Whenever research involves collection of data from people, researchers seldom share their findings with providers of the information.
Innovators from three states, recently, came together in a workshop at IIMA to study findings of a study by Riya Sinha, who is a doctoral researcher. One of the purposes was to share findings with various stakeholders, including district officials. We also wanted to learn about emerging innovations in knowledge networking. Riya justified sharing of the findings of her study on ethical as well as scientific grounds.
The ethical reason is that outsiders too can use the information, with only prior-informed consent of knowledge providers. The researchers should also let people know what they did with the information they obtained. The scientific reason is that when we share the findings with knowledge providers, the latter come to know of the larger context of a study. They then would realise why the researcher was asking certain questions. Once they know the context, they offer new insights.
I have argued for last 30 years that such insights cannot be gathered by any other alternative methodology. The scholars, therefore, are obliged to share their findings with the providers of knowledge in formal and informal sectors. The researcher is not obliged to accept contending interpretations, but she has to acknowledge them.
In the workshop, several issues came up regarding filling of gaps in the innovation ecosystem. One of the case studies presented was about a motorcycle-based ploughing machine called Shanti.
About 200 fabricators modified Shanti, making derivative forms called Sanedo and Handio. Chetan at SRISTI and Riya had earlier met them to discover new modifications, and feedback of users on the same. Mansukhbhai Jagani, who pioneered Shanti about twenty years ago, was very open about other innovators imitating and improvising his ideas. Incidentally, Mansukhbhai has patents in USA and India.
An extremely open innovation ecosystem has thus emerged, wherein people do not mind sharing their improvements and upgrades with each other. The workshop has brought out fascinating depth of the Shanti/Sanedo-based innovation ecosystem. Several challenges have surfaced which cannot be addressed without the support of the state and central governments. These challenges, which Riya would address in her thesis, can be summarised briefly as the challenge of certification, standardisation and continuous improvement within the framework of technology commons.
About 6,000-8,000 Sanedo have come up in last eight years after growth of Bt Cotton. The question is: Why wouldn’t Regional Transport Office agree to permit these devices to go from farmers’ homes to the agricultural fields?
Small tractors made by small or big companies, have not been able to stand up to these innovative devices. Yet, the regulatory framework is unable to develop standards and recognise ability of the innovators to develop highly affordable, safe and flexible farm machinery. If fabricators use new components, the cost is likely to increase manifold thereby stifling the diffusion of the device. The regulator has to recognise that the nation needs affordable inclusive innovations. These may invariably require used parts. I hope the chief minister would kindly take note and get this problem resolved at the earliest.
Needs for standard components cannot be denied. Larger corporations must either consider providing gearbox, differentials and other such components to let farmers invent and fabricate, or inventors, imitators and improvisers should sit together and develop standards as well as the collaborative design for fabricating the common parts.
Riya urged the innovators to form an association and take up the collaborative product design for which SRISTI, GIAN and NIF will provide support. The time has come when the community of innovators has to make their own lateral learning platforms. I hope that the inclusive innovation ecosystem emerging at the grassroots would also inform the national polity and institutions. Otherwise, policymakers will become irrelevant and the innovators will, sooner or later, take the driver’s seat in the growth engine (which they should do, anyway).
With support of policymakers, the engine can move faster and go farther.
The author is a professor at IIMA