Managed by Faruk ul Islam and based in Dhaka, the Bangladesh team work closely with the Practical Action staff delivering programmes on the ground. Our main initiatives are:
Practical Answers office in Delhi is our newest office and opened in 2014. We have two major focuses to our work:
Practical Action’s East Africa Office is based in Nairobi, Kenya. Our knowledge work there has been long respected ever since we established our resource centre more than 20 years ago. Over the years we have tried many innovative approaches to knowledge sharing in Kenya and beyond, including the following:
Kenya National Library Service: A key partnership is with the Kenya National Library Service. We worked with them originally in Mandera and more latterly in the creation of a brand new community library in the Kibera informal settlement, on the fringes on Nairobi. This last initiative was funded by the Alistair Berkley Trust. It is a very interesting pilot to look at how knowledge needs in an urban area may vary significantly from those in rural areas.
Arid Lands Information Network: Another key partner is the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN). ALIN run knowledge resource centres (Maarifa Centres) across East Africa, and Practical Answers have been very pleased to share our knowledge materials with their centres and beneficiaries in recent years.
In Nepal, Practical Answers works very closely with a partner called READ Global. READ have funded the creation of more than 60 community learning and resource centres. Each centre is self-sustaining and has a local management committee.
Over the last four years Practical Action has placed a knowledge broker into about 20 of these centres.The knowledge brokers provide an outreach service – going out from the libraries to some of the poorest and least well connected communities. Once there, they facilitate open discussions around the daily challenges that people face.
Enquiries are gathered in these discussions, and where they cannot be answered immediately they are taken back to the local knowledge centre. Here a pool of experts can be called upon, or the matter can be referred to Kathmandu, where a local radio station can also source national experts. The answers are taken back to the communities within weeks – either at the next meeting, or through a voice recording from the radio station. In the financial year 2013-14 a staggering 40,000 enquiries were handled in this way by our team in Nepal
We carefully monitor all the questions being asked – looking for trends. When we identify the most frequently asked questions we produce “a knowledge object” – sometimes a document, sometimes a wall poster or even a billboard, which addresses people’s knowledge needs.
Additionally, the Resource Centres and Knowledge Brokers organise what they call “camps” which encourage people to come to the centre on a specific day for a discussion around issues such as animal health, human health or agriculture.
Latin America (known locally as Soluciones Practicas), has a long and proud history of sharing knowledge and publications with others working in development. The team are based in both Lima (Peru) and La Paz (Bolivia).
In addition to their corporateSpanish language website, they have a number ofspecialist websites. In total the series of websites collectively deliver around 1.5 million downloads per year:
As well as running websites and producing publications, the Practical Answers team in Peru also work with a network of rural promoters. These are self employed extension workers who visit remote communities, supporting farmers to improve practice and secure a better livelihood.
Managed by Mary Allen and based in Dakar, Senegal, this is the newest of our offices. We opened in 2014 and we are still building partnerships and a portfolio of work, together with our sister organisation Practical Action Consulting. The focus of our work is on energy access and knowledge systems related to agriculture. We are focusing on francophone West Africa – some of the poorest countries in the world.
Mary has a background in working with mobile telephony and voice based knowledge sharing with rural communities in Mali.
Until 2014 Practical Action ran its own country office in Colombo. As we have stopped taking on new work in Sri Lanka we have slowly handed it over to a local NGO – Janathakshan. This NGO is now running its own Practical Answers service where people can ask technical enquiries and get advice on the use of appropriate technologies. The service still handles thousands of enquiries, many of which come over its facebook page, and a website is maintained which holds materials in Tamil and Sinhala.
Janathaskhan have inherited many of the partnerships that began with Practical Action. These include the Government sponsored Vidatha Resource Centres, the Chambers of Commerce and the Business Development Centre. Janathakshan also offer consultancy services and a service to help find builders or people who can implement the technologies which are promoted.
There can be fewer environments in the world which are as harsh as Sudan and where it is as difficult to share knowledge. But equally there are few environments where there is a greater need.
Women’s Development Associations: Amongst the approaches to knowledge sharing that we have pursued in Sudan is working with the women’s development associations in the Kassala Region. These groups have been particularly targeted because they are seen as very influential in the local community and economy. We have been pleased to supply them with a large range of technical information and backstop a technical enquiries service.
Integrated Water Resource Management Programme: In Darfur, Practical Action is currently working on a ground breaking Integrated Water Resource Management Programme. This seeks to look at all the uses of water in a particular watershed, and bring together the different people who have an interest so as to jointly plan how this scarce resource can be used most effectively. The lessons of the programme are being actively shared with actors in other watersheds, where we think the experience can be replicated. This project started in July 2014 so more information will follow.
Community based radio: In the Blue Nile province, Practical Answers is making use of community based radio to share information about practices that can be of benefit to rural communities.
Based in Harare, Zimbabwe, our work reaches many corners of Southern Africa, delivering programmes on rural livelihoods.
Podcasting: Most innovative of our work has been the use of podcasting, or digital extension. We work in partnership with Agritex, the government agency responsible for promoting agricultural practices. This government service is widely recognised to be under resourced and not able to meet the demands of poorer farmers in poorer communities. Thus, Practical Answers has introduced podcasting as a way of enhancing the reach of the official extension service. The Ministry of Agriculture staff record extension messages as MP3 files in local languages and dialects. These are be taken to the field by knowledge brokers who play them to the community and lead a relevant discussion. More enquiries can be captured and taken back to Ministry experts for answering. The MP3 players can be left in the community so that people can listen to the advice over and over again. Learn first hand about the positive impact it's having on local farmers here.
This podcasting approach has been singled out by the The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) as one of the Top 20 recent innovations to assist small holder farmers. As well as additional funding, this development means that our podcasting work in Zimbabwe will be documented for wider sharing in the 79 African Caribbean and Pacific countries that CTA works in.
Practical Action is now using the podcasting methodology, not only in our agricultural work – but also in our work on water and sanitation, and wider food security. Our vision is to create a regional wide repository of useful, local language voice files which other development practitioners can tap into, search and distribute to their communities. Most recently we have also been looking to create an application that will work offline on a mobile phone or tablet, so people can take all the voice and video recordings that we have out into the field.
The Matopo Research Agency: Practical Answers has one of its closest relationships to a research body, The Matopo Research Agency, based in Zimbabwe. They produce ground breaking academic research which could really benefit farmers. But many of the documents produced are inaccessible. Practical Action is working to repurpose some of these materials, turning them into videos or voice recordings, that can be more effectively shared with farmers.