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                          Changing the Emperor:
      ICT’s transforming agricultural science, research and technology
                                          Workshop Theme 3. CGIAR Science Forum 2009
                                          Wageningen, The Netherlands 16-17 June 2009

                                                    Nadia Manning-Thomas1


The CGIAR Centres and Programs with their many partners are together creating a wealth of knowledge to
help increase agricultural productivity and improve livelihoods of poor communities, primarily in developing
countries. The knowledge the CGIAR produces is vital to addressing and finding solutions for food
(in)security around the world. However, despite the creation of this wealth of knowledge, certain obstacles
to uptake and impact of agricultural research remain. Many of these obstacles are related to the way in
which knowledge and innovation are treated within the research process.

Problems confound the current production and dissemination of knowledge for maximum value and use.
There is still considerable underinvestment in knowledge sharing which has contributed to a lack of
essential knowledge as well as the creation of a knowledge gap. Available knowledge is not being put to
use fully and thus we see less than optimum linkage between knowledge and action. There are generally
weak knowledge systems, characterized by a lack of engagement with end users. This has led to a lack of
appropriateness and relevance of some knowledge, technology and innovation, a lack of availability and
accessibility of knowledge, and a lack of buy-in and acceptance of knowledge by stakeholders and end-
users. Production of knowledge and innovation are still seen as the remit of research and this traditional
process doesn‘t take into account other sources of knowledge. Research organizations, including the
CGIAR, have therefore often played the role of ‗Emperor‘.

This model reduces the effectiveness of R&D efforts and demands a fundamental rethink about the way
agricultural research is carried out. In response to this the CGIAR launched a major Change Initiative in
2008 to meet these challenges, in recognition of the fact that:

           ―the world of agricultural research has shifted dramatically… the entry of strong new actors into the field of
           agricultural research is further challenging the role of the CGIAR as a major player in the world of international
           agricultural research… the CGIAR may no longer be perceived as the critical provider of solutions for
           agricultural productivity, natural resource management or policy advice…if these trends continue, and the
           CGIAR does not adapt, the CGIAR will rapidly become irrelevant.‖

The CGIAR Change Management Process has therefore been looking for ways to restructure, reposition
and revitalize the CGIAR to more effectively carry out agricultural research for development through “...a
more open and supportive CGIAR system (which) will build more dynamic partnerships up and down the
research-to-development continuum”3.


What is needed now is a change in the way things are done. The innovations system approach is
particularly interesting and pertinent to this discussion as it points out that it is not only knowledge

  Researcher and Outreach Coordinator at the International Water management institute and the Project leader of the CGIAR ICT-KM program‘s
Knowledge Sharing in Research Project.
  Source: ‗Why Change?‘ page on CGIAR website-, accessed on 28th April 2009

    Source: CGIAR (2008) Change is in the Air: A Revitalized CGIAR-A New Way Forward. AGM 08 Brief. December 2008
production (by research) that is important, what is also important is involving many actors in the production
of knowledge, making this knowledge available and accessible in more appropriate ways and enabling its
effective use (Hall, 2005) 4. In this model, according to Hall 2005, ―innovation does not arise solely from a
simple process of transferring knowledge from research to knowledge users, but arises from a process of
interaction and learning where knowledge from diverse sources is shared and integrated in ways that allow
its novel use.” The research process can no longer act autonomously from those who intend to use its
products. Rather than research being central to innovation, the innovation systems concept suggests that
agricultural research organizations need to be thought of as part of a much larger constellation of sources of
knowledge, players and processes and thus situates research organizations in a wider set of
relationships(Hall, 2005). The relationship between research organizations and these other players needs to
change substantially —we need to change the Emperor.

A new CGIAR should therefore be focused on ensuring that its research process is opened up so that it
reflects priorities of the sector; that the process makes use of a wide range of sources of knowledge and
expertise; that the knowledge it generates reaches its intended audience (from policymakers to investors
and implementers to the farmers themselves); that the resultant recommendations meet the on-the-ground
needs and conditions; and that ultimately, the findings and recommendations from the research effect
positive change in the livelihoods of the world‘s poor.

