Putting the Capabilities Approach into Action (Research): A Comparative Assessment of a Technology Stewardship Training Program for Agricultural Extension in Sri Lanka and Trinidad


This paper reports on a technology (ICT) stewardship training program aimed at operationalizing the Capabilities Approach with agricultural extension practitioners in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). Technology stewardship is an approach adapted from the communities of practice literature that recognizes the importance, practically and ethically, of guiding change from within a community. Technology stewards are social intermediaries “with enough experience of the working of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with or interest in technology to take leadership in addressing those needs” (Wenger, White & Smith, 2009, p. 25).

The training program is rooted in a “technology-augmented” Capability Approach (Haenssgen and Ariana, 2018) that blends Gigler’s “informational capabilities” (Gigler, 2015) with Kleine’s “Choice Framework” (Kleine, 2013) to inform the design of an in-service training program for agricultural extension officers. Through a process of collaborative inquiry (Bridges & McGee, 2011), participants are trained in the principles and practices of technology stewardship, with the end goal of improving the informational capabilities of their community of practice using a “change through choice” strategy.

Researchers assessed the training program using a multimethod approach with comparative case studies in Sri Lanka and Trinidad. Evaluation of training was carried out using the Kirkpatrick Model with four levels of assessment: reception, learning, behaviour, and results. Data were collected using a pre-course survey, formal course evaluation, classroom observation, and semi-structured interviews with participants. We report on results from two cohorts of trainees from 2018 and 2019 and include brief qualitative descriptions of two instances that illustrate stewardship in practice.

Findings show a positive response to the training, that learning objectives of the course are achievable when offered as an in-service program, that self-confidence with ICT is improved, and that participants applied their learning in a post-course activity with their community of practice.

We conclude that this training can advance the normative aim of the Capabilities Approach by providing extension officers with effective techniques for leading a change through choice strategy intended to enhance informational capabilities. Going forward, further efforts will be required to carry out in-depth field research on stewardship-informed practices with extension officers post-training. Members of the research team are also continuing to explore ways in which to institute the training program in both locations and introduce it to other LMIC settings while collecting further evidence for senior decision-makers to consider the value of the technology stewardship approach.

Bridges, D., & McGee, S. (2011). Collaborative Inquiry. In J. Higgs, A. Titchen , D. Horsfall, & D. Bridges (Eds.), Creative Spaces for Qualitative Researching Practice, Education, Work and Society. SensePublishers.

Gigler, B. S. (2015). Development as Freedom in a Digital Age: Experiences from the Rural Poor in Bolivia. The World Bank.

Haenssgen, M. J., & Ariana, P. (2018). The place of technology in the Capability Approach. Oxford Development Studies, 46(1), 98-112.

Kleine, D. (2013). Technologies of Choice? ICTs, Development, and the Capabilities Approach. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities. Portland: CPSquare.