RAPID RURAL APPRAISAL
A conference held at the Institute of Development Studies
4-7 December 1979
COMMENTS ABOUT MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAM EFFORTS
Peter E. Hildebrand
F-This paper originally appeared as an appendix to
Peter E. Hildebrand "Motivating Small Farmers to
Accept Change", paper for the conference on
Integrated Crop and Animal Production to Optimize
Resource Utilization on Small Farms in Developing
Countries, Bellagio,. October 18-23, 1978. The
references are those of the original paper 7
University of Sussex
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COMMENTS ABOUT MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAM EFFORTS
Individual and some collective action is being taken to bridge the
differences generated by traditional scientific training in order to facil-
itate multidisciplinary efforts, Examples with which the author has had
recent contact follow. Christine Gladwin is an agricultural economist who
uses a methodology much more akin to anthropology than economics; Richard
Harwood, an agronomist, found:'it necessary to combine his field with eco-
nomics and sociology in order to bring acceptable rice technology to parts
of Asia; Robert Werge is an anthropologist who is working in the field
of agronomy to help the International Potato Center develop technology for
this crop; and Daniel Gait, an agricultural economist is actively engaged
in crop trials in Honduras. Examples of their work are listed in the ref-
All of the above researchers have two things in common that are
critical to the development of an efficient and functioning multidisci-
plinary team. They are well trained in their own fields, but they also
have a working understanding of and are not afraid to make contributions
in one or more other fields. This is a necessary characteristic of per!
sons working on multidisciplinary teams, But alone, it is not sufficient.
It is also required that the team members not feel the need to defend
themselves and their field from intrusion of others.
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Another feature of a successful multidisciplinary team is that all
members view the final product as a joint effort in which all participate
and for which all are equally responsible. That means each of them must
be satisfied with the product, given the goals of the team, and willing
and able to defend it.
Returning to the generation of improved technology for small, tra-
ditional farmers, the team members must all be product oriented (not just
the agronomists). Also, all the team members must be willing to con-
sider a wide range of variables and constraints and not leave these worries
only to the anthropologists or sociologists. Third, all members must be
willing to spend some desk time considering alternatives and their conse-
quences on the clients' goals and not leave this part of the task just to
the economists. The agronomists should be capable and willing to criticize
the economic or social aspects of the work, and the social scientists, the
agronomic aspects. In turn, these criticisms should be used to improve
the product so that all can be satisfied with the final result.
Failures of multidisciplinary efforts frequently have resulted be-
cause the teams were organized more as committees that met occasionally
to "coordinate" efforts, but in which the crop work was left to the agron-o
omists, the survey to the anthropologists and the desks to the economists.
In these cases there is not a single identified product, rather, several
products or reports purported to be concerned about the same problem.
1/ Product, as used here, refers primarily to the technology produced and
not the commodity, itself.
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Perhaps the most critical characteristic required to achieve success of a
multidisciplinary team is dntification -with 'Ti nIe'prodE~ i"f' f~cIi"
2i ,gp.p.Bat9 The product can be complex, and involve a number of
facets, but it should result from the joint effort of the whole team and
not contain strictly identifiable parts attributable to individual team
In ICTA, the agronomists (who outnumber the social scientists
by about 30 to 1) are concerned about there being too much influence by
the socio-economic group in the work at the farm level. This is manifest
in a certain resistance by the agronomists to identify too closely with
the farmers (even with those on whose land they conduct trials). It also
surfaces with respect to evaluation of technology. The agronomist is
much-more comfortable if a final elvuation follows the farm trial phase
of the work where it is the technician who makes the evaluation. The
technician, then, decides if a technology is "good". If the farmer eval-
uates this "good" technology and does not accept it, then the technician
considers it a problem for the extension service, or of poor infrastruc-
ture, of low prices, or of lack of initiative on the part of the farmer
himself, but it is not a problem for the agronomist, who has produced
what he considers to be a "good" product. In this situation, evaluation
by the farmer is equated with influence by socio-economics, who would tend
to take into consideration more variables including the present weaknesses
in infrastructure, the price level, the farmers' capabilities, etc., in
the development of a technology so that the product of the team's efforts
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could be used immediately without the need to await development of other
facets of the sector. In other words, in ICTA, we have not yet completely
identified the kind of product we are to produce.
Even though we are a long way down the road, more needs to be done
at ICTA to make the multidisciplinary teams, and the efforts of the entire
Institute, more efficient. The top management of the Institute (all of
whom are biological scientists) agree that socio-economics must contribute
directly to the generation of agricultural technology, a concept with
which we fully concur. On the other hand, because of their own traditional
training, they also tend to be apprehensive about too much influence from
socio-economics and therefore are sometimes hesitant to provide the kind
of support which could enhance the efficiency of the multidisciplinary
teams much more rapidly. Hence another critical characteristic of a suc-
cessful multidisciplinary team effort is the conviction of management and
their understanding, dedication and support of the concept. Support at
this level is required in order to counteract the traditional resistance
initially found at the field level.
A final necessary component for creating successful multidisci-
plinary teams is long run stability of the governemt and/or its policies,
so that management and staff of national institutes who are expected to
develop technology for small, traditional farmers, and for which multi-
disciplinary teams are required, have time to work out the details so
they can function effectively.
GALT, Daniel Lee. 1977. Economic weights for breeding
selection indices: empirical determination of the
importance of various pests affecting tropical maize.
Ph.D. dissertation. Cornell University, Ithaca, New
GLADWIN, Christina. 1976. A view of the Plan Puebla: an
application of hierarchical decision models. American
Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. LVIII, No. 5
(1976), pp. 881-887
HARWOOD, R.R. 1975. Farmer-oriented research aimed at crop
intensification, pp. 12-32 In International Rice
Research Institute, Proceedings of the Cropping Systems
Workshop, March 18-20, 1975, Los Banos, Philippines.
WERGE, Robert W. 1978. Social science training for regional
agricultural development. Presented at the meetings of
the Society for Applied Anthropology, Merida, Mexico.