THEORY OF CHANGE—ICTs Changing the Emperor

For innovation to take place, knowledge from codified and tacit sources, from the public and private sectors
and from local and global sources needs to be integrated through partnerships and networks (Hall, 2005).
For this to happen, effective knowledge systems (bridging mechanisms) are needed that facilitate
communication, translation and mediation across the boundaries between the various actors in agricultural
research and development and between knowledge and action. According to IICD5 in their booklet on ‗ICTs
for agricultural livelihoods‘6 “a productive sector depends on fruitful and fair interaction between the diverse-
actors-communication and information flows are critical to this process‖ (IICD, 2006)

The new knowledge systems that have been emerging recently are geared towards achieving this and
increasingly include a strong focus on the use of information communication technologies, as recognized by
Maru and Ehrle in their paper on ‗Building a framework for ICT use in agricultural research and
development: Is the North different from the South?‘7 which stated that ― the use of ICTs in agricultural
research and development organizations (also) seems to be following a (similar) path with the focus on
creating networks to share and exchange information‖ (2003). While ICTs have more often been associated
with providing advanced services to number crunching and data management, geo-spatial applications,
knowledge based systems and robotics, improved farm equipment and processes, and the like- less has
been considered or undertaken in terms of the role of ICTs in connecting communities8. Given the obvious
need to engage more with stakeholders, in more aspects of research and in more meaningful ways, as
reflected upon earlier in this piece, we should be exploring how ICTs can provide new opportunities to
further develop and support interactions, communication and knowledge sharing.

ICTs offer the opportunity to:
1. improve knowledge flows
2. support the opening up of the research process to interactions, voices, knowledge
3. more cost-effectively widen the participation of stakeholders in the research process

  Hall, A. (2005) Embedding agricultural research in a system of innovation. Draft note for the CGIAR AGM Science Forum session: Strengthening
research-for-development capacities.
  IICD- International Institute for Communication and Development
  IICD (2006) ICTs for agricultural livelihoods: Impact and lesson learned from IICD supported activities. IICD
  Maru, A. and Ehrle, K. (2003) Building a framework for ICT use in agricultural research and development: Is the North different from the South?
EFITA Conference. 5-9 July 2003, Debrecen, Hungary.
  Reflecting on Short Note on ICTs Impact on agricultural science provided by Ajit Maru.
The main position of this piece, therefore, is that ICTs can offer an opportunity to make real changes in the
way that agricultural science, research and technology development occurs by supporting new ways of
interacting and collaborating with a variety of stakeholders to enhance the innovation process and by so
doing can in effect ‗change the emperor‘.

Proper use of ICTs

Despite ICTs offering many possibilities in improving agricultural research towards a more innovation
systems approach, certain trends in use of ICTs can limit its potential effectiveness in agricultural research
and should be addressed.

     1. The narrow definition of ICTs

The value and effectiveness of ICTs in supporting greater involvement of stakeholders in research and
technology generation is often dismissed, as illustrated by the comment that ―the use of ICTs to connect
sources of agricultural innovation to users, especially farmers, is limited by lack of connectivity, especially to
the internet, in rural areas in developing countries‖ (Maru and Ehrle, 2003). The perceived limitation in
effectiveness of ICTs in this regard is often due to definitions of ICTs which narrowly focus on highly
sophisticated hardware and internet-based applications. However in the definition of ICTs used by the
World Bank Group in their 2002 ICT Strategy9, ICTs are more appropriately presented as:

                   ―hardware, software, networks and media for collection, storage, processing,
                    transmission and presentation of information in the formats of voice, data,
                    text and images‖ (WorldBank, 2002).

This is expanded even further in the IICD booklet which states that ―clearly, ICT encompasses a wide range
of elements that include hardware and software, content generation, knowledge management as well as
institutional and management processes‖ (IICD, 2006).

