach to involving and relating such stakeholders that are dissimilar in various respects, and that are located on different levels along a vertical axis, is co-management.
Sources: Borrini-Feyerabend (1996, 1997); Borrini-Feyerabend et al (2000); Soeftestad (2003); Wikipedia; Wikipedia. [access]

Risk and conflict management

While this may invoke pictures of war and civil unrest – sometimes at a massive scale – that are destructive, in the context of NRM conflicts are to a large extent part of everyday life. This applies certainly to traditional cultures, but increasingly to cultures undergoing rapid social change, where values of different ethnic groups, often with differing livelihoods, are pitted against each other. In situations of internal migration and population growth, with concomitant increasing competition over finite natural resources, this is occurring with often increasing frequency. Major conflicts at the country level and above often begin as incipient conflicts over natural resources. Such conflicts are appropriately addressed through democracy building, governance,, networking and transparency. It follows that post-conflict situations in many countries in principle can be addressed in a similar manner.
Changes in the environmental and social realms as a rule interact, sometimes with conflicts and increased risk as a result, and the emphasis here is on management of such conflicts and risks. In practical terms, conflict management together with social and environmental risk management amount to an exercise in identifying concrete incentives, constraints and conditions for social and environmental sustainability. Risk and conflict management thus involve assessing, mitigating and monitoring risks. Analysis of risk is often done in connection with addressing the impacts of specific development projects or investment operations, and can be done throughout the project cycle.
Sources: Borrini-Feyerabend (1996, 1997); Impact Assessment Inc. and Supras Consult et al (2006); Soeftestad (2004); Soeftestad, Alanon and Diz et al (2004). [access]

Networks and networking

As the number of involved stakeholders increase, that is, as the level of fragmentation of the social field increases, with a growing number of groups and categories holding opposing and/or conflicting views, the challenges to creating and maintaining communication – as a necessary precursor to achieving understanding, and hopefully agreement and unity – also increase. While social networks that facilitate such communication is a part of social organization and everyday life at the local level, at higher levels they have to be created and managed. The advent of information and communication technology is proving to represent a watershed in establishing networks, and in networking between often disparate stakeholders. Networks in general are in the business of knowledge management. Networks can contribute greatly to creating and maintaining transparency and governance and, by extension, contribute to sustainable development and poverty reduction. As with all social engineering, networking by means of ICT requires insights in various areas of the human condition complemented by strong negotiation skills, that is, strategic communication.
Sources: Soeftestad (2002, 2003); Soeftestad and Kashwan (2003); van der Heijden, Pryor and Soeftestad (2006). [access]

Information and communication technology and development

Information and communication technology (ICT) is increasingly applied to development issues. The concern here is with inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural views on the societal role of ICT. A host of major players are enthusiastic and sometimes even panegyric in their views on the seemingly endless possibilities and promises that this technology represent. The view advanced here is that there are certain limitations connected with culture and knowledge inherent in the application of ICT to development cooperation. The technological optimism that fuels the ICT side of the argument must be aligned with the humanist side representing cultures and values. The goal with the present focus on ICT is to present a broad and result-oriented knowledge management approach that will enable a more realistic assessment of the incentives and constraints involved in using ICT in development cooperation, thus aligning the needs at the local level with the ICT means at disposal.
Sources: Soeftestad (2001, 2006); Soeftestad and Maung (2003, 2009); Soeftestad and Wabnitz (2004). [access]

Knowledge management

The two world-wide processes of globalization and localization (i.e., the increasing focus at the local level) are jointly responsible for the growing interconnectedness and interdependence in an increasingly fragmented world. The dramatic increase in the use of ICT is the most visible expression of these seemingly converging processes, as well as the vehicle that makes them possible. Communication is essentially a relationship between people, and ICT applied to development cooperation represents an effort to scale up traditional means of communication. The increasing call for public consultation and public involvement, essentially a case of large-scale participation and stakeholder consultation, is a social communication process whereby various social actors collaborate with public sector authorities in development decision-making. These new forms of communication are, together with public involvement in environmental decision-making, the key contributing factors to what has been referred to as a new mode of knowledge production. The emerging emphasis on networks in NRM contributes in an important way towards realizing the new mode of knowledge production. Management of this knowledge – or Knowledge Management (KM) – is a broad and applied context for communication within development cooperation on NRM. KM is here understood as a structured approach to identifying, collecting, managing, producing, disseminating, and using appropriate knowledge about NRM and development.
Sources: Soeftestad (2000, 2001a, 2001b, 2002); Soeftestad, Alanon, Diz et al (2004); Soeftestad and Wabnitz (2004); van der Heijden, Pryor, and Soeftestad (2006). [access]

Strategic communication

This is partly the final element in the Profile of Supras’ way of working and mode of operation, and partly a meta-level approach to what is discussed above, including managing relevant knowledge in networked situations using ICT, and perhaps especially in connection with conflicts and conflict management. In a sense, then, strategic communication follows from the above approaches and tools, and guides the overall project and process. It implies thinking strategically about communication. Put differently, strategic communication is about communicating effectively. Strategic communication has been described as “... the active solicitation of [people’s] perspective to help consider options to share the formulation of policy, ensuring that the mechanisms are in place for a two-way flow of information and to build consensus among stakeholders about the development agenda” (Mozammel and Zatlokal 2002). All communication situations are different. However, as an aid to understanding the essence of a particular communication situation, asking simple questions can be helpful: (1) Motivation – Why is effective communication necessary?, (2) Audience – Who is the audience?, (3) Description – Motivation and audience interact to produce the question: What are the important features that describe the type of communication needed? and (4) Application – How to translate the above available knowledge into action and a specific mode of communication?
Sources: Hewawasam and Soeftestad et al (1997), Mozammel and Zatlokal (2002); Soeftestad (2000, 2001a, 2002); Soeftestad and Wabnitz (2004). [access]