November 2007

Petr Kosina
Petr is the Knowledge Sharing and Capacity Building Coordinator at CIMMYT (Mexico). He has a background in biological sciences and education. His responsibilities include course design and development, facilitation of knowledge-sharing processes (both inside and outside institutions), and “soft skills” development. Petr is responsible for the knowledge management components of several CIMMYT projects. He also coordinates the Cereal Systems Knowledge project of the IRRI–CIMMYT Alliance.

Nancy White
Nancy works with organizations to strengthen collaboration and communication online and offline. She has a special interest in online facilitation, teams and communities of practice, and whole systems change. She is currently writing a book on technologies in support of communities and learning graphic facilitation and deepening her love of chocolate from her home base in Seattle, USA.

Lucie Lamoureux
Lucie is an information professional with 8 years’ experience in knowledge management within the field of international development. Her main focus is capacity or skills development, specifically, knowledge-sharing approaches and online networking. She also regularly designs and facilitates face-to-face meetings.

Simone Staiger-Rivas
Simone is leader of the Institutional Knowledge Sharing Project. She is a trained social communicator with 13 years’ experience in the coordination of electronic communications projects. Her interest lies in the enhancement of collaboration in institutional settings that contribute to organizational learning and change. Simone is based at CIAT, Colombia.

Nadia Manning
Nadia is a researcher and outreach coordinator at IWMI and project leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research project (sister component to the IKS Project). With a background in anthropology, and development and environmental studies, she seeks to understand, develop, and promote ways in which people can work together to understand, decide on, and solve problems associated with natural resources.

Joe Researcher has been working on a smallholder cacao project in Ecuador. He gradually realizes his role is not only that of a researcher, but also as mediator in his project partners’ network between his fellow scientists and the cacao farmers. When he reframes his work to consider how knowledge emerges, flows, and is shared across the project, he was amazed to discover how productive and focused his team became. Three of his early lessons were (1) network weaving – finding and connecting people; (2) convening useful gatherings for project work; and (3) keeping the project information flow moving outwards. He used to think the third lesson or area was his priority, but discovered that without the first two areas, the information was often ignored or misapplied. After investing in the three areas, he finds that, in fact, he had more time to do his research and easier access to his partners for consultations.

Peter van Dijck gave a talk on “Global IA: How to Organize Global Websites “: what changes when Web sites go global? Interesting topic for whoever works on multilingual, multicultural sites  targeted to a truly global audience like with the CGIAR Centers Web sites. Basically, the message is that there are different ways in which we structure Web sites when we address audiences and needs across countries and cultures. Peter listed a number of patterns that recur in these cases.

Pattern 1: Categories are Cultural

In different cultures we have different ways of calling and organising things. Navigation categories for organising information depend on the culture of the users we’re addressing: different laws, commercial environments, languages… so the way we organise things change accordingly.

In USA, for example, they have big cars, like SUVs. In Europe we have different cars, smaller. So on a US site you may have a category for SUVs. Another example is a condo (often used in lieu of apartment  in New York or other big US cities. ), but this doesn’t translate the same way in Italy for example (condominio is the legal term for property tenure and not a synonym for apartment).

Melvin Dewey decided to organise the whole knowledge of the world and invented the Dewey Decimal System, which is still used today in many public libraries today. The 10 main areas, e.g. technology, nature, religion, are divided into 10 subcategories. It’s very limited but still widely used because it’s pretty difficult to tear off millions of sticky labels from the books of million libraries.

Pattern 2: Locales Become Mixed

From Wikipedia article on locale: “In computing, locale is a set of parameters that defines the user’s language, country and any special variant preferences that the user wants to see in their user interface. Usually a locale identifier consists of at least a language identifier and a region identifier.”

The pattern is about the fact that when you have a Web site localized for a number of countries, search has to be capable of going beyond the boundaries of the country, language or market the local represents. For example, if you search for an item on eBay France and you don’t find it, eBay will expand the search results, in a transparent way, to other eBays, like the US.

Pattern 3: Structure Mostly Translates

Sructure translates most of the time, with a few exceptions like a site index in alphabetical order. In Chinese there is no alphabet and so a site indexcan’t be put in an order. Another example is Japanese tag clouds which are not alphabetical.

