How to let the knowledge management transfer in Europe be more effective? The experience of Chil

How to let the knowledge management transfer in Europe be more effective? The experience of Chil
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Introduction

At request of the Spanish Agriculture Ministry, MAGRAMA, Cátedra Pascual Carrión, a department belonging to the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), has developed the Chil knowledge platform. This is a collaborative Internet portal that integrates a professional network, web hosting capabilities for business and groups, communication/management tools of knowledge and, finally, specialized services in the agricultural, agro-food, rural and environmental sector. The integration of these aspects in a strong professional orientation gives to the product a particular value. Although the original idea is Spanish, its scope is mainly European and beyond, global. This paper summarizes some strategic aspects of this project and the benefits it brings to the public and private sector. 

Knowledge Management in Agriculture

The problem of knowledge management in the agricultural world is a broad subject. In general terms, its importance is larger than in other productive sectors. It is possible to highlight three examples:

  • Difficulties in projecting information in the sector: e.g. in giving diffusion to a technical course, offering a service, promoting a product, etc.
  • Inefficiencies in the knowledge chains that bind producers and consumers of agronomic knowledge and the rural world. This is the case of the mechanisms that convert scientific advances in social and productive innovations.
  • The insufficient data management of agronomic and environmental value that limits many technical and scientific actions: e.g. meteorological data, varieties, etc.

Ultimately, the causes of this situation are the cultural and also the geographical dispersion of the rural environment. Knowledge in a broad economic sector is structured in form of knowledge networks. In agriculture it is possible to identify some of them with ease. Perhaps the most common is the one which links research centers, transfer institutions and farmers. In it, knowledge is generated in the research centers (universities, laboratories), their results are used as a starting point for experimentation and transfer in organisms associated with the agricultural extension and, finally, transferred to the farmer. This scheme becomes more complex if there are other actors involved, as the food industry associated with the activity, regulatory bodies and other institutions.
The reverse path, i.e. the sector helping to define and prioritize agronomic research lines, is also possible, but complex. Common errors in sectoral management of knowledge are, for example:

  • Not to transfer results into a link of the chain or do it using inappropriate means: research that are not known, experimentation badly exposed to the farmers, etc.
  • Avoiding links in the transferring process: e.g. transferring research results directly to the farmers.
  • Isolate links into the chain: Specialized agriculture research institutes without sufficient sectoral links.

Inefficiencies in knowledge management is a structural problem in the agricultural/food world that limits the impact of the r & d results within the sector and often prevents that scientific advances to become social innovations.

The role of Information Technologies. A new scenario.

In recent years, Information Technologies have grown strongly into the sector, after decades with a presence far below other social areas. It is important to highlight the role of the internet and mobile computing in this process and lately the emergence of Web 2.0 tools.
This appears as both an opportunity and a new scenario towards a broad and more comprehensive knowledge management in Agriculture.
In this new situation, the emergence of social/professional networking and Web 2.0 allows distributing the existing knowledge in a social context, giving it visibility and achieving broader circulation than using traditional methods. In addition, collaborative media (blogs, forums) give an appropriate response to the problem of implicit knowledge management (knowledge valuable but not documented), which is not covered in traditional tools.
However, to provide its full potential, these technologies must be adapted to the profile of agricultural users and deal with common functional requirements in this field. This last subject has proved to be complex from the conceptual point of view and is delaying the incorporation of the agri-food world in the 21st century knowledge society.
On this basis, is detected a lack of Web communication tools to support these problems. In fact, the only alternatives are general social networks not well suited for this task, which have the following limitations, among others:

  • Are too general and do not provide the specific tools needed by the agricultural world. In addition, it is difficult to identify among so many people and profiles the actors of the agricultural sector (e.g. Facebook, Google +, etc.)
  • They are built around personal priorities not professional ones. For this reason they often lack specific functionalities for companies and organizations.

This lack is recognized by the own responsible of these networks.

The Chil Platform, a European proposal

The Chil platform strategy (http://www.chil.org) is oriented to go over on these points. Chil is a knowledge web portal specialized in the agricultural, agro-industrial, environmental and rural sector created at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) at requesting of the Ministry of environment and Rural Environment and Marino (MAGRAMA) The portal contains:

  • A professional network and capacities for free Web hosting to businesses, cooperatives, agencies and groups of different type: professional associations, rural development groups, researchers groups of people belonging different institutes, etc.
  • Knowledge management tools: publication of documents, wikis, blogs, forums, news, etc.
  • The agro-food community-oriented services: accommodation, management and promotion of training courses; e-commerce. This Project is being done in close collaboration with the main associations and organism of this sector.

