AGCommons, the program led by the ICT-KM Program to provide location-specific (geospatial) information to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with the goal of improving productivity and livelihoods, will be present at the Africa GIS Conference 2009 in Kampala, Uganda (25-30 October), to inform participants about its development as an Africa-based service bureau and its Quick Win Projects.

In conjunction with the Conference, AGCommons will organize WhereCampAfrica-Kampala to be held on 30 October. After the success of WhereCamp Africa-Nairobi, this will be the second gathering of its kind to take place in Africa and the first one in Kampala.

WhereCamp, a free ‘unconference’ for geogeographers, mobile location experts, social cartographers and all kinds of folks interested in place, is an opportunity for participants to present ideas, questions, projects, politics, and technical issues that people have – and contribute to and get feedback from other participants. More information at and

We just concluded the CGIAR ICT annual meeting and the Alliance Deputies meeting on the shape of the Shared Services in the new consortium… . More on the results of these meetings later…

To prepare for the meetings, I looked at the proposed “Strategy and Results Framework” to how we could support the new CGIAR.

Mega programs

The proposed ‘Strategy and Results Framework’ introduces seven interlinked Mega Programs and two platforms — gender and capacity strengthening – that will serve as the building blocks for the work of the ‘new’ CGIAR.

How do information, knowledge, ICTs and related areas fare in these proposals?

Let’s see…. Mega-Program 3 is titled ‘Institutional Innovations, ICTs, and Markets.’ Its focus will be on: “Knowledge to inform institutional changes needed for a well-functioning local, national, and global food system that connects small farmers to agricultural value chains through information and communications technologies and facilitates policy and institutional reforms.”

This mega program “aims to unleash an ― institutional and information revolution – with and for farmers and the rural poor that improves and secures their livelihoods, and also promotes innovation along value chains.” It speculates that the “next big breakthrough in institutional innovation to be unleashed in support of poverty reduction, food and nutrition security, and environmental sustainability” might include: “linking of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to value chains and services for the poor in rural areas, through, for example, the cell phone and its increasing range of sophisticated derivatives.”

Within Mega Program 1 on ‘Crop Germplasm Conservation, Enhancement, and Use’, a program will “integrate bioinformatics and crop information systems.”

These proposals seem to recognize the importance of knowledge and information as well as ICT applications and tools within both CGIAR research processes and the agricultural innovation systems where organizations doing research and development interact. Hopefully, it will boost scattered efforts to increase research uptake, interaction and collaboration using ICTs and other innovative approaches to knowledge sharing in research.

Two cross-cutting platforms have been identified. The one on ‘capacity-building platform’ will “strengthen the capacity of the CGIAR and its partners through improved research networks, information technology, knowledge management systems, and training. The expected result is a dynamic knowledge creating and -sharing system comprising CGIAR centers, strong independent national agricultural research systems, and other research partners sharing knowledge.”

According to the plan, the capacity strengthening role of the CGIAR should “have two purposes: strengthening capacity for all Mega Program partners by fostering research collaboration and networking, and strengthening capacity for weak national agricultural research systems.”

The report goes on to say “An important element of both activities will be the development and use of advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and knowledge management and innovation systems, including access of Mega Program partners to applications and resources such as databases.”

These proposals seem to include work by CGIAR centers to make their data, information and knowledge accessible (see recent work on AAA and CIARD), so often limited-access knowledge is freed to be exchanged and re-used. Hopefully, they will not forget the importance of open licenses such as creative commons, and open access in general. The ‘public goods’ need to be made public! as Peter Ballantyne pointed out.

The results of our external review and the expectations laid out on the new Mega Programs will be the basis for a renewed ICT-KM strategy.

Andy Jarvis is not a new face on our blog or with our program. Andy is a young scientist who leads the CIAT’s Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) program, he is an active member of the CGIAR-Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) and a self-professed “promiscuos geographer”

Not only is Andy an excellent scientist, he is also a very decent human being. He has just received the Ebbe Nielsen Prize in Copenhagen: the annual award, granted by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), that recognizes the innovative use of the latest computer technology in biodiversity research. And with the prize him and his team won he decided to set up the Peter Jones Scholarship for Agricultural Bioinformatics, named after the former-CIAT scientist who was one of his early mentors. The scholarship will support a young promising Latin American undergraduate to help with DAPA’s research into the effects of climate change on agricultural biodiversity.

