Learnings & Challenges
Learnings & Challenges
Partnership remains fundamental to Digital Green's approach which builds upon our collaborators'
(1) locally relevant domain expertise, (2) established extension operations, and (3) community-level trust networks. A rigorous request for applications and due diligence processed enabled us to identify our current partners. We continue to build on these collaborations over time. This has included mechanisms to strengthen the operational and financial management of these partnerships as well as the sharing of learnings, challenges, and content across partners at state-, regional-, and national-levels.
Many of our partners, for example, work in proximate locations to one another and these processes have proven worthwhile to clarify and resolve issues in a collaborative manner as well as to explore institutional synergies that might extend beyond the immediate project. Further, we purposefully selected a variety of partners with differing expertise and scale to facilitate a richer exchange. We are expanding the type of partners that we work with through collaborations with private agribusiness (Godrej Agrovet), government (Government of India's Ministry of Rural Development), and agricultural research organizations (International Rice Research Institute). We are keen to explore opportunities to converge these partnerships in focused geographies to use our entry point of extension to link aspects across the value chain (e.g., inputs, production, aggregation, market linkages, government schemes) to improve the socioeconomic well being of farming communities in a sustainable manner. To do so, we plan to partner with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the second phase of the Cereal System Initiative South Asia (CSISA) as well as a possible project on improving rice-based rain fed agricultural systems in Bihar, India that would build upon the work of the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project with a focus on agronomy and agricultural extension.
The Digital Green system has been used to disseminate information on a wide variety of agricultural technologies - new varieties and classes of crops, better methods of seed planting, irrigation, soil and pest management and composting. Some of these technologies are quick and easy to implement, while others require substantial effort and inputs over time. We thus expect to identify the efficacy of Digital Green for a range of technologies. We are working with researchers from Innovations for Poverty Action, University of California, Berkeley, and Yale University to design and conduct a randomized controlled trial of the approach as a part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI) at MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel- Poverty Action Lab.
An evaluation of Digital Green would make four primary contributions to broader policy and academic debates. The first contribution would be clean and well-identified estimates of the impacts of agricultural extension on farmer outcomes. The second main contribution of an evaluation of Digital Green would be an improved understanding of the informational constraints to technology adoption. Third, a careful evaluation of the Digital Green approach could shed critical light on cost effective ways to provide extension services. Fourth, while the initial Digital Green evaluation will necessarily take place in India, lessons from Digital Green would have clear implications for agricultural extension elsewhere in the developing world, notably Africa.
We expect to use baseline and follow-up household and individual surveys to measure outcomes, which will include:
As the Digital Green system scales, we are proactively committed to maintaining quality both in terms of (1) the efficiency of the extension system, which includes the production and dissemination of locally relevant content, as well as (2) its impact, which includes the increased take up of modern sustainable agricultural practices and the ultimate sustainable improvement in the socioeconomic status and self-efficacy of the communities that we work with.
We employ a rigorous process in selecting partners supported by three core pillars: (1) locally relevant domain expertise, (2) established operational scale, and (3) community-level trust. By closely collaborating with organizations that are focused on improving the well being of grassroots-level communities, our interventions are directed toward building the capacities of our partners to integrate and institutionalize our model of technology and social organization to improve the efficiency of their work and to broaden the participation of the community.
Though there is some overlap, we have segmented our quality assurance strategies in two parts: (1) process quality and (2) content quality. Process quality ensures that the aspects of the Digital Green system are institutionalized with the partners and communities that we work with in a consistent and coherent manner to improve the efficiency of existing extension systems whereas content quality ensures that the information exchanged across Digital Green-support extension system provides sustained, positive value for the members of the communities that adopt improved practices and technologies for themselves. Digital Green captures a variety of process, output, and outcome metrics that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature. This data is captured, analyzed, and shared across our technology stack: our online/offline data management framework, analytics suite of dashboards, videos library, and public website. To ensure the quality of this data, our technology stack provides automated consistency checking functionality and periodic audits are used for cross-validation in the field. Technical and aesthetic dimensions of produced videos and mediated instruction of video disseminations are assessed through checklists and surveys.
To support these protocols, we will establish a directorate of quality assurance to anchor these processes and to coordinate exchanges and learnings across the organization. The directorate will also work with Digital Green's partners and create supportive structures to manage the process quality and content quality assurance mechanisms. For instance, a technical advisory panel of experts will be constituted to provide input into assessing and documenting the quality of content and assuring the ultimate impact that we seek to make in improving the livelihoods empowerment of the community. Partnerships with the agricultural research community, such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), could allow for both the input of scientifically validated information into the content development process as well as potentially inform research agendas based on the practical data and feedback that smallholder farmers share through the Digital Green system. Please view our quality assurance framework which incorporates existing and new elements.
This quality assurance framework will be reviewed on a biannual basis to assess whether it is achieving the efficiency and impact gains that we seek to achieve. Digital Green's board and senior management team along with representatives of relevant stakeholders will be requested to participate in these discussions and to determine if there might be opportunities for further refinement.
Extension services for smallholder farmers should primarily be considered a public good and we expect our collaboration with government extension systems to provide an opportunity for both scale and sustainability. Still, we believe it is important that the community take ownership of the system to drive its relevance and value. Concretely, our objective with sustainability is to have the recurring costs of the system supported by the community over time. We have experimented with a variety of modes for financial sustainability over the last two years. Initially, we used individual usage fees (e.g., US$ 0.04-0.08 per farmer per screening). We found that such ticket-based models led individuals to take unanticipated actions: maximizing the number of videos shown in a single screening, attending only those videos screenings that offered an immediate, tangible economic return, etc. To mitigate these effects, we explored usage fees that were designed as an annual or semi-annual subscription. At the same time, we found that some of our partners had introduced usage fees for their own interventions and that the community was double paying for equivalent or similar extension services. Consequently, we began packaging usage fees as a part of a basket of services that our partners or an affiliated community-based institution (e.g., producer company or SHG federation) might already be providing to its members.
To make further progress on sustainability, we will focus on two central aspects: (1) ensuring a positive value proposition for the community and (2) productizing our service. Our initiatives in quality assurance and impact assessment will directly determine the value that farmers realize primarily based on: (a) quality of videos, (b) quality of dissemination, and (c) the cost-benefit of the practices in the local context. We are also evaluating the possibility of flipping our model of having farmers subscribe or pay membership fees to cover the recurring costs of the system (mainly, the service provider's compensation) and instead have the community pay to purchase the access device (i.e., the pico projector) and have the community mediators services be provided for "free".
Digital Green as an organization is increasingly being commissioned by government agencies, like India's Ministry of Rural Development, and research organizations, like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), to provide technology development and technical support services. Though still preliminary, our Facebook game, Wonder Village, has the potential to finance some of our initiatives going forward. In addition, we plan to pursue opportunities to build a base of core funding to better allow our organization to establish a lean, high-performance team and to develop our technology and training platform to support a greater variety and scale of collaborators that may pursue elements of the model by working together with or independently of Digital Green around the world.