In the light of this potential, the ‘What works where for which farmer’ project, led by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, developed a digital agro-advisory service that matches farmers’ abilities, preferences, and constraints, and provides the information they search for. The project partnered with the public extension service in the Mtwara region of Tanzania, and with Lutheran World Relief, an NGO that provides agricultural advice in Makueni County, Kenya. To develop a novel service without potentially misleading assumptions, the project used the participatory methodology of ‘User-Centered Design’: first understanding the existing information flows and knowledge needs in the community, and then developing a service based on these insights. Researchers started by asking farmers in Southern Tanzania how they currently access agricultural information, and what are the ‘bottlenecks’ of information flows. Interviews with farmers showed that agricultural radio shows are widely popular, but farmers often miss the broadcasts and cannot listen to the contents later. Extension officers, on the other hand, had constant interaction with farmers through normal phone calls, but they were often overwhelmed by the high number of calls.
These insights helped the design team develop a concrete idea: The digital advisory service should allow farmers to access 'radio-like' contents anytime through their phones. It should also reduce extension officers’ workload, but still let farmers get in touch with them directly. The research team devised different models for such a service, which were discussed until consensus was reached with farmers and extension officers in participatory workshops.