New tools, platforms, and activities were among the topics of discussion at a recent gathering of ASTI’s national focal points from Africa and South Asia.
The review and strategizing workshop—which followed the completion of data collection rounds in the two regions, and marked the mid-way point of a 4-year phase funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—took place November 21-22 in lush garden surroundings near Uganda’s Lake Victoria.
With attendees from anglophone and francophone African countries, as well as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, the event marked the first time ASTI has joined national focal points from several regions, speaking several languages. The result was two days of lively discussion and cross-country learning and networking—with some fun social time as well.
As new survey rounds are set to begin in 2017, the ASTI/IFPRI team took the opportunity to gather feedback on a number of new developments, including an online method of collecting data, online access to agency-level data, and new methodologies for analyzing a country’s investment in agricultural research (the “ASTI intensity index”) and the health of its agricultural research system.
The team also announced the launch of a new activity, the ASTI Country-level Impact Project, which will examine how ASTI data is being used to inform national agricultural research policy, and how these efforts can be enhanced. This groundbreaking, two-year project will develop and test impact strategies in three pilot countries—Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania—with the aim to create an adaptable framework for the other countries where ASTI works.
One of the most exciting new developments is ASTI Connect, an online platform specifically designed for country focal points. The platform includes a tool to analyze detailed data from national research agencies, a new online survey manager to help focal points more easily upload completed survey forms, and a library of training and capacity building resources.
Most innovative is the platform’s “community” section: a kind of Facebook for ASTI focal points. Here collaborators from IFPRI and partner countries can post questions, comments, event announcements, and impact stories—and any platform member can respond.
The workshop was also a chance for ASTI collaborators to listen to each other, and many participants shared stories of how the data has made a difference in their country.
For example, in Ethiopia, ASTI data helped influence decisions to upgrade researchers to the PhD level, increase the national budget for research, and more than double salary and benefits for agricultural researchers. In Burundi, ASTI data led the national agricultural research institute to create a staff training plan, and currently three of its researchers are pursuing PhD degrees. And in Kenya and Swaziland, ASTI data has contributed to the reform and restructuring of the national agricultural research systems.
Participants shared these and other experiences both in workshop discussions and at a lively poolside reception—and promised to continue the conversation online, saying “see you on ASTI Connect!”