Science and Technology will only work for small-scale farmers if agricultural research is carried out differently than much of it has been in the past. Lessons from research that has successfully linked knowledge with action – changes in policies, practices, institutions and technologies – contributing to sustainable poverty reduction suggest the following principles are key:
Problem Definition. Projects are more likely to succeed in linking knowledge with action when they use processes and tools that enhance efficient dialogue and cooperation between those who have or produce knowledge and decision-makers who use it, with project members defining the problem they aim to solve in collaborative, user-driven ways.
Program Management. Research is more likely to inform action if it adopts a “project” orientation and organization, with dynamic leaders accountable for meeting use-driven goals and targets and the team managing to avoid letting “study of the problem” displace “creation of solutions” as its research goal.
Boundary Spanning. Initiatives are more likely to link knowledge with action when they include “boundary organizations” or “boundary-spanning actions” that help bridge gaps between research and user communities. This boundary-spanning work often involves constructing informal new arenas, in which project managers can foster user-producer dialogues, joint product definition, and a systems approach free from dominance by groups committed to the status quo. Defining joint ‘rules of engagement’ in the new arena that encourage mutual respect, co-creation and innovation that addresses complex problems improves the prospects for success.
Systems integration. Projects are more likely to be successful in linking knowledge with action when they take a systems approach that recognizes scientific research is just one ‘piece of the puzzle.’ Such systems-oriented strategies aim to identify and engage with key partners who can help turn co-created knowledge generated by the project into action (new strategies, policies, interventions, technologies) leading to better and more sustainable livelihoods.
Learning orientation. Research projects are more likely to be successful in linking knowledge with action when they are designed as much for learning as they are for knowing. Such projects are frankly experimental, expecting and embracing failures so as to learn from them throughout the project’s life. Such orientations towards learning cannot thrive without appropriate reward systems for risk-taking managers, funding mechanisms that enable such risk-taking, and periodic external evaluation.
Continuity with flexibility. Getting research into use generally requires strategies aimed at strengthening linkages and effective patterns of interaction between organizations and individuals operating locally where impact is sought. A key role of boundary spanning work/organizations is the facilitation of processes that create strong networks and build innovation/response capacity of the system. Co-created communication strategies and boundary objects/products are key to the longevity and sustainability of project outcomes and impacts.
Manage asymmetries of power. Efforts linking knowledge with action are more likely to be successful when they come up with empowerment strategies aimed at ‘leveling the playing field’ in order to generate hybrid, co-created knowledge and deal with the often large (and largely hidden) asymmetries of power felt by stakeholders.