What is ARD?
The essence of ARD
ICRA uses “ARD” as shorthand for “agricultural research for development”. However, as we have developed the concept, some of us began to think of it as “action research for development”, whereas yet others preferred to talk of “rural innovation”. Whatever the terminology, we all agreed that we were discussing a similar concept, which we continue to call “ARD” for convenience.
At the heart of our shared concept is the belief that development challenges in rural areas are increasingly complex, and cannot be resolved by individuals or institutions acting alone. The challenges are complex because different stakeholders have different ideas about what is desirable. They are complex because even when the development “objective” is agreed between stakeholders, achieving this objective usually requires integrated actions to improve institutions and policies as well as technologies involved in production and marketing. They are complex because these integrated changes require collective action – and working together is never easy.
It is not easy to formulate a short and simple definition that adequately summarises all these ideas. For the moment, we can say that ARD is about participatory processes that result in collective action at different levels to achieve rural development.
As the concept of ARD continues to evolve, and as our partners and we gain more experience, we can identify a number of elements that we believe characterise ARD:
- The inherent complexity of the issues addressed. These cut across sectors, as issues and solutions are interrelated with many factors outside the traditional field of agricultural research per se. Often the very nature of the problem or opportunity (“development challenge”) is not initially clear or is perceived differently by different stakeholders (actors, institutions, beneficiaries, interest groups, etc).
- The active involvement of a broad range of different stakeholders in collective innovation systems: jointly learning, defining development needs and opportunities, and generating the knowledge and research products required to realise these opportunities. Such an involvement requires the establishment of functional partnerships and teamwork. It may also require measures to empower the less influential stakeholders, or facilitate negotiation between them.
- The integration of different disciplinary perspectives and analysis/action at different organizational levels (enterprise, farm, community, district, nation, etc.). Such integration commonly involves using systems concepts to explore interrelationships between different components of the systems studied, between the different levels, between these systems and their changing environments (as influenced by policy and markets).
- The integration of technological, institutional and policy options to support broad development strategies. Given the constancy of change, these strategies need to be robust enough to perform well under different scenarios concerning future environmental, social, institutional, policy and commercial conditions.
- The evaluation of (potential) outcomes based on a broad range of criteria that go beyond simple increases in productivity. These criteria can include the effects on the magnitude, stability and sustainability of natural, physical, human, social and financial capital.
To better understand the concept, it is also useful to say what ARD is not.
ARD is not just a matter of questioning farmers or beneficiaries to see what they regard as constraints or needs. It is not a stepwise set of guidelines that can be followed in all circumstances. Neither is it just a question of gaining knowledge of the underlying concepts or even skills in suitable research methods. Rather, it requires a change in mentality: a different way of looking at the world; of thinking and analyzing; of interacting with others.
These “paradigm shifts” include:
New ways of thinking – new attitudes - are not easy. They involve questioning assumptions that have underpinned one’s actions or career to date. They require some uncomfortable confrontation: both with self and with others. They involve a change from working individually to working with others, in ever-changing ad-hoc teams. The shift from teaching to learning is especially difficult to make – it cannot be achieved by the same methods that instilled the current paradigms, and which are still the basis for much professional development at universities, and for the organization and management of our professional institutions.
- A shift from knowledge generation alone as a final objective to a means to achieve change; from “research” to “action research”; from a focus on technology to a focus on people.
- A shift from mainly reductionist analysis (understanding the parts) to systemic analysis (understanding the relationships between the parts).
- A shift from mainly “hard systems analysis” (improving the efficiency of the system) to also “soft systems analysis” (determining the nature of the “system” and desirable outcomes).
- A shift from thinking of participation as a question of “consulting beneficiaries” to one of “facilitating stakeholders” where interaction between the range of actors and interest groups results in joint analysis, planning, and hence collective action.
- A shift from teaching to learning; from being taught to learning how to learn; from individual learning to social learning.
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