Imagine being a painter with no brushes, or a builder with no trowel, or a chef with no wooden spoon… It would be very difficult to do your job; there are ways around it – but it might make your job much harder and take twice as long. All of us need the right tools to make our jobs easier and make the results better.
Now let’s imagine being a researcher or scientist, but not be able to access professional software to help with your analysis. Well, strictly speaking you can access the software, but the cost is too great for you or your organisation. This unfortunately is the reality for many universities and research stations in the Developing World; the repeated cry is inadequate infrastructure, lack of funding and little access to literature.
“This problem has now been solved with the release of GenStat Discovery Edition 3, professional statistical software that is free for non-commercial users such as government researchers, lecturers and students in developing countries” says Ric Coe, who heads the Research Methods Group in Nairobi, Kenya. This is a joint unit across two CGIAR centres that trains and gives advice to researchers on how to improve their research.
I spoke to Stewart Andrews (CEO of VSNi) to find out more:
What is GenStat Discovery and what is the story behind it?
Stewart: GenStat Discovery is the full version of GenStat but available only to non-commercial organisations in the Developing World; it’s as simple as that. We know that GenStat is a very powerful and easy to use statistical software system; and that it has features that are useful when doing research on agriculture, biosciences and related disciplines, including climate change. Africa is a continent where the effects of climate change are noticeable and can be dramatic i.e. even a small reduction in rainfall can affect the crop yields dramatically. We also know that many African institutes cannot afford to buy professional statistical software; so in 2003 we launched the first GenStat Discovery Edition – a free version of GenStat, initially only in Africa. The response was so positive that we made it available to all developing countries the following year, and we have continued to support this since.
But why are VSNi giving their software away? Surely a charitable donation would be easier?
Stewart: We believe that we have a social and moral responsibility to assist where we can. A single charitable donation would provide financial aid at that time, but we believe that it is better to give people the ability to solve their own problems in the long term; and therefore be able to plan for the future better…for example one of my great frustrations is when my computer stops working and I ask for help; what I actually want is the ability to solve the problem in the future, not a one off fix. By providing researchers and scientists in the Developing World with a tool for analysis and prediction and the support that goes with that I believe we are giving everyone a fair and equal chance to access the best in data analysis systems so no matter where you are in the world you need not necessarily be hampered by lack of resource.
So who pays for it?
Stewart: The supported users from the developed world essentially pay for it – as without them and their business we could not provide GenStat Discovery for free. We are a commercial organisation, not a charity; therefore we have commitments to our employees and our board. However, the more business we do – the more we can help organisations from developing countries, who do not have the financial capacity to purchase GenStat. Having said that, our prices are not inflated to cover this project; GenStat is priced fairly throughout the world – we see this as putting our ethics into practice.
Research is about giving information to people so that they can make decisions based on hard evidence and at the same time have an idea about risks and uncertainties. If people have access to information, they can start to make informed decisions; information can open minds to ideas and doors to the future.
GenStat Discovery 3 was launched in November 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda. This picture is of Wim Buysse (Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance), Professor Adipala (RUForum) and Ric Coe (ILRI).
GenStat Discovery 3 is available direct from VSNi, simply follow the link below to download your copy. In Africa, a free CD-Rom is available from RUForum, the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture. The license key for GDE3 is automatically installed from the download version and CD-Rom, but expires at the end of 2008. To renew your license key and receive information on Discovery and related projects, register on the VSNi website – see below.
RUForum is an initiative by a consortium of 12 universities in east and southern Africa, to develop and strengthen human resource capacity for inter-disciplinary problem-solving. For more information go to their website or email them.
For more information on GenStat Discovery 3 go here.