Agricultural research and the innovations that arise from it are important in addressing food security and improving livelihoods of the poor. So those of us in the business of non-profit agricultural research really have an obligation to make sure our research data, information and knowledge resources reach the audience that drives this research in the first place – farmers, farmer organizations, policy makers and other researchers.

When the UK DFID (Department for International Development), aware of the value of putting research into use, commissioned FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) with the task of catalyzing efforts to ensure that agricultural research information and knowledge become public domain, it triggered the formation of a global partnership on Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD). The partnership includes FAO, GFAR, the CGIAR, CTA and others in the agricultural research community.

The partners in the CIARD initiative are committed to promoting the sharing of data, information and knowledge to empower the various stakeholders involved in agriculture. To begin with, CIARD outlined a checklist – the Triple A checklist that defines what is meant by ensuring your research outputs are Available, Accessible and Applicable.

The ICT-KM office has been actively measuring or rather, benchmarking the availability and accessibility of research outputs in several Centers in the CGIAR, namely Bioversity, WorldFish and CIAT. This will extend further to include CIMMYT, CIP, ICARDA and ICRAF, who are in the first batch of volunteers.

What makes this exercise fruitful is the suggested CIARD pathways or processes that Centers can adopt to make their research more accessible. Pathways will help researchers identify a publisher who has more flexible policies on open access, so that they do not have to sign away all rights to their journal article. These pathways will also help a senior manager understand the value of institutional policies that enable sustainable development of repositories for their center. They will be brief and to the point. Where users like the IT unit and librarians, want more detail i.e. on Creative Commons, there would be linked resources on the web.

The pathways could broadly be clustered as:
• General – strategic and policy issues, organizational issues which need to be addressed in handling research outputs.
• Capture, Collection and Curation of research outputs – ensuring that all the outputs are described in a form that makes them available and accessible.
• Managing Web Presence – using the internet to make the information accessible to others.

In order to take stock of feedback and define these pathways further, CIARD partners met last week in a Writeshop, May 28 – 29 at Bioversity, Rome. Hosted by ICT-KM, the group worked on clarifying the users for the many pathways proposed, the authors and format for each pathway.

Given our experience in social media, ICT-KM will be heavily involved in providing resources and support in the third cluster of pathways.

CIARD now has a clear action plan that aims to get many of their draft pathways out in their website (www.ciard.net) for testing, usage and feedback. It is hoped these pathways will become living knowledge and users will take over where CIARD stops. Watch this space…

International Public Goods are also referred by Derek Byrelee from the Science Council as Public International Goods…or PIGs…but can we make our pigs fly…that is make them reach the intended users? Read this…

In Maputo on 28 November, the Alliance of CGIAR Centers, the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the CGIAR Science Council organized a technical workshop on ‘International Public Goods (IPGs) in agricultural research for development’.

For the Science Council, Derek Byerlee introduced the basic notions: “public goods have high social benefits that the private sector has no intention to deliver … the international part is that public goods will have products or impacts across borders.”

The cross-border benefits of these public goods depends, among other things, on their “spillover potential — how well does the PG travel?” This ‘potential to travel’ of research outputs was also the focus of a presentation by Peter Ballantyne for the ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR.

Following Byerlee’s argument that “we [the CGIAR] just can’t produce IPGs and put them up on the shelf,” the thrust of the ICT-KM presentation was that the high quality of outputs, based on peer review for example, is not sufficient in itself to ensure wide access to the outputs, across borders. Extra efforts are needed.

Ballantyne used a ‘Triple A’ framework to illustrate how many CGIAR research outputs can’t travel to developing countries and elsewhere because they are not available or accessible. Thus they are less likely to be put to use in development. Indeed, perhaps they should not be seen as international public goods until they have been made truly accessible.

Some take away messages from the presentation and subsequent discussions were:

• That IPGs need to be able to travel; with investment and wide commitment, we can give them this capability, certainly much more than is now the case;
• Traditional outputs as publications and reports are much less accessible to development communities than we wish;
• Publishing peer reviewed articles and books offers excellent pathways to reach into international science communities and a guarantee to science excellence. Alone, this is not a guarantee that the outputs will serve the developmental goals of the CGIAR;
• Using ‘accessibility’ indicators alongside ‘quality’ indicators would help focus attention on the need for uptake as well as production.
• Many outputs are not as permanently accessible as posterity may require;
• The licenses and permissions used by CGIAR centers for their outputs often do not encourage use and re-use of the outputs;
• Open access can be provided in different ways that do not compete with peer review;
• Capable partners are essential to spread the word beyond the reach of the CGIAR;
• The CGIAR should continue to work with other organizations – like GFAR, FAO, CIARD … and specialized communities.

For the ICT-KM Program, next steps in this area include:

• Continuing to focus along entire research cycle, working with intermediate and final products and a wide range of outputs – data, databases and systems, documents, etc.
• Extending efforts to assess and benchmark the outputs, getting them into ‘repositories,’ making them more ‘open,’ and giving them ‘wings’ to travel;
• Supporting policy changes in centers, and across the CGIAR system;
• Strengthening and revitalizing ‘library’ functions across the CGIAR;
• Facilitating system-wide negotiations, with for example publishers;
• Transforming and building on the many smaller innovations across the system to achieve something more like a system-wide ‘movement’ towards truly accessible outputs.

These issues will be followed up in the AAA workshop on 30 November and the workshop on improving agricultural knowledge sharing, education and learning on 4 and 5 December .

Link to ICT-KM background paper

Link to AAA concept on ICT-KM –
Link to CIARD

More stories on access on the IAALD blog