‘Spoken Web’: A voice-internet tool for sharing research knowledge with the unreached

John on Mobile Phone

The ‘Spoken Web’ uses mobile phones to provide information to people who have no access to the internet (photo credit: David Dennis)

Imagine using your mobile phone to connect to a voice site on the internet to listen to your favourite blog or to search for information. According to IBM, this might be one of the ways we use the internet in the near future.

No, it will not replace the current technology that involves using a browser on your computer to search for what you need online, but the company is banking on a new voice-enabled internet platform that can provide information and services to millions over phone, especially in the developing world’s rural areas, where many people do not read and write and have no access to the internet.

The ‘Spoken Web’ makes use of speech recognition software to allow users to upload information to networks of ‘voice sites’ that are then stored on a voice server and navigated by users talking over the phone. People in rural areas of India and Africa and other developing regions can use this system to upload information in their own language using a mobile phone. The ‘Spoken Web’ can be used for many of the things that can be done over the internet today, such as online banking, buying goods or searching for information. For example, callers can access the platform from their mobile phones to listen to agricultural information or to find advice from fellow farmers by dialing a local number, which directs them automatically to the most relevant voice sites.

This technology has been under development since 2004, when it started as a ‘World Wide Telecom Web’. It has been further developed into the ‘Spoken Web’ by IBM research labs in New Delhi, India. In 2007, it was piloted successfully in parts of India.

IBM believes that this new platform holds great potential for transferring and sharing information, especially for development organizations that can use it to communicate with their field staff and the rural communities with which they are implementing projects.

The concept of the ‘Spoken Web’ was presented during last week’s ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ Share Fair, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The presenter was Pier Paolo Ficarelli, an agricultural development and knowledge management expert working in the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI) Asia regional office, in New Delhi.

Earlier this month, on 7 October 2010, IBM staff invited ILRI and partners of the Consortium of the Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other organizations to their research offices in India to see a demonstration of the workings of this new voice-based internet.

‘Internet connectivity in rural areas where organizations like ILRI work is seldom available, and agricultural extension services that were one of the few channels for information and service access for rural communities are ineffective in many of these places,’ said Ficarelli, who attended the demonstration together with John McDermott, ILRI’s deputy director general and Iain Wright, ILRI’s Asia regional director. ‘ICT tools such as this can give opportunity for grassroots people to access information and receive services,’ said Ficarelli.

To test this project in India, IBM has partnered with Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile phone service provider, which also owns mobile networks in 16 African countries. The two companies are likely to roll out the service in Africa in the future.

‘If adopted widely, this new system can be used to bridge the information gap that exists in many areas of the developing world because of illiteracy, which limits knowledge transfer and exchange,’ said Ficarelli. ‘Indian farmers have successfully used it to share innovative solutions to common agricultural problems,’ he added.

‘This technology could benefit ILRI’s livestock and dairy research projects that are seeking to create efficient links among researchers, farmers and other actors in the different value chains,’ Ficarelli said.

However, to be a successful knowledge sharing platform, the voice-internet needs to overcome challenges of likely high implementation costs for both organizations and communities. The system also needs to have clear advantages over existing and already tested web-based or mobile-phone-based information dissemination applications, such as telecentres and SMS information channels. There is need not only to test ‘Spoken Web’ on a wider scale and in different contexts to assess its usability and usefulness, but also to involve enough agents ready to put into voice their knowledge and services and to do so in ways that are attractive to end users.

For more information about the ‘Spoken Web’ and how it can be used visit:

http://domino.research.ibm.com/comm/research_people.nsf/pages/arun_kumar.wwtw.html and http://domino.research.ibm.com/comm/research_people.nsf/pages/arun_kumar.index.html

Also watch the following video demonstrations:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_4LgyBn2CQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFc6HkK2eiw

Strengthening our walking sticks: Harnessing Africa’s diversity of knowledge sharing methods

IPMS market place

Participants attend the Ethiopian market place on day two of the on-going 'Agknowlege Africa' Share Fair at the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa (photo credit: ILRI/Sewunet)

The second day of the ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ Share Fair in Addis Ababa began sunny and bright. Tuesday 19 October marked the official start of this event, which has never before been held in Africa. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) sees the fair as a chance ‘to get to know the new innovators who are sharing and applying agricultural knowledge in the continent,’ according to Peter Ballantyne, ILRI’s head of Knowledge Management and Information Services.

