Blueprinting priorities:

An interview with David Raitzer from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Shared learning to enhance research priority assessment practices’

Money is hard to come by – especially these days. So when you secure research funding you better be sure you know how to spend it. Can knowledge sharing help with that?

David Raitzer, from the Center for International Forestry Research(CIFOR) thought so, and applied for a grant from the Knowledge Sharing in Research project to try it out.

David has been heading up a project, which reflects on the research priority assessment experiences of twelve CGIAR centres, programmes and partners.  This is all to be shared with broader audiences via a CABI book to be released in July.CIFOR CABI Book flyer

Researchers can choose many things to study, but funds are limited and research for development should have impact for the poor and/or the environment,” says David “So it’s about how research managers consider what they could achieve with different uses of research resources. We are therefore interested in looking at the methods they use to do so and what lessons are offered to improve future attempts.”

Without some sort of analysis of impact potential, scientists tend to choose what they want to do based on curiosity and scientific salience, and they may not fully consider other factors that affect whether their outputs lead to beneficial changes on the ground. But when they have to go through a process of laying out different options and making explicit the assumptions necessary for impacts, impact culture can be strengthened.”

David says the book will serve a number of purposes, not least of all valuable knowledge sharing.

The ultimate goal of the book is to improve methods for evidence based decision-making in the centers about what research is pursued As one means to do so, we hope that this helps to illustrate to donors that the impact potential of research can be systematically assessed, and that these efforts can benefit from appropriate incentives, such as the alignment of funding decisions to assessment results,” he says.

The intended outcome is both to make donors aware of what the centres are doing to better prioritise research that will have an impact as well as to help those in the centers who are trying to assess priorities.”

David believes the book itself fills a knowledge gap. It allows research organisations to see what methods other organisations have used to inform decisions about what their research priorities should be.   But it also goes beyond the technical methods to the processes by which the methods are implemented, such as how assumptions are elicited from scientists and the interface between actual decisions about research priorities and the information offered by analytical exercises.  In so doing, it offers insights that cannot be found in prior texts on the topic.

These priority assessment methods are also knowledge sharing approaches in themselves. Tacit assumptions of scientists are made explicit, communicated to colleagues, refined and blended with external information.  Documented assumptions can then also be followed up with subsequent monitoring and evaluation. As a result, knowledge is not only shared, but is improved.”

Knowledge sharing can help in many ways when designing important and valuable blueprints for research-that will have an impact.

Never underestimate a quiet farmer:

An interview with Alessandra Galiè from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘The International Farmers’ Conference’

They say you can learn a lot from sitting on a thorn. Apparently, when it comes to plant breeding, you can also learn a lot from getting a few of them stuck in your hand.

Plant breeding is something that has always existed,” explains Alessandra Galie. “The idea is that you breed plants to be the best plants. So farmers usually pick up the seeds of the best plants to replant next year. That’s already a contribution to crop development.”

More formal plant breeding involves taking seeds from the best plants and crossbreeding them in an attempt to improve the plants slowly over the years. And this is something the ICARDA, and other research organisations, have been doing for years.

But now the basic question is- what is a better plant?” asks Alessandra “And who decides what are the criteria that make a plant better?

The problem with formal plant breeding, as done by research organisations, is that much of the knowledge that is needed to make such decisions was coming only from science, not from the farmers; farmers’ knowledge of plant breeding was being lost. Often there was no concerted effort to record the experiences of farmers as, season by season, they found ways to improve their plant breeds. And, sometimes, when efforts were made, they sought only the opinions of scientists and not of the people who handled the plants everyday: the farmers.

Alessandra also found that the opinions of women were being ignored.

Those who always got to choose what plants they liked best were men,” says Alessandra.080507-043

Therefore you exclude all the other criteria that women might have. For example women have very often cleaned the cotton plants from the field after the cotton has been harvested. And they complain if the plant is too hard on their hands. Or they themselves are cooking what they are growing so they can tell you if the taste is not good or if it’s very hard to cook the stuff they are growing.

There is an example of a woman in Jordan who was very interested in the straw of barley because she was making handicrafts with it. And she was saying ‘This one breaks so it’s not good for me’. And all of these criteria, all of these alternative priorities, are very often overlooked. If you don’t involve women then the improvement is only partial.”

So it was realised that greater knowledge sharing was needed- to find out about the knowledge and experiences of farmers, and to show researchers how valuable it is for plant breeding.

Alessandra was part of a team from the Participatory Plant Breeding program at ICARDA that organised an international farmers’ conference to help share knowledge between farmers and researchers and to give those involved in plant breeding a space in which to do that. Farmers, researchers and scientists came from countries such as Iran, Eritrea, Syrian, Jordan, Algeria and Egypt.

