Dimitri and the cappuccino


I am walking towards the tube station. I pull my two pieces of luggage that follow smoothly on their small wheel. In front of the Italian bar with shiny metal round tables and mini skirt waitresses I see the Italian guy who did for me the three cappuccino yesterday morning. He recognizes me and says hi. I am not in a hurry so stop for a cappuccino. The morning a just a bit cloudy but nice and warm. The bar is not busy so when he brings me the cappuccino he takes a chair and sits at my table.

We start talking. I am from Cremona. He is from Parma. Not really Parma, just nearby: Borgo Val di Taro. I studied in Parma and know his place at the foot of the of the mountain that divide the large plane of the Po river form the sea. He has three daughters. I have two. No, I do not live in Italy, but in the Philippines. I was here for a week for work and go now back with a stop over in Ha Noi for a training workshop. What do I do? I never find it easy to respond to this question. I think about the 45 Vietnamese researchers I will meet after tomorrow. They are my work. They are the reason I fly around. They are the one who listen to what I present together with my colleagues.

‘I work with researchers in NGOs or other institutes. Together with them we try to make the research they conduct more visible to policy makers so that it enters laws and policies.’ He looks at me with a puzzled expression, but this is the best explanation I can give him.

At the end of the day we provide suggestions on ways that researchers can try to write their research up in different ways so that it fits with the way of working of policy makers. This is the  hope, though hope, writes Paul Krugman, is not a plan.  The researchers we train can just decide to change job. Other may leave the NGOs or public sector attracted by higher salaries in the in the private one. Some just want to do research and do not really care if their results are noticed by policy makers. To find evidence of success is not easy but, most importantly, is it possible?  In what I do the a the sequence input – output – result does not seem to fit . It definitely applies to this cappuccino. Input: a combination of my demand and the coffee that the bar has bought before hand waiting to sell it. Output: the cappuccino with its nice foam and just a bit of cocoa powder on it. Results: income for the bar and a nice after taste in my mouth that will accompany up to Heathrow.  All quite straight forward.

In my work the sequence is input, a combination of the demand by researchers of their institutes for strengthening their capacity to inform policy makers about their research and our knowledge of tools that can help these processes and funding. Outputs: trained researchers and training material or toolkits. Results: researchers know something new and they can apply it and, so far, leave the training happy about what they have heard.  To capture more than that is difficult. And thinking about it, my Italian friend sitting here can not really know what I will do with my better mood after this cappuccino and how will that influence my day. It is not his concern. maybe we should apply the same logic to our work and our projects, rather than investigating the ethereal, the world of hope where plans cannot reach, why not to focus and concentrate on the doing, on the delivery, on the quality of training and support? What the researchers will do is up to so many variables that it can bring them in so many directions, our training being only a tiny element of the complex mosaic of their lives.

It is time to go. We talk a bit on how we as Italian feel being overseas. Going back does not seem to be a plan for either of us. I stand up and want to pay but he says that the coffee is offered. ‘ Io mi chiamo Arnaldo, e tu?’. ‘ Io? Dimitri.’ ‘Ciao, alla prossima.’