Monthly Archives: February 2013

Claiming the art of influencing policy change: whose knowledge is it anyway?

Claiming the art of influencing policy change: whose knowledge is it anyway?

Last week we held training on the art of influencing policy change: tools and strategies for researchers. The objective of this training was to bring together researchers and other experts in the field of research and policy making to discuss on how to make better use of research evidence and derive much more impact, as opposed to simply ending up at publication. How can research evidence be used to influence policy?

The Deputy Secretary for National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NCSTI) Kenya graced the event and brought to our attention an important piece of information…. the STI bill 2012 was passed. The STI bill 2012 is for an act (STI act 2013) of parliament to facilitate the promotion, coordination and regulation of the progress of STI innovation in the country and entrench STI into the national production system. With it, brought the establishment of the commission which has succeeded The National council for Science and Technology. It’s bigger, better in terms of mandate and capabilities. It is now an autonomous body!

The commission too expects researchers to demonstrate more impact from their research outputs. This it will support by driving the national research agenda to impact and change the agricultural research system in Kenya.

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This message couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The event was about using research evidence to influence policy change, and here we are getting information about a new STI act 2013 which seems to capture it all; a national research agenda, a national research fund which be allocated 2% of the GDP, an innovation agency to identify, nurture and support innovations, research committees and a science commission with ‘teeth to bite’.

However, I cannot help but think to myself, how much can this act achieve? We had discussions on various topics and issues surrounding use of research evidence to influence policy change. As usual, the issue of communication kept on coming up and it was emphasized the need to contextualize our communication- Different target audiences, different communication tools.

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At this point, the issue of researchers holding on to information comes up. Researchers are more concerned about publishing- for good reasons maybe; promotions, recognition and all that comes with it. They cannot release it to the public domain until it is published, lest someone ‘steals’ it. I ask, isn’t the main goal for the research to release information out there for USE. Whatever use. Whose knowledge are researchers are holding onto? During the training, Prof. Ruth Oniang’o made a statement which I openly want to identify with “Nobody can claim monopoly to any knowledge. The only difference is who uses it, how, where and for what purpose.”

I have just read a blog about the limits of evidence in African Agriculture by Researchers at the STEPS Centre Livestock project. In this article (available here: http://www.future-agricultures.org/blog/entry/-the-limits-of-evidence-in-african-agriculture#.USPDOx0a68A ), the authors ask if African policy makers have access to good evidence. They argue that perhaps this could be true and thus a limitation in using research results to influence policy change. I am compelled to agree with them on this point. Why? Researchers are not yet ready to be ready to release research evidence as and when needed. It came out in the training that it is important to raise the policy issues at the right time- strike while the iron is hot! If the GMO debate and the bio safety issues are trending and carrying the agenda, release whatever evidence available regarding that topic then. It will be timely.

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Are we (researchers) ready to face the reality? Do we agree that it is not after all our knowledge? Every time we seek to carry out a research on whatever issue, emphasis is always placed on problem statement. In this section, we always define the research problem with respect to how it affects certain processes, certain actors, or certain policies. We also describe the steps to take in addressing this problem and it more often than not includes synthesizing available information through literature reviews and analysis. What this means in essence is that the knowledge derived out the research is not ours per se with the argument it concerns other actors and processes in one way or another.

As such, while we are focusing on claiming the art of influencing policy change, let us not forget to remember that it is not just about using evidence, but also using evidence as it emerges to ensure relevance of the policies. That after all, it is not our knowledge, it belongs to the people, ALL PEOPLE.

KM on a dollar a day

shakespeareblog

Last week I was invited to share my experience with personal/professional bogging to a group of knowledge management focal points in UNDP who had expressed an interest in learning more, and I hope putting it into practice.

I’ve only been blogging publicly since 2010, but have been blogging inside the  “inside the firewall” since 2006. I’m far from being an expert – but I probably do have more experience in blogging than most other UN staff and so I’m sharing here some of the tips and issues that I presented last week.

First of all it’s good to think distinguish a few different types of professional blogging:

1. Official corporate blogging – such as on UNDP’s “Our Perspective”. Many organizations have this type of blog which is essentially part of an organizations communication or public relations set up – but allows corporate communication to be bit more personal and…

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Why every scientist needs an online profile

Why every scientist needs an online profile.

More than a lag phase with the use of social media

MORE THAN A LAG PHASE WITH USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

I have watched over the last few years (very few) as the beauty and power of social media unfold. Web 2.0 as they are also known, Face book, twitter, LinkedIn and many others are now very powerful tools with the ability to ‘move mountains, literally.  They say that mountains can never meet, but through face book, these mountains have been moved and friends have been re-connected after many years without them moving an inch form their physical locations. These tools have such a huge impact in terms of communication and outreach and organisations are now fast embracing the use of online social media as an avenue for networking, outreach, feedback and the list is endless. This is a phenomenon which has now become a must for any business or organisation seeking to make an impact to its stakeholders and targeted audience.

 

Twitter handle

I cannot boast that I am an expert in this field and subject, but with the little that I know, I have made an observation and I ask, is it enough to just acknowledge that use of social media is now an imperative and they way to go? I think social media can only do so much. How much have these organisations invested in building the capacity of their employees to use social media? To what extent are they willing to go familiarize their staff with the knowledge needed to fully realize the benefits of web 2.0 tools? I recently had an encounter that made my jaws dropped, where an employee of a certain organisation was at pains figuring out what a ‘handle’ is. When I asked her what their official twitter handle is, her response was: “what’s that?” I almost laughed but then thought, ‘what?’ UNBELIEVABLE! In this day and age? You see in my mind, the ‘gospel’ about social media is now wide spread and nobody has the right to ‘claim’ that they are not aware. And there goes the problem…… we have assumed that enough has been said about social media, everybody knows about them and what they are capable of achieving.

