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Three Factors to Make Your ICTforAg Efforts More Effective

By Guest Writer on October 19, 2016


I am an optimistic skeptic of ICT4D and ICTforAg. The potential role of ICT in Development is obvious, but we often seem to be overselling the current reality.

Donors and governments all too often are looking for an overly simplistic ICT solution to their rural development and Agriculture woes. The cry seems to be “Give me the App (or whatever ICT thingamajig) and fix my problems now!” The answering call is “Fund me and I will solve all your problems!”

So what has been the result? We have an ICT4D roadway littered with the corpses of many ICT projects – they come, they promise, they go! But don’t get me wrong, while this may seem bad, we are seeing an increasing number of successes. Behind the many failures and the few successes “What are the practical lessons that can help us – what have we got to learn and share?”

A field perspective.

Where does my perspective come from? I’m an Agricultural scientist and a field guy. I’m not an ICT guru – albeit ICT plays a very significant role in both my daily life and my Ag development work. Further, I have developed a number of ICT-based knowledge tools (e.g., Rice Knowledge Bank and Maize Doctor), but I’m not out there in the midst of the ICT development flurry.

I work at one of the world’s top Ag Universities and focus on Ag development. As a result, my time is spent working with governments and others to see how we can better get farmers the information they want, when they want it and in a form they can understand and easily test.

The work focuses on both traditional extension methods (like field demonstrations and face to face training and talks) and newer emerging tools (like video, the use of cell phones and the web) and looking to see how these methods and tools can better be used to help poor farmers.

As a result, I often find myself standing in a farmers’ field in some country wondering “How can a smart phone or tablet or …. really help us help poor farmers?”.

The question posed and the final focus

Knowing that the success of ICT4D or ICTforAg has been sporadic and knowing my field focus and my interest in the use of ICT for Ag, I was asked a short time back to do a review on ICT in Ag Extension.

Initially, the review was shaped as what could perhaps be termed ‘oh no, yet another review of ICTforAg’. Actually though, while such reviews do exist, the landscape continues to change quickly and so such updating of who is trying what isn’t a bad idea.

But we decided on a different track. Through a series of discussions, it was decided to add a twist to the review. Rather than just a review of what exists and who is trying what, why not look at the factors that lead to successful behavior change in Agriculture and how this relates to the use of ICT. Such a focus was not only somewhat more interesting but also somewhat more challenging.

Thus, the goal of the study became to both review and then distill lessons learned into simple guidelines that could better lead to behavior change in using ICTforAg. In order to make the review “richer”, it seemed necessary to branch beyond ICT and Ag and consider elements of behavior change theory plus lessons from the worlds of Health for development, business and marketing and Agriculture.

A.I.D. – the synthesized result

The Information and Communication Technologies for Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services review identified a number of elements required for success, but the question was how to present the information in a simple manner. After various discussions and permutations, “A.I.D.” emerged as an easy to remember acronym that could be used to help people better promote behavior change in Ag through the use of ICT.

Note: While the “A.I.D.” factors themselves appear fairly simple and obvious, it is clear that success requires all the factors and one needs to read the “fine print” – i.e., there are a number of subtleties required for correct implementation.

A for Available. Your information has to be easily available.

People need to be able to easily access information that can help. So, you need clarity on who your audience is and where and how they get their trusted information. Then you can see how ICT might fit.

An interesting element here is the integration of multiple communication channels. When people receive the same message from multiple and distinct sources, it is more believable. Thus, you should be thinking about integration of communication channels and not just the use of a single channel (e.g., watch a video and have a face to face discussion; get a text and see a field demonstration or talk with a neighbor, etc.).

I for Interest. Do people want to learn more?

Your information needs to meet peoples’ interests and needs (not just yours!) and people need to trust you and your information. They need to see it has clear benefit (meaning you have to think about risk and markets for extra produce, etc.), and they need to believe your information is credible and valid for their circumstances. So make sure you think how you will build linkages and trust.

Further, it’s often not enough to just share the “right” information. Usually, if information is to lead to change, then it needs to appeal at an aspirational (emotional) level and a logical level (i.e., we make decisions with both our hearts and our heads). In this respect, the business, advertising and marketing worlds offer the templates for success.

Finally, ensuring that your information remains interesting requires mechanisms to actively collect feedback, so you can respond to emerging needs and respond to audience responses.

D for Doable. Can people act?

People need to be able to easily test and do something with your information. Are instructions simple and clear? Does it fit with their other practices? Can they get and afford the inputs they need? What if they need credit?, etc.

Application of “A.I.D.”

Gleaning these factors from a range of experts (see acknowledgements below), I now use “A.I.D.” to evaluate our own extension and ICTforAg extension projects. It’s been helpful to say the least – identifying where we are strong, what we need to strengthen, where we need to partner.

By Mark Bell, Director, International Ag Extension Academy, UC Davis with thanks to those that helped with the publication review, including: Paul van Mele (Access Agriculture), Elias Nure (Ethiopia ATA), Shahid Akbar (CEO BIID) Shaun Ferris (CRS) Rikin Ghandi (CEO Digital Green) Dave Mowbray, Bartholomew Sullivan, Mark Leclair, Kevin Perkins (Farm Radio International) Josh Woodard (FH360) Tegan Palmer, Amol Jadhav and Victoria Clause (GSMA), Andrea Bohn, (UIUC), Nikki Abrenilla (Publicis JimenezBasic) Taro Araya (CEO, miaki), Mridul Chowdhury (CEO, mPower) Elana Peach-Fine, Maria Paz-Santibanez, Megan Mayzelle and Courtney Jallo (UC Davis), Anne Marie Steyn (Shamba Shapeup)

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