E-Agriculture

Krishan Bheenick

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Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

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</o:shapelayout></xml><![endif]--></head><body bgcolor=white lang=EN-US link=blue vlink=purple><div class=WordSection1><p class=MsoNormal><b><span style='font-size:10.0pt;font-family:"Tahoma","sans-serif"'>From:</span></b><span style='font-size:10.0pt;font

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Although this is difficult to admit at the time one is preparing a project proposal and developing the log frame, we have to point out that with experience in applying ICTs in agric information management, there is an inherent risk that the targeted beneficiary may stray from the path way we have mapped out for them in our intervention. This has to be factored in any such project

However, with formative evaluation incorporated in the process, we may have tools to correct our approach and pathways, and if need be also document how we have identified the bottlenecks and the other factors  (or additional information) that have caused the information not to have the desired effect we hoped, or achieved it to a certain extent only

So, if we had to provide tools for impact assessment, we should take the evaluator for the road trip that the information packages went through, to better appreciate how effective the interventions have been. [It reminds me of the film 'The Adjustment Bureau' where there are multiple pathways towards a desired objective and we are trying to guess the best way to lead an individual towards a desirable outcome]

Therefore, to go back to learning from extension approaches, I still find that the Targeting Oucomes of Programs (http://citnews.unl.edu/TOP/english/index.html ) is still a very valid approach to guide any formulation of evaluation and impact assessment of information management programs. The TOP enables the conceptual framework used to design the information provision approach to be described on one hand and on the other hand it enable each step in the process also to be evaluated for its effectiveness in leading to the desired outcome. It is one way of trying to render a complex system linear by stating that 'this is the pathway I think will lead the group to its destination, but these are the possibilities of losing members of the group from that pathway, along the way'. So with that model in mind, we are implementing a program, but we will also be monitoring what is happening so that we can redraw the pathway ahead (or sidepaths to join the main pathway again) to ensure that we have as many individuals of the group completing the journey

The TOP may be complex, but as we read earlier, some of the tools we have today can also provide us with the monitoring information as we move along, so it may not be as demanding on the staff involved if the automated processes and feedback systems are designed to capture the information as the user proceeds with this knowledge gathering journey, which leads to behaviour change and socio-economic progress. To me, this is one way we can make the processes explicit to the evaluator of impact of the program
Krishan Bheenick

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Just as we have seen a lot of the discussion on the measurement of impact has been referring to Agricultural Extension, I feel that when we are dealing with assessment of impact of technologies (whether agricultural or information & knowledge management technologies) in the agricultural and rural development context, we are privileged to be able to go back to see how agricultural extension has dealt with the issues.

ICTs are tools that enable us to do things in info & knowledge management faster, targeted or broadcast, including fast feedback and interactive, which are now portrayed as ICT-enabled services. Yet, these tools are still enabling us to do many of the things we have been trying to do in Agricultural Extension.

We can still relate to the steps involved:
1. Believing we have understood the information needs of our stakeholders, for them to achieve some socio-economic development,
2. We gather, package and present to the user, the information that we feel is required
3. We expect them to be able to assimilate what has been packaged for them - or we hope that they will assimilate it in the same way we would if we put ourselves in their shoes;
4. We expect the information to lead to a learning moment for the user, which will increase their tacit knowledge to a certain extent
5.We expect that the increased knowledge will lead to an assessment of the situation, a change in attitude, and hopefully a behaviour we thought was desirable in order to achieve the socio-economic improvement

Now, whether we are talking of static web pages or dynamic market information on the web or through sms, we are still in the business of providing information, reacting to feedback we receive to focus the next round of information provision etc. It requires that we deepen our knowledge and understanding of the use of the information we provide until it can lead to impact. This may not be the case as we start off a project or when we develop our log-frame (so we include a process of validation of our understanding in the project activities)

But, in the end, we realise that at each and every step of the process, there is a possibility of the targeted stakeholder not following the path we have traced for them in our conceptual model. This is a risk that agricultural extension has been dealing with throughout its existence, so lets not re-invent the wheel and learn from their wisdom.
(I will get to the point in the next post, it was too long)
 

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Shehzaad,

I could not agree more with Jim's views on the differences that exist between conceptualisation and implementation of the log frame. Definitely it seems that some donors are stuck by regulation to have a logframe in project proposals. How many of us have been through this cycle where a project proposal is being prepared: a consultant (No1) is recruited to develop a proposal as per the formats and requirements of the donor/sponsor. A lot of documentation on what should be done as part of the project is provided to the consultant by the stakeholders, the final output is a project proposal that summarises these proposed activities into clusters that are now linked to objectives and result areas. The ideas are present in the text in less details and the actual action (minus the spirit in which the action should be made) is represented in the logframe. If the stakeholders or beneficiaries are not well organised in formulating their views, they are generally happy that a document has been prepared by an expert which increases their chances of being funded.

