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Home>FFTC Document Database>Extension Bulletins>DEVELOPING A KM SYSTEM: SEARCA’S EXPERIENCE


Maria Celeste H. Cadiz1 and Maria Monina Cecilia A. Villena2

1Program Head for Knowledge Management

2Special Projects Coordinator & Network Administrator, Biotechnology Information Center

Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study

and Research in Agriculture, College, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines




The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture’s (SEARCA) current five-year plan, its tenth, focuses on inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development (ISARD), described as a scheme and approach of engaging multiple stakeholders toward improving the well-being of the rural poor through their improved natural resource-based livelihoods along with supportive systems and institutions that contribute to food and nutrition security of the wider population beyond present generations. Along ISARD emphases on environmental sustainability, social inclusion, and institutions and governance, SEARCA as a knowledge managing institution with a capacity building mandate, promotes adaptive and social learning, knowledge sharing and use, and knowledge creation with a deliberate effort to capture, store, and make explicit the tangible knowledges generated by its scholars, researchers, and partners.

Key words: knowledge management, inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development


Beginnings of KM elements at SEARCA

SEARCA may be able to trace the early history of the elements of its Knowledge Management (KM) Program to the early seventies, but the current set-up of KM at SEARCA practically became official on July 2009, the start of its Ninth Five-Year Plan.

Strictly speaking, the various elements of SEARCA’s KM program trace their independent beginnings within the Center’s first decade after it was established in 1966. It started offering short-term training in 1970-71; turning out publications in 1971-72; established the Agricultural Information Bank for Asia (AIBA) in 1973-74; set up an in-house library in 1988-89 and again in 1995-96; and began using internet services with a homepage and “electronic bulletin board services” in 1995-96. Almost all of these independent services of SEARCA have continued to exist until today, except for AIBA, which the Center tried to sustain until 1990-91 after support from the International Development Research Center (IDRC) had ceased. SEARCA then established an Information Services Unit in 1991-92 that evolved into the Information Resources Development Program in 1996-97; to a Knowledge Management (KM) Program in 2000-2001 until 2003-2004. Thereafter, KM was relegated to a unit under the Research and Development Department until 2009, when it again became one of the core programs of SEARCA side-by-side with Graduate Scholarship and Research and Development.

SEARCA as a knowledge managing organization

Joining SEARCA in 2006 as then Manager of the Training Department, this senior author’s first observation of the Center was that SEARCA is essentially a knowledge managing institution. This is elaborated in a latter part of the article.

An organization’s mandate or goals define its KM set-up, as KM privileges knowledge that is actionable or useful – and what better way to define what is useful or actionable for an institution if not by its mandate. This article therefore starts with providing the organizational context of SEARCA’s KM program.

To begin with, SEARCA belongs to the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), a treaty organization founded in 1965 to promote regional cooperation in education, science, and culture.  As such, SEARCA’s main mandate since its inception in 1966 is to build capacities for agricultural and rural development.

SEAMEO is composed of the 11 countries in the SEA region. It also has associate members: the Netherlands, France, Germany, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, and Spain. There are 19 Centers of SEAMEO on varied discipline.

The Center operated on an interim basis from 1 July 1967 to 30 June 1969.  It began its operation as a permanent Center of SEAMEO on 1 July 1969.

SEARCA mandate

As its mandate, the Center acts as a catalyst for development, through human resource development, building capacities both of individual and at the institutional level. SEARCA’s three-fold mission is to:

  1. Provide high quality graduate education and training in agriculture to member countries;
  2. Promote, undertake and coordinate research related to the needs and problems in agriculture of the region; and
  3. Disseminate the findings of agricultural research and experimentation.

The Center’s KM program covers not just mission no. 3, but also non-formal training as covered by mission no. 1. It is an external KM system anchored on its mission, rather than an internal KM system centered on organizational processes. The latter is within the purview of administrative units of the Center including management services and human resource management.

In its current five-year plan, its tenth, SEARCA’s mission is to strengthen institutional capacities toward inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development (ISARD) in Southeast Asia through graduate education, research and development, and knowledge management (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Framework of SEARCA’s Tenth Five-Year Plan

SEARCA’s vision in this Tenth Five-Year Plan (10th FYP) (2014-2019) is to become a leading enabler and champion of ISARD in Southeast Asia.

But what is ISARD, you might ask? We define ISARD as a scheme and approach of engaging multiple stakeholders toward improving the well-being of the rural poor through their improved natural resource-based livelihoods along with supportive systems and institutions that contribute to food and nutrition security of the wider population beyond present generations (SEARCA 2014). In its 10th FYP, SEARCA articulates ISARD according to its domains on social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and institutions and governance.

SEARCA’s Conceptual Framework for ISARD (Fig. 2) guides its implementation of its project that articulates the model in pilot areas starting with two villages in the Philippines.