Following Monday's program that oriented participants to various social media tools used in knowledge sharing, the second day’s main activity centred on the ‘marketplace’, an information exchange set-up to mimic the typical African marketplace. For millennia, marketplaces have let people trade in knowledge as well as goods, allowing them to find solutions to shared problems.

While the real donkeys grazing ILRI’s lawns in this simulated marketplace might not be sold today, various corners of the ILRI compound are hosting different open air sessions where ‘sellers’ and ‘buyers’ are displaying products and talking and exchanging knowledge with the participants who tour their stands. Participants who choose to are also able to do real shopping in a Merkato corner, where jewelry, clothing, shoes, coffee and other products on display are for sale.

In another corner of the compound stands a ‘Seeds for Knowledge’ exhibit, where Roseline Murota is talking about how her organization—the Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resource (SAFIRE)—is training local communities in Zimbabwe to use natural resources sustainably to improve their livelihoods. This initiative is helping local people make herbal teas from traditional trees, including Makoni tea, made from a ‘resurrection tree’, so named because it is quick to dry up when the rainy season ends and equally quick to come back to life with start of the rains. The organization is using local knowledge to train farmers in how to produce Baobab oil and Baobab cereal bars, among other products.

Elsewhere in the compound, a group of women are walking slowly, singing songs and carrying water pots on their backs. As women have traditionally borne water from rivers and wells to their homes, they have exchanged information, transferred knowledge and learned how to solve common problems.

The main auditorium is filled with stands displaying various local knowledge exchange platforms used to transfer information and knowledge in Ethiopia. In one corner is Ageno Aweno, a traditional medicine man from the Halaba area of southern Ethiopia, who is displaying various plants that he uses to treat livestock diseases, including internal parasite infections, and to improve animal feeding.

A project implemented by ILRI in Ethiopia with the Ethiopian Government, ‘Improving the Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers’, is sharing cases of how knowledge sharing is empowering farmers in the country. Lessons from a farmer-designed training project in Dale District are highlighted. This project links farmers with extension agents and universities to identify and address farmer needs in participatory ways. It has helped farmers in Dale produce and sell improved avocado and mango trees, which has transformed the livelihoods of 47 families, who now sell grafted seedlings to earn Ethiopian birr 150,000 (US$8,500) per year.

Also among the displays is a livestock market, complete with a pen containing sheep, goats and chickens. Some indigenous sheep from Afar and other parts of Ethiopia are on display, giving participants a chance to see the country’s native stock and share information about livestock breeds.

While opening the Share Fair earlier, Bruce Scott, director of ILRI’s Partnerships and Communications program, said meetings such as this offer ‘innovative ways to make information available to farmers. Our aim should be to reach the millions of smallholder farmers in Africa who are the main drivers of Africa’s agricultural production. These smallholder producers need better access to markets, information and knowledge.’

Edna Karamangi, who is leading a group discussing traditional methods of African knowledge exchange at the Share Fair, summed up in a speech this morning the power that knowledge sharing gives people: ‘Knowledge is like a walking stick; whenever we share knowledge and learn from others, we are patching our walking sticks to keep them from breaking.’

Follow the Share Fair proceedings daily via our:
Blogs: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisblog
Photos: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisphotos
Tweets: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddistweets

On dyeing baby chicks pink and other knowledge worth sharing: 300 experts meet in Addis Ababa to share Africa’s local knowledge

Learning day opening session - participants discussing

Two participants share experiences in the 'AgKnowledge Africa' Share Fair that is taking place this week at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (photo credit: ILRI/Habtamu)  

Over 300 agricultural experts, including researchers, farmers, extension workers, scientists, rural development agents and government representatives from across Africa and other parts of the world are meeting this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to exchange ideas about how Africa’s local knowledge and information can be tapped and applied to drive Africa’s agricultural development.

Meeting at an ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ Share Fair, which began on 18 October 2010 at the Addis Ababa campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), these experts are sharing their experiences in using local African knowledge and related approaches and tools to raise the profile and productivity of African agriculture.