Some time later (in some cases a year or more later) the project is launched. Consultant No2 is recruited to implement the project. Consultant No 1 is not able to be involved in implementation, so his/her views may not be considered. The new people involved in implementing may simply just start off with the project proposal and elaborate an activity plan based on that - unless, again the stakeholders are clear about their original proposals of what should be done as part of the project and bring these to the attention of the consultant. Consultant No2 may also adopt the attitude that they are here to implement the project so as to satisfy the indicators (again quantified, but with no indication of the spirit in which these have to be implemented), no more no less. This scenario is even more important when we are dealing with information and knowledge management because there are a lot of soft skills involved - hence my stress on the 'spirit of implementation' of an ICT4D project being as important as the number of publications printed and distributed for example.

I also support the idea of unpacking the process into steps (results chain exercise) so as to document each step of the process and how well it has worked. I will come back to this under the discussion on 'Do you construct logical and linear paths

Krishan

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Dear colleagues,

The discussions are quite interesting indeed. The issue is about how best we can provide evidence of impact of ICT4D to those who are sponsoring us. We mention the dreaded 'log frame' because that has been the traditionally accepted tool for planning linear interventions, people have been trained to use it and draw conclusions from it. However, it assumes that there is a logic flow or some sort of linearity in the activities carried out and the outcomes, with some degree of flexibility to allow for unexpected outcomes of the activities, which you could always explain with the use of the assumptions made and the risks mentioned upfront.

The ways in which we have adapted to the log frame approach has been to try to straighten what in general is a complex, interrelated set of factors that lead to a change in attitude, behaviour which may lead to socio-economic impact. For example, we have tried to target specific communities for which we have baseline data and then compared them during and after to see what changes have happened.  By narrowing ourselves to a segment of the complex, we have been able to present a 'linear' and logical approach to our interventions and are able to satisfy the measurement criteria, to a certain extent. Unfortunately, we may also be missing the  spill-over effects of our intervention by just looking through the log-frame lens.

So are we stuck with the log frame - or rather, are the sponsors and funding agencies stuck with the use of this tool to justify their investments? - the aim of evaluation from a 'sponsor' is that they are provided with evidence that their investment has done some 'good'. If it were a person you were explaining it to, perhaps you could address their feelings and make them 'feel good' that they have invested in a project. Unfortunately, we are also restrained by having to report in writing and it tends to be difficult to create the sensation of 'feeling good' through text, unless there are figures that express a sense of magnitude, which then is able to make us 'feel good'. So, part of the answer to me would be to explore new ways of reporting that can be acceptable to the 'sponsors' that represent the impact of a project. Thus, we find nowadays that there is a lot of focus on getting 'stories' from the target communities, short videos, or even field visits and 'immersions' in the target community etc. that can be used both to report on progress and at the same time 'touch' the feelings of the sponsor.

So, as innovators in this area of work, what are the means of reporting that we can include to complement what the 'log frame' indicators cannot capture? Is there also some advocacy to be made at the level of the 'sponsors' to enable them to quantify the 'feel good factor' in monetary terms?

Krishan Bheenick

Food and Agricultural Research Council, Mauritius

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Félicitations à toute l’équipe de facilitateurs pour le travail accompli pendant ce mois de mai 2011. La lecture a été très passionnante et même si je n’ai fait aucune intervention, sachez que les réactions ont été bien lues. J’ai aussi personnellement apprécié le partage de toutes les ressources en ligne et documentations sur le thème. Je garderai les sommaires comme documents de référence et je reviendrai sur le forum pour plus de détails. Ce serai bien si les liens aux documents soient aussi places sur les sites déjà existants, e.g. GenARDIS comme source d’infos.

Krishan Bheenick

Food and Agricultural Research Council

Ile Maurice

** Pour répondre à ce

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

NACA: " I suggest that the strategy should include training and mentoring activities to help organisations at this level progress- eg. those that are just taking their first steps in web publishing or setting up their first OAI repository"

I fully agree, especially on the 'mentoring' aspect. Capacity-building is fine to upgrade our  understanding and skills, but is it enough to bring the 'capacitated institution' to action? This is where we need to learn from our colleagues in Advisory Services and Extension, because we are aiming for change in behaviour. This is a process that has to be spread over time and factored for in the capacity-development programming.

I am wondering to what extent we could describe the process of embarking on the first steps to actually being fully involved in CIARD-recommended practices in a series of phases. Once we have done that (albeit a rough scale), could we then identify mentors at each level who will coach someone else who has been at a 'lower' level? For those who have trained, you will appreciate that the best way to learn about what you do is to teach someone else how to do it - so the principle proposed here is the same - get those who have been able to go through one of the steps, to help someone else do it and so on. We could even organise it as a series of 'cohorts' or 'informal courses' that a few 'volunteers' would run for others. The only way you pay back for the skills you have acquired is that you need to demonstrate that you have been able to help someone else.

Have we ever tried to quantify the number of people the CIARD should be touching directly and indirectly? Are the numbers from the regional consultations an good indication? Can we make a good estimate so it helps us quantify the amount of resources we need (or we have to source ourselves) to acheive our goals? Such an exercise may be helpful in attracting funds for our activities.