Therein lays the problem- Assumption! Organisations assuming that their staff is familiar with web 2.0 and their applications. Organisations assuming that creating a twitter account and a face book page are enough. Just because social media and its use seems to have spread like bush fire in less than ten years, then everybody should know what it is, and how to use it. Unfortunately, that is not true.

Do these organisations embracing use of social media for communication and outreach think of attaining an exponential growth with these tools, or they are content with the lag phase attained after the initial step of having an online presence in the social media.  Yes lag phase, that of the biology fame, describing the initial growth phase, during which cell number remains relatively constant prior to rapid growth. You see I choose to use the phrase lag phase here to signify ‘no growth’, constant. Julie Urlaub in her blog on “why your social media efforts are failing and what to do about them” points out three major missteps which organisations take, that hinder them from realising the full benefits of social media as essential tool for value creation (http://blog.taigacompany.com/blog/sustainability-business-life-environment/why-your-social-media-efforts-are-failing-and-what-to-do-about-them ).  Julie mentions the need to build and active social media engagement strategy, under which I boldly say, organisations need to build their in-house capacity to full y exploit social media

I believe that in this strategy, one of the main objectives should be towards attaining exponential growth in their operations and end results, as a result of embracing use of social media to make their presence more pronounced. How? Awareness, awareness, awareness! Spread the knowledge about them (technical knowledge inclusive): That ‘knowledge is power’ no longer carries the day, but the sharing of this knowledge. Let us enhance the capacity of our employees to use social media, let us not ASSUME that they know what a twitter handle is. J. Let us invest in training!

Training does not have to cost the organisation so much in terms of their budgetary allocations: how about in-house seminars form those employees with this knowledge? How about obtaining literature on these topics, for example this useful article I came across on how to maximise use of twitter, available here: (http://www.computerhope.com/tips/tip149.htm ) One of the most powerful channels of knowledge sharing is face to face interactions acknowledged by various scholars in the field of knowledge management and communication.

In addition, where necessary, the management should seek the services of professional trainers in the field of web 2.0 to enhance the skills of their staff.

There are resources available which contain information describing how to use the social media tools both for individuals and organisations. Some that I have particularly found very helpful include:

The time has come for our organisations to invest more in making the most out these web 2.0 tools. Else, we are danger of ending it at the lag phase and still talk of how much power is in social media, yet without realising ‘that’ power.

Let’s get back to the basics: beyond ICT

LET’S GET BACK TO THE BASICS: Beyond ICT
ICT4D, ICT4A, ICT4KM, ICT4KD, ICT……. These are latest catchwords with ICT promising to turn around everything from national economies to personal activities. ICT is now the buzz words on everyone lips. Everyone seems to be talking about using ICTS for this or that, developing ICT platforms for this and that… Every day on my timeline I see numerous tweets about an ICT conference here, there, everywhere. Next month, tomorrow, in the next few days, coming up in July, October, December, throughout the year!
Today I ask myself “where do we go from here? How do we get beyond these keywords to realize positive impact and transformation for the farmer?” I ask this with the smallholder farmer in mind, acknowledging the fact that small-scale production accounts for 75% of total agricultural output and 70% of marketed agricultural produce in Kenya (Republic of Kenya, 2010).
My worry is, while I agree that ICT provides major solutions for uptake and use of research results, information dissemination et.al, could it be that we are so engrossed in the development of these platforms and organising ‘ICT4’ events, to the extent that we forget the major purpose? (Read getting farmers and other end users to use these innovations). Much of the focus has been on inventing ICT-based innovations to solve the problems associated with knowledge acquisition, sharing or dissemination and very little on taking these innovations to the ‘ground’. Do the farmers know about them? In Kenya for instance, there are numerous mobile-based innovations through which farmers can access information be it on marketing or any agronomic issue. What is the impact of these innovations? Are we facing the danger of ignoring the purpose for which they are meant? Are falling into the same crisis facing researchers with their results in terms of uptake? In my paper on ‘Information & Communication Technologies for Agricultural Knowledge Acquisition: What are the bottlenecks for Kenyan smallholders?’ (In print), I investigate the use of ICTs among small holder farmers for knowledge acquisition and it emerges that the biggest bottleneck is lack of awareness.

Innovations in measurement
Just this morning I was reading an article in by Bill Gates in The world Street journal entitled ‘My Plan to Fix The World’s Biggest Problems’ (available here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323539804578261780648285770.html) Bill Gates argues that measurement can help improve the health and welfare of the world’s people. He says we need innovations in measurement and to quote what he says in this article, “an innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. We need innovations in measurement to find new, effective ways to deliver those tools and services to the clinics, family farms and classrooms that need them”.
I fully agree with the suggestion that we need innovations in measurement, lest we fall into a problem of over-dose! Too much of something is poisonous they say, and I wish to state that we may soon have too many ICT-based innovations solving the same problem but with little diffusion to the users who need them most.

Half baked cake
This brings me to the major question on mind today: what is the impact of all these ‘ICT4’ initiatives and innovations that are coming up morning noon and night? Is it a case of scratching the surface with just half baked solutions? Or fully baked solutions for missing problems?

The World Bank in its e-sourcebook on ICT and agriculture (2011) emphasizes on the importance of ICTs in connecting smallholders to knowledge networks and institutions; I dare say that smallholders cannot be connected to knowledge networks and institutions (these innovations included), if we just stop at promoting their development and forget about taking the word out there. MARKETING!
Have we forgotten what the actual problem is? Is it still lack of information and knowledge to enhance or improve productivity, which we seek to address with all the ‘ICT4’? If so, then let’s get back to the basics!

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