Read more on the “true honour” as Andy describes the award in his address on CIAT blog.

Proud to have Andy and his team among the many scientists with a conscience in the CGIAR!

Although we like to look fresh and current, this isn’t the driving force behind the present revamp of the ICT-KM Program’s website. Our focus continues to be on providing our audience with an easy-to navigate, content-rich site. You won’t find any unnecessary bells and whistles on the soon-to-be-launched site, but you will be able to locate content with ease, take advantage of our interactive features, and follow what we do.

The new site, along with our blog (currently free and hosted at, will soon be relocated to our own WordPress content management system (CMS). But don’t worry; we’ll still be reachable at The move means that our blog will be more visible and accessible than it is presently, with information about us and what we do cross-linked and cross-promoted across the site.  In short, the new site will revolve around the blog, with lots of shortcuts to the social media we use the most, pictures, videos, twitter, etc. – all of which represent our overall approach to communication, outreach, being out there and interacting with like-minded people. Visitors will also be able to leave comments about the site content and contribute to the blog. This is the fun part of this new adventure.

However, our job is not just going to be more fun, it’s also going to be a whole lot easier for us behind the scenes. We are a small team at the Program, so we look forward to doing our housekeeping in one place, instead of managing two sites ( and The CMS also means that will be faster and more accurate in keeping the site’s ‘stable’ content clean and fresh.

We’re all stat junkies at the Program, so we just love the idea that we’ll also be able to monitor and analyze traffic all at once.  This means, we’ll instantly gain more insight into how we’re doing on the Web and make adjustments accordingly.

What more could we possibly want? Well, we do have a little wish list:

  • an even more loyal audience (not that we’re complaining about our present followers)
  • more involvement from our audience in commenting, reviewing and sharing what we publish
  • more visibility and attribution for our blog authors, who are going to have more space to express themselves

With the help of you, our audience, we hope to realize this list.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new site later this month. Check back soon for news of our launch date!

stone_judgeFinally, I’m happy to share with you the results of the ICT-KM Program’s recent external review. Although I was a little nervous about the actual review process, not to mention the review report itself, I feel my team and I have all benefited from having outsiders look at our work. We have been forced to take a long hard look at ourselves; what went right, what went wrong, and where we hope to go from here.

It’s always good to have the fresh, impartial eyes of an external team look at your work and give you feedback in an open, constructive manner. “Nemo profeta in patria!” as my ancestors would say (“No one is a prophet in his own country”).

In today’s world, it’s absolutely vital to get some sense of perspective before one can successfully navigate all the challenges presented by any profession or career. One’s worldview is by default limited — geographically, culturally, historically, linguistically — chances for success in meeting those challenges will be equally limited. So, it was important to have diverse perspectives contribute to the way we charter our course, as we recently explored at our leadership course in IMD.

In coming to their conclusions, members of the review team were more than thorough. They diligently and systematically combed through six years of paperwork and web content, spoke to people familiar with the Program, and asked for opinions from people who knew of our work but who didn’t know the people behind the scenes. In short, no stone was left unturned.

Overall, the review is extremely positive. Here are just a few comments:

“The Program has important accomplishments that have:

But that doesn’t mean that the panel agreed with everything we’ve being doing. Nonetheless, we appreciate the excellent suggestions on how we can improve, just as much as the recognition we have received for the things that went well.

One of the recommendations suggested “that the ICT-KM Program sharpen its communications strategy to build awareness of the value of ICT-KM initiatives to CGIAR operations and research results.” This is one area that we are definitely focusing on, starting with this message.

Many of our projects and activities have chartered new waters in the CGIAR. We have taken on new ideas, adopted and adapted new technologies, and attempted to change mindsets – all without being 100% sure that we would succeed. In that regard, I see the similarities between our work and that of a venture capitalist: we are willing to take a calculated risk or two in the hope that some activities will turn out well. And some of the activities that turned out well, turned out really well, as highlighted in the panel’s comments above. Some of our outputs and outcomes are also changing the way things are done in the CGIAR, and that’s both gratifying and motivational, because there is still so much more that we can do.

I want to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to my team members: dedicated professionals who demonstrate on a daily basis their commitment to and belief in what we do. I applaud their resiliency and look forward to having them on board for the next stage of our journey. An expression of heartfelt appreciation to our reviewers too, for their objectivity, willingness to understand and explore and their constructive comments.

