Our crew of Northern Territory RAIDers is growing thanks to the active efforts of our NT State Rep Maddison. NT RAID kicked off the week with a catch-up at the Darwin Sailing Club. Several members met for the first time and the seven attendees brain stormed future RAID activities by the beautiful waterfront!
In last week’s blog on women’s empowerment, Romana reminded us not to leave men behind. If both women and men can embrace change and improvement, sustainable benefits can be achieved.
She learnt this from NAG progam manager Dr Myo Ma Than. My first thought - What is NAG? (Yes, another acronym for the ever-expanding list). NAG stands for Network Activities Groups - a family of 400 individuals who facilitate collaborative, community-driven projects. They operate under four goals of livelihoods, governance, civil society and public service. One of their projects has helped established solid access roads and the Bae Mi villagers can now "wear slippers" on their walk to town, instead of facing a muddy trek.
But back to Romana's reminder... so how do we include men on this journey? It may start with understanding the gendered norms and values of the community. In their article ‘Gender norms and agricultural innovation: insights from six villages in Bangladesh’ Aregu et al. 2018 argue that the ability of development interventions to support innovation is undermined by a lack of specific understanding about how gender norms and relations interact; “we need to know more about how they matter, for whom, when and why”. Accordingly, this article examines “how men and women in South West Bangladesh perceive gender norms to affect their ability to innovate, adopt and benefit from new technologies in aquaculture, fisheries and agricultural systems”.
Romana also spoke of NGO Shwe Inn Thu who have tackled women’s empowerment from the bottom-up; problems and assets are identified together with the community and self-help groups are formed to equip women with new skills.
Similarly, Craig Johns believes “Australian AID money is at its most powerful when the impact is at the grassroots and community level”. The University of Adelaide and the University of the Sunshine Coast teamed up to deliver value-adding workshops to stallholders in Fiji, for example, turning damaged fruit and veg into jams and chutney!
The idea of this short piece is to share any recent published articles, blogs, papers, podcasts or books that relate to it and may be of interest to our members. We (the RAID team) hope that this is a way for us to share interesting things to read or listen to.
A lunchtime information and networking event was held at the University of Tasmania on 28th March 2018 to showcase RAID as an Australia-based not-for-profit organisation and highlighting the value of international agricultural research for international development. The event brought together undergraduate, honours, masters and PhD students with early, mid and late career researchers with an interest in agriculture and international development. We had a speaker from industry, Lee Peterson, who talked about his work in Vanuatu on sandalwood, and work in Europe regarding berry production. He explained the clear link between his research in Vanuatu and regional development, particularly around capacity building and sustainable development.
One student commented, “I found the whole presentation very interesting, it's hard to pinpoint a particular point. However, I did think that the contrast between the two systems was very interesting. The highly regulated and monitored berry production system vs. the manual labour and long time scale for the hardwood production. I find it interesting how diverse international agricultural research can be.”
Lee’s talk also highlighted the advantages of overseas research to the Australian community. Neville Mendham the Tasmania Crawford Fund Coordinator, and Richard Warner, Chair of the Crawford Fund’s Tasmania State Committee were also in attendance, and gave the audience lots of information about ACIAR, RAID, The Crawford Fund and the Crawford conference. There were a number of questions from the very interested audience, and the session was recorded and distributed so that students who were unable to attend were able to find out about Lee’s work and the work of the Crawford Fund at a later date.
Last night RAID’s ACT reps Dave and Kylie hosted Canberra’s first ever stand alone networking event – and it was a great success! 35 agriculture enthusiasts braved the crisp Canberra air to join us at the cosy Duxton Loft. Members in attendance represented ACIAR, CSIRO, ANU, The Department of Environment, The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and various private companies.
Our RAIDers mingled over food platters and a fun game of “people bingo” where we were rewarded with chocolate (YES!!) for identifying people with similar research experiences – whether that was having worked in the same country or having to access your field site by boat!
RAIDers also heard from Tony Fischer about the Crawford Fund and scholarships for the annual Crawford Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is “Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition – The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus” (if you are interested in attending this year’s Crawford Conference as a scholar – please click here).
The ACT networking event connected fellow RAIDers in the ACT, one remarked, “I realised that Canberra is actually really well placed for a strong RAID community. There are many individuals who have moved to the area for work, without social circles and who are eager to meet and mingle. One of the main comments from the night was – when are we meeting up again!”
The next formal RAID event will be held in conjunction with the Crawford Conference in August – keep your eye on our social media and website for more information!
Wes Ward is currently a part-time Media Officer with Charles Sturt University (CSU), who has worked with multicultural teams in developing countries in SE Asia and the Pacific, and in Australia. During these times, he worked for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the University of the South Pacific, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and most recently CSU. He graduated with a PhD in December 2016, and since then has been communicating the findings of his study.
In my last article for RAID, titled Lasagne, chopsticks, and communication in international teams, I introduced the art of eating lasagne with chopsticks.
Chopsticks are not the ideal way to eat lasagne!
I likened this to what some scientists from developing countries feel when using particular information and computer technologies (ICTs) recommended (or sometimes enforced) by their overseas counterparts for communication within their research teams. Furthermore, these ICTs can be an expensive failure as they don’t meet the needs of the project and the team.
But what if you really wanted to make this collaboration work? What if you want to try other ways of ‘eating that lasagne’ to establish more effective communication between your team members?