‘Africa and its people have a lot of undocumented knowledge, information and data that could be used to help drive the continent’s development,’ said Nadia Manning-Thomas, a knowledge sharing specialist. Manning-Thomas works with a program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research called ‘Information and Communication Technologies—Knowledge Management. This project (known by a mouthful of an acronym: the CGIAR ICT-KM) and ILRI are two of the organizers of this week’s Addis Share Fair.

‘Our aim in this Fair,’ says Manning-Thomas, ‘is to help Africa’s innovators find and use ways they can apply African knowledge—whether from local communities or regional organizations or research institutions—to drive agricultural growth’.

This week’s Fair (18–21 October 2010) is making use of traditional African ways of sharing knowledge, from traditional story-telling, to Ethiopian coffee ceremonies, to Kenyan barazas (Swahili for gatherings held to raise awareness and to share collective wisdom) to marketplace discussions. The first of its kind in Africa, this event has attracted participants from Europe and Asia as well as the continent.

‘This is an opportunity for ILRI and other researchers to join the conversation taking place among development experts in Africa,’ said Peter Ballantyne, head of ILRI’s knowledge management and information services and a main organizer of the Fair. ‘It’s also an opportunity for all the participants to create new partnerships and to get new ideas. We’re giving people a variety of “spaces” in which to talk that are great opportunities for us at ILRI to “listen” to ideas and innovations in local knowledge, especially among partners driving agricultural development in Africa.’

The Fair’s participants are also reviewing how mobile phones, internet-based tools and other new ways of sharing information are being used to spread knowledge across the continent. A ‘social reporting team’ evolving at ILRI is broadcasting the Share Fair’s proceedings using a variety of tools and platforms, including a daily news sheet, video, radio (podcasting) and blogging.

The Fair started on 18 October 2010 with a ‘learning and training day’ before the official opening on 19 October, made by Bruce Scott, head of ILRI’s partnerships and communications programs, representing ILRI’s director general, Carlos Seré. The topics being debated by the 300 participants include agriculture, water, climate change, land and livestock.

More than 10 organizations—including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, and the Pastoralist Forum Ethiopia—have erected exhibits illustrating particular ways of sharing knowledge.

Among the Fair’s more exciting exhibits is one about Shujaaz FM, a cutting edge comic set in Kenya targeting the half of Kenyans under the age of 18. Although this new multimedia initiative leads with a comic book, it also is pulling together all the existing communications technologies, including a daily radio show, a website, and downloadable comics for mobile phones (sms), computer television, newspapers, etc. The aim of the comic is both to entertain the young and to help them put money into their pockets, and thus help them build livelihoods. Among the first stories in the series is a cracking tale on how to dye baby chickens pink (and why) and another on how to grow kale (the popular Kenyan dish made with sukuma wiki) in sacks in slums.

Want to know more?
Listen to an IRIN radio podcast for more about Shujaaz FM.
Read an earlier story on the AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair on the ILRI News blog.

And follow the Share Fair proceedings daily via our:
Blogs: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisblog
Photos: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisphotos
Tweets: http://tinyurl.com/sfaddistweets

First of its kind ‘Share Fair’ in Addis Ababa to showcase Africa’s wealth of agricultural knowledge

Informal meeting space at the share fair

A first of its kind event in Africa, the “AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair,” will bring together 300 innovators and leaders across the continent to share promising methods, tools and approaches that help stimulate and propagate Africa’s agricultural and rural development knowledge. The “Share Fair” will be held on 18-21 October, 2010 at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa.

Africa’s rural areas and the people who live and work for them are packed with knowledge, information and data; and stimulating the creation, sharing, communication and targeted use of this knowledge is a vital driver for African agricultural development. As never before, innovators across the continent are drawing on a mix of traditional communication approaches, the power of new information and communication technologies like the Internet and mobile phones, and media like television and publishing to create and put knowledge to use in agriculture and rural development.

Like the first  “Knowledge Share Fair”  held at FAO in 2009 in Rome, Italy, the event will be a ‘fair’ that showcases diverse knowledge and the multiple ways it is created, shared, communicated, and applied in development contexts.  The event will  cover a wide range of knowledge types and modes of sharing — oral, visual, drama, music, video, radio, documentary, publishing, storytelling, web-based, geospatial, networked, mobile, computer-based, SMS, or journalistic – reflecting the knowledge, experience and wisdom of Africa’s farmers, producers, researchers, innovators and rural development workers.

