ICM is based on the concept that transferring knowledge is key to rural development, whether it involves new techniques for farmers, market information or knowledge that can help with planning. But it is also crucial to ensure that this knowledge is managed properly, choosing the most suitable channels and methods for each set of users, and packaging the information so that it can be transmitted and used in an effective way.
CTA is encouraging institutions to use ICTs as a means for information and communication management. Since 2003, the Centre has carried out a series of ICM needs assessments in ACP countries and since 2009, it has been developing training materials and holding workshops based on the manuals and toolkits it has produced.
During a training session in September 2012, held in Uganda, two national NGOs the Rural Empowerment Network (REN) and the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) met and shared experiences on how they could apply the ICM techniques to which they were being exposed. The encounter led to a decision to pilot the CTA ICM process, offering support to both partners as they developed their strategies.
"They were targeting different audiences, both in Uganda, and it was decided that instead of conducting two separate processes, it would make sense to see if they could learn from each other, as they moved ahead in parallel," said Krishan Bheenick, CTA Senior Programme Coordinator for Knowledge Management, who oversaw the arrangement.
In return for CTA support, both organisations undertook to document their experiences, so that each of them could learn from one another, and consequently other ACP organisations could learn from both of them. They did this by posting regular blogs, which charted the process and highlighted lessons learned.
A learning process
The experience has proved a learning curve for everyone, but although there were plenty of obstacles along the way, both partners say that developing an ICM strategy has been valuable in helping them to identify ways of providing useful information to farmers and other stakeholders, and extending the reach of their organisations.
"Both organisations play an important role in empowering rural smallholders," said Bheenick. "The issue was whether they were making the best use of the current technologies and practices in communicating information to their stakeholders. The idea was to make them more effective in communicating and building on the knowledge they had."
The first step in each case was to explore the needs of stakeholders, using a participatory approach. This involved analysing the technological environment in which they were working, the tools available and the preferred communications approach for users.
Based on this information, both REN and WOUGNET produced a strategy at the end of 2013, with a proposed budget to support activities. They now need to attract funds to implement these.
Later in 2014, CTA is planning to hold a regional workshop in Uganda, where both organisations will be invited to present their plans. The aim is to find support for moving their strategies forward, as well as providing helpful pointers to other organisations from the region interested in developing ICM strategies. Meanwhile, all those who have attended previous CTA training workshops have been linked through the Dgroup communication platform so that they could follow the process.
Choosing the right tools has been central to success. Taking a lead from the training manuals produced by CTA, both REN and WOUGNET selected the most suitable ICTs for their purposes. These included using closed wikis to coordinate the team itself, plan their activities and bounce ideas off one another, an exercise that proved valuable, since ICM is far from an exact science.
"Developing an ICM strategy is quite emergent. There is a process but there are things that emerge in terms of your understanding of the mechanisms, the social motivation of stakeholders and so on," said Bheenick. "So having a forum where the team can share their lessons or questions or intuitions among themselves is very useful."
One of the main impacts of the exercise emerged as creating the team itself.
"The teams became very engrossed in the process. Once they became involved in it, they became interested in the adventure," he said. "They learned a lot. They understood how to dig down into the real needs of stakeholders and how to address those. They came out of the process enriched."