From a personal perspective, leading the Program has been interesting and rewarding. I’ve had an opportunity to support innovative approaches that have changed the way I work, been exposed to ideas that have opened my mind, and met people who have changed me as a person. It’s not always been easy, but it’s been a memorable and rewarding ride.

“What next for the ICT-KM Program?” you might ask.

Well, I have to say I feel heartened by the panels closing remarks:

The ICT-KM Program has made great strides and has the potential to contribute much more to the CGIAR System and its research objectives. The Program should be an integral part of the new CGIAR. It should no longer be a fee-for-service operation. In the Panel’s view, the CGIAR should maintain its commitment to ICT-KM during this time of transition so that the Program will not lose momentum or valuable staff, and can build on past experience to better serve the future CGIAR.

Now that we’ve learned and made adjustments, we’re more than ready to move forward … to support the new CGIAR!

I hope to see you all there.


Photo courtesy M. Meynsbrughen via stock.xchng

Meena Arivananthan

Meena Arivananthan

Six months ago, when Meena Arivananthan posted the first installment of her Social Media Series on our blog, no one could have envisaged the impact and popularity of her articles. This versatile woman has a passion for both writing and knowledge sharing, attributes that are evident in her posts. Indeed, those initial pieces, written in Meena’s informative, reader-friendly style, guaranteed that visitors to our blog would keep coming back for more.

A Knowledge Management and Sharing Officer tasked with overseeing our Triple A Project, Meena joined the Program at the beginning of 2009, a mere three months before she began writing her blog series – an obvious testimony to her ability to quickly embrace new technology and tools and translate her  know-how for others to understand. However, this modest young woman is quick to point out that she couldn’t have written some of her pieces without input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas

Find out more about Meena in her Program profile.

If you missed any of the articles in Meena’s series, the following handy recap will let you know where you can get information and tips on using newsfeeds, wikis, microblogging, and much, much more:

1. Microblogging
Looks at microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer

2. Blogging for impact
Blogging and agricultural research

3. Social Media: how do you know it’s working?
Incorporating social media into your communications strategy

4. Social Networks: friend or foe?
Using social networking sites to your advantage

5. Social Media: Are You Listening?
Practicing social media listening

6. Social Bookmarking: storm-a-brewing
Social bookmarking and the CGIAR

7. Wikis, sites, docs and pads: the many flavours of collaborative writing
Tools for collaborative writing

8. Are newsletters a dying breed?
How effective are e-newsletters today?

9. Newsfeeds: delivering the latest news to your virtual doorstep; and ways to share it!

Taking advantage of newsfeeds

10. Put it out there! Tools for photo, video and slideshow sharing

How to share photos, videos and slideshows

11. Social Media: The Next revolution

How agricultural research and development organizations can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs

During the recent World Congress of Agroforestry (WCA2009) in Nairobi, Kenya, the Congress reporting team plunged headlong into social media in a bid to maximize the event’s communications, which was achieved via the Congress blog, the @icraf Twitter account, pictures on Flickr and bookmarks on

Much energy and care went into the blog, which the team used for reporting on keynote sessions, announcing presentations and updates as they became available, highlighting the main articles published in the media and in other blogs about the Congress, and publishing the occasional opinion piece on what was being discussed in the sessions.

It was a challenge having to set up a reporting process in a few days, especially since there was so much more going on during the Congress, but the energy and motivation of the people involved helped with this unprecedented task.

However, the real challenge was getting started on Twitter. First, we had to get the team organized into ‘shifts’. We were lucky to have two volunteers joining us, enabling us to cover the keynote sessions. Second, we tried to keep an eye on how word was spreading about the Congress themes and speakers. And that’s when we found another ‘twitterer’ who was sharing info bits containing the Congress’ WCA2009 hashtag.

Curious and excited, Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF) and I tracked down our fellow twitterer and discovered it was Tom Vandenbosch, Programme Coordinator in the Training Unit at ICRAF. A scientist on Twitter? Yes. And much more, as you’ll find out from the following conversation we had with him.

Tom Vandenbosch (ICRAF)

Tom Vandenbosch (ICRAF)

[Antonella – AP]. Tom, who did you have in mind when you were tweeting from the WCA?
[Tom – TV].
Nobody in particular, because I have a few followers. It was more about taking notes and bookmarking interesting things for myself.

[AP]. How long have you been on Twitter?
I haven’t had my personal account for a long time. I’m doing a PhD in e-learning, and as part of my studies, I have been testing many social media tools under different names.

