Time has become a scarce resource and make daily use of the internet, social media, e-mail, mobile services and information alerts – and the rise of big data is putting further pressure on our ability to consume such large amounts of explicit knowledge. Indeed, the amount of explicit knowledge available on the web related to agriculture alone is too overwhelming for anyone single person to process.
There has been a recent move in ICT4Ag circles to focus not only on capturing explicit content in databases but also capturing tacit knowledge – ‘brain knowledge’ that is more difficult to transfer because of its captivity inside humans and the complexity for skills, such as playing the violin, flying an aeroplane or growing crops. Sharing this knowledge in a ‘community of practice’ creates more opportunities to collaborate and generate
Semantic web tools
Imagine using a regular search engine to look for the Spanish word ‘papa’. The results would be dizzying and cover at least three different connotations of the word: potato, father and pope. This is a typical example of the limitations of searching through non-structured data. Open-source semantic web tools such as VIVO – which links information that can be easily read by machines – overcome this limitation, however.
VIVO was developed by Cornell University in 2004. It can be downloaded for free and allows organisations and their professionals to populate it with research and other information. VIVO’s potential as a useful tool for the agricultural sector was first discussed during a 2009 meeting of the Agriculture Network Information Center, a voluntary alliance of US universities, the US Department of Agriculture and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. Soon after, VIVO appeared with increasing frequency on the web and has improved over time – so much so that international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and others started piloting the tool for use in the agricultural sector.
VIVO is essentially a simple directory of individuals, but its machine readable technologies give it numerous advantages. Its semantically structured data facilitates research discovery. The visualisation of linked data shows networks and maps. And it is 100% interoperable and Open Archives Initiative-compliant.
Implementing VIVO in developing countries may face familiar obstacles to those encountered in information management and knowledge in agriculture: first, information is a low priority compared to other more urgent needs. Second, the interoperability between databases or information services (unstructured data) is poor. Third, there is a lack of data about human resources and inexperience with semantic tools. And finally, the IT infrastructure in public agricultural institutions is in most cases inadequate.
A tool for all
To meet these challenges and discuss how to upscale VIVO and other pilot initiatives, representatives from FAO, GFAR, Cornell University, CTA and IICA met in 2014. The discussion led to the creation of what is expected to become the largest discovery tool of tacit knowledge for agriculture in the world: Agriprofiles. This initiative, and the future pathways to implement it, take into account developing world realities and identify at least three kinds of potential users.
First, organisations with a well-developed infrastructure, robust IT services, and hardware and human resources systems that work in a similar way to VIVO. In these cases, the intention is to have export protocols that will allow data to be shared from any system to Agriprofiles.
Second, organisations with a semi-developed infrastructure, some IT services, and hardware that is limited to already existing services, human resource databases, directories and spreadsheets. The goal with such organisations is to export the data into a VIVO system of their own (local or in the cloud), for example, to allow information to be shared with Agriprofiles.
Third, organisations without a developed infrastructure. These lack updated servers and IT resources to maintain a semantic web tool, and do not have a human resources database or automated service to present their human capital capabilities. In these cases, Agriprofiles would open up a private space in the cloud for each organisation so they can manage their professionals, link them up at the national or regional levels and have them appear on Agriprofiles.
The main idea is to collect and generate tacit information from as many agricultural professionals as possible. Professionals will be able to update their profiles, just as easily as any individual can do on LinkedIn or Facebook. And users can generate visual maps and networks of the information submitted by these professionals.
Agriprofiles is an exciting development in information and knowledge management in the agricultural sector. It gives organisations that produce knowledge a better opportunity to work together and follow common procedures that will allow search engines and discovery tools to reuse and link information more effectively. It will make it easier to know who is doing what in order to avoid duplicity and collaborate towards similar goals. And finally it will enable agricultural policy makers to see what their countries know and who manages this knowledge, and strengthen their commitment to sharing knowledge more openly. ◀
Federico Sancho (Federico.firstname.lastname@example.org) is head of the Inter-American Information and Editorial Production Center for Agriculture (CIIPE) at IICA, Costa Rica.
VIVO ➜ www.agrivivo.net
Agriculture Network Information Center ➜ www.agnic.org
Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture ➜ www.iica.int