Collaborate, Create, Communicate

African ‘carrots': Results of a consultation at the African Agriculture Science Week

On 5th July 2010, I posted a blog entitled “How to motivate more knowledge sharing in research: using the carrot or the stick?” to explore what makes or would make researchers and research projects share their agricultural research knowledge. This received some interesting responses.

This discussion was initiated as part of the ongoing work of two related initiatives: the CGIAR’s framework on making research available, accessible and applicable (Triple A) and the coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD) initiative both interested in making research knowledge truly accessible.

But what are the carrots for African researchers and research organisations?

This discussion was continued in the context of Africa last week (19-24 July 210) during the 5th African Agriculture Science Week and FARA General Assembly, held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This gathering of more than 750 people had an overall theme of  ‘African Innovation in a Changing Global Environment’ with one of the three sub-themes focusing on “Knowledge centres and networks to cope with the challenges of globalisation and climate change”. The first two days of week were designed as an open space of side events on three sub-themes.

The CGIAR, FAO and FARA jointly organised a side-session during this open space to look at “enhancing the accessibility of research outputs through more coherent knowledge centres and networks”.

To kick-off the session a discussion on challenges that exist in research communication in Africa was started with a few slides presented by Stephen Rudgard (FAO), which succeeded in provoking an interesting conversation.

One participant put forward the question of “what does it mean to be a researcher today?” to which he answered- ” research communication!”. He further elaborated that “the challenge is how to integrate communication into the daily work of an African researcher.”

Another participant recognised the gaps illustrated in the slides presented but pointed out that there was ‘weak access to communication channels’- “many of our research institutes don’t even have access to the internet!”

The group then listened to a couple of representatives of African NARS on their experiences with making knowledge accessible and tangible incentives they see existing for institutions to make their research output truly accessible.

Then it was time to get the views of the session participants. In two groups-one anglophone and one francophone- a  card exercise was carried out.

Each participant was given three cards on which they were asked to write one idea of a benefit or incentive they thought would encourage an individual researcher to share or make accessible his/her agricultural research outputs.

These cards were then clustered in a participatory process with the group, to determine particular categories/themes.

The results of both groups-English and French- were then shared in plenary.

And the results were…

Interestingly, it was possible to see a distinct group of benefits-those things that would be received by researchers themselves- as well as distinct groups of incentives-those things that an institute could offer as a way of encouraging their researchers to share their knowledge.

Suggestions of benefits gained directly by individual researchers included:

1.  Greater personal recognition (renown, reputation, status, popularity) from peers, policymakers, and users of research – in terms of professional performance, role in the community, and contribution to society

  • increased “visibility”/profile awareness of their research results (through citation index) in the scientific domain
  • exposure to the greater information society on the web

2. Greater recognition (renown, reputation, status, popularity) of their institution from peers, policymakers, and users of research

3.  Increased access to resources for their research in terms of funding and material support

4. Opportunities to increase their peer networks of other researchers in terms of:

  • invitations to join research programmes/networks/initiatives
  • development of collaborative partnerships
  • invitations to present their research findings at conferences/meetings

5.  Practical and sustainable appropriation and use of their research outputs to resolve challenges faced by the variety of rural actors to the benefit of rural communities

6. Moral duty/satisfaction of making the outputs of research accessible and contributing directly to the advancement of science and to rural development

  • Contribution to development of their country, to alleviating poverty, to enhancing food security, agricultural development/production/productivity, to the needs of the population
  • Contribution to state of research/science and the knowledge commons, though collaboration and knowledge exchange/sharing

Incentives identified by the participants that could be offered by institutions included:

1. Greater practical support in research communication from their institutions, combined with enhanced access to ICT (internet, computer), and sound institutional policies for protection of ownership of intellectual property

2. Provision of enhanced opportunities for career and personal (training) development for researchers who communicate their outputs, with possibility of promotion and financial reward (a) salaries increases, (b) national/institutional prize/awards, (c) payment of proportion of royalty to individual scientists for IPR bought by companies

3. Insistence on fulfillment of obligatory requirements for reporting and communication of research outputs of the institution, national government/stakeholder, and/or foreign donors

Following this exercise were presentations of two initiatives currently supporting the efforts to make research more accessible. Stephen Rudgard (FAO) presented on the global initiative on coherence of information for agricultural research for development (CIARD) with its various themes around advocacy, capacity building, and content management.  He highlighted the CIARD Manifesto, the Checklist, the Pathways and the RING.

Dady Demby (FARA) gave a presentation on the regional agricultural information and learning system (RAILS) of FARA which seeks to improve access to information and the ability of African stakeholders to contribute to global agricultural knowledge.

In closing the session Stephen responded to a comment made about the need for capacity building to achieve this type of wider sharing:

There is indeed a need for skills and capacities in order to take on board this new thinking around making research more accessible. It needs a solid program of approach to share with people so they do not have to start from scratch, but can learn from others. But the skills do not only have to rest with researchers. The multi-stakeholder innovation systems we now try to work through involve many stakeholders, and we have to make use of actors that have the skills and capacity in this area. RAILS and CIARD are looking to support multiple groups of stakeholders. The challenge is how to share good practices.

What are your thoughts?

Photo credits: Nadia Manning-Thomas, 2010

Thank you also to Stephen Rudgard (FAO) for collating of French and English cards.