If you take a look at a Plantwise pest management decision guide (PMDG) on the Knowledge Bank, it probably won’t look much different to how it looked before. However, under the covers, this PDF has been created in a completely different way to before. This is because we are now storing each part of the PMDG factsheet in a database. This approach to storing content, previously implemented for Plantwise’s Factsheets for Farmers, is being extended for our other content types with the PMDGs being the latest significant addition. It has exciting implications for how pest management advice can be disseminated. Now we are not just limited to what can be provided on paper – the factsheets can be used in web or mobile applications (such as the Plantwise factsheets app), and could be mashed up with other content or data to add further value to the information.
Traditionally, in-country experts who compile Plantwise extension materials have created this information in Word templates. The Word templates were then converted into PDFs so that the factsheets could be accessed and downloaded from the Knowledge Bank and printed for distribution. This is fine for static content but what if a pesticide is no longer recommended for treating a pest problem? How can we easily update it? And what do we do if we want to provide this content in different formats?
By storing all of the parts of a PMDG in a database rather than a Word file, we can use these parts in different ways. Now we can show a PDF version of the PMDG on the Knowledge Bank website, which can be downloaded and printed, and the same content in the Plantwise factsheets app on a mobile device. In future it will also be available in HTML, making it more retrievable in web searches. If we or our in-country partners want to update a PMDG with new advice, we can just change it in the database and the information on the PDF and in the app will change, helping farmers and extension workers to receive consistent, up to date advice. If we have a new, better image of a pest, this can easily be replaced, no matter in which format it is being presented.
An additional bonus is that now authors and editors who are writing PMDGs don’t have to spend time trying to format Word documents so that they look good, because they will be automatically presented in a shape and style that fits the content and display format when they are exported from the database. Instead, the authors now just need to focus on writing the information into an Excel template – one piece of information per cell – and let the technology do the rest.
The possibilities for how pest management advice can be disseminated are now much greater than when the factsheets were stored in a less manipulable format. Because the text is broken up into bitesized chunks, relevant parts can easily be selected for short messages and sent, for example, by SMS. There are also opportunities for providing this content through open data APIs so that other organisations could use it in their own applications.