Friday, 25 October 2013

Information for Development

Recognising World Development Information Day (24 October), Joanna Hicks, ACIAR's Knowledge Manager, explains that ICT and KM are more than just acronyms. 

Information and knowledge are crucial to ACIAR and play a large role in the success of our projects. We are fortunate to have highly-respected experts from across many scientific disciplines and dedicated in-country and local support teams. The knowledge and experience gained over 30 years of funding and managing agricultural research projects and programs, across many countries, allows us to produce consistently positive outcomes and measurable impact. 
Young farmers in Pakistan trialling ACIAR's 'Seeing is Believing' app.
Photo courtesy of Rob Fitzgerald, University of Canberra

Communicating the outputs of our projects via publications and project information on our website is an important part of how ACIAR shares its knowledge. However, much more can be done to share knowledge and information that is created by ACIAR and others in agricultural research and the broader development arena. New technology and rapidly increasing levels of access to the Internet around the world provides new opportunities to reach greater numbers of people.

Several ACIAR staff participate in the CGIAR ICT-KM network, which provides plenty of useful resources and discusssion on information and communications technology (ICT) and knowledge management (KM) to improve the effectiveness of agricultural research on behalf of the poor in developing countries. Movements such as ICT4Dev and KM4Dev are also good examples of international collaborative efforts that are providing innovative ways of connecting people-to-people and people-to-information with the shared aim of reducing poverty.

Many organisations and networks are undertaking excellent work in this area. For example, the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) facilitates information and knowledge exchange in rural, hard-to-reach communities in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The focus is on information about small-scale sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation, natural resources management, and other issues related directly to improving people’s lives. Information is accessed through community-based Maarifa (Knowledge) Centers. 
Networks such as ALIN are facilitating knowledge exchange in places like rural Kenya.
Photo courtesy of the Gates Foundation (CC BY).
Tapping into networks such as ALIN is essential for ensuring successful uptake of research conducted under programs such as ACIAR's SIMLESA (Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa) program, which is managed by CIMMYT. A big part of this work also includes farmer-to-farmer information exchange.
University of Canberra's Rob Fitzgerald with farmers in Pakistan

Based on this knowledge-management strategy, ACIAR is trailing a mobile extension platform for scientists and extension officers to better communicate to farmers best-practice technologies and methodologies to improve on-farm productivity. The ‘Seeing is Believing’ platform allows scientists and extension officers to ‘show and tell’ new practices and technologies (such as correct pruning techniques or better irrigation management), using video and images. The platform uses iPad technology, allowing users to capture video and photos in the field of those practices being demonstrated, and used by farmers, and create presentations to illustrate what is possible. 

Demonstrating the 'Seeing is Believing' app
Using the example of local farmers is likely to be more effective in conveying messages of how to do things, backed up by advice from a ‘scientist’ or ‘expert’. Farmers see what their peers have done and learn from each other, creating a credible and more convincing model to follow in implementing changes of practice. Using the platform, farmers will have a clearer idea of how to improve on-farm practices, and it is hoped that they can see the evidence of practice-change leading to greater yields or farm-input efficiencies.

ACIAR is working towards increasing open access to the information and knowledge that is produced as part of our work and the projects we manage. Capacity building and knowledge sharing within project teams and through extension are key aspects of successful projects and for ensuring the benefits are more broadly realised.

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