Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Rewarding innovation at the Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week

Maps are cognitive guides. They locate us, helping us to figure out where we are now in relation to where we’ve been, and to plan where we’re going.

The quote above is from the book “Outcome Mapping: Building learning and reflection into development programs, by Sarah Earl, Fred Carden and Terry Smutylo” and fits well with this post on awards at the 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week.  In the Outcome Mapping approach, an approach which has been used by the CGIAR ICT-KM program to direct and monitor its activities towards impact, we learn about a new way to think of achievements and success . Rather than a  narrow focus on metrics and figures, this approach encourages a focus on one specific type of result: outcomes as behavioural change.

One of the objectives of the Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week is to bring people together to share ideas and inspire each other towards improved approaches, better ways of sharing, and greater application of geospatial tools to real needs on the ground–in essence all of these are desired behaviour changes.

So when there are behavioural changes, it is necessary to recognise these, showcase them and reward them in order to  encourage more of it. And this is just what we did at the 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week, held 8th-12th at ILRI Campus in Nairobi, Kenya.

To reward innovation in approaches as well as in sharing and application of geospatial sceince and celebrate success achieved in these, prizes were given out to a number of participants, in some key categories . And these were no ordinary prizes. Brand new Acer notebooks were awarded as a way of giving special recognition to the prize-winners but also to assist in their ongoing innovation in the field of geospatial science.

The prizes were decided by a jury including: Enrica Porcari(CGIAR ICT-KM), Stanley Wood(IFPRI/CSI Coordinator and John Steffenson (ESRI)- with special onsideration given to the ‘People’s Choice’ votes that were also cast by other participants.

The prizes-were awarded by Enrica Porcari, CIO of the CGIAR to the following:

First time presenter– Kibet Stephen, took a bus from his village outside of Eldoret 300Km from Nairobi to attend the AAGW10. A student at Moi University, this was his first time to present at a conference like this. He presented his work on ‘Soil erosion prediction using RUSLE (Revised universal soil erosion equation) integrated with GIS’.  His first presentation was not very smooth, but by the time he presented for a second time he had already improved on his communication skills and got his message across that he was working on something exciting. He was awarded the prize for taking the risk to present his work in this forum and open himself up to critical review. Given his improved second time performance it was also noted that he was a fast learner!

If you are working in a country and region in which livestock are a key pathway out of poverty for the majority of people, would it not be key to try to apply good scientific approaches to help people with their  management against risk? Well, this is just what a  team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) did when they designed and started implementing the Index-based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project. This innovative idea which applies geospatial data and tools to supply a vital service for livestock farmers in the region, was presented by An Notenbaert, CSI representative for ILRI. Representing a great step for geospatial science to be applied to real problems faced on the ground, this was awaraded the prize for  most innovative idea.

” I found a treasure!” said Paolo Paron, Oxford University Fellow at the start of his presentation on ‘ACCESS HAPA- Analysis of Climate Change in Environmnetal and Social studies through Historical Aerial Photography Archives’. He was referring to his finding of 1.5 million aerial photographs taken by the British from across Africa from the 1960s, hidden away in storage at Oxford University. His presentation outlined a proposal to digitise and make use of these aerial photographs in combination with more recent images and data to be able to detect changes over time. In this case, the judges felt,  one man’s ‘treasure’ could be a whole continent’s ‘treasure’ and awarded Paolo and his project with the most innovative medium prize for the potential value it could bring to understanding key changes that have taken place.

With a ‘Manifesto against Top-Down approaches’ one would already expect innovation from the ‘Seeing is Beliveing in West Africa’ (SIBWA) project that was presented by Sibiry Traore, CSI representative from ICRISAT.  As one of the quick-win projects of AgCommons, this project was meant to uphold the AgCommons mission of  “identifing and developing data, tools and services that deliver relevant, timely and affordable geospatial information to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and those working on their behalf”.  But SIBWA did not just do this by taking high resultion imagery to the last 8 kilometers to help scale up productivity enhancement technologies,  it also went the extra mile to involve and communicate with its stakeholders through a variety of innovative means. By recognising that ‘farmers are spatially skilled’, the project focused on participatory mapping and communicating this to others. For this dual innovation, SIBWA and Sibiry were awarded with the prize for overall best presentation and project.

Some other presentations and projects that the judges felt also deserved a special mention included:

  • Jawoo Koo (IFPRI) for his great efforts in producing a new website for the CGIAR Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) community which included lots of innovative and interactive featrures necessary to support such an active and dispersed community
  • Why would you want an iPad when you could be aiming for an iPaddy to collect, store and integreate data and services for improved rice production? This innovative idea presented by Andy Nelson (IRRI) intrigued and excited the participants of the AAGW10
  • aWhere Inc’s John Corbett showcased lots of interesting mechansisms to help decision-making and monitoring and evaluation–by using the actual tools during his presentations.
  • Map Kibera from Open StreetMap, presented by Mikel Maron, was also recognised for its progress from an idea born out of the 1st Africa Agriculture Geospatial week to a fully-fledged and successful operation which strives to address the following: ” Without basic knowledge of the geography and resources of Kibera it is impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents”

There was a noticeable difference in both the content and presentation styles of the participants of this 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week. Presentations were more interesting and focused on the context, the rationale and the application of geospatial science, and the content was more innovative and impact-oriented. For this all presenters are commended!

For the workshop organisers, as we review the achievements and successs of the week and the AAGW model we have many outcomes to be proud of. Behaviour is changing within this once-known- as-geeky community. People are more eager to share their knowledge, skills, techniques and experiences; people are more open to learning from and collaborating with others; and people are more focused on the application of geospatial science towards achievement of real development goals.

If we do as the opening quote proposes then and make a map of the AAGW model- we can see that we have achieved a number of advancements, and it can help us to chart what further changes and outcomes we would like to see in the next years. And hopefully the allure of being recognised and celebrated for innovation, will spur on the efforts of those in the geospatial community, especially in Africa.