Learning sessions will include hands-on training in the use of Knowledge Sharing tools such as social networking (online) media, Google tools , popular media, face-to-face knowledge sharing methods ,and academic social networking using the online collaborative tool called Mendeley. Participants will also have interactive sessions on four key areas – Agriculture and water; Agriculture and climate change; Land, and Livestock.

The discussions will be streamed and shared live across the internet – http://tinyurl.com/sfaddisblog and http://tinyurl.com/sfaddistweets

A special feature is an interactive market place where participants will exchange their knowledge wares, with special attention to rural knowledge exchange approaches drawn from rural Ethiopia.

The “Share Fair” participants are a multi-stakeholder group, including farmers, extension workers, rural development agents, advocacy and development NGOs, international agencies, national and international research institutes, womens’ networks, academics, development projects, governments, private companies and the media.

The share fair is sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR, the IKM Emergent research initiative, the Improving Productivity and Market Success of Ethiopian Farmers project (IPMS), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Livestock Research Institute(ILRI), with additional support from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the International Land Coalition (ILC), and numerous public, private, non-governmental organizations, and research initiatives from Africa and beyond.

More on the Internet at: www.sharefair.net

 

ILRI to host ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ share fair in October

 

Join the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and many partners in Addis Ababa in October 2010 to share and showcase the ways agricultural and rural knowledge in and of Africa is created, shared, communicated, and put to use.

The event will be a ‘fair’ that brings together the diverse knowledge of the continent and the multiple innovative ways it is created, shared, communicated, and applied.

The heart of the fair is a series of thematic ‘learning pathways’ in a process of mapping, sharing and connecting people and activities. These pathways will showcase how African ‘talents’ are creating, sharing and using rural knowledge – at the grassroots, in research and policy, and through intermediaries. The pathways will focus on agriculture and climate change, land, livestock, and water.

The Share Fair also comprises learning sessions, self-organized focus groups on specific issues and topics (indigenous knowledge, mobiles, GIS, value chains, telecenters, and radio), a special session on rural knowledge in Ethiopia, and an ideas and products marketplace.

Find out how to participate: www.sharefair.net

The event brings together the multiple expertise and networks of international organizations like the CGIAR, CTA, FAO, IFAD, and IKM Emergent; the sessions are organized by a range of public, private, NGO, and research initiatives and organizations from Africa and beyond.

It will be held on the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa.

ILRI workshop trains staff in social media for research communication

Research communications and Local Content workshops

A workshop on ‘Africa Learning and Exchange on Local Content, Social Media and Agricultural/Rural Knowledge Sharing’ opened on the Nairobi campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) last week.

From Monday through Wednesday, 5–7 July, the focus of the workshop was on ‘Research Communication’ and participants, who included ILRI staff and communication practitioners from research and non-profit organizations from Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, were trained on use of social media tools in research communications. Participants also shared their experiences of using these tools.

The research communication workshop taught participants how to recover and disseminate research, identify and counter bias in search tools and use social media/web 2.0 tools and skills and approaches. Participants gained hands-on experience in working with wikis, creating blogs and adding content, using social bookmarking tools, such as Delicious, and using feeds to organize information from different web resources.

Participants also identified the challenges and opportunities offered by social media tools in Africa. They used a participatory wiki to document and share the workshop proceedings and edited and produced short video clips highlighting their views of the workshop.

Evelyn Katingi, a research coordinator with ILRI, said the workshop helped her ‘appreciate the value of social media tools in better organizing my work.’ She added ‘I look forward to using these tools in my work and in training others how to use them.’

A second part of the workshop, held 8–9 July, focused on sharing experiences of using modern online communication, social media and digital tools in gathering and sharing local African content. Participants included community radio hosts and managers, social workers and trainers who also explored how digital and online output from their organizations in Africa can be combined and promoted externally. The participants developed a shared understanding of how these tools and approaches can best be adapted to the African context to promote knowledge sharing.

Output from this week-long workshop, which was organized by ILRI and a Dutch-funded initiative, Emergent Issues in Information and Knowledge Management (IKM) and International Development, known as the IKM Emergent Research Programme, will inform preparation for an AgKnowledge Africa ShareFair that will take place at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa in October 2010.