Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Social media and researchers in agriculture in Ghana and Kenya

Are researchers in agriculture in Africa using social media? The answer is likely to be YES. However, are they using social media in their research related work?

Colleagues (Joel Sam, from CSIR in Ghana, and Richard Kedemi, from KARI in Kenya) and I recently carried out a study on the use of use of social media in agricultural research workflow. We used social media as an umbrella term to refer to mobile and web-based technologies, web platforms and web-based services that facilitate interactions and conversations among users and thus enhance their participation in the generation, distribution, searching and sharing of digital content. Regarding research workflow, we adopted the research lifecycle (see Fig. 1 below) proposed by CIBER, University College London and Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.

Figure 1 - Research lifecycle
[Source: CIBER, University College London and Emerald Group Publishing Ltd (2010:16)]

We invited 338 researchers from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana to complete an online questionnaire hosted on Survey Monkey. Sixty-one (18%) researchers fully completed the questionnaire.

Our findings show that in general, the researchers in the two institutions have profiles/accounts on social media; Social Networking Services (SNS), that includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and MySapce, are the most popular category of social media tools; and these are followed by Voice over Internet (VoIP) Applications (i.e. Google Talk, Skype, etc,). Specifically, Facebook is the most actively used social media followed by LinkedIn and Skype.

The researchers are adopting social media for various reasons. Mostly were motivated with by the need connect with fellow researchers or to enhance their visibility within the research community and outside their countries or to connect with family members and relatives.

In agricultural research workflows, the researchers are using social media mainly in identifying research opportunities and finding potential collaborators for research projects. Overall, there is little use of social media in the dissemination of research results. LinkedIn and Google Docs are the most popular social media tools used in research.

We also found that the researchers are facing some challenges in the use of social media. Key challenges faced include unreliable Internet connectivity and lack of skills to make effective use of social media. Furthermore, use of social media in research is more of individual initiatives than part of the research organizations’ wide social media strategies. This is also common in most organizations in Africa and is not limited to agriculture research organizations.

Based on the findings, we are of the view that agricultural research organizations should improve their Internet connectivity and should implement policies and strategies that encourage the use of social media tools in the dissemination of research results in addition to the traditional methods of communicating research. The strategies should also incorporate capacity development initiatives in the use of both generic and specialized social media tools in research.  Strategic approaches to the use of social media in public agriculture research organizations in Africa could potentially open up research carried out in these organizations.

[Note: A presentation based on the study was made at the 13th IAALD World Congress at Cornell University, Ithaca, USA. The full paper will soon be available in the e-LiS repository].

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