Yesterday I attended seminar on ILRI Addis campus given by two senior researchers: Berhanu and Ananda- on the topic of how to integrate Value Chain Analysis and Agricultural Innovation Systems approaches in order to move forward and achieve an agenda for research for development. This was an interesting seminar which sparked many questions and discussions between the presenters and the many CGIAR staff members present.

Of interest to the Knowledge Sharing in Research project was the highlighting of one of the main differences in the innovation systems perspective as compared to earlier theories and approaches to research.

As the presenters pointed out, the main thrust for research has always been knowledge creation and generation- which they entitled INVENTION–coming up with solutions.

However much knowledge (and technology) has been created by various types of research systems over the years which has never been adopted or used and remains ‘sitting on the shelf’. The presenters indicated that this is because research just stops at the point of knowledge creation without considering ‘who will use this?”, “how will/can it be applied?”

But INNOVATIONS or changes, as different from an INVENTION, only happen when knowledge and technology is used or applied to achieve social and economic benefit. It has therefore been recognised that knowledge is only one component necessary for bringing about an innovation as the ultimate goal, and that interaction and learning amongst a number of key actors is also required.

The presenters highlighted that “there is a need to think about who is going to use the knowledge and technology being created and plan how this will happen. It is necessary to bring the relevant actors in at various stages of the knowledge creation process, right from design stage, in order to facilitate the adoption and use of such knowledge after it has been created.”

While many agree with the theoretical and intellectual underpinnings to this framework and agree with the propositions it makes, there is still a looming question about how this new type of approach can be operationalised.

“What does it actually look like?” asked one person attending the seminar, “What activities does it include? how can I realistically introduce it and use it in my research program?”.

The practical approaches to how to collaborate, learn together, and share knowledge with various actors is what is missing from this still conceptual discussion.

Quite often the innovation systems approach seems to be quite big, all-encompassing–leading to failure from trying to make such a big leap. One reason for failure to adopt or successfully use an Innovation Systems approach in agricultural research may be because it requires such big changes in approach that research organizations are unable to support due to lack of skills to carry it out, it being heavily time-consuming and expensive, it is a complex approach, and it involves many more activities than research organisations can or feel that they should be carrying out themselves.

What the Knowledge Sharing in Research project brings to this particular table is a set of options for how to undertake activities to achieve such objectives put forward for necessary improvements in research processes to enable it to contribute more to development outcomes. These may be small-scale approaches or frameworks which can be integrated into the research process/cycle itself to improve it along the lines which the Innovation Systems calls for. These are innovations at various stages in the research process which help us to improve our imapct by making efforts to complete the chain of effective knowledge generation, dissemination, adaptation and utilization.

Examples include–


*Use the Participatory Action Plan approach from IWMI WASPA LA

*Host an event in which stakeholders present their issues, knowledge, experiences and ideas–see ICARDA’ s Farmers’ Conference

*Try one of the methodologies from CIFOR’s collection of priority assessment methods–and learn from the experiences shared by the authors from various CGIAR Centres and partners

To COLLABORATE with stakeholders:

*Try using a Learning Alliance approach to bring stakeholders together to discuss issues, ideas, solutions and actions as done in the IWMI WASPA Pilot project

To LEARN together with stakeholders:

*Try some alternative, participatory monitoring evaluation and imapct assessment approaches which involve stakeholders in the process and focus on additional aspects of behavioral change, network relationships and stakeholder needs and perspectives, such as Outcome Mapping and Most Significant Change–like the WorldFish Pilot is trying–and perhaps develop an approach which fits your own project context and needs.

*Develop and use a process monitoring method to monitor and evaluate the process your project is using together with stakeholders to understand their perspective and the impact of the approach–see IWMI WASPA LA

To get research-generated knowledge out to target groups in more, appropriate ways, like:

*Using radio programs in local languages including presentation of information and a panel of experts for people to call-in to ask questions to-as being tried by IWMI Wastewater project

*Developing information packets of knowledge and technologies from various research projects and storing them in a database for access and use by extension agents and academics–like in the IRRI lead pilot project

*Developing awareness videos about key messages coming out of research projects to be shown at various events and opportunities. Videos can be tailored particularly to target groups. See those developed by IWMI Wastewater pilot project

..and more options and examples!

Perhaps we can still achieve the same objectives and reach the same end goal called for in the Innovation Systems movement but by integrating some (small) approaches which are manageable into our research process to make step-wise changes and improvements rather than having to make big leaps which cannot be easily supported.

This in itself can be an innovation for our own research for development processes.

For information on (agricultural) innovation systems:

-see presentation

-read paper: ‘Enhancing agricultural innovation systems” by WorldBank

-read ‘Challenges to strengthening agricultural innovation systems: Where do we go from here’ paper by Andy Hall, 2007