On what the new AGRIS initiative should concentrate

From the Discussion in the AGRIS ADVOCACY Taskforce

Dear Colleagues,

I am intervening the first time into this discussion and need to introduce myself. I am Johannes Keizer and I am working in the Agris secretariat at FAO liaising with more than 50 active AGRIS centres all over the world. I am also facilitating with Hugo Besemer the Content Management Taskforce of the new AGRIS initiative
I understand very well the frustration about the many failures of the traditional way of research transfer to the farmers ("Ajit: conventional channels such as of the scientist-extension agent-farmer are not very useful"). I am also very sympathetic to the idea of strongly linking knowledge transfer in science and technology to market information and to the production and processing chain as Ajit said. A lot of thinking, planning and acting in this area is necessary.
However, I am not in favour of the new AGRIS initiative address this issue at this time. I am concerned that we focus our activities. This concern is a result of my practical experience working with AGRIS resource centres and knowing how difficult it is to realize practical steps - also such small ones as finally publishing the bibliographical records of a research documentation centre on the web or getting at least some of the important research reports electronically available.

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In knowledge management in agricultural research for development we have different levels of knowledge sharing. I think there is a horizontal level on which knowledge has to be shared and distributed among peers, the researchers themselves and people very much linked to their work. Then we have a vertical transfer, between decision-makers and politicians, rural service providers (private sector & extension), and farmers. I think we have to understand that the knowledge flow is different on each of these levels. The latter (vertical) one is much more complex and various transfer mechanisms are needed, different people are involved (very seldom a researcher is able to speak to a farmer or to write something understandable for others than his/her peers :-)).
In my opinion the new AGRIS initiatve should thoroughly address the horizontal level, the improvement of knowledge sharing among researchers and research institutions. On the vertical level, it will need to limit itself to those knowledge transfer that reasonably will be possible from research to decision makers or to the first level of users of research information. If we would want to address the entire sphere of knowledge transfer in the area of rural development, we would need to involve other players, and the initiative would become unmanageable. Thus, I would like to propose not to extend but to focus on the RIS in AGRIS.
The problems we have to resolve are bold: one example from my own experience, I think that the "South-South" exchange in Science and Technology is under estimated in it's importance. Scientists and Technologists in Africa need to have much more access to results from their peers in China, Brazil and India - to list 3 of very important producers of knowledge. National knowledge production of these countries, which does not go to international journals is practically unavailable to others. It is one of the challenges that our initiative could address. Then, on a national and institutional level we still have to resolve basic problems on electronic publishing, exchange of tacit knowledge, documentation etc.
In our initial discussions we were talking about some information types that should be handled in the new AGRIS initiative: Publications, Institutions, Experts, Projects, News, Events. This is very much related to the daily life and needs of a research institute or a university faculty. The project of a National Agricultural Research Information Management Systems (NARIMS) in Egypt brought all these information types together using common standards. The Egyptian NARIMS does not resolve the problem of knowledge transfer to the farmers, but it is a big leap forward for Egyptian Agricultural Research. Other information types, in addition to those mentioned above, will be considered as the need arises from the researchers. This, for example, might be access to geo-spatial data or to gene banks or to other information types. Needless to say, everything what we are doing will need to start with building capacity at institutional level.
Regarding the name of the new Initiative I am now convinced that it has to express clearly the new ownership and the new focus.

Cheers,
Johannes

Dr.rer.nat.Johannes Keizer
Information Systems Officer
Library and Documentation Systems Division FAO of the United Nations http://www.fao.org http://www.fao.org/aims http://www.fao.org/agris
http://www.jkeizer.org

-----Original Message-----
From: Contributor (name not published for privacy reasons)
Sent: 14 June 2006 17:29
To: AGRIS advocacy group
Subject: [agrisadvocacy] Re: Next Step:Gathering evidence

Dear Colleagues:

Like Stephen, as in agreement with him, I have been trying to look at what boundaries do we set and our objectives for advocating an improved ICM for agricultural research.

At GFAR we use the term ARD more as "agricultural research for development" than "agricultural research and development". Further, for GFAR the defining the "NARS" usually becomes difficult. I like the definition by Engel that the "NARS are networks of actors capable of constituting a "theatre of innovation" because it is these networks that GFAR tries to mobilize and strengthen in its activities. I start with the concept of NARS because it forms the basis of our concept of "National" agricultural information systems
(NAIS) that we make our objects of improvement in our advocacy. Going by the current, largely accepted understanding of who the stakeholders and actors of agricultural research, we will have to include not only agricultural research institutes, agricultural education and training organizations and agricultural research policy makers but also the agri-business private sector, NGOs, farmer based organizations and other groups, such as consumers, active in agricultural research for development. Thus, for a NAIS, we will have to include providing services to satisfy the information needs of all the above stakeholders to ARD and include their information services and systems in a "NAIS". Thus the scope of the "NAIS" as we understand has to be decided as soon as possible.

The NARS (of the South) are very much "dominated" by scientists, policy makers and academics while the farmers, NGOs and processors/private sector is poorly represented. There is a significant voice, supported by GFAR, for greater inclusion of the poorly represented stakeholders in the NARS and as a corollary in the NAIS (from this groups standpoint). If these stakeholders want more emphasis on extension, education or market related information, we may have to consider this need carefully in our advocacy.

