The innovative use of technology – The case of Digital Green

Digital Green (DG) is a technology-based non-profit development organization, grounding its interventions on two main premises: 1- the outreach limitation of the formal channels of the agricultural extension programs aiming at promoting effective farming practices; and 2- farmers’ reliance on informal channels of knowledge-sharing (peers-to-peers) within their communities (SPRING Digital Green Webinar, 2013, p.5). DG seeks to enhance these informal channels of Behaviour-Change-Communication through the use of digital technologies, and to influence the extension services to become more effective and efficient with their work.

Retrieved from digitalgreen.org
Retrieved October 20, 2016, from digitalgreen.org

DG with its customized hardware and software technology platform facilitates the production of participatory localized videos that feature local farmers addressing –in their own language- topics and problems that concern them and their fellow farmers. These ‘homemade’ videos are disseminated to reach as many farmers as possible. The screening sessions are mediated by a local ‘’facilitator’’ who gives instructions, and motivates farmers to discuss the practice shown in the video and give their feedback. So ‘’the emphasis [with this activity] is on information exchange rather than on persuasion’’ (Servaes,1999, cited by Denskus & Esser, 2015, p.168).

Retrieved from digitalgreen.org
Retrieved October 20, 2016,  from digitalgreen.org

DG has a data-management system COCO[1] onto which all the data aggregated by the facilitators is uploaded. This system is accessible across all modern browsers and customized to operate ‘offline’ in regions with limited/intermittent Internet and electrical grid connectivity. DG tracks this uploaded data which includes farmers’ feedback to inform the production of their upcoming videos (Harwin & Gandhi, n.d.)

All the videos produced are added on COCO database, as well as YouTube and DG website to be accessible at anytime by whomever with a connection to the Internet. Extension workers in particular can utilize this repository of videos by disseminating them further in the same or nearby villages. This can help complementing their work and increasing its efficiency and effectiveness. They can even replicate DG’s approach by considering locals’ feedback to produce new videos.

DG adopts ‘Behaviour-Change-Communication’-(BCC) thread where it works interactively -with the support of technology- on developing messages to promote and sustain positive and proper behaviours (McCall et al., 2011, p.7). Technology is used by the organization as a tool to support greater participation and increased ownership among farmers, with a focus on improving their agricultural practices. This is aligned with ICT4D’s key assumption that ‘’ICTs can empower people in developing countries by amplifying their voices and strengthening their participation in decision-making processes’’ (Ferguson et al., 2010; Hickey & Mohan, 2004; Walsham, Robey & Sahay, 2007; Zuckerman, 2010, cited by Ferguson, Soekijad, Huysman & Vaast, 2013, p.307).

Farmerbook

Retrieved from digitalgreen.org
Retrieved October 20, 2016, from digitalgreen.org

DG staff’s attention was caught by the same questions repeated every time a video was screened for farmers ‘who is the farmer in the video?’ and ‘where is she from?’. This encouraged them to set an online social networking platform ‘Farmerbook’ to connect farmers together and help them share knowledge. Each farmer can create her own account on ‘Farmerbook’ and update news about her work life, new projects and latest achievements. On this platform, more than two hundred-thousand farmers across six Indian states are connected to exchange knowledge and promote innovations. Most of the publications on ‘Farmerbook’ are the short videos locally produced in partnership with DG, showing the adoption of effective farming practices in the field, to be shared with other farmers. Until August 2013, this platform had 2,600 videos in 20 languages and were viewed a total of 7,000 times online (Doshi, 2013). ‘Farmerbook’, as a networking platform, may enhance the ‘BCC’ thread adopted by the organization; it gives a space for individuals connected to the platform to influence and be influenced by others resulting in individual behavior transformation.

The technological development has the potential to improve how aid is produced and practiced. In this case, it could facilitate the use of this networking platform in a wider and more interactive way to improve, for example, marginalized farmers’ access to market and services, reduce production costs etc. by engaging multiple actors of the value chain of whatever they produce or consume (e.g. urban vendors, consumers, inputs suppliers). The possibility of doing so returns to the fact that the Internet -as a form of technological development- supports diverse networks of communication and information access (Dutton & Graham, 2014). ‘’This is one idea behind the concept of a network society being ushered in by the digital age’’ (Castells,1996, cited by Dutton & Graham, 2014, p.11).

[1] Connect Online Connect Offline

2 Comments

  1. Emma Söderström

    Very interesting indeed! I wonder how DG envision Farmerbook being used independently from DG, for example if DG’s funding is redirected or stopped. It’s a big responsibility launching such a platform and ensuring for it to be long-term. Do you know Sisil?

    1. Sisil Benjaro

      I think there is no definite answer to this question, however according to Castells networks, defined as ”sets of interconnected nodes [….] process[ing] financial and other value flows with the help of new technologies [….] are self-configurable, [….] [t]hey have the capability of self-renewal in the sense that they may introduce new actors and content as conditions change’’ (Castells, 1996; cf. Tampere, 2011, cited by Anttiroiko, 2015, p.9).

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