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Collective Experimentation: Lessons from the Field

By M. Misiko


The purpose of this paper is to document smallholder experiences during a participatory experimental initiative and draw useful lessons for field practitioners. The main methods used to collect data were participant observation, in-depth interviews among 40 farmers, and analyses of notes taken during participatory monitoring and evaluation. These farmers were regular participants in four collective trials—designed by scientists, managed by smallholders—that were run for over five years in western Kenya. This paper shows that scientific trial designs enhanced 'conviction' among smallholders in new technologies that were being experimented. The study further reveals that (1) collective trials must last long enough for interactive learning to effectively occur, (2) farmers' selected aspects of experiments and did not generally treat the whole trial as one concept, (3) field trials were forms of evidence of research or project activity, and (4) trials were seen as like 'churches' and multipurpose congregating sites, especially because these collective experiments had roots in local traditions. The practical implication is that because interactive trials are social events, like other learning platforms, they must be appropriately situated within local contexts to enhance their relevance. This paper also shows that experiments are only a first step in learning, which needs to be supported by in-depth research and support for smallholder experiments. Collaborative experimentation is an effective tool for improving smallholder knowledge. Experimentation is a hands-on tool; it strengthens interactive learning, enhances understanding of a concept and improves ownership of the process or research among farmers. However, longer-term collective experiments develop a strong underlying human dimension. Understanding the social dynamics that influence the value of collective experimentation is critical for the process of scaling ou

Topics: Leerstoelgroep Technologie en agrarische ontwikkeling, Technology and Agrarian Development, CERES, CERES
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1080/13892240903309660
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Wageningen Yield
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