Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Could online knowledge resources be made to work more effectively for land-based professionals?

 Asks Charles Leventon who manages the Harper Adams Openfields initiative

At the recent AgriFood Charities Partnership Fourth Annual Forum held at the Farmers Club, Lord Curry of Kirkharle , who is a Patron of the Partnership, spoke of the various challenges facing the industry and urged the sector to share knowledge and work together to address these.  While acknowledging initiatives such as the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming and OpenFields, as well as Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Lord Curry made the point that the large number of projects concerned with the delivery of knowledge to land-based practitioners presents a confusing picture.
I would agree that the multiplicity of knowledge sources across the many disciplines of the land-based sector present a complicated, fractured and, what is probably, an incomplete picture for the end users – farmers, land managers, advisors and their networks.  The large number of organisations involved (both as knowledge developers and knowledge disseminators) across so many disciplines means there is a vast amount that is of potential use – but it is difficult to gain an adequate picture of where the useful knowledge resides, despite the power of Google and other internet search engines.
Of course, access to online resources is not the ‘silver bullet’ solution for knowledge exchange across the sector – but well organised and readily accessible information online can enable more effective learning through both formal and informal best practice networks.  Whilst working on the development of OpenFields as an open-access library for the industry, the team at Harper Adams University has encountered the wide variety of approaches to providing online access to knowledge resources:
·         Many single organisation sources and some aggregated collections
·         Use of links vs offering direct downloads
·         Free to access or ‘members only’ or ‘pay to view’
·         Different levels of detail in describing or organising (cataloguing) items for search or browse
·         Much variation in approach to copyright and re-use licensing
A few examples to illustrate the variations are provided among the links at the foot of this blog.
This leads me to pose the question how can we best or better organise knowledge materials online: a) to help users access them more readily and b) provide a reasonably comprehensive picture of where the most useful knowledge is being developed?
Two suggestions for more effective knowledge sharing
1.    Make sure there is a copy of everything deposited in one place Let’s all start to put a copy of each newly produced knowledge transfer/exchange items (in digital format – text, audio or video) in a single cooperative ‘space’ where it can be readily accessed, would probably be more findable by search engines and could be consulted in the context of other materials.  Authors may be reluctant to do this if they think it detracts from their organisation specific web site.  However, I would argue that it is better to be seen as being part of the bigger picture – the result may be that users become more aware of your organisation’s capabilities.  Furthermore, I would suggest that the existence of a high profile main aggregator will encourage the knowledge developers to translate and more rapidly disseminate the products of research into practitioner friendly materials.
2.    Enable re-use and onward publication While we might debate whether and how the sector would implement such a cooperative effort, we could take immediate steps to make our knowledge materials more transferable – i.e. by making clear how they may be used, repurposed or republished.  Too often the authors and publishers of helpful, best practice guidance remain silent regarding copyright and licensing or a conservative option is adopted, simply stating copyright ownership.  Unless the intellectual property has a commercial value by virtue of its innovation, I am presuming that those of us in the business of knowledge transfer for the benefit of the economy would want their materials to be as used as widely possible.  We need, therefore, to be explicit about any controls we see as being appropriate.
It can be straightforward to create a simple licence statement to attach to a given item.  Here are a couple of examples:
1.    RuSource Briefings: “© Alan Spedding 2013. This briefing may be reproduced or transmitted in its entirety free of charge. Where extracts are used, their source must be acknowledged. RuSource briefings may not be reproduced in any publication or offered for sale without the prior permission of the copyright holder.”
2.    Harper Adams Technical Notes:  “You may copy this work provided that this copyright notice is displayed, you do not alter, transform or build on the work, you do not charge others to access or copy the work and you make clear to others that this notice applies to them if they use or share this work.”
Creative Commons offers copyright licence numerous models that are free to adopt.  Alternatively these models can be useful to illustrate what you intend when working with your organisation’s legal adviser.
Whether we consider our knowledge transfer network to be local or transnational we can all benefit if we give more thought to how we use the internet - making it easier to share knowledge.
The views and opinions expressed in this item are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Harper Adams University or OpenFields or those of organisations with materials held in OpenFields.

A few examples of different approaches:
AdLib http://www.adlib.ac.uk/adlib/ a resource that includes Government codes of practice, industry guidelines, legislation summaries – free to browse with subscription to access various collections
Animal - The International Journal of Animal Biosciences  http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=ANM  a typical academic journal web site offering abstracts and subscription for full papers
Animal Bytes http://www.bsas.org.uk/animal_bytes/  articles and presentations from BSAS presented in a simpler, more readable version aimed at farmers, technical advisors, policy-makers and members of the public.  Free, open access but republication restricted.
an example of a collaborative project - aimed at enterprises in Wales but worthy of wider exposure
CEUKF http://www.ceukf.org/knowledge-hub/  Centre of Excellence for UK Farming – Knowledge Hub
Defra Science and Research Projects Database http://randd.defra.gov.uk/  access to Defra’s considerable number of commissioned science and research reports
EBLEX http://www.eblex.org.uk/publications/research.aspx beef and lamb research publications - see also other AHDB Sector Divisions’ respective web sites for similar repositories of research information and technical guidance
Farm Efficiency Hub ubHubhttp://www.adlib.ac.uk/ghg/home.eb  a prototype service with resources collected by industry for industry to facilitate access, management and improved consistency in farm advice to support the Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GHGAP)
Land Life Leisure   http://edina.ac.uk/landlifeleisure/ Weekly digest of press releases, reports and articles – on subscription
Livestock NorthWest http://livestocknw.co.uk/  a four year project offering a “gateway to information, advice and support for livestock farmers looking to improve performance in England's North West”
OpenFields  http://www.openfields.org.uk/  a free to access library for the land-based sector containing collections from many organisations and incorporating Harper Adams University repository
Reading University http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/view/divisions/4=5Fq2010a2d.html   example of a university repository of academic and research papers (School of Agriculture, Policy & Development / Economic and Social Sciences Division / Farm Management Unit)
Relu Policy & Practice Notes http://www.relu.ac.uk/news/policyandpracticenotes.htm  also accessible via OpenFields
RuSource Briefings http://www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk/publications-and-resources/rusource  “a free rural information service for anyone working in the countryside or with rural people, and those supporting rural life” with full searchable catalogue also available on OpenFields
SRUC            http://www.sruc.ac.uk/downloads  a variety of documents including research notes and case studies but no information on licensing for republication

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