In essence it is a collaborative website platform for knowledge management specialized in the agricultural, agro-food and environmental world.
It should be emphasized the following aspects in the strategy which is been followed:

  • Specialization comes from the professional needs of the type of users whom it is addressed to as priorities, as well as specialized tools incorporated to help entities in the sector to carry out its activity.
  • The cultural scope on which it is focused is predominantly European, conceived in an broad sense (Mediterranean, etc.). One of his specific intentions is to enhance the strong points of the European agro-food sector and its links to the rural world.
  • On this basis, it provides the exchange of ideas, knowledge and products, as well as facilitates the work to the administrations, agricultural unions, cooperatives and local communities, and their integration into broader structures.
  • In this sense, it is allowed that each user can delimit the contents to the geographical areas in which he moves. The system acknowledges the user’s location and can prioritize the knowledge to be shown to him from a geographical point of view, distinguishing three levels: local, national and universal Doing this, it is possible to integrate individuals in macro structures of contents (irrigation, plan protection, etc.) without losing the geographical and cultural reference in which they move usually.
  • Finally, the attitude of the promoters of this platform is to focus in develop and sustain the hardware/software infrastructure to make this possible as well as improve the system by providing new tools to the European agro, agro-food community.

Supporting European values

Chil is designed to highlight and reinforce the values of the European industrial agricultural sector compared to other geographical areas.
Many of these features are included in the module of electronic commerce that is being introduced at this time.
Support to professional activities - One of the main aims of the Chil platform is to support the activity of the great professionals working in the sector. From the Brussels experts, the researchers to the cooperatives technicians, thousands of engineers, economists, farmers and specialists can be helped in their work by Web tools that allow them to discover, coordinate and work together despite the distance and cultural differences.

Personality vs. Anonymity 

Companies included in Chil can display their own visual identity, explaining who they are, where they are located, their personality, etc. The users and consumers can thus know who is behind the products and the environment in what they are done: Rural areas, tradition, other products, etc.

Value chain vs. commodities 

The way in which Chil displays information about persons, products and industry enhances the value chains, opposed to the vision of agricultural products as commodities.

Coordination, regulations, policies 

A very important part of the European knowledge management is to inform about CAP legislation, national rules, etc. which rules the agricultural production.

Integration of agencies with the productive sector

The links between public institutions and the productive processes are highlighted: regulations, promotion, and inspection, R&d calls for proposals. The agencies can contact and be contacted directly using the platform and create virtual collaborative events to communicate activities, look for partners, etc.

Enhance quality, tradition, traceability

The system allows detailing the description of business and their products with documents and testimony about their quality, their historical profile, security and traceability.

Emphasize the rural world associated with European agriculture

Linked into the platform are products, territory, people, partnerships, projects, etc. so users can view the social system integrated with the food they consume. Farmers, agro industries, rural area, etc.

Strengthen European cooperation

Automatic translation and a complex tag system will allow the agents of the agricultural and rural world communicate, coordinate, find partners and work together on common projects helping to overcome cultural and geographical boundaries.

Summary of Chil facts

As summary, we can highlights the following numbers in March, 2012:

  • Date of birth: 1/6/2011
  • Number of users 1743
  • Number of companies and groups hosted 531
  • Number of documents stored 2350
  • Number of blogs 54
  • Number of events 312
  • Blog entries 330

In this moment, the number of users doubles each 2 months. The same can be said for the companies and groups hosted. The knowledge (documents, blogs, etc) follows a linear growing rate.

Conclusion

The Chil platform it is a new technical proposal specifically designed to improve the knowledge management in the European agricultural sector. It is online from 6 months ago and it is receiving a big response in Spain, Portugal and France. The platform is being improved over a continuous development basis and being extended to other countries through collaboration with important European entities.

References

  • Engel P.G.H., (2007), Knowledge management in agriculture: Building upon diversity, Knowledge, Technology & Policy. Springer-Verlag Volume 3, Number 3, pp. 28-35, 2007. DOI: 10.1007/BF02824947

  • Shu-hsien Liao, (2003), Knowledge management technologies and applications. Literature review from 1995 to 2002. Expert Systems with Applications, n. 25 (2003), pp. 155–164

  • Kamarudin Saadan (2001), Conceptual Framework for the Development of Knowledge Management System in Agricultural Research and Development. Asia Pacific Advanced Network Conference, 2001

  • Rafea Ahmed (2009), Managing agriculture knowledge: role of information and communication technology, FAO Science Forum 2009 Workshop

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