Besides promoting linear ways of communicating information, most efforts by policymakers and development agencies in Africa continue to confuse dissemination of evidence with facilitating its use. Instead of speeding up the adoption of new knowledge, social media is also generating noise which gets in the way of adoption. If they were facilitating adoption and use of evidence, organisations would direct more resources to engaged reflection activities, mentoring evidence users and walking together with people in need of new ideas.
The difficulty of removing information from public discourse
Among those working with farmers and rural communities, there is an emerging realisation that practices that have taken decades to solidify will not be changed overnight. That is why falsehoods and myths continue to compete with objective facts. While a lot of money still goes into producing documents, published information is not changing practices. Supporting the adoption and use of evidence requires thoughtful interventions. For instance, you cannot change nutrition practices through advertisements because there are many reasons why people are not adopting new nutrition practices. One of the reasons may be that people cannot afford nutritional food due to various constraints. Agricultural production manuals are not changing practices.
Examining factors that enable the use of evidence
Effective communication of evidence is important, but incomplete. Given an increase in information and diverse sources, most people no longer have the time or energy to sift through the ocean of available information in order to identify what is critical for decision-making. The situation is worse among policymakers like Members of Parliament, who are exposed to disparate forms and sources of evidence such that they end up choosing what appeals to them although that may not be the most useful evidence for policy-making.
Not all evidence has to be standardised
Contrary to efforts by organisations to turn all available evidence into documents and publications, more than 70% of knowledge in African communities may not need to be documented into lifeless publications, but baked into best practices and rituals. Not everyone wants to read a manual or standard operating procedures on how to produce all kinds of agricultural commodities. Many farmers are satisfied with following procedures and rituals into which evidence has been embedded. This makes sense because it does not overload memory. It leaves people with some cognitive space necessary for human well-being. Rather than foisting evidence on communities, it is important to ensure it is demand-driven. When evidence is demand-driven, it is put to use quickly and in its richest form unlike when it is not demand-driven. Cognitive bias is also minimised when people use evidence for specific purposes.
Navigating the interconnected nature of opportunities and risks
Given the complexity and interconnected nature of opportunities and risks in African agriculture and socio-economic development, disseminating information is no longer enough. Building sustainable value chains requires facilitating the use of evidence. Numerous knowledge gaps cannot be solved through information overload. Instead, value chain actors have to be assisted in aligning their values and resources in ways that ensure business innovation and socio-economic impact. It means development partners and policymakers have to be better at communicating not just the moral imperative of positive change, but also the market incentive which can be understood by the private sector. All this is not just about communicating evidence, but availing appropriate evidence and facilitating its uptake by all actors.
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