Further, experience now gathered on how ICT can help reach the various actors in agricultural innovation indicates that conventional channels such as of the scientist-extension agent-farmer are not very useful. Those involved in enabling agricultural commodities to reach the consumers, through markets or otherwise play an important role as also those who provide inputs to the production and processing chain such as seed, fertilizer, pesticide and farm machinery suppliers play an important role also. Thus, we may have to look at these new channels and try and blend their information systems with "research" information systems to support agricultural innovation in the true spirit of the definition of NARS I have started with.

In other words, I am suggesting that we look at "outside" the conventional box of NARS,NAIS,ARD etc. for the new AGRIS initiative. After all it is a "new" or a fresh initiative.

Warm regards,

-----Original Message-----
From: Contributor (name not published for privacy reasons)
Sent: 12 June 2006 13:48
To: AGRIS advocacy group
Subject: [agrisadvocacy] Re: Next Step:Gathering evidence

Dear All,
I have been reflecting since Chris's message on how we approach the issue of "evidence". The message from Rodger also got me thinking. Rodger has presented a very interesting case study, but I am not convinced that market information networks are relevant to the AGRIS agenda. I think we first have to spend a little more time to set the boundaries and define what we are aiming at, while we reach for the evidence. Otherwise we run the risk of accumulating evidence on the wrong issues.

I have agreed with Chris Addison that we could put together a slightly more detailed summary of the discussions on the list over the last month, and have assembled the document as below. I lifted phrases and sentences from all the various postings to put together a composite piece, and then put in headings to try to give it a more logical structure. My feeling is that we should get the Goal-Outcomes right before reaching for the Activities. We need clear messages for which we can assemble the evidence.

Perhaps we can get consensus on the items A)-D), before moving on to E).
All the best,

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SUMMARY OF AGRIS-ADVOCACY DISCUSSIONS

The problem arises around "ïnstitutionalizing" national ICT-enabled information systems effectively in support of agricultural research and development, which can be a major exercise in change. Senior national and local officials are not able to pin outcomes and impact from investment in
ICTs: "I am convinced that information management in the organization is important. We invested in computers but they are mainly used as glorified typewriters. We invested in online services, but our scientists do not use
them. How should we invest properly?"

A GLOBAL INITIATIVE (name to be finalized)

A) Goal: to enhance the impact of science and technology on enhancing food security, rural livelihoods, and responsible use of natural resources.

B) Purpose: more effective information and communication management is support of agricultural research and development, based on mutual support and learning for the ultimate benefit of local stakeholders.

C) Outputs:
* stronger national information policies and strategies around
information and communication management in agricultural research and development;
* clear facts-based ICM plans and investments at national and
institutional levels;
* better information products and services delivered to local and
national stakeholders by international/regional systems and services;
* one "international approach" with all key stake holders.

D) Outcomes:
Contribution:
* strong local/national ICM systems, with appropriate ownership, that
do not replace or reinvent actors/actions at the local level;
* effective contributions from regional and international systems to
the exchange of information at national and local levels;
Collaboration:
* increased collaboration, mutual support and consistency (i.e. better
coherence) between information and communication systems for ARD;
* reduced dilution of or competition between the individual actions of
the various stakeholders;
Effectiveness:
* increased effectiveness of ICT-enabled agricultural information
systems for the benefit of ARD;
* maximized returns on investments in ICM for all parties;
Motivation:
* strong incentives and visibility to collective actions and the
synergies and benefits that can result from them.
* motivated organizations and people
Learning:
* different actors convened and learning from each others' practice
* countries/organizations provided with innovative and practical
solutions to their problems
* cases of good practice, and what also to avoid, build and
disseminated

E) Activity Areas:

E.1. ADVOCACY

i) Objectives:
* to raise awareness of the global initiative amongst the different
stakeholders at different levels;
* to explain to the different stakeholders what they are going to gain
from joining/supporting such a global initiative in terms of addressing their needs.

ii) Audiences:
* policy/decision makers;
* agricultural scientists and academics;
* information and communication professionals;
* donors.

iii) Promotional products:
* Evidence of results-based approaches in the form of Case Studies;
* Good practice guidelines - 'benchmarks' - for ICM for any
organization to use;
* ICM resources and tools.

iv) Evidence - Case Studies / Guidelines / Demonstration Projects (at local, national, regional and international levels):
* Development of the new AGRIS strategy in 2002 did not lead to
increased coherence and collaboration, given the strong association of the brand to FAO. There was no adoption of the strategy by policymakers, even though it was widely endorsed by experts.
* Increased use of Geographical Information Systems for ARD in the WANA
region
* APAARI has recently published selected success stories on
Agricultural Information Systems for ARD Etc....

E.2. CAPACITY BUILDING

This is a major objective at the national level to complement the advocacy campaign, working through participatory efforts that allow all stakeholders to share and improve their capacities and skills in ICM.

E.3. CONTENT MANAGEMENT

This is another major objective to complement the advocacy campaign, working through demonstration projects to develop evidence of good practice.

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