Accepting that developing nations now universally recognize the need for policies in the area of science, technology and innovation (ST&I), this paper which focuses on agricultural ST&I in Kenya argues that, for ST&I to become engines of economic development, there is need not only for policies that govern their application but also policies promoting ST&I. Importantly, developing countries desperately need to put in place Information Communication Management (ICM) strategies to ensure that ST&I products are appropriately processed, promoted and used by target stakeholders. It gives a general overview of the ST&I systems identifying products and gaps in the system as they relate to the need for ICM strategies. Further, it highlights the critical elements of ICM strategies and concludes with global recommendations on areas that need immediate attention.
Concepts and definitions that guide the direction of discussions on ST&I and ICM are given below.
Policy is broadly defined as a statement of intent, more specifically it is a set of actions by which a given situation in society is to be changed to correspond better to the goals of a society. Therefore policy environment is made up of all laws, regulations, customs and practices that control the way in which components relate. Further, Hart observes that policy is a purposive course of action based on currently acceptable social values, which is followed in dealing with a problem or matter of concern. It predicts the state of affairs which would prevail when the purpose has been achieved. According to Pillay (1999), the basic features of policy are that it is developed to influence or shape behaviour and is the outcome of identified needs.
Science and Technology is defined as the full range of scientific, engineering and health fields and disciplines, including agricultural sciences, health sciences and technology, environmental engineering, chemical engineering, computer sciences, aeronautics etc. (IAC, January 2004).
Science and Technology capacity of a nation is defined as the personnel, infrastructure, investments, and institutional and regulatory framework available to generate activities and acquire scientific knowledge and technological capacities for addressing with competence and creativity local, national and international needs (IAC, June, 2004).
Information is defined as idea, fact, imaginative works of the mind and data of value potentially useful in decision-making, question answering and problem solving. Information is not the same as data or knowledge. Data are simple facts or raw materials for information while knowledge is internalized and contextualized information within an individual or group of individuals. It is a known fact that every person (illiterate or literate), every organization (small or big) and every government (developed or developing) needs information to make decisions, answer questions and make choices among various options. To deal with the complexities of ST&I, different types of information are needed from a variety of sources to make effective decisions (Kaniki, 2000). Information is therefore both an input and product of the ST&I systems.
Communication is a process by which a message or information is transmitted from a source to a receiver through a given channel or medium. Effective information communication requires in-depth understanding of the source, medium and receiver. Ideally, the needs of the receiver determine the source(s) of information and medium of communication used. Information and communication technologies (ICT) play critical roles in meeting information and communication requirements of ST&I. Definitely, ICTs can assist in the collection of appropriate information, in communication through a variety of media to reach the target user where impact can be realized (Chadzingwa, 2006).
Information Communication Management (ICM) is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of information assets (Wilson, 2002).
Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are defined as the electronic tools, processes and procedures for gathering, storing, retrieving, processing, analyzing and transmitting information. It is the convergence of information technology, telecommunications and data networking technologies to a single technology (ALIN-EA, 2005). The revolution taking place in ICTs presents a tremendous new opportunity for ST&I systems to bring scientific knowledge and indigenous and local knowledge together to bear on global challenge, and to make this knowledge available to their constituents. These advances enable the systemic assimilation and dissemination of relevant and timely information, as well as dramatically improve the ability to gain access to the universe of knowledge and to communicate through low cost electronic networks (IAC, June 2004).
Science Technology and Innovation Systems
The scope of ST&I is broad and quite complex. This paper has adopted ISNAR’s concept on the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) which encompasses the research system, education system and Agricultural Knowledge and Information System (AKIS) as indicated in Figure 1 below (ISNAR, 2004).
The research system includes scientific and research institutions, universities and colleges, private-sector research, science and technology policy units, scientific press and information services. While the agricultural knowledge and information system (AKIS) includes agricultural research institutions, universities and colleges, agricultural technical institutes, extension organizations, farmers and farmers’ organizations, private agro-based companies, markets for agricultural inputs and outputs, agricultural press and information services and, agricultural policy units. The education system includes primary and secondary schools, technical institutes, universities and colleges, training institutions, adult education institutions and education policy units. The products of these systems include information, knowledge, innovations and services shared for impact.