The Farmers’ conference involved farmers telling stories as a way of sharing their knowledge and experiences.

Farmers telling stories of their knowledge and experience with plant breeding

Farmers telling stories of their knowledge and experience with plant breeding

There was also a ‘Food and Seed Fair’ and a Network Mapping exercise.


Network Mapping at Farmers' Conference

Food and Seed Fair at Farmers' Conference

Food and Seed Fair at Farmers' Conference

For some farmers, it was the first time scientists and researchers had listened to them.

The very important effect was the empowerment effect of the conference because the farmers really appreciated the fact that they were given a space,” she says.

The farmers appreciated that, for the first time, they could be on stage and could talk. Some of them had been to conferences before but were always in the audience. But this time they were so proud since they were sitting where the scientists usually sit and they told us that this time the scientists were actually listening to them.

For the women, too, the impact of the conference was remarkable.

The self esteem of the women farmers increased so much when they started talking,” says Alessandra.

They said that they really had trouble at the beginning talking to men and older participants. They were shy and uncomfortable but, when they started telling their stories, they started to receive positive feedback and people told them ‘Wow, you really know a lot about agriculture’ they really started feeling so much better and so much more confident.”

Many of them also learnt a lot. And they said that they will use this knowledge when farming.”

Alessandra says that, almost without knowing, she has been working on knowledge sharing for most of her career. But the more formal understanding of it she has developed during the opportunity to try out knowledge sharing through the grant received to carry out this pilot project, has helped her KS work become more structured.

It’s not like I can go back anymore,” she says. “It has very much changed my approach to doing research and thinking about how to interact with others.

Knowledge sharing helps you to recognise and unlock the value of farmers’ knowledge—so you don’t run the risk of underestimating them…even the quiet ones.

For more information on and outputs from this project- see ICARDA Farmers’ Conference KSinR Pilot Project page

KSinR Synthesis workshop 221

Journalist interviewing Alessandra Galie from ICARDA on the KSinR Pilot Project she has been working on

During the Synthesis workshop for the Knowledge Sharing in Research Project held in November 2008, a professional journalist participated in the workshop to capture what was going at the workshop, give advice about using media and sharing messages with the public, as well as to conduct interviews with each of the Pilot Project Leaders (or representatives) to give them a chance to have ‘their say’ about:

  • knowledge sharing in research (the concept)
  • Knowledge Sharing in Research (the project)
  • their Pilot Projects
  • what they linked, didn’t like, would do differently
  • what they learned and will take away with them
  • how they think things went
  • how they think this may affect their future research
  • any other thoughts

It was decided to use an independent journalist to allow the Pilot Projects to feel more comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings, rather than speaking to the Project Leader to whom they may feel a certain accountability and need to show things in a positive light. It was also considered useful to have more journalistic pieces to describe the projects, which might appeal to certain people.

So in the next blog posts I will be sharing the ‘interviews’ with the Pilot Projects–so you can see what they had to say themselves…

…Stay tuned!

I (Nadia Manning-Thomas, KSinR Project Leader) was amongst the many that participated in the recently convened CGIAR Science Forum, June 16th and 17th in Wageningen, The Netherlands.

The Science Forum was well organised by the Science Council, The Alliance of CGIAR Centres, GFAR and Wageningen UR and brilliantly hosted by Wageningen UR.

The event was two days long and consisted of a mixture of plenary sessions with key note speakers and panels as well as workshop sessions on 6 different topics. I was part of Workshop 3- ICTs enabling transformation in agricultural science for development- for which I had developed a think piece and gave a presentation–see blog post on ICT-enabled collaboration for agricultural science for development

I thought I would share some of my impressions with you about this event and various components:

1. The event as a whole

  • It was well organised and ran quite smoothly
  • There was a striking lack of social sciences in the program
  • There was still the concept of ‘senior experts’ telling everyone what should be done at work with lots of time devoted to a number of key note speakers. While this was interesting, it took up a lot of time and there was no time for interaction with these speakers or as a plenary as a whole.
  • There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm amongst all the scientists–science is still exciting and valuable.
  • NO free wireless connection in rooms to allow those of us who wanted to cover the event using social media
  • It was very nice that the organisers were open to the inviting of young professionals from within the CGIAR to be part of the forum–but how many of their voices were heard?
  • A lot about genetics and genomics–seems to be a hot topic right now with lots of potential but still some things to be careful about and also still need to think about ultimate adoption and impact
  • The topic of bio-products focused solely on bio-fuels–what about fibres for clothing and thatching, medicinal plants, etc—biofuels can offer a lot of positive but need to think through carefully as can also have major implications for food production, land and water usage
  • While we might have identified a list of science topics–I didn’t get the impression we thought about how these can be operationalised and how they link together as well as to development impacts
  • Good message to us from Bill Clark on Linking Knowledge to Action for Sustainable Development
  • I enjoyed eating the ‘alternative protein’ (read: worms, grasshoppers, etc) snacks at the Forum evening event