Addressing this dilemma as part of my PhD, I developed a tool – I-CHET, or the Intercultural Combined Heuristic Evaluation Tool – to assess whether an ICT met the needs of local scientists and their international counterparts collaborating in research teams and living in different countries and time zones.
In Lasagne, chopsticks, and communication in international teams, I identified the main communication barriers that Lao and Australian agricultural scientists believed hindered communication in their research teams.
Most important for Lao scientists (and expatriates working in Lao PDR) was the use of technical English as the common language in the team, and for the Australians it was developing mutual trust and respect, with little recognition of the language barrier by some more inexperienced Australian researchers. Other barriers included accounting for cultural differences, needing to work in teams divided by distance, and overcoming economic and political differences.
I incorporated these barriers into I-CHET, and used a prototype of the tool to assess nine ICTs used in 2011/12 by international agricultural research teams comprising Lao and Australian scientists. These were the email program Outlook; Skype; two relevant agricultural websites, ACIAR and the Lao National Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI); the audio and SMS features in mobile phones; LaoFab, a listserv for group discussions on agricultural business in Lao PDR; Facebook; and Adobe Connect for online conferencing.
In my previous blog, I highlighted the predominant and preferred use of email, particularly as it allowed non-native English speakers to better understand and ‘craft’ their messages; and problems with Skype, due to its inherent difficulties for non-native English speakers and its requirement for higher bandwidth, which was not available to Lao scientists at that time.
But what about the other ICTs, particularly social media and mobile phones?
Mobile phones have become common across South-East Asia and in developing countries in general. One major positive for developing nations is that mobiles circumvent the need to lay expensive physical telecommunication infrastructure across nations where none previously existed. When you peer across the Mekong, along the length of the Lao-Thai border and you see the microwave towers facing the Lao hinterland, you observe how Thai businesses are taking advantage of the Lao thirst to connect. But can our multicultural research teams use this ubiquitous technology?
Interestingly, as highlighted in the I-CHET analysis, the answer is ‘yes and no’. While the audio feature of mobiles encouraged interpersonal communication through the greater availability of some non-verbal language cues such as voice intonation, speed of delivery and use of ‘silence’, there was poor support for inexperienced users or non-native English speakers. As with Skype, the immediacy of messages transmitted by voice could also provide difficulties for non-native English speakers who could not translate messages from English into Lao fast enough for simultaneous conversation, especially if they wished to maintain ‘face’ with an English speaker.
Of greater interest, however, was a common problem noted by Lao users who complained that using mobiles with their counterparts was too expensive: visiting Australian scientists often used international roaming on their mobiles instead of local SIM cards and so messaging and calling at international rates. This made mobile communication far too expensive for Lao counterparts, even in their own country!
At the time of assessment in 2013, the possibilities of social media for team communication were being explored, particularly by some Australian scientists. Facebook features were ranked very favourably using I-CHET, particularly for its support for interpersonal communication and for working in groups. However, Facebook was not used or considered by Lao scientists for professional communication, while many used Facebook to communicate with family members living overseas.
This highlights the importance of assessing the use of various ICTs in the contexts of various users. For example, the I-CHET assessments in my study were carried out in regional Australia, which will be different to assessments carried out on similar ICTs used in, say, the Lao capital Vientiane or provincial Laos. This is particularly due to differences in online infrastructure and institutional access and needs of various team members, who are the focus of the assessment. In addition, legal access may be curtailed, such as the blocking of Facebook in China but official acceptance of ‘local’ social media such as Weibo and WeChat.
So, what for the future use of ICTs by international research teams? I believe each ICT tool can have a place in a team’s communication toolbox, from the direct document dissemination of email, to the support for group ‘conversations’ offered by Facebook, and the cheaper alternative to face-to-face communication offered via online conferencing. In addition, developments since 2013, such as improved support for major languages other than English in Facebook, would go some way to overcoming the communication barriers I outlined.
However, I believe the use of these tools must be assessed, discussed and tested by and in the individual contexts of team members, and protocols regarding their usage negotiated and agreed by all team members before research projects start. This would avoid or minimise the initial frustrations, barriers and misunderstandings that can occur in communication between team members from various nations, cultures, levels of economic development and time zones.
Any problems arising in using communication ICTs should also be included in regular projects meetings to ensure the tools used continue to be the most appropriate for the needs of these teams. This also opens the door testing new or more appropriate tools for use by and in the context of teams.
Who knows, we could also find a new way to eat lasagne?!
BTW, for details on this study, my thesis is titled “Exploring in-person & technologically-mediated communication within international agricultural research teams”, and available at http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/235880785.
I have also described how I developed I-CHET in an academic paper presented to the 2017 conference of the international Association for Information Science and Technology, held last October in Washington DC.
There was a good turnout to last week’s RAID event, organised by PhD Candidate Elya Richardson and Animal Science lecturer John Otto. Rowan Smith (TIA pasture researcher and Tasmanian Coordinator of RAID) presented on his experiences in Vietnam as a coordinator of an ACIAR project, and Neville Mendham (local coordinator of The Crawford Fund) talked about his early career as a researcher of oil palm trees in Papua New Guinea. Students Claire Cunningham, Sally Stone Schack, Kristy Stevenson and Oliver Gales gave talks on their RAID trips to Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Figure 1: Rowan Smith, the Tasmanian RAID representative opened the event, sharing his experiences of his work with ACIAR in beef cattle production in Vietnam.
Figure 2: Neville Mendham the Tasmania Crawford Fund Coordinator, sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience in agriculture and international development