Figure 1: Interconnecting Systems
Michelson et al (ISNAR, 2004)
In Kenya, all the three major system components are cross-cutting and interlinked with each other. They also spread across several government ministries including the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries Development, Ministry of Cooperative and Market Development, Ministry of Water Development, Ministry of Lands Development and Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health (Republic of Kenya, 2000). As a result, there are as many isolated policies and strategies in each of the ministries with minimal integration even on common issues. These characteristics are further compounded within individual ministries like the Ministry of Agriculture which is currently governed by 130 pieces of legislation many of which are obsolete, unenforceable and inconsistent (Republic of Kenya, 2004).
Albeit, there are policies and well-established institutions like the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) with agricultural responsibilities within Kenya (Republic of Kenya, 1980). These institutions are generating a lot of information, knowledge and innovations in agriculture yet the impact of these technologies are not reaching farmers and food productivity is in constant decline (Republic of Kenya, 2004). Though institutions fall under the same ministries, they still operate independently with all forms of collaboration arrangements only through memoranda of understanding and other forms of agreements and contracts. They suffer from weak operational frameworks and they lack integrating structures. The intersections within the ST&I systems are very weak resulting in lack of synchronization of activities between these institutions, duplication of efforts and wastage of limited resources (Republic of Kenya, 2004). Thus, there is need for integration within the NARS supported by ST&I promotion strategies.
The strategic plan for the Ministry of Agriculture recognizes the role and value of information in the sector. It refers to the draft national ICT strategy as a framework integrating all the ICT operations and e-government strategy for guiding the implementations and development of critical ICT infrastructure and delivery mechanisms. The strategy further stipulates the development of an integrated information management system, information products and distribution mechanism within the Ministry (MoA strategy 2005-2009) but the national ICT policy is still in a draft form and the sectoral ICT/M policies are non-existent, meaning that ICM personnel, infrastructure, investments, and institutional and regulatory framework are weak (Republic of Kenya, 2004). This is a common phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa, the only countries in the region with ICT policies are Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. A large number of the other countries have drafts (IAALD, 2006). There is therefore need to provide leadership in championing ICT policy to ensure complete formulation, effective promotion and implementation of these policies at both national and sectoral levels. The need for ICT/M policy advocacy and awareness creation for effective ST&I systems is urgent.
Additionally, the inter-sectoral and inter-system collaboration and partnerships that require ICM policy and strategic support for effective utilization of the resources and services of ST&I are also weak. Complex and dynamic issues that require knowledgeable address on ownership and management issues of ST&I with respect to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) are also quite slow.
This then leads us to the discussions on how best to bridge the gaps in ST&I for adequate agricultural productivity. Thus, the focus on the promotion aspect of ST&I, which is the 'what' and 'how' of ICM strategies highlighted in the following section.
Information Communication Challenges
These are challenges experienced within the ST&I systems in relation to their information products and services generation, processing, sharing, dissemination and use in the agricultural sector. The challenges include:
Lack of ICM policies and strategies, most of which are still in draft forms
Inadequate appropriate information content and resources
Inadequate skills on information and communication management
Inadequate ICT infrastructure and associated amenities like electricity and telephony in the rural area
Ineffective repacking of information for particular stakeholders, especially farmers
Release of information on research carried out locally being delayed by 1-2 years and not all research results are being reported in detail due to lack of publication media and writing skills
Lack of adequate indexes and/or information storage systems for effective retrieval of collected information. This is compounded by lack of standards and national regulating bodies
Considered weaknesses in the dissemination of information due to financial constraints or inappropriate dissemination methods
Little scientific and technical information channelled to research and development officers to assist them in their activities, coupled with the lack of appropriate information systems and services in relevant institutions.
Information Communication Management Strategies
It has been observed that some aspects of the challenges in the system result from lack of ICT/M strategies which would ensure that the products generated are packaged, marketed, disseminated and used by the targeted user. It is therefore imperative that ICM policies and strategies are formulated and implemented for impact and productivity if ST&I systems are to be effective. Wilson (2002) asserts that the following ICM elements should be adequately addressed at both national and institutional levels:
Fostering policy, regulatory and network readiness, by supporting the development of an adequate enabling environment for efficiency, competition and innovation in knowledge sharing and development of information and communication technologies.