Fig. 2. SEARCA’s conceptual framework on ISARD


As an approach, ISARD emphasizes:

  1. Holistic, problem-based development requiring interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary participatory approaches;
  2. Transformation through learning communities; and
  3. Collaborative partnership and network building.

At the core of the ISARD pilot project is a specific rural community in a well-defined agro-ecosystem or landscape involving the following key stakeholders: civil society/farmer organizations, local government units, partner academe or research institution, and the private sector. It has the following components:

  1. Small grants for technical assistance (Seed fund for needed and appropriate ground-level interventions);
  2. Institutional development and capacity building;
  3. Knowledge management; and
  4. Linkages and networking for support services (e.g., market, credit, inputs).

Through the integration of these components, the ISARD scheme is expected to strengthen capacities of and empower local institutions and individuals toward an agricultural system that contributes to the goals of food security and poverty alleviation.


Framework of SEARCA KM

Within SEARCA’s 10th FYP and aligned with this ISARD framework, SEARCA’s Knowledge Management Program promotes adaptive and social learning, knowledge sharing and use, and knowledge creation linked to policy and decision-making toward ISARD, against an overriding backdrop of knowledge capture, harvesting, storage, and retrieval (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. SEARCA’s evolving KM framework (2009-2019) (Adapted from Torraco, 2000)


Adaptive and social learning privileges experience-based, interactive, team-based, and collaborative learning that builds learning communities. Promoting knowledge sharing and use involves a deliberate effort to capture knowledge via documentation and supporting writing and packaging of appropriate learning materials and events, the latter being avenues also for knowledge creation. 

Knowledge creation is not equivalent to knowledge generation that is the thrust of rigorous research and theorizing. In KM, knowledge creation pertains more to synthesizing available knowledge to make it applicable, therefore useful, within a particular context – in a general scale, in Southeast Asian agricultural and rural development. Considering SEARCA’s thrust in supporting graduate education through scholarship and institutional development in ARD, knowledge creation also has to be seen in the context of scholarship that encourages an active interaction between theorizing (reflection) and practice (action) on specific issues and challenges of ISARD in the region.

The three boxes of SEARCA’s KM work on promoting adaptive and social learning, knowledge sharing and use, and knowledge creation are not exclusive of each other but interact and may overlap (Fig. 3). The framework adapts from Torraco’s (2000) model that asserts similar elements within an organizational context, whereas this framework is asserted in the context of the environment and mission of SEARCA.

SEARCA operationalizes this framework through its KM Department, organized functionally as shown in Fig 4.  This chart only shows the essential and functional parts related to operationalizing SEARCA’s KM program, and does not necessarily portray the organization completely, omitting a deputy director’s office that is not currently operational, and administrative units.

Fig. 4. Organization of SEARCA programs with emphasis on KM


Activities related to promoting learning, knowledge sharing and use, and knowledge creation are not the sole work of the KM department. As a capacity building organization that promotes scholarship and research and development, the whole Center is a knowledge managing institution. This is further illustrated later.

KM users, activities, and outputs

SEARCA’s KM program, and for that matter the whole Center, prioritizes higher education institutions, ministries and other development institutions, and decision- and policy-makers, researchers, and leaders/champions in ARD in the Southeast Asian region as its clients. While government agencies and personnel are prioritized, civil society and private sector partners and clients are deemed important.

SEARCA’s specific activities and outputs vis-à-vis the elements of its KM framework are the following (Fig. 5):

  1. Promotion of a culture of learning (9th FYP) and adaptive and social learning (10th FYP – short-term learning events (nonformal – training-workshops, study tours, online courses, seminars) and knowledge events (writeshops, workshops, forums, roundtable discussions, conferences) that are regional or national in scope (unless the event is project-based), taking two to five days;
  2. Promotion of knowledge creation – scholarly publications (semi-annual refereed journal, discussion papers, refereed books and monographs, country primers on ARD), and “meeting of minds” in conferences, seminars (ADSS), and other fora; and
  3. Promotion of knowledge sharing and use – SEARCA website with all its sections, notes and briefs, other communication materials, and knowledge centers.

All these are turned out by the whole Center, where KM Department manages the packaging and production end of the assembly line for the knowledge products cleared for sharing widely by the other core programs (Fig. 5). For instance, graduate scholars supported by the Graduate Education and Institutional Development Department turn out theses and dissertations from which they may harvest journal articles and other publications. Meanwhile, the various researchers supported by or serving as partners of the Research and Development Department are encouraged to harvest and write books, articles, and briefs from their research project reports. Within the KM Department, its Training Unit harvests learning notes or manuals from completion reports of its learning events or video documentation of public seminars.