2. ICT workshop

  • Well organised by convenor Ajit Maru from GFAR with a wide range of think-pieces prepared and presented
  • Interesting background piece developed by Ajit Maru (GFAR), Enrica Porcari (CGIAR ICT-KM), and Peter Ballantayne
  • Wide range of ideas, perspectives and opinions on ICTs
  • Still alot of bias towards very technical aspect of ICTs
  • The short presentations given by presenters were actually short and punchy and interesting.
  • Use of buzz groups in between sets of 3 presentations was a nice way to digest the presentations, find connections, hear what others thought about it etc
  • World Cafe is always a win approach for achieving meaningful small group discussions around key questions and topics…it also allows people to interact with many others during the time. Always creates a lot of conversations, a lot of energy and also of ideas!
  • From my World Cafe table on Innovations necessary to support adoption and use of ICTs in agricultural science for development a number of key things emerged:
  1. Need to develop good M&E system around ICT use in agricultural science for development to be able to track, learn and adjust along the way. We need to know if these tools are really working toward more effective, efficient and impactful work.
  2. Need to build up and support the right mix of personnel with the right skills to be able to carry out the work of ICTs in ag science for development. We need both new curriculum to support this as well as ongoing capacity building opportunities to keep people ‘on the ball’
  3. Incentives–if people are going to be engaging in clearly beneficial work to the institutes and their activities-but it does not involve publications but carrying out other activities and achieving different outputs, then we need to find a way to recognise and reward them.
  4. Need to make sure when we introduce and use new tools–that they have a clear purpose and are not just used for sake/fun of it. ICTs need to advance us along the impact pathway.

3. Networking

  • A large number of CGIAR staff in attendance–it is always nice to meet others in the system and make contacts and learn what others are doing.
  • A lot of interesting non-CGIAR participants from whom we can learn a lot, should consider working/linking with, and who can help us with outreach of our work
  • CGIAR still does not come across as a very ‘partner-oriented’- system–hope we can change that in this reform taking place as we are not the only players in ARD and many others are doing very interesting and worthwhile science and development
  • Young scientists (<40) were encouraged to network with the help of YPARD who organised a networking event specifically for Young Professionals attending the Science Forum.

But these are just MY impressions.

If you were also at the Science Forum–share with us YOUR impressions…

Sharing knowledge can save lives:

An interview with Phillip Amoah and Tonya Schuetz  from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project- ‘The Knowledge Sharing approach to safe food

A lack of knowledge in Ghana can get you thrown in jail or even killed. Such are the stakes when dealing with the food that people eat.

In Ghana a lot of vegetables are produced using wastewater,” explains Philip Amoah, leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project.

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

“These vegetables are likely to be consumed raw. Lettuce, cabbage, raw onions. And this can have a lot of health implications.

IWMI has been undertaking a number of projects that are trying to conduct research to come up with simple risk-reduction options that can be used on farms, at markets and at food preparation points to make food safer. The teams test various interventions from farm to fork to enhance food safety and the potential to institutionalize such interventions so they become common practice.

The projects are then compiling techniques that can teach food growers, sellers and producers easy ways of improving food safety. Once these techniques have been devised the challenge is to ensure that as many people as possible hear about them and put them into practice.

This is where knowledge sharing (KS) comes in. A grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research Project helped them to be able to explore and try out ways to take these results, make them easily understandable and useful and get them out to the stakeholders who need them.

We get the results from these projects, modify them in a way to make messages that the end–users will understand and then we come up with simple communication methods to get these messages out to those who are growing, selling and catering these vegetables which may be at risk,” says Philip.

Knowledge sharing has been used in this project in two main ways.

Knowledge sharing approaches were used to help the project, and its researchers, to interact and collaborate better with various stakeholders within the research process, to help to understand better the situation and needs, as well as to get feedback on project results and support in developing appropriate messages and communication mechanisms.

IWMI Wastewater farmer discussion

World Cafe conducted by IWMI Wastewater project

We started off with a series of World Cafes during the research project. The World Café is a methodology where you put people in a room together-in a café style setting, to try to make them as comfortable as possible to discuss with others, and get them to tackle certain key questions.” The World Café approach was used to facilitate an open discussion with key stakeholders on the messages develop by the project and the appropriateness, viability, constraints and effectiveness of these in achieving adoption of suggested innovations.

With a greater focus on knowledge sharing, the Project also looked for more effective ways of getting the key messages out to the target groups.

