The following is a set of notes I've prepared to summarize my thinking on the project overall, the key questions, and anticipated outcomes and contributions we can make as we look ahead to the next 12 months.
Here it is. Let's consider this a centrepiece for discussion. Comments are therefore invited and encouraged. Please remember that recommendations, alternative ideas, and possible solutions are always a welcome response when problems or concerns are identified.
Partnership Development means that research is carried out with the primary objective of building effective working relationships between Canadian and Sri Lankan team members.
Ideally, one key outcome of project overall (aligned with SSHRC’s intent for the PDG program) is therefore to be able to demonstrate to future funders that we have developed the capacity, as a partnership, to carry out more focussed or more ambitious research activities at a subsequent stage of the project.
As per the article submitted to the NSF-Sri Lanka journal, we are working toward a per-poor, inclusive innovation model for knowledge mobilization. Our project is focussed specifically on how this could benefit farmers engaged in sustainable agricultural practices, particularly those farmers residing at the base of the pyramid in terms of socio-economic classification.
We have carried out preliminary work and achieved a good working arrangement with Wayamba University and LIRNEasia. This took a year from the start date of the project. Given the exit of our previous partners from the project, the distance involved, and resource constraints, I would say we have made excellent progress, although it has delayed start of actual research. Helen's group was able to collect data in the fall of 2013 and Nuwan and Chandana have made significant progress in building capacity to identify community groups and build technical capabilities and training necessary for conducting the campaigns.
Now that we entering into an empirical research phase of the project, here are some points of consideration based on an extensive review of ICT4D literature, two workshops in Sri Lanka, and several field visits and demonstrations:
- The literature points to inclusive innovation as a priority focus for ICT4D research today.
- Inclusive innovation is about giving the community itself the capacity to choose when, how, where, why to adopt and use digital technologies.
- This may happen on its own in some communities (e.g., we have an instance of this stemming from a previous workshop) but in other cases, it may require outside intervention to foster its possibility.
- Studies on mobile adoption and use at the bottom of the pyramid in Sri Lanka, suggest that social influence is a key influential factor in adoption.
- Cost and simplicity of technology is another factor in terms of sustainability and practical value.
- Support from the wider context (e.g., government extension or NGO) is also a consideration.
- Prior experience with technology is also a consideration in terms of bringing attention to possibilities and building confidence in the community to do more with it.
From these observations, here is a set of questions that I believe can guide our work going forward:
- What are the most important social and technological considerations in promoting adoption and use of low cost ICTs for knowledge mobilization among Sri Lankan agricultural communities of practice residing at the base of pyramid?
- Do we find any significant differences when comparing across communities,depending on the particular circumstances of those groups? (e.g., type of agriculture, association with NGO or government program or department, geography, active participation of tech steward, prior experience with technology)
- Based on these findings, what is the likelihood that communities would be willing and able to undertake innovation themselves using low cost digital ICTs? What other considerations might have been overlooked and could be brought to bear in future campaigns?
- Does the inclusive innovation approach offer a viable model to encourage and sustain adoption and use of low cost ICTs among agricultural communities of practice at the BOP in Sri Lanka?
Our campaign approach brings these elements together in a way that will allow us to more closely how they influence the adoption and use of digital technology within specific settings:
- The technology steward is an intervention to examine the influence of social intermediary in the adoption and use of a specific campaign.
- The use of Free and Open Source Software has been chosen because it is low cost and relatively easy to use and maintain, especially with tech steward’s involvement.
- Sponsoring organizations are involved in the process of choosing and designing the campaign as part of the wider context within which adoption and use will happen and be sustained (or not).
- Prior/current experience with technology in the community is examined by asking community members questions about (and observing) how they use technology and how it is incorporated into their practices related to knowledge mobilization for agricultural activities.
Each of these factors are considered within the context of each campaign, then compared across campaigns to identify any patterns or influences that may be significant. A multiple case study design with embedded units of analysis is proposed based on the range of variables and complex influences at work in each community (drawn from a review of Yin's work on case study design).
We intend that the results will provide useful insights as to the influential factors and considerations affecting adoption and use, and will contribute to an assessment of the viability of an inclusive innovation model in this setting.
There will clearly be many limits and challenges along the way. Our goal is to remain focussed on optimizing the design and data collection within the constraints we face. These factors will be accounted for in final reports and will be contextualized within the broader aim of the project. But we must continue to move forward with the project if we to maintain the interest and involvement of our partners.
We are building research capacity through the research activities. In so doing we aim to achieve promising, albeit preliminary, results worthy of future funding support.