Fig. 5. SEARCA’s KM framework and activities/outputs


Knowledge centers

SEARCA organizes available knowledge for sharing and facilitating knowledge creation on specific areas of concern through its knowledge centers that capitalize on an online presence. Its oldest knowledge center is its Biotechnology Information Center (BIC), a special project implemented with the International Service for the Application of Agri-biotechnology Applications (ISAAA) since 2000. ISAAA is supporting a network of 26 BICs in four regions of the world, where SEARCA’s is one of the oldest and among the advanced information centers.

SEARCA BIC ( addresses the needs of the Southeast Asian region for a highly credible, sound and factual source of information on biotechnology that is made accessible to various stakeholders. The delivery channels of the BIC include training, workshops and seminars for capacity-building, printed materials, Biotech-on-Air radio program, eNews service and the social media.

SEARCA BIC collaborates with different partner agencies in organizing capacity building activities for various stakeholders such as Biotechnology 101 courses, communication and media workshops, and other biotech-related workshops (biosafety risk assessment, social marketing, knowledge management, etc.).  Likewise, various outreach activities such as knowledge-sharing seminars/workshops and study visits are also being conducted.  Aside from learning events and training courses, SEARCA BIC also monitors and analyzes the biotech articles being published in print media, and shares knowledge online. This fiscal year, it has also started conducting communication research with partner universities.

On the other hand, KC3 or the Knowledge Center on Climate Change Adaptation in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management in Southeast Asia ( as its lengthy name indicates is a one-stop-shop of information on climate change adaptation in agriculture and natural resources in the region. It features SEARCA’s projects, learning events, publications, and other climate change-related initiatives, serving as the online presence of SEARCA’s Umbrella Program on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Program for Southeast Asia (CChAM SEA). KC3 was launched in 2009 while CChAM SEA’s formal launch with several institutional partners came in 2015.

The Center’s newest knowledge center is FANSSEA, started in 2016 and constituting the online presence of SEARCA’s Umbrella Program on Food and Nutrition Security for Southeast Asia. It is a platform for collaborative research on food security among the members of the Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (University Consortium or UC) and partner universities/institutions from the other Southeast Asian Ministries of Education Organization (SEAMEO) member countries. It aims to align the program of work on food security of SEARCA and the University Consortium to the development needs in the region and to support ongoing ASEAN-level programs on improving food security. The priority areas of collaboration are addressed through three integrated components: research and development, capacity building through graduate education and training, and knowledge management.

Integration with other SEARCA programs

A work flow illustrating how KM integrates with the activities of implementing ISARD pilot projects is illustrated in Fig. 6, showing how the KM Department strives to work in synergy with the Research and Development Department, where dark green represents work of the Training Unit and purple, that of the Knowledge Resources Unit, depicted in green shadow.

Fig. 6. Sample activity flow for ISARD pilots showing entry points for KM


Another way by which SEARCA’s KM Department may collaborate with SEARCA’s other core program on Graduate Education and Institutional Development is further illustrated in Fig. 7, again showing the green contributions that of Training Unit and purple contribution of the Knowledge Resources Unit with the former as represented by green shadow.

Fig. 7. Sample activity flow for institutional development assistance showing entry points for KM


In general, the KM vision is for SEARCA to orchestrate and participate in communities of practice in its areas of work, as illustrated in Fig. 8, in implementing ISARD on the ground; or in other areas of emphasis in SEARCA’s work. For ISARD, SEARCA thus far has two pilots in the Philippines and hopes to establish additional ones in other Southeast Asian countries soon, factoring the work and potential linkages with other institutions and universities within and outside the region. We hope that beyond their individual project concerns, the different pilot projects will share and seek solutions, learning from and with each other as they implement their respective agricultural development projects in adaptive manner.

Fig. 8. Envisioned community of practice on ISARD


SEARCA’s KM work is not complete and continues to evolve as we strive to make a better job of advancing inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia. The many challenges and prospects for KM within this complex context make the endeavor an exciting one.


BIC website (

FANSSEA website (

KC3 website (

SEARCA. 2014. Advancing Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development in Southeast Asia. ISARD Prospectus/brief. 2 p.

SEARCA. 2016 “KM at SEARCA Through the Years.” Exhibit on SEARCA’s knowledge management program for its 50th anniversary

SEARCA. 2014. Pathways toward Inclusive and Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (ISARD) in Southeast Asia. Tenth Five-Year Plan of SEAMEO SEARCA (2014/2015-2018/2019)

SEARCA briefing slides and audiovisual presentation, 2014-2019

SEARCA website (

Talisayon, Serafin D. 2012. “Aligning knowledge management with organizational objectives.” Presentation in First SEAMEO Training Workshop on Knowledge Management Highlights, 29 February to 2 March 2012, SEARCA, College, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines

Torraco, Richard J. 2000. A Theory of Knowledge Management. Advances in Developing Human Resources2(1), 38-62. 

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