MSU researchers examine how people reinvent techniques they have learned through educational animations

Animated SAWBO videos produce desired results even when users slightly deviated from processes

EAST LANSING, Mich. – In a study published in the Journal of Stored Products Research, Michigan State University researchers Julia Bello-Bravo and Barry Pittendrigh, in collaboration with researchers from Iowa State University and the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM), examined adoption rates of techniques featured in educational animations and the efficacy of farmers who slightly deviate from the processes in the videos.

The researchers discovered high adoption rates of the techniques featured in an animation on jerrycan bean storage and also found that even when farmers slightly modified the techniques in the animation they still reached positive results.

"As the animations are used to scale educational techniques, innovation is great. However, the fact that people were consistently able to achieve success with the technique is critical," said Pittendrigh, a researcher in MSU’s Department of Entomology.

"Think of this like a test, with the consequences of failing being loss of food or income. Educational content that can result in a high 'pass rate' across a great diversity of viewers – in this case diversity means across languages, cultures, and literacy levels – will be key to helping people be resilient with the food security challenges they are facing in a COVID-19 impacted world."

The jerrycan bean storage animation was produced in over 30 language variants by Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), a university-based program that transforms extension information on relevant topics such as agriculture, disease and women's empowerment, into animations. The videos are then translated into languages from around the world.

While a global food crisis emerges as a secondary impact from COVID-19, the research is timely. Many people worldwide need simple techniques to store grains for food and planting in the future. 

"Although this is an academic study, the questions raised in this paper and the outcomes of the research are of pragmatic importance,” said Bello-Bravo, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. “It is about research for scaling of educational interventions towards food security."

The researchers, both co-founders of SAWBO, found that 91.3% of farmers who watched the animation adopted and utilized the improved storage technique at least once. Of the farmers who watched the animation, 45% deviated from at least one step in the protocol, but those deviations/reinventions did not result in reported losses to stored beans.

"SAWBO is a platform or system to address a series of questions toward the goal of understanding how can we scale research for development innovations for low literate learners globally," said Bello-Bravo, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. "We know from previous studies that intervention by animation can result in learning gains and in high levels of adoption of the concepts by low-literate learners that speak diverse languages and often are economically marginalized. The next critical step in my research program was around reinvention of what has been learned."

According to Bello-Bravo, "Reinvention can result in improving outcomes, it can have a neutral impact on the outcome or can result in things not working properly. Our question was how do people reinvent and what impact does it have on outcomes?"

The current research explored deviations from an eight-step method for hermetically storing beans among farmers in northern Mozambique and then assessing whether those “reinventions” had beneficial, neutral, or harmful impacts on the innovation’s intended goals. The main findings are that deviations are common, and in the present case appear to have been non-harmful.

While deviations from recommended practices during post-harvest bean storage may occur immediately after projects have trained farmers, they may also evolve as farmers “reinvent” the practice to suit individual circumstances. Although such adjustments might be regarded negatively by those who created and tested the innovation, they might also help to increase the acceptability, if not also the effectiveness, of an innovation in some cases, Bello-Bravo said.

Deviations from the animation consisted of two major types: skipping at least one of the eight steps (approximately 1 in 3 participants) and adding a step or element to the method (approximately 1 in 5 participants). These combined findings of high adoption, reinvention, and storage method effectiveness provide innovation designers and suppliers insights into the potentially crucial role of reinvention for successfully diffusing stored product innovations in developing nation contexts, Bello-Bravo said.

Failure to follow all recommended steps can occur because farmers did not understand all of the steps, lacked some equipment or material needed, or for some reason based on previous experience or concerns. Adding a step in the process may occur because farmers integrate a traditional practice they were using before the innovation. In these cases, farmers may not realize there is no longer any need to continue including these steps, or they may believe that the steps might still be needed even though they are also following all the new steps.

“Even with reinvention, the farmers all had a successful outcome of safely stored grains.  This is ultimately what counts,” said Bellow-Bravo. “This type of information also drives how we develop content – there is an issue of how ‘tight’ do recommendations need to be in the video whereby if people reinvent they still have a positive outcome.”

The jerrycan bean storage animation is being used by non-governmental organizations in diverse countries, including Ghana and Kenya, to educate people on how to be resilient with the economic and food related challenges associated with COVID-19.

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