Building of human capacity for the knowledge economy, by promoting excellence in education, from the basic to tertiary levels, as well as the new skills needed for information and communication technologies. Associated activities should include working towards getting schools, colleges and libraries online, and promoting development of innovative approaches that extend the reach of education and training such as distance learning, community-based training, and networking of educational institutions. Within agricultural research, the equivalent would be the establishment of virtual networks of excellence (VNE). These are research programmes jointly sponsored and conducted by research institutes in different geographic locations, with research personnel communicating and collaborating primarily via new technologies like the internet and World Wide Web (WWW). An example of this is the Bioscience for Eastern and Central Africa (BECA) initiative which provides a bioinformatics hub with requisite facilities to support research in the region (ILRI, 2005). BECA is hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya and is envisioned as a means for enabling African scientists and institutions to become technology innovators as well as users. These systems should be as dynamic and responsive to change in tune with ICT/M trends and user needs for effectiveness.
Building of functional ICT/M infrastructure and capacity for generation, acquisition, processing, sharing, storing and archiving of information and knowledge assets. This encompasses continued efforts to expand basic connectivity and access, and investments in information technology applications. Key activities include mobilizing resources to improve information infrastructure, working on ways to reduce the cost of connectivity; supporting community access programs, and developing local content and entrepreneurial information technology opportunities. Specific details in this area should include establishments of digital libraries, information portals and applications of standards like metadata to enhance information exchange between and within institutions.
Partnership is another complementary strategy, which is based on voluntary, decentralized and self-governing multi-stakeholder cooperation. Partnerships are not to replace or to compete with traditional governance, but create new windows of opportunity, aimed to improve the implementation of the sustainability agenda (Verhagen, et al. 2003). Further, Chikati (2003) asserts that Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) strategies if appropriately planned and implemented can provide sustainable funding options. Examples of these should include information networks and consortia by ST&I systems.
This section highlights some specific recommendations on communication which can be addressed within the above strategies. It should be noted that the products of science are information, knowledge and innovations which must be appropriately generated, processed, packaged, disseminated and shared through varying communication media for impact. The recommendations focus on the elements of communication between the varying stakeholders within ST&I systems.
How to improve dissemination of research to and communication with policymakers
Strengthen research communication skills (in order to get the target right, get the format right and get the timing right)
Aim for close collaboration between researchers and policymakers
Construct an appropriate platform from which to communicate and build interactive dialogue platforms (a platform of broad engagement and feedback mechanisms in place e.g. public campaigns, is more likely to be heard)
Strengthen institutional policy capacity for uptake (government departments might not be able to use research because of lack of staff or organization capacity).
How to improve dissemination of research to and communication among researchers
Support research networks, especially electronic, national and regional networks
Continue with dissemination of development research
Strengthen ACP research capacity through south - south and south - north partnerships and collaboration.
How to improve communication of research to end users
Incorporate communication activities into project design, taking into account, for example gender, local context and existing ways of communication and possibilities for new ways of communicating through ICTs (e.g. community radios, rural info-centres, mobile telephones)
Encourage user engagement, map existing information demand and information use environment, and promote participative communication for empowerment (enhance the capacity for user needs analysis and impact assessment studies)
Create an enabling environment (as failure of use of research/information is not always due to lack of communication, but can instead be due to lack of a favourable political environment or lack of resources).
Regionally at policy level, poor information and communication management is common and persists due to lack of collective action involving all stakeholders (ministries, communities and stakeholders). Furthermore, there is need for synergies between donors and development partners for a common focus. For policy analysis and advocacy, there is need for ICM competencies at micro, meso and macro levels within the ST&I systems.
At national level, the government should build requisite capacities (personnel and institutions) that would be responsible for national policies studies with respect to international and regional policies and initiatives to ensure that the national policies are in context and are responsive to the national needs. It would also ensure integration and coordination of ICM policy issues between the public, private and civil society.
Clearly, ICTs can assist in the collection and generation of appropriate information, in its communication across borders and in facilitating the use of a variety of communication media suited to the various stakeholders. However the country has to invest heavily in ICTs before it can benefit (Kaniki, 2000). Hovland (2005) further argues that as much as there are challenges facing innovation/information communications, solutions can be found within the same context in the local set-up, meaning that these strategies should be created by the people, for the people and with the people.
To adequately address the ICM issues within ST&I systems, it is obviously necessary that policy issues specific to S&T are discussed to allow for a global redress and a complete picture. The following section highlights policy issues within S&T.
By Rachel Rege (firstname.lastname@example.org), Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Po Box 57811-00200, Nairobi Kenya
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