Agricultural research communication ‘needs more support’

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Agricultural researchers in developing countries are keen to communicate their research to non-experts, but often feel hampered by institutional barriers and a lack of support, according to a survey published in the current issue of Agricultural Information Worldwide.

The results are based on responses from 1,500 researchers, the majority working in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and will be presented at the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) in Uruguay this October.

Some 80 per cent of respondents in all regions considered "contributing to alleviating hunger and poverty" to be a key driving factor for communication, and there was an overwhelming preference for open access, no- or low-cost routes for research publishing.

Yet almost 85 per cent of respondents cited a perceived lack of institutional support and resources as the biggest impediment to communication.   

In developing countries, particularly French-speaking ones, traditional channels — including journals, books and conferences — were still the most widely used platforms for disseminating research findings.

However researchers also expressed a desire for training in the use of digital communication platforms and social media, citing a "lack of workplace incentives" as the main reason for the low uptake of digital platforms.

The report was produced by the global agricultural research partnership CGIAR, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), on behalf of the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD).

The authors say that to improve science communication senior research managers should revise their policies to encourage individuals to change their behaviour.

"There must be enabling frameworks for change; if you don’t provide enabling environments, you are not going to change the way researchers share their information," Franz Martin, an FAO staff member and co-author of the study, told SciDev.Net.  

According to Martin, CIARD is now collecting information on the communication policies of research organisations in developed and developing countries, with the aim of using these to highlight good practice.

Martin added that researchers must be encouraged to choose digital platforms to disseminate their research. "Currently, 75 per cent of researchers [in developing countries] are using traditional routes for sharing knowledge; unless you change this trend, you are not going to reach target audiences, and research will not have a major impact."

Susan MacMillan, head of public affairs at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya, told SciDev.Net that the survey underlined the importance of improving how research is communicated and of increasing open access to research.

"The really big problem we now have is ensuring access to complete datasets," she added. "There’s an enormous need to get datasets out there, so that organisations across the world can have immediate access to them, but this is hugely expensive and resource-heavy."

Link to full report