Agricultural research for development products: Increasing the applicability of our research

For a couple of years now, CIAT’s communications and knowledge management group has been working on the objective to make more out of CIAT’s research results, with the aim to involve broader audiences and increase the applicability of our research. Three types of knowledge products CIAT and other research centers focus mainly on three types of knowledge products:

  1. Journal articles, book chapters, scientific databases etc. which are essential to communicate and discuss science quality, and are mostly intended to reach other scientists and academia. They are part of scientist’s daily agenda, and represent a crucial ingredient of their interaction with peers. They are the main pillar of their career path.
  2. Compelling science stories and accompanying materials online and in print to enhance the visibility of research, diffused through various channels, including blogs, other social media, and occasionally the mass media. Public awareness and the related science stories came into the picture in the 1990 when secure core-funding declined and when it became necessary draw donor’s attention to our research achievements and influence the public opinion.
  3. Knowledge products for development, often co-created with partners, for audiences such as development professionals, technicians, extensionists, farmers, policy decision makers. There is no doubt that the current trend towards research that follows the rules of Results-Based Management (RBM) will lead to a steady increase in the creation of knowledge products that should contribute a great deal to achieve intended results in agricultural development.

Progress in making knowledge products available, accessible and applicable CIAT’s Communications and Knowledge Management group has been making progress on all fronts. First of all, we are increasingly making intellectual assets available and accessible on our repositories (publications and research datasets), linking them to key information networks, while continuing to explore best ways to track the effect of those efforts. See related blog post for more information. As far as corporate communications are concerned, with an enlarged group of writers and an increased use of social media, science stories reach a growing number of people, as our statistics show. Also, the recent new annual report in its online format developed by CIAT’s Public Awareness Coordinator Stefanie Neno generated excitement and put CIAT on the forefront of CGIAR corporate communications. On the design of knowledge products for development, we have been launching last year a call for proposals to all staff that would allow us to explore the design of educational products in innovative formats such as interactive infographics, educational videos, didactical leaflets, cartoons, mobile apps, based on promising research results or an already existing output to be developed further for multiple audiences. The call generated 19 proposals. Three proposals were selected and put into practice:

  1. Defeating cassava witches’ broom: a cartoon guide for extension workers and farmers in South East Asia.   The cartoon was conceived with the CIAT pathologists and illustrated by a regional designer. The printed version was distributed in local languages to farmers in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
  2. Gender Inclusive Research: Why and How. A student in interactive media design created an animated video during her internship with CIAT. It was launched on International Women’s Day and was screened during a major event on climate change and gender that took place in Paris in March 2015.
  3. A communications and promotion plan was developed jointly with local actors to increase the uptake of climbing beans in Rwanda, and promote economic growth in East Africa. The plan builds on recommendations formulated during a stakeholder workshop that took place in Kigali in October 2014, and will be implemented throughout 2015.

Lessons learnt and way forward  While we are currently launching a second call for proposals, two main lessons and challenges became crystal clear:

  • Pay more attention to instructional design! We want and need to learn the do’s and don’ts in creating knowledge for development products. Therefore we need to find partners, probably universities with installed capacity to receive guidance in the process.
  • Involve and commit the proponents to monitor and evaluate the product in order to actually understand its usefulness and applicability of the product! While we planned for example to test the cartoon guide in the field, this step felt through the trap and we neglected to get feedback from the intended audience.

CIAT’s KM team, in collaboration with the Impact&Strategic studies group will also pursue the idea of exploring and documenting three case studies tracking back the process that led to the creation of existing knowledge products and the circumstances that created favorable or unfavorable conditions for their uptake.