Claire Curry is the Global Team Leader for Specific Objective 1 of CABI’s PlantwisePlus programme, focusing on knowledge delivery to agricultural service providers through digital tools. Claire is a member of the Digital Development team and a ‘Digital Ninja’ at CABI.
Claire previously worked as part of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank team, when Plantwise data and content activities were becoming increasingly digital. Claire has also managed several digital development projects, and is looking forward to applying the lessons learned along the way to PlantwisePlus.
PlantwisePlus is building upon the achievements of CABI’s Plantwise and Action on Invasives programmes, along with developing some new approaches, in order to help smallholder farmers to grow safer and higher quality food. One of the components of PlantwisePlus is to enhance knowledge and uptake of safe and sustainable agricultural practices through digital advisory tools. This “Toolkit” will be disseminated to key agricultural service providers, including Plant Doctors.
In order to focus our efforts on addressing the real challenges faced by agricultural advisory services and ensure the best possible impact, we are taking guidance from the Principles for Digital Development. These are a set of 9 principles of digital development best practice, compiled from lessons learned over years of ICT-enabled projects, and in consultation with several key organisations in the field, including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The principles provide guidance on best practice throughout the lifecycle of a digital development project.
Principles of Digital Development
Below are a few of the principles that show how PlantwisePlus is aligned to the Principles of Digital Development:
This is really one of the most important of all of the principles. Someone could develop what they think is the best app in the world, but if it doesn’t fulfil the needs of their target users, it will not achieve the impact they want.
We are therefore eager that the development of digital tools for PlantwisePlus is guided by the needs of agricultural service providers, and we are using an approach called Human Centred Design (HCD) to achieve this. HCD involves communicating with the people that you are designing tools for to find out about their behaviours, challenges, contexts and cultures, and then working with them to generate ideas for relevant solutions to the challenges identified.
This consultative approach continues during the development period, with users providing feedback on wireframes, prototypes and various beta versions throughout a tool’s development. For the PlantwisePlus tools, we have collected data on user needs from agricultural advisors in 15 target countries. These data are now under analysis to identify common challenges among countries and user groups to guide the functionality requirements for the PlantwisePlus Toolkit.
Developing digital solutions for challenges faced in agricultural services is not new. There are hundreds, if not thousands of tools available, in the form of websites, mobile apps, and other technologies.
One of the first activities undertaken by PlantwisePlus was a landscaping analysis of the tools that are already available. Details of hundreds of tools were captured and categorised, and a shortlist of tools from each category were tested for their efficacy, accuracy and usability.
These tools will be assessed for their relevancy to the findings of the user needs assessment discussed above, and considered for inclusion in the toolkit, either as they are or with some enhancements made by PlantwisePlus. In this way, the programme aims to avoid duplicated effort and wasted resources by reusing and improving existing tools.
Another important consideration, and one which is important even at the very early stages of tool design, is sustainability. By thinking about this early on, it is more likely to be engrained in decisions throughout the project lifecycle, and gives the opportunity for an iterative sustainability plan, which is refined as more is known about how the tool is being used.
Each tool in the PlantwisePlus Toolkit, as well as the underlying platform, will have been assessed for the potential associated business models, with the aim to ensure tools are freely available to the target user groups throughout the programme.
PlantwisePlus is a global programme, led by CABI, to increase incomes and grow safer and higher quality food through sustainable approaches to crop production.
Working in close partnership with relevant actors, PlantwisePlus strengthens national plant health systems from within, enabling countries to provide farmers with the knowledge they need to lose less and feed more.
CABI gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS, Netherlands), the European Commission Directorate General for International Partnerships (INTPA, EU), the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), for the PlantwisePlus programme.
To find out about all of the Principles for Digital Development, visit https://digitalprinciples.org/
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