Using communication to strengthen research
Written by Linda Nordling
RUFORUM was featured among three organizations whose stories are meant to inspire institutions that would like to innovate their communication strategies. Institutions that want to showcase their research impacts and attract investors to their work. The stories were collected and written by Linda Nordling (freelance journalist, based in South Africa). You can download the full story by clicking here.
“Over the next few years, RUFORUM plans to further develop its brand and position the website as a ‘first stop shop’ for anyone looking for African generated agricultural educational and research resources” – Ms. Nodumo Dhlamini- RUFORUM ICT Manage
Using ICTs to boost research collaboration and teaching/outreach: When the African agricultural training and research network RUFORUM was formed about ten years ago, the continent’s universities didn’t have good ICT systems, and bandwidth and IT skills were scarce. This has changed over the past decade, and the consortium of 42 universities in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa has capitalised on these developments to build its network and help members share knowledge, practice and disseminate their research more widely. RUFORUM embarked on a programme of ICT reform in 2008 to make sure the network made use of emerging opportunities in technology and social media software. It’s been a learning curve, but the end result shows how modern technology can be used to simplify and effectivise communication in a geographically spread-out research network.
RUFORUM received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008 for a programme to harness ICT for the improved performance of its secretariat and network. It started with a benchmarking exercise to find out how ICTs were used throughout the network. The survey showed that RUFORUM members did appreciate the importance of ICTs, and many had ICT policies, ICT units and local area network infrastructure. The challenge for RUFORUM was to leverage this capacity. The RUFORUM secretariat took the view that enabling information sharing between members was the single most important thing it could accomplish with its ICT drive.
In 2009 it launched a new website http://www.ruforum.org. This information-sharing community aspect of the website was devised to keep the network connected and create a sense of belonging. The website integrates user-friendly Web 2.0 tools such as twitter, facebook, RSS feeds, blogs, linkedin and youtube. There were challenges associated with getting senior university leaders to appreciate the need for institutional change, and support it. RUFORUM’s communications team had to work hard to persuade and create awareness of the benefits of working with ICTs. The network now also funds Web 2.0 training for its grantees. RUFORUM’s goal is to use its website to showcase the achievements of higher education in agriculture in Africa.
In September 2013 RUFORUM launched an institutional repository (http://repository.ruforum.org/) to collect the research output of the network and to enhance the visibility of African research in the agricultural sciences. All resources in the repository are freely available and can be accessed by researchers, lecturers, students, farmers, policymakers and other stakeholders worldwide. RUFORUM is now planning further innovations on its website, including using the site as a gateway to African commodity exchanges, agricultural journals, relevant donors and African research institutions. Read more by clicking here.