CSIR in project to enable rural research

By   |  June 28, 2007

The CSIR is participating in an international research consortium aimed at enabling people in rural areas to take part in research and the development of technology that could effect them.

Researchers from the CSIR Built Environment and the Meraka Institute, a national research centre managed by the CSIR, are involved in the project, which is funded by the European Union’s (EU) Framework Programme 6 (FP6).

The Collaboration@Rural: a Collaborative Platform for Working and Living in Rural Areas project, or C@R for short, will last three years and provides a platform for research and technology development institutions to collaborate with rural communities in developing effective methodologies implementing rural living labs in rural economies.

“Rural living labs are user-centric, real-life research and development contexts, involving people, businesses and public players in the co-creation of services enhancing rural development,” explained CSIR researcher Johan Maritz.

The CSIR’s involvement in C@R came about after SAP Research South Africa approached the organisation in March 2006 to explore joint research opportunities in the rural domain. SAP needed a ready context within which to deploy a South African rural living lab and the CSIR had been doing extensive work relevant to this in the Sekhukhune area in Limpopo.

“The living labs concept is about research and technology development institutions setting up long-term relationships with the inhabitants of the real-world context in a way that will ensure active participation by the latter in the research and development (R&D) process," said Maritz.

The main objective of the C@R project is to promote the introduction, establishment and maintenance of collaborative working environments as key enablers of sustainable development in rural areas. 

The technical aspect of C@R comprises three layers: collaborative core services, collaborative software tools and rural living labs.

“The first layer will encapsulate all core services and resources, such as networks, sensors, devices, software modules and localisation sources, in reusable software components. C@R will therefore be highly customisable in the sense of providing mechanisms to incorporate any proprietary or open solutions, and any standard,” Maritz said.

The CSIR’s efforts will focus primarily on the third layer, which will articulate rural living labs as innovative research instruments involving rural users, with some linkages to the first layer.

“The user-oriented methodology of the rural living labs will ensure that the highly specific requirements of rural users are met, and will provide mechanisms to gather technical requirements for the project as well as develop and test possible solutions,” Maritz explained.

The Sekhukhune area has been selected as the location of the South African rural living lab. Various relationships will be set up with small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) and other public and private sector role players in the area. The research team will collaborate with these entities on an ongoing basis to ensure the two-way flow of information, knowledge, responses and needs for the duration of the project, and beyond.

There is also a focus on the use of cellphones because of its potential as a catalyst for rural development.

“Since it is not possible to study all service sectors, the CSIR’s research focuses on the nature of rural health service networks and rural logistics brokering,” Maritz said.

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