26 August 2008

The Challenges of Reaching Individuals with Information

Setting the stage on day one of the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress

On the first day of the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Conference, Peter Ballantyne proposed a question to unify and focus our thoughts over the duration of this conference, “How can we make agricultural information and IT truly accessible?”

An excellent keynote presentation by Fedro Zazueta (University of Florida) reviewed the development of online education, in which he characterized new means of disseminating information and knowledge sharing as “connected, fast, smart, alien and deeply disruptive”! I found the last two adjectives the most critical and deserving of consideration, as I think it is something we IM/KM professionals tend to lose sight of. Even in developed countries, new technologies for information delivery can create stresses at both the individual and organizational level which were not present before the paradigm shifts we are experiencing in this information age. In developing countries, how much more alien and disruptive can this be?

These issues were picked up in a slightly different light in the presentation by Luz Marina Alvare on how IFPRI has recognized that different generations and disciplines both respond to and access information in very different ways. The situation poses several challenges, both from the need to reach all these generations and disciplines, as well as to managing the concerns that arise from the different dissemination and knowledge sharing methods used. In particular it is necessary to address concerns about the risk versus the value of web2.0 tools, which are still not widely appreciated or supported by positive data. As we might expect, the younger generations are more responsive to information delivered in web2.0 applications, as are certain disciplines such as journalists who like to glean information from blogs.

Prof. Mei Fangquan (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences) focused his keynote on ICT4D strategy in China and emphasized the challenges of the “first mile” of connectivity and providing locally relevant content, an issue that was echoed and developed in many of the papers presented later that day.

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