During the African Agricultural GIS Week (AAGW10), a compelling story emerged.
On Day 2 of AAGW10 each of the CGIAR Centre representatives to the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) were given time to present. They were asked to tell their top three stories of what their centres have been doing, sell themselves/their units and share their thoughts on trends and outlooks for the future of spatial information.
Lieven Claessens, a researcher from the International Potato Centre (CIP) outlined three stories about what he and other colleagues had been doing and achieving in the use of geo-spatial tools for agricultural research for development.
His first two stories were pretty representative of the type of information we usually see from the geospatial scientists: ‘crop modelling for climate change’ and ‘high resolution remote sensing for stress detection’.
Until his last story about ‘environmental vulnerability assessments’ that is. This one was different!
In this section of his presentation, he introduced his work on landslide hazard modelling and how he had developed and used a model to map areas of vulnerability to landslides. Then his story took a very different and unexpected turn.
His next slide was a mosaic of new stories about a landslide that had happened in March 2010- a real story!
He emotionally explained that this landslide, which had left death and destruction, had happened on the foot slopes of Mount Elgon, an area in Uganda, a disaster his model had predicted:
“Unfortunately, well, the model was very accurate in predicting these landslides but of course the disaster happened“
But did people know about the results of this study?
Lieven then explained that he had done the usual scientific process of collecting data, developing his model, analysing the results of the model and… documenting it as a journal article. While this is necessary to maintain the high scientific standards of the CGIAR, it is just not enough.
But he knew even before the tragedy that this would not be enough to get this valuable information out to those living in the area, those managing such situations, and the policy makers who make decisions to protect people. He expressed his feeling of the inadequacy of the only communication channel used by him, as with most researchers:
Very typically as a scientist we are judged based on our scientific publications, so I published my research results in a peer review journal, and that is basically all I did with it. But I believe that publishing results in a scientific journal is not enough. In the first place these journal articles are written in a language, a scientific language, that people who could do something about it are unlikely to understand. Another problem is access to these journals, and not many people have access to them anyway. But even if you would be make it open access, in my opinion, it still would not be enough to get the message through.
The main message Lieven wanted to share by telling this story was that in ‘navigating the change’ of the new CGIAR not only are geospatial information and tools valuable for doing research and generating interesting results, but that the data, information and knowledge generated are very valuable for addressing real issues affecting real people on the ground.
He highlighted that a key priority for research aimed at development, therefore, should be good research communication, which works towards getting results and knowledge out to people so that it can be used in decision-making, planning and response both for longer-term agricultural development but also in more urgent situations.
So was this scientist(Lieven) just lazy, unconcerned or too busy? Definitely not. Lieven recognises that this situation is terrible–but is honest enough to admit that he doesn’t know how to do more of the research communication that is necessary to reach out to a wider audience.
And is he unique? No, we hear this all the time.
Is it his responsibility alone? No, but while researchers should take greater responsibility for their research being communicated, they cannot do it alone. First of all researchers are there to do research, and secondly they are often not at all trained or skilled in communication. Therefore, it is necessary that others in the research institutes and from partner organisations get involved and all work together towards this goal. According to Lieven:
While scientific publications are common, to have a real impact, researchers need to improve the way they get their messages out. Our research results should have impact on people on the ground, so then it is necessary to try to build it in your projects from the beginning and try to seek help on these communication issues.
So does this type of story sound familiar? To many it may not because we rarely see such a direct link between knowledge we have generated in our research and the need for it on the ground. But for others this story may reflect the knowledge generated from agricultural research is very valuable and can be used by many people for preventing disasters, making good decisions, improving systems, and more. But for it to do this it needs to be shared.
And in this light, it was felt that the story that Lieven told should also be shared more widely.
We at the ICT-KM Program were excited by the story because it really highlighted alot of the issues we are addressing in our work on making information available, accessible and applicable, through the CGIAR Triple A framework, and on finding and promoting pathways for making agricultural knowledge travel, through the global initiative on coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD).
So we jumped into action to make a film of Lieven’s story which could be shared with others. And we thought it would also be a good opportunity for Lieven to experience this type of communication method too.
And this short film was born!
The intention was (and still is!) to share this film widely as a way of stimulating conversations about the need for better research communication and knowledge sharing. It is available on Blip.tv, an open online television network. It has also now been shown at a number of events in a public forum style- to generate discussions, ideas, lessons and actions on improved research communication, including:
- The AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair’s ‘Making ag knowledge travel’ focus group discussion, October 21st 2010, Ethiopia- the reactions to the film and identification of pathways for sharing were documented in the blog post Making ag knowledge travel: Travel tips from the Share Fair
- The CCAFS ‘Multi-site agricultural trial database for climate change analysis: Planning and launch workshop’, October 12th 2010, Kenya- the reactions and discussion were documented in the blog post Open Access Agriculture: opening the gates
What is YOUR reaction? what do you think? Share with us!
But we don’t want this film to make people just focus on the problem or lay blame on someone else–but we want to use this to motivate people to think about what they can do to contribute to better research communication and what are the pathways to make knowledge travel better.
So what are YOU doing? What can you suggest that works? Tell us!
…and just to let you know about Lieven. He didn’t just go back to the normal practice, he has tried to make a change in his work. He designed his next project in a different way, working with other types of professionals in his Institute and making use of some pathways for better research communication. So watch this space, for more films and information on what Lieven, and others are doing to achieve better research communication.
Post thumbnail- Clapper Board, uploaded by Egahen at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/964993
News article- Guardian News online http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/03/86-dead-landslides-villages-uganda
- Starring Lieven Claessens (CIP)
- Interview by Nadia Manning-Thomas (CGIAR ICT-KM/ILRI)
- Filming- Noah Kebede (ILRI IPMS project)
- Production: Peter Casier and Bart Sels