Banking your knowledge for others:
An interview with Benjamin Samson from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Knowledge Management Harmonizing Research Output’
Communication is important. And how to do it. Leaflets? DVDs? Workshops?
But, regardless of method, something that should never be overlooked is the message.
Ben Samson has been thinking about all of this as Project Leader for a project working with rice farmers in Laos funded by the CGIAR Knowledge Sharing in Research Project.
“The situation we have in northern Laos is that farmers, because there is very little arable land, are constrained to grow crops on sloping areas,” he says. “Because they are cropping on sloping areas that are much more susceptible to soil erosion, the fertility of the soil rapidly decreases. You may get a good crop this year, but crop yields will be much less in the succeeding years. Typically farmers will only use land for one year. That’s the old system.”
But, while working on these issues in Laos, Ben has seen the length of time during which land is left to rest decline. He thinks that it is now beginning to cause problems.
“Because of increasing populations and government policy, the length of time in which land goes back into resting periods – or fallow periods – has decreased. What used to be 21 years is now only three years. That is amazing.”
Now the rice farmers in Laos – the poorest of the poor – have been forced to year-in-year-out use sloping lands that are difficult to farm.
There are agricultural researchers, scientists and government extension workers who can help. But there was a problem.
“We used to write papers and report, conduct training, transfer to extension,” says Ben. “But when we evaluated the problem we realised that those that were carrying out research were writing in a way that the extension people didn’t understand. And even if the extension agents did understand it, they didn’t know how to express it in such a way that the farmers would be able to understand it. So we recognised that there is a difference in ‘language’ between the various groups involved in transmitting technologies to farmers.”
The team decided to pilot a way of adding on to an existing ‘knowledge bank’ of information in order to help farmers and government extension workers gain better understanding and access of the knowledge contained within the bank. They knew that they would have to be careful about how everything was phrased and said was a key issue towards understanding and usage of knowledge.
“The issues for the project were how to get researchers to write for the knowledge bank in such a way that when extension people accessed it, they would understand it,” says Ben. “And, further, how to get the extension workers to use the knowledge bank. So those were the problems we were dealing with.”
So with help from the Knowledge Sharing in Research project’s grant that was
awarded to IRRI, Ben was able to get everyone together to talk- the extension workers, the scientists, educators—all in one room. The idea was to identify the needs of the farmers and extension workers and then for the researchers to tailor their knowledge so it would be of the most use.
“That was the whole scheme of this project,” he says. “It was very simple. Get them together and get them to write for the knowledge bank in concert with each other so that they agree that the material coming out is first of all useful and second of all is understandable.”
Ben thinks that knowledge sharing and his experience through the Knowledge Sharing in Research project will inform they way he works in the future.
“What will become part of my work in the future is the impetus to make better use of the knowledge that we generate through research by making use of various knowledge sharing techniques that I have experienced using and have heard others talk about in the KSinR projects,” says Ben. “I think everyone wants to be able to make a difference in other people’s lives. I come from an academic background where writing and publishing about my work are valued activities, but these tools and methods that I have used and come in contact with make the results of my work more accessible to the people who can use it and improve their lives using it. I work in Laos and I see what it is like for people to try to survive on the meagre resources. It behoves me to try to find ways to make a difference.”
“This is one way I am making a difference – helping people have access to knowledge they can use through banking knowledge in a good way”
For more information and outputs from this project-see the IRRI Research outputs harmonisation KSinR Pilot Project page