[AP]. Did you follow the @icraf tweets?
Yes, I followed them from the sessions. But honestly, I think it was overwhelming to have a sort of play-by-play report of what was being presented. Just the key facts emerging from the sessions would have been okay. People are following so many Twitter accounts, so it’s a bit of overloading. On another front, it helped me discover that it’s possible to have RSS feeds for hashtag searches on Twitter, so you can follow the conversations on a given topic with a RSS reader as well. Moreover, I think it’s good that we have the Twitter account labelled ICRAF, it’s short and handy to quote in re-tweets and replies.

[AP]. Do you think that tweets from the various sessions added any value to your Congress experience?
It added a lot of value, especially because there were many things going on at the same time. They made it possible me to follow the sessions that I couldn’t attend. The next time Twitter is used for ICRAF events, there will hopefully be more followers and less irrelevant tweets. For example, a tweet like “#WCA2009 Noordwijk leaves the podium to a round of applause following a lovely sing-song!” is not very relevant to a person who is not at the event. Tweets should be used sparingly to avoid flooding followers’ Twitter streams. Potential followers will automatically be attracted to Twitter accounts that tweet high quality information, since this information can be re-tweeted by others. On the other hand, ICRAF might considerr promoting its Twitter account more widely in order to get more followers.

. Have you been to other conferences where people were on Twitter?
I attended one in FAO last June, where some participants were posting to Twitter but not in a systematic way. But FAO now tweets from a number of interesting accounts, including faonews for news releases and related coverage, and FAOWFD for World Food Day.

[AP]. Do you have colleagues at ICRAF or other institutions who are bloggers and twitterers?
Besides Vanessa, who blogs at ASB (Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins) and PRESA (Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa), there are some others, but I don’t know if they’re real staff, students or interns. These blogs usually contain personal stories.

[AP]. Would you recommend your colleagues at ICRAF to get engaged with social media?
Definitely. There’s a lot of value in Web 2.0 tools, but I think we’re over-creating new blogs and Twitter accounts, instead of consolidating what we have already, including our presence on other high-impact blogs.  It would be better to liaise and engage with those who are already out there, the same way you want to be on high-impact research journals. To give you an extreme example, if Britney Spears were tweeting about trees on farms, that would be excellent. She has more than 3 million followers on Twitter now, while ICRAF has about 100.

Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF)

Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF)

[Vanessa – VM]. ASB has contributed to a new blog, the Rural Climate Exchange, where the CGIAR is bringing together the Climate Change and Agriculture initiatives from across the System. Most of the content is developed by professional writers working closely with communications staff in the Centers. This type of collaboration, especially on such a high-profile issue, is bringing a lot of added value with minimal additional cost.

[TV]. When blogs get linked by popular traditional media, they often get a big boost. For example, a blog called Africa Expat Wives Club became one of the most popular blogs in Kenya after being featured in The Times.

[AP]. Do you think that social media have a role in mainstreaming agroforestry research?
TV]. Yes, but it is different if we talk about the general public or the scientific community. With the general public, we need to target people on social networks who are interested in receiving information about agroforestry. That’s what my PhD research is all about: me-learning, a new form of e-learning, based on individual requirements, on recommendations based on the user experience history, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Through cookies or other existing technologies, e-learners can receive learning propositions that suit their interests, experience levels and learning styles.

The role of social media would be different within the scientific community. Scientists tend to have a more traditional approach to publishing, through papers, assessments, journals, etc. And this has an influence on how they perceive the worth of a communications channel. It could possibly take another generation of scientists to start realizing the value of social media for science.

Perhaps it would be easier for them to perceive this value if more projects used these tools to gather data, such as via SMS-based systems. I’m thinking, for example, of an adaptation of Ushahidi for the collection of scientific data from a range of specific locations. Ushahidi is a platform that crowdsources crisis information: people can report incidents via the Web, email and SMS. The reports are then aggregated, geo-referenced, browsable and searchable on the Web.

[VM]. Many projects I’m working on at the moment have a knowledge sharing and communications component built in the design, so this is changing… like with the PRESA, it was a direct request from the donor, IFAD. Impetus is coming from different places, and this could shift research priorities. Many of the scientists I work with understand the value of integrating knowledge into a proposal, with proper funding for it. Hopefully the trend is over, of asking the communications unit to churn out a policy brief at no cost, after the project is already finished.