A beginner’s keynote address
Some time ago, I was honoured to address a community of academics, students and stakeholders at the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania at the University’s annual scientific conference. The Scientific Conference in Agriculture and Agribusiness’s goal was to share the generated knowledge and findings from research and outreach activities by researchers and collaborators of SUA, and to showcase their contribution in transforming agriculture and natural resources for sustainable development to attain industrial economy in Tanzania.
The Collaborative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foundation (CCRP) is a competitive grants program that seeks to increase nutritious food security to resource-poor people in developing countries. It does this through agroecological systems research and knowledge-sharing that strengthen the capacities of smallholder farmers, research institutes and developmental organisations. The program has worked with researchers from SUA and is therefore a collaborator with the University.
Part of my work with CCRP is to provide consultancy services to students and researchers at the University on research methods, particularly on data management and analysis. I have therefore worked closely with students and researchers there from time to time. And this is how I met the organisers of the conference – through a researcher I had been working with at the time. Following the introductions and a briefing on my work with CCRP, I was invited to give a presentation on research methods at the conference. I was excited, as I had not been invited to a conference by the University before - so you can imagine my enthusiasm!
Research methods is a broad topic and cuts across almost every field involving research. It refers to: the very first steps of the research planning process, its design, data collection, engagement process and analysis, to the dissemination of research results and outputs. Every researcher goes through these steps - no matter what field they’re researching into. To ensure rigorous and quality research by its grantees, CCRP provides this consultancy support to its researchers through the research methods project at Stats4SD. I, along with other colleagues at Stats4SD, have being providing this support to researchers in CCRP for some time now. So, it wasn’t too much of a surprise when I was invited to talk about my work over the last four years. It’s not a huge amount of experience, but at least long enough to say something about it! Or so I thought...
I asked my supervisor Ric, who is an experienced research methods specialist, for guidance in preparing my presentation. He provided an outline of what might be useful to talk about on research methods, and even helped in reviewing my presentation. I prepared well.
Some participants of the SUA scientific conference in April. Photos courtesy of SUA newsletter.
However, things turned sour one day before my presentation when I realised I was enlisted as one of the keynote speakers at the conference. I was scared to say the least! Firstly, because I have known keynote addresses to be very professional speeches delivered by highly experienced people in a given field. Secondly, my now four years’ experience in research methods seemed very meagre for a talk in front of well-established academics and researchers in agricultural research methods. Thirdly, I was convinced that perhaps the organisers mistook my presentation title, ‘Research Methods for Agroecological Intensification’ to be from an expert - which was definitely not the case! At some point I debated whether to ditch the presentation completely! After all, the speech was to be given alongside other well experienced academics from the University and research institutes across Tanzania.