Collaborate, Create, Communicate

How to motivate more knowledge sharing in research: using the carrot or the stick?

As the CGIAR moves ahead with its change process, it is continuously being told that it needs to do a better job at sharing its vast wealth of research-generated knowledge, so that this knowledge can be applied to solving real problems.

While the publications written-the major output of most projects- are a key source of high quality information these are not often widely available or accessible, and for the majority of stakeholders working in agricultural development, are not applicable to them.

So the message: we need to do a better job at sharing our agricultural science data, information and knowledge in ways that make them available, accessible and applicable.

And the answer: at this point, most people jump right in to the ‘HOW2Share?’ question and start throwing around resources, tools and methods which can help knowledge to be captured, stored, made open access, and widely shared.

And this is great!  But although there are many knowledge sharing approaches, tools and methods available- we still find that these are not being used as widely or comprehensively as we and our stakeholders would like. So perhaps we need to go back to a more fundamental question of ‘WHY2Share?’.

The global initiative on coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD) is a collective of agricultural organisations, including the CGIAR, that are all concerned with making research data, information and knowledge more available, accessible and applicable. It believes that to make good arguments for changing attitudes and actions in knowledge sharing,  it is necessary to understand and share what the benefits can be from doing this.  

CIARD is facilitating this type of discussion on the ‘unique selling points’ as well as sharing some ‘pathways’ already explored and documented for making research more accessible at various events in the ARD calendar. At the upcoming FARA Africa Agricultural Science Week, to be held July 19-24 in Burkina Faso, a side session will also be convened to discuss with African scientists and stakeholders what benefits there are and can be to more effective and sustained sharing of agricultural knowledge. This blog post is part of the run-up preparations for this event and the results of this blog discussion will feed into the side session.

So Why 2 share knowledge?

Why should we share ‘our’ knowledge? Is it not after all the vital capital of researchers/research institutions? Is it our role to share it? Do we have the capacity to do this sharing? Isn’t it time-consuming and resource-heavy? And, what do we (and our institutes) gain?

These are the comments and remarks that I often hear when the subjects of knowledge sharing and open access  are being discussed by my fellow researchers. And the last question- ‘What do we gain’- is particularly important to them.

In order for researchers and research institutes to carry out knowledge sharing activities themselves, there must be some benefit to them and their institutes. This can range from greater visibility, improved fundraising potential, enhanced partnerships or better contribution to impact.

What benefit do YOU perceive or have YOU received from making your research information more available, accessible, and applicable?

  • Could/has it enhanced your publication record?
  • Could/has it made you more well known in your field or for your work?
  • Does it make your project/Institute more visible?
  • Does it improve your research because you also get more information freely available?
  • Does it make your parterships and collaborative efforts better because partners can access information better?
  • Does it create any impact from your project?
  • Does it fulfill a requirement by donors to your institute/projects?

Or what else? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us.

I have already talked to a few researchers face-to-face about what makes them use more knowledge sharing pathways in their research activities and projects. And these were their responses:

To have a job in the new and changing ARD sector (and CGIAR)

One researcher openly and honestly commented that “with the ARD sector changing to a more actor-oriented and outcome-based system, I need to be doing more to share my information, so that I can stay relevant and be able to continue having a job.”

“I feel that by sharing my knowledge better I am making a greater contribution to impact on the ground”

One researcher who has started using more interactive methods with stakeholders in his project told me that he used to work in biology and produced lots of publications and was well respected in his specific field. But  he wondered if any of what he had done had made a difference or mattered now. He proposed that “the real bottleneck in science for development is making the technologies relevant to the farmers and other stakeholders and finding ways for knowledge to spread“.  He concluded by saying that  “what I am working on now is more grounded in reality, more relevant to poverty. I am very convinced that we need to translate technology into things that are useful and enhance farmer livelihoods- and this can only be done by interacting, sharing and working with stakeholders. I am trying different ways to do this more in my research projects and I feel better about my contribution.”

“I find it stimulating. It expands my skills and experiences”

Another researcher I interacted with recently at a workshop was very excited and proud about new knowledge sharing approaches he had learned and was now using to communicate knowledge from a wide range of research projects that he oversees. While of course caring about the outcome of the sharing activities he was now engaged in, this researcher was also very happy about the new skills he had gained and different experiences he was having.

So there must be other ideas and exepriences out there. What about YOU? We would like to learn from many of you out there:

  1. What would/could the benefits be to your organisation by making agricultural information publicly available?
  2. If research projects and their results were made more accessible what could the benefits be to those projects?
  3. As a researcher what would the benefits be to you in making your agricultural research more accessible?

How 2 make people Share?

So despite the benefits that some say can be gained from sharing (and we are still anxious to hear yours!) the question still is how to make this sharing happen…and more sustainably?

The old, anecdotal story of trying to make a donkey move with the carrot and the stick provides an interesting framework for us to think about ways to encourage change in behaviour. The carrot, in the story  held out just in front of the donkey, represents incentives, motivations and rewards. In the story, however, the other method to make the donkey move  involves the use of a stick to coerce him and the stick represents mandates, policies, enforcements, and even punishments.

So what works better: the carrot-like incentives or the stick-like enforcements when it comes to researchers, and even research institutes,  sharing their knowledge better?

Strength of the stick

In some cases organisations and institutions have developed policies and mandates to enforce certain actions amongst staff.  The policies and mandates require staff to do particular things in a certain way and staff are evaluated on this basis and can be rewarded or ‘punished’  if those activities are not carried out. This way of bringing about change has been found by some to be more effective in providing a wider stimulus for change and brings a certain consistency to the change desired.

In research organisations, such as in the CGIAR, an example of this may be the requirement of  research staff  to publish a certain number of journal articles per year, especially in ISI-ranked journals. For these same  CGIAR Centres, however, there is a reward system  from the overall system for increasing their publications per researcher ratio. Which works better?

Some research managers I spoke to felt that policies and mandates have lead to a larger adoption and achievement of results in actions desired by their Institutes. Amongst individual researchers I also interviewed, there was a mixed reaction. While some felt strongly that an enforced approach actually made them do things, others felt that it simply created a situation of ‘checking the box’ rather than working creatively and effectively.

What do you think?

Taste of the carrot

Much discussion has been had on the subject of incentives, especially for carrying out knowledge sharing in research.  It has often been proposed that Centres’ Performance Evaluation  mechanisms should be re-designed to include incentives to reward staff for doing more than the publications required to get the research information out to various stakeholders. If researchers go the extra mile to organise workshops, do capacity building, or additionally share knowledge through radio programs for example-what should be the reward that they receive?

What would the carrot be for you researchers out there? And also what could the carrot be for research organisations as well for making sure that knowledge from the work of their staff and projects is shared more widely?

Please share your comments with us in the space provided below!

Photo credit: For carrot image, thanks to abcdz2000, found at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1126424