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Yes Hugo, perhaps the CIARD Initiative has actually matured to now start addressing 'the stuff' itself. Definitely, the metadata phase was and still is important. It also seemed to be a strategy not to fall into the trap of institutions spending time debating on whether they can actually share their information or not, but rather to meanwhile describe what it holds as information. The issue of sharing could come when the requests were coming in... So, for some of us, we are now having to cross this bridge, while for others (many others, like in Sub-Saharan Africa) we are yet to start the journey.

So, strategically, we need to continue with the efforts on the metadata phase, but in parallel start addressing the issue of information sharing with 'the stuff'. Hopefully, with such efforts on the latter, we will also be able to showcase how actions on the initial phase of describing 'the stuff' can eventually bring us closer to the long-term vision.

So, I would say that some of the stakeholders are ready to come on board, while others are still in need on mentoring (i will raise this issue of mentoring elsewhere)

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Many of CIARD stakeholders who may be joinig the discussions after the final reminder has been sent to them might be asking themselves... okay, so what do I do with all this discussion now...

This section of the discussion is also aiming at that same question - what processes do the CIARD Task Forces have to facilitate for us to move the agenda forward? The categorisation of immediate actions and strategic actions 'immediately' makes one ask the question - 'Shouldn't there be something in between?' - at least that was my reaction; and I guess this discussion is about sharing our reactions to the questions!

I re-read Johannes' contribution and I believe the 5 stars approach, as well as the paragraph that followed are quite important. Let's start with what can and needs to be done at individual and institutional level (making information available so that people can point to it and adding the context) - this can be done at any level (instutional, national, sectoral, regional), but it makes most sense if these information resources can be linked to the CIARD RING.

As far as the other immediate actions mentioned (vocabularies, LOD etc.), even if it feels like it is not immediately feasible, at least, one can start a discusion at institutional level about it - and that could lead to concerted efforts along the lines of the CIARD principles.

Should we see 'tactical actions' being mentioned as the in between activities? Any examples come to mind? I believe that keeping the  issue of interoperability, data sharing alive at your workplace is a tactical action which keeps the item on the agenda. Maybe we should share such experiences more often among ourselves, not necessarily at global level, but among our national networks or regional networks, just to keep motivating our peers.

The technology and methods of implementation comes after you have been able to take the first step and got a few colleagues motivated to start this process of sharing information. Should you do it for them? You could, but you could be alone doing it.

As one of our participants at a regional workshop philosophically quoted last year: " if you want to move fast, charge forward alone; if you want to go far, its better to move together with others" - this is particularly relevant in the efforts we are embarking on, because its success depends on collective collaboration.

Having said all that, I am still asking myself, what is the first step? If you haven't done so yet, lets plan to revisit the CIARD RING together and have a conversation about it - perhaps we may be moving alone in our institutions but at least we know that we are not alone in this journey of implementing the CIARD! Is this an activity you think one of the Task Forces should be facilitating?

Krishan

Krishan Bheenick
Krishan BheenickFood and Agricultural Research CouncilMauritius

Thank you Valeria for enlightening us on the trends in tools and technologies.
I believe this kind of information, i.e. being described at a more general level, and which most of us can relate to, is what we need more of.


Too often, I have felt that the CIARD initiative is trying to talk to a broad range of specialists, each more interested in one area of the spectrum of disciplines that the CIARD has to deal with. However, each group of specialists needs to use some technical terms that others may not be familiar with. In the end we have useful conversations going on in pockets of specialised areas, and news of the success stories or significant initiatives are not reaching the rest of the CIARD stakeholders.

I would like to suggest that we try to draw a conceptual model of how our interventions fit in the broad sense of what CIARD is trying to help us achieve.
If we take the LOD as an example, it needs to be explained to all our stakeholders so we all understand why a group among us is getting particularly  excited about LOD – generally its those people involved in vocabularies, ontologies and (?) who seem to be saying a lot about LOD. What is it that the extension and advisory services information specialists need to grasp about LOD that will also bring them on board? We need to have some of these examples brought to the surface.


During the past 2 questions, there has been an extended discussion on the issue of the Research-Extension-Farmer linkages,  with a new breed of Agricultural Information Managers sitting somewhere within that triangle. There has also been talk of multiple triangles of people:processes:technologies being mentioned which are interlinked, and the need to define these.


So, in addition to the tools, standards and infrastructures, we seem to need the conceptual framework within which we are working to be better defined. Maybe I should say that there is a need  for the conceptual model to be formalized, as we all seem to have an idea of what CIARD helps us to do, but we have not yet shared our mental models to agree on a formal model that tries to describe the CIARD framework. Could this interfacing be visualized in the form of those triangles being interlinked at the people/processes/technologies points such that they bridge people from different ends of the CIARD stakeholder spectrum? Perhaps that is an activity that could be tried out during a face-to-face gathering discussion the CIARD.