Defining what is relevant research… and how to build knowledge sharing in research

This is a message posted on the KM4DEV mailing list recently. It is relevant for IKM Emergent in general as a reflection on impacting research discourse, even if this email focuses more explicitly on the agricultural sector.

You can follow the entire trail on: http://www.dgroups.org/groups/km4dev/index.cfm?op=main&cat_id=11846 (perhaps you need to create a user login but I would strongly encourage you to do that as so many discussions on KM4DEV are totally relevant for IKM Emergent).

From: Ueli Scheuermeier [mailto:uscheuermeier@yahoo.com]
Sent: dinsdag 15 juli 2008 14:25
To: KM for Development
Subject: [km4dev-l] Re: Homoestatics and knowledge management for development

All right Peter, point well taken.

To make it clearer, my point is this – and sorry if it comes out bluntly:

a. KM4DEV is critical for agricultural research institutions if they intend to make their work relevant for producers, traders and processors etc.. The KM would have to provide a way for researchers, producers and processors to interact with each other and produce meaningful programs that achieve results that provide income for all.

b. Presently agricultural researchers don’t have to listen to these other people, because their salaries are dependent on whether their peers think they are doing good research. They only have to listen to other researchers.

c. Donors funding the institutions also only listen to researchers, because the researchers insist that only researchers can say what is good and appropriate research. Try saying that some research is irrelevant. You will be immediately dismissed as “unscientific”, unless you yourself hold a PhD and are within a research institution. But if you are a PhD and employed in a research institution you will not do that because you are tied into the money flow, or at least don’t want to jeopardize the money flow to your colleagues.

d. The only way I know by which researchers can be forced to engage in KM4DEV is to make sure that donors pull the financial plug and give that money to the producers, traders, processors and local government agencies so that they can commission the research that they want. That would force researchers to listen to these various people and come out of the academic closed circle.

e. But this will never happen, because there are VERY strong vested interests in all directions to avoid changing the accountabilities and behaviour of the research institutions as they are at present. For this reason I have left interaction with the research system and found more effective ways to engage. KM with the research system I have found to be an inefficient way to spend my time and money. It is sad.

f. Of course policy research in the public interest is a different issue. Accountabilities are clear there. The core of the problem lies in accountabilities that are skewed and thereby lead to huge inefficiencies in how research money is spent.

Is it clearer now?

Ueli

Subject: Re: [km4dev-l] Re: Homoestatics and knowledge management for

development

Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2008 18:34:58 +0530

From: Atanu Garai <atanu.garai@gmail.com>

Reply-To: <atanu.garai@gmail.com>

One can only conclude from above pointers that agriculture research is supply driven, rather than demand driven. There can be two reasons for that – public-sector spending outweighs private-sector spending in agriculture research, hence researchers (meaning research organisations) have no incentives from market; and secondly; research in these organisations is driven by political and/or national priorities.

Whenever I attend any meetings in IPR in India, I hear that agricultural scientists here have never researched on common home-grown vegetables like brinjal to solve the problems these vegetables face. On the other hand, agriculture research organizations in India have close relationships with their counterparts in USA and other OECD countries, and CGIAR. Hard evidence to corroborate this theory is not available at this moment.

The context of this discussion in KM4DEV as can be followed is knowledge transfer and, if agricultural scientists were to consult their research stakeholders (farmers, traders, etc.), they had to employ certain kind of formal KM4Dev tools and methodology.

The format (presentation and style) and content (subject-matter) for stakeholder consultation in agriculture research, then, will greatly vary. Research scientists must communicate through their traditional peer-reviewed journal publication methodology while communicating experimentation results to their peers at various stages of research.

Research beneficiaries (e.g. farmers) are seldom the intended audience of such a knowledge transfer method. Therefore, virtually in almost all research communications, you can see two types of output – once the press release/press conference which goes to the science journalists who transmits the research outcome in more lucid and more digestible format for the general public. The more rigorous approach is taken in the case of peer-reviewed paper publications. Both the communication outputs have their own purpose and benefits and they can not be replaced with each other.

Then, once the research is proven to be of some value to the end-users, it is tested through some kind extension services and in developing country contexts like China and India, there are ample examples of large-scale, multi-year, donor-driven experimentation have been undertaken with significant development communication (the older version of KM4D)component. Ofcourse, until now this has been done in much lesser scale than it should be done.

A stronger KM4D integration with agriculture research and extension with significant stakeholder involvement is possible if there is a good balance between market-based incentives and research focused with national priorities

<<snipped>>

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One Response

  1. The rewards system in research is indeed terrible, based as it is on whether you are published and cited in top journals, and not on how much use your work is to practitioners – which everybody (academia included) does acknowledge as being the ultimate purpose for research. So it’s completely skewed. It is very frustrating for researchers too, though, and there are ample discussions on how to go about changing this. it is unlikely to happen anytime soon, though. But, the sooner the better.

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