31 January 2007

The agricultural information specialist of the future?

In November 2006, Dorothy Mukhebi and her team at ASARECA (Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa) convened a workshop to refine plans for a ‘Postgraduate Programme for Enhancement of Skills in Agricultural Information and Communication Management in ASARECA Region.’

The report from the discussions gives a fascinating insight into the future tasks of agricultural ‘information and communication specialists’ and the types of skills, knowledge and competencies these people might have, or be expected to develop.

The report explores the changing context in which such specialists will work, define the profile of these people, and set out some key areas of knowledge, skills and attitudes that would enable the specialists to perform in the present and future environment.

What are some of the environmental changes we can expect?

In general, the agriculture sector of the future is likely to be totally different to that of today; it appears that researchers and extensionists of the future will have to deliver services differently and for this they need new competences; and researchers are likely to be directly responsible for disseminating information and technologies they generate other than relying on intermediaries.

Regarding research, participants expect it to employ more multidisciplinary and participatory approaches; be more market oriented; focus on value addition, food and nutrition, bio-fortification, agbiotech and associated biosafety issues; undergo a revolution in methods for packaging and communicating research results; integrate social science in agriculture; and connect indigenous and scientific knowledge.

Regarding extension, ICTs, and rural knowledge management, participants foresee improved infrastructure to facilitate service delivery; more interaction between researchers, extension workers, and farmers; a shift from training to innovation process management; greater emphasis on privatization (contracting in/out) and pluralism in extension service delivery; the farmer of the future will be an entrepreneur, life-long learner, innovator, and proactive demander of services; extension workers will also be life-long learners, facilitators of information exchange, tailoring information to different clients and giving less emphasis to education and training and dissemination; traditional media such as print, tv, radio etc will still exist but also there will be new interactive broadband marketing media, and we will see a new type of highly commercialized private knowledge providers.

Regarding education and training in universities, participants expect more learning to be done outside the university campus (ODL), more flexible programmes in terms of duration and curricula; specialized training in precision farming and integration of ICT in training programmes; partnership with private sector for funding of research and training; and the commercialization of education in public universities.

What are some of the tasks that the future information specialist will be carrying out?
  • Assess demand and needs for information of different users
  • Link research policy relating to information and knowledge management
  • Facilitate knowledge and information sharing and build capacity in ICM, including facilitating information exchange and capacity building, imparting knowledge and skills, capturing and sharing knowledge at the organisation level, facilitating knowledge sharing with internal and external partners
  • Design and manage agricultural information/knowledge systems, including designing, developing, evaluating information and knowledge management resources, establishing and managing databases and knowledge resources, information gathering, prospecting, analyzing and processing, resource/documentation center management, records management and archiving, designing information and knowledge decision support systems, and designing and developing agricultural information systems
  • Manage teams of information specialists
  • Carry out research in agricultural informatuion and communication
  • Manage indigenous knowledge
  • Facilitate knowledge markets
  • Support scientists in publishing and editing/writing
  • Disseminate and market information to users
  • Package information and knowledge into appropriate products and media
What are some of the skills, knowledge and attitudes that the future information specialist requires to perform in his or her job?

Skills and Knowledge
• ICT and communication skills
• Skills in information design and development
• Computing skills
• Information processing skills
• Gathering and analyzing information
• Soft skills for managing productivity of people
• Facilitation skills
• Analytical skills
• Research skills
• Systems thinking
• Writing, editing and publishing
• Resource management skills
• Popular communication skills
• Resource mobilization and management
• Advertising and marketing
• Communication management
• Knowledge in extension and communication
• Archiving
• Agricultural IT policies
• Advocacy
• Good knowledge of agriculture (policy issues and emerging issues)
• Agricultural science and technologies
• Basic knowledge in agricultural science
• Basic knowledge in social sciences
• Basic knowledge in socio-economic issues
• Basic knowledge in biophysical
• Information/knowledge management
• AICM/ICT innovation systems
• Knowledge of information knowledge
• ICT application in agriculture
• Human/organizational behaviour
• AICM technology management
• Knowledge in information science and technology
• Decision support systems
• Impact/result /performance oriented
• Integrity and diligence
• Open minded and flexible
• People oriented with an appreciative mind
• Good listener/mentor and motivator
• Patient and respects colleagues
• Professional ethics
• Inquisitive/self-motivated and creative
• Innovative
• Continuously learning
• Gender sensitivity
• Team player
• Dynamic and proactive

Participants recognized that it might not be feasible to have a person with all those competences; further that some university lecturers would themselves not have these skills and such a programme would need to enhance the knowledge and skills of the academics.

Nevertheless, the breadth of roles and skills required of the next generation information specialists is clear to see.




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