30 years

ICM - Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Ugandan NGO the Rural Empowerment Network (REN) offers a range of information products and services to small-scale farmers, as well as to researchers and extension agents. The overall goal is to help increase farmer productivity, leading to greater food and nutrition security.

Among REN services are a farmer outreach programme to address sustainable agricultural practices, a network of field agents who work among farming communities, a farmer Question and Answer service, production and broadcasting of farmer radio programmes, information archives for farmers, an online database, internet access, library services and access to databases and provision of market information, especially to smallholder farmers.

In an interview, REN Programme Coordinator Patrick Kasangaki explains how CTA support to develop an information and communication strategy (ICM) is helping the network to improve the quality and reach of its information services.

Question: Why was an ICM programme needed at REN?

Answer: REN offers a range of information products and services to its stakeholders and partners. Despite this, a number of shortcomings still existed. Key information was not properly documented, there were inadequate ICM skills within REN and its partners, and there was insufficient awareness among farmers and other stakeholders and partners about information resources available within REN. Other problems were poor networking arrangements with partners, poor information dissemination channels, lack of an effective system to gauge the impact of the products and services and the fact that information was not easily obtained.

These shortcomings had a negative impact on the effectiveness of REN and, if not adequately addressed, meant that REN was at risk of delivering a service without the required impact among its stakeholders and partners.

Q: How did you document and share the experience of improving ICM?

A: We developed and used a blog to document and share experiences with our Dgroup and other network members. Another way was during the face-to-face interactions and the focus group discussions during stakeholder meetings. We also produced a number of reports and documents during the exercise. Through sharing on the blog we got feedback and comments from members in other organisations, which also further guided us during the strategy development.

Q: What tools did you use for ICM and how did they work?

A: We used a number of tools for ICM strategy development. For the desk research we used a mix of face-to-face interactions and interviews. The Internet was vital for gathering information in the external REN environment. We developed survey questionnaires designed to be filled out by all staff and stakeholders to assess their exposure to Information and Communication Technology/Management (ICT/M) practices and determine information and communication needs. The strategy development team developed a wiki which enabled it collaborate when it was not physically together. Skype, Facebook and the telephone were also used for communication among the team, the consultant, REN and some REN stakeholders.

Q: What has been the benefit?

A: We have been able to reorganise and streamline ICM activities through the establishment of a centralised ICM department, and selected staff are being trained to enhance their ICM/T skills for improved service delivery. There is an increase in organisational budget allocation for ICM/T activities. As a result, more agricultural information archives are now located among the farming communities. We have started the process of initiating partnership arrangements with similar organisations to complement each other and take advantage of available resources. And sensitisation drives about available REN information products and services are making it possible for more people to benefit from the services.

Q: What lessons have you learned from the experience?

A: Information and communication management is crucial for the organisational efficiency of REN, as it plays a vital role in guiding it to achieve its mandate and objectives. It therefore has to be given priority when planning for activities in terms of budgeting, building staff capacities, improving the ICT situation, and updating the information resources and the information products and services. It is important to keep an eye on the external environment, as often it offers opportunities for collaboration with other actors and stakeholders offering similar ICM services. Constant monitoring and evaluation for impact is also important to ensure that we do not go off course as we continue delivering products and services to our stakeholders.

Q: How has the REN ICM team been able to transmit the importance of ICM to the rest of the organisation and what has been the reaction?

A: There has been constant communication to keep the organisation in the loop all the time. Lobbying management was vital as it enabled the different departmental heads to influence their peers. There was reluctance in the initial stages of the process, because many people feared the change and were not sure how it would affect their job placements. Others were reluctant because they had not realised the need for an ICM strategy and others were initially too busy to find the time. But with constant communication we allayed that fear. The strategy has been to communicate, communicate, and communicate.