Radio was believed to be a perfect medium for communicating the findings to as wide as possible an audience and in various local languages spoken in Ghana.

We did radio programmes in local languages because radio is accessible in Ghana even for the farmers. Almost everyone has a small radio,” says Tonya Schuetz who has been also working on the project.

6-CD Case_Farmer-training-small

COver of DVD produced to share good practices with farmers

The projects also produced a series of DVDs on safe food practices and presented these to farmers and householders, extension agents, as well as caterers too.

The caterers are interesting because we didn’t have them in mind at all when we set up the project,” says Tonya. “When we thought of end-users, we thought on a household level. But then we conducted  a study that showed that it is more often caterers in the street who prepare the vegetables that are consumed raw.

As she explains, progress has been swift. “With this KSinR Pilot project I really felt like a lot went very well,” says Tonya

Before beginning a concerted campaign of knowledge sharing in research, Philip says he sometimes had difficulty communicating even simple messages like the need for farmers to water crops at the root so as not to splash soil on to the leaves, causing a potential health hazard.

One time I was chased out of a vegetable growing site in Accra when I went to take water samples because at that time the farmers were not involved in the project,” he says.

They said that people had come before and taken water samples, after which some of the farmers had been arrested and people wouldn’t buy their vegetables. But now that we’ve got them involved, we better understand their situation and find better ways to communicate the results of the research to them to help them make changes and improvements. I’m free to go there at any time, to take samples and to do what ever research I want to do. And that has really helped a lot. So knowledge sharing is something I really want in my future research. I’ve even joined the farmers association now, attend meeting and pay dues and they now recognize me as one of them.

Tonya says it was not only farmers, but researchers, too, who changed their attitudes.

We started off working with researchers who were open to it but did not really believe in it,” she says. “They felt that knowledge sharing was something they had already been doing for a long time. But when they saw how we used various knowledge sharing methodologies even at a very early stage in our project and the results we got, they realised that it was slightly different to what they’d been doing before. It’s a lot more about continuous interaction with stakeholders, rather than just going there once, talking to your partners and then just going and doing your research.”

Knowledge sharing has changed the way they work.”

Hopefully knowledge sharing will help us to save lives.

For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI Wastewater KSinR Pilot Project page

The CGIAR Science Forum was recently held in Wageningen, The Netherlands, 16th and 17th June 2009. As part of the Science Forum, a number of workshops were convened on key topics. This included:

Workshop 3. ICTs transforming agricultural science, research and technology generation

I (Nadia Manning-Thomas, KSinR Project Leader) was asked to prepare a think-piece for this particular workshop and also give a presentation during the workshop session.

My presentation was entitled “ICT-enabled collaboration for agricultural science for development” and consisted of three main sections:

1. ScenariosSlide2

In this section I outlined the evolution in agricultural science from a more traditional research approach which did not involve much participation of others in the research process. While this may have rendered scientifically rigorous results, shortfalls to this approach included a lack of adoption of outputs, little addressing of key needs and priorities on the ground, and poor recognition and inclusion of additional knowledge sources.

The participatory research and innovations systems movements evolved to address this and focus heavily on stakeholder engagement in research. However these approaches have usually focused on face-to-face participation which due to its expense can be limited and may also not achieve as wide participation as possible. Also bringing people together does not necessarily result in meaningful collaboration and participation–key methods need to be used to ensure that this happens.

I then introduced a scenario called ‘ICT-enabled collaboration’ which showed that ICTs-to be considered in  their broadest form of both technology and non-technology approaches- can help to multiply the numbers of stakeholders with whom we can collaborate as well as finding meaningful ways for participation and collaboration to be achieved.

2. Opportunities


While a large number of ICT tools and methods exist it is very often the case that these are not used. One reason is that researchers are unsure of which tools should be used when and for what purpose. One opportunity to address this is the very process through which research is usually conducted–as shown in the diagram. The research cycle actually offers a very good opportunity for making use of ICTs in a meaningful way through the various entry points its stages offers. Each stage has certain objectives it wants to achieve and certain activities that take place. Looking at these ‘entry points’ certain ICTs can be identified which can help to enhance the collaboration during these activities and in achieving the particular objectives.

Some options were shown in a table in the next slide:


3. Issues

Slide5However this will not happen on its own and certain challenges and blockades need to be addressed before the ICT-enabled form of collaboration can really start to move forward within the CGIAR. A number of key issues and questions related to this were raised in the final slide.

The Science Forum ICT workshop documents (program, background notes and think pieces) are all available on the website:

Two ICT-KM supported activities were among those selected to be showcased at the Science Forum in the Poster Competition:

Well done!!!!

The full list of posters is in this EGFAR E-News