If ICTs are to play a role in supporting a more inclusive process of agricultural research then this concept
needs to be treated in this broader manner to open up the possibilities to a spectrum of possibilities ranging
from high-end sophisticated equipment all the way to processes and approaches (software) focused on
facilitating greater information and communication. The IICD booklet goes on to promote that ―appropriate
use of ICT in agriculture requires the application of relevant combinations of traditional and modern ICT‖
(IICD, 2006).

     2. The primary focus on ICTs as individual, stand-alone tools

Quite often ICTs are known as, used and promoted as individual, stand-alone tools. However ICTs,
especially for the purpose discussed above, need to be carefully integrated into the agricultural research
process, linking them appropriately to particular needs and target groups. A paper by Mark Reed entitled
‗Stakeholder participation for environmental management: A literature review‘ 10 makes a strong point about
―the need to replace a "tool-kit" approach, which only emphasizes selecting the relevant tools for the job,
with an approach that emphasizes participation as a process”.

ICTs need to be embedded in research activities to support particular needs and goals for making it more
inclusive. Rather than being introduced and promoted just for the sake of it, analysis needs to be made of
what ICTs can offer and where they can realistically serve a function of improving interaction and
communication within agricultural research. Figure 1-shows an example of how ICTs can be used at certain
stages of the research process to improve the collaboration and knowledge sharing at these various entry
points while Table 1(at end of paper) gives some real examples of ICTs which can be used to achieve a

  Information and Communication Technologies: A World Bank Group strategy. Washington DC: World Bank Group, 2002.
   Reed, Mark S. (2008). Stakeholder Participation for Environmental Management: A Literature Review. SRI Paper (online). Sustainability Research
Institute: School of Earth and Environment and University of Leeds.
greater innovation systems model of agricultural research through use at various key stages of the research

Figure 1: Use of ICTs at various stages/entry points in the research process


The CGIAR‘s Program on Information and Communication Technologies and Knowledge Management
(ICT-KM)11 has been working over the past years on learning about and promoting ways of ‗connecting
people, technology and knowledge for agricultural innovation‘. With key projects dealing with a range of ICT
and KM questions and topics in its portfolio it has amassed a wide range of knowledge, best practices,
experiences and evidence on ICTs and KM in the context of (mostly CGIAR) agricultural research. This
knowledge and experience is oriented around both particular ICTs but also, as discussed in point number 2
above, in how to make these used and useful through necessary frameworks in which they should be

Some key ICTs which have been explored and examined by the Program and found to be useful in
supporting greater interaction, communication and knowledge flows include12:

       a.   Web 2.0 tools—wikis, blogs, CMS
       b.   Social media- microblogging, photos and document sharing,
       c.   Creation of online learning resources
       d.   Collaborative information sharing platforms-e.g CGMAP, Collective action online , interactive map
       e.   Knowledge sharing approaches

But the program has also found that ICTs should not, and will generally not be successfully adopted in
isolation. The ICT-KM program has been looking at how ICTs can support:

      Greater knowledge sharing13 to support more effective institutional sharing and learning processes
      Improved knowledge sharing and collaboration with stakeholders in research
      Collation of relevant information on research across the CGIAR—and searching and analysis
       functions (CGMAP, Online maps for improved access to information on agricultural research
       projects for CGIAR regional Plan for Collective Action: Eastern and Southern Africa)
      Opening access to CGIAR research by making it more Available, Accessible and Applicable (Triple
       A Initiative)

   Information on the CGIAR ICT-KM Program can be found on its website at
   Many of the tools can be found on the KS Toolkit- a joint initiative between the ICT-KM‘s Institutional Knowledge Sharing project and FAO at
   More information on the ICT-KM Knowledge Sharing project can be found at:

However, despite exciting pockets of use and work on ICTs in agricultural research there is not a wide
application of this concept or the many tools it covers. Instrumental to this is the need for a much better
understanding of how a wider utilization of ICTs can bridge the gap within and between the CGIAR Centers,
as well as between the CGIAR and its many external stakeholders at national, regional and global levels.
Despite a growing body of literature, experience, evidence and guidance on ICTs in agriculture and ICTs for
development, relatively little has been adapted or documented for use of ICTs in agricultural research. With
an enormous, and growing, amount of ICT options available and little offered in terms of guidance or
experience in operationalising ICTs within agricultural research to support an innovations systems model of
agricultural research for development, it is often difficult for researchers and institutions to choose, prioritize
and implement this.

