2. Justification for the feedback workshops
According to Babu et. al. (1997) information has a great impact on decision making, and hence its value is closely tied to the decisions that result from its use. In other words if it is not used then it has no value. They further indicate that its value is related to those who use it, when it is used and in what situation it is used. Swanson (1997) on the other hand observed that information generated through research rarely reaches the end users. It ends up being knowledge generated for the sake of knowledge and ultimately being of little use. It is out of such similar observations that Chambers (1993; 1997) suggested the necessity of not just collecting information from people but also sharing the same information with them for the purposes of improving on their lives.
According to Lucas (1990), information consists of data that have been processed and are meaningful to a user. Thus, some of the characteristics of good information are relevance, timeliness, accuracy, reliability and usability. This renders information relevant, especially if it leads to improved decision making. More importantly the manner in which research results are disseminated has a bearing on what kind of impact it may have on policy and implementation. It is in this context therefore that the importance of ensuring that the findings reach end users and are discussed in more appropriate forums becomes critical.
Publications are one of the widely used methods to disseminate research results but with a limited readership ranging from academicians, students and libraries. This method however, is not entirely accessible to community members, who in this case are vital recipients of research results. Other problems with publications are related to higher costs of production, distribution and marketing. Sometimes, publications in the form of books, journals or monographs are produced in scientific and academic formats that are sometimes too long for busy policy-makers and too complicated for community members to consume. Consequently research findings often remain isolated from the policy formulation and implementation processes.
Under ordinary circumstances, one of the easiest and probably the quickest way of disseminating information has been the use of mass media such as newspapers, magazines, radios and televisions. However, despite those advantages, they are only effective in situations where the infrastructure and capacity is highly developed. That is to say in a country where efficient publishing houses exist, communication means such as roads, telecommunications and others are highly developed and affordable, and a situation where the majority of the population are literate, especially when it comes to utilising newspapers and magazines.
However, in most developing countries of which Lesotho is part, that kind of situation does not exist, and therefore it is very difficult for the majority of the population to get information through mass media (Van Den Ban et al. 1990; Mokone, 1999). Some of the problems or limitations associated with mass media include the fact that newspapers and magazines are confined to few individuals in urban areas. Televisions are expensive and owned by few rural people who rarely tune to local broadcasters (Mokone 1999). Similarly, given the sensitivity surrounding HIV/AIDS as well as the socio-cultural taboos on openly discussing sex-related issues, the chances of disseminating and obtaining feedback through the media are minimal.
The foregoing analysis, therefore, suggest that, workshops and conferences can, thus, be effectively used to disseminate and communicate research results to stakeholders who might not necessarily be academicians. One of the main advantages of workshops in particular is their inherent ability to enlist inputs into the research process through participation and as a result the final product and understanding get enriched. They are also ideal for busy decision-makers for discussing topical and though-provoking issues with clear policy orientations. If well planned, workshops can empower community members to make decision on issues that affect them. As a result, this method is more likely to maximize the impact of research and its long-term benefit to the society.
However, in regard to HIV/AIDS and Land Issues Workshops, communicating findings was not the explicit objective, instead workshops were also meant as forums where community members would be empowered to reflect on and discuss findings as well as forge the way forward in the context of existing policy framework.