If the CGIAR is serious about changing to a partnerships centred-approach to carrying out its agricultural
research for development, then it will need to employ a number of tools and approaches to support the
necessary interactions, communication and knowledge sharing which supports such partnerships. It is
necessary then to invest in figuring out what ICTs will help us to most effectively change the Emperor.


For this topic of the role of ICTs in agricultural research to be properly considered and made use of within a
new and Revitalized CGIAR some questions should be addressed:

    Are the CGIAR and its partners ready to fully capitalize on the use of ICTs in agricultural research?

    How can the CGIAR adjust to the transformation from primary knowledge creator to one of a
     multitude of actors involved in developing innovations by making use of ICTs?

    What ICTs are currently in use or can be adopted to bring about this transformation?

    How can institutional and individual mindsets be opened to these opportunities when the
     investments of time and effort may not bear immediate returns?

    Should the CGIAR simply be following the trends or be playing a leadership role in exploring the use
     of ICTs for improving the effectiveness of agricultural research for development efforts?

    If ―little systematic scholarship exists‖, should the CGIAR be a recipient or provider of such
     scholarship on ICTs in agricultural research?

       Table 114-- Examples of ICTs integrated into various stages of research which support a greater innovation systems model of research

Stage in agricultural          Goal                        Contribution of ICTs to              Examples of ICT interventions supporting greater collaboration,
research process               (based on Innovation        achieving (innovation                communication and knowledge sharing with stakeholders
                               systems)                    systems) Goal
a. Identifying research        Chosen research to          ICTs can provide mechanisms          * Online forums and platforms can allow for a wider consultation process
priorities                     reflect ideas, needs,       for allowing a wide range of         * Online collaboration tools can allow discussions with ..
                               priorities of               stakeholders to provide              * Online tools such as CGMAP-can store relevant information and allow it to
                               stakeholders and            opinion and knowledge to             be searchable
                               situations on the           support this process                 *Book on CGIAR research prioritization methods and experiences
                               ground                                                           * Many methods for making things explicit…
b. Planning and                Research is designed        ICTs can provide mechanisms          * Many web2.0 tools which can share information and allow for online
designing research             with inputs from            for allowing a wide range of         collaboration in discussing ideas as well as developing documents
                               stakeholders                stakeholders to provide              * Storytelling
                                                           opinion and knowledge to             * Social Network analysis
                                                           support this process
c. Undertaking research        Research is undertaken      ICTs can provide mechanisms          * Data storage
(data collection,              with contribution from      to allow more stakeholders to        * Learning Alliances
analyzing and using            stakeholders                be involved in research
data, etc)                                                 activities
d. Producing products          Products are developed      ICTs can provide options for         * Online tools which allow collaboration in developing products (e.g wikis, etc)
from research results          with contribution of        getting feedback and                 * Spatial information and analysis tools
                               various knowledge           collaboration on product
                               sources; and keeping in     development from a wide
                               mind various target         range of stakeholders.
e. Dissemination of            Dissemination is done       ICTs offer more avenues for          * Mobile phones
research products and          in ways that                sharing of knowledge with            * Radio
messages                       appropriately target        stakeholders of different types      * Web 2.0 tools – websites, blogs, other social media
                               variety of stakeholders     and with different situations        *Face-to-face knowledge sharing activities
                                                                                                *Printed products

f. Monitoring and              Research process            ICTs provide ways to involve         * Participatory M&E methods ( Impact Pathway, Outcome Mapping, etc)
Evaluation                     includes mechanisms         people in setting goals and          * Online surveys
                               for learning and            outcomes for projects and
                               contributing to direction   involving them in the M&E
                               and analysis of project;    activities. ICTs can create
                               outcomes are decided        opportunities for wider learning
                               based on multiple views     from projects.

            Inspired by Table 2-MDG 1 ‘Poverty’ and types of ICT interventions in the agricultural sector (pg 16) in IICD report …

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