Pattern 4: Categories Are Cultural (2)

Peter went back to pattern 1 here with another example, taken from the Maori people to examplify the cultural contrast between an organisational scheme like Dewey and the Maori’s way to describe their ancestors.
Over the latest generations, the Maori people are rediscovering their identity and culture. They also have a founding story that there were canoes landed on their islands and the Maori people spread all over the island. So to go back to their ancestors, they say their people came on canoe number 7 , for example. What’s happening is that the Maori culture was put into libraries by Westerners, and instead of canoe numbers, they found Dewey: is the Maori origin myth to be found under nature? canoes? religion?

Pattern 5: Global standard, Local exceptions

Companies tend to make one standard and then all sorts of exceptions. Look at newspaper sites, for example: one from Colombia, one from Spain, one from Colombia. They have technology, culture, economy. etc. Then each has one specific category for their culture. In Colombia, they have conflicto armado, and tierras y ganados (as top level categories). In New York, they have obituaries (particularly in vogue in NYC). In Spain, there are many immigrants, and they have nuestros paises as top level categories.

Google Korean, in spite of Google reputation for a super clean home page, has animations on the home, because they have to adapt to the local culture. Same for Chinese, where they put lots of text because it’s just easier to click on links than typing chinese in.

Craigslist Dubai has categories that are just empty, because those categories don’t work in Dubai (only category that works is real estate for sale, no popularity for dating categories…)

Standardization is a way to practice control but generates tensions and workarounds. The tension between locales remains, and this tension is not something to be avoided or deleted (Susan Leigh Star).

It is difficult to standardise, for example on an Intranet, because standardisation is another word for control. So Think global, act local.


What I found worth of emphasising is that when we work on sites, like the ones of the CGIAR, that address an international audience, with a very varied cultural background, labelling of navigation categories needs to be carefully considered and tested with a sample of users, as much as possible.

 What I found particularly interesting is the point on standardisation. An Intranet (or an Extranet) seems to be a closed world, highly controllable, with a limited user base, and still you can have as much tensione towards local practices as you want. The concept “think global, act local” seems then to be well suited to an Intranet/Extranet strategy.

Here’s the start of the CGXchange section of the ICT-KM blog. It features news, posts, comments and musings  about online collaboration, networking and how Web technology can support the sharing of information and knowledge inside and outside of the CGIAR.

The idea is to cover and offer for comments what goes on around these themes. CGXchange is the name of the collaboration platform of the CGIAR (read project details), but there’s more to it than just the tech. It’s about understanding the needs of staff who are working across the physical boundaries of their offices, about exploring new tools in support of managing work and sharing information, about figuring out how technology changes the way we work and makes it more effective and efficient. 

Technology is a moving target (have you ever heard that?) and it’s necessary to keep an eye on the way it is evolving, what’s new in the field and what other tools can support the way work changes. And lately the talk of the town is all around Web 2.0. So here’s the excuse for starting this blog.

I’m at the Italian Information Architecture Summit, in Trento, as a member of the Scientific Board, and co-presenter for tomorrow’s presentation “The Web2Architect” that Chris Addison will deliver about the Euforic Web site.

Why am I here? First and foremost because I remain an information architect at heart, and second because the case Chris will present is a very good practical example of how to create a Web presence on the basis of Web 2.0 tools. What are the challenges? What stays the same and what is radically changed? How do you need to get organised to maintain a Web site where most of the content is out there, with little control on it? And why go this way?

Chris, Pier Andrea Pirani and I met at Web2forDev last September in Rome. They presented the Euforic site as a case of extensive application of Web 2.0 tools to building an online presence and delivering their information services. While they were talking, it started to dawn on me that much of what they were discussing had an information architecture implication: content generation and classification, increasing the reach of their information, cooperative approaches to search. Instead of building a one-stop shop, they are putting their content out there, all over the place, and increasing the reach and visibility of their own and member’s content.

So I proposed to Chris and Pier to put an information architecture angle onto their case study and present it to the Italian IA Summit. And here we are ready to go (to Peter van Dijck session for now…   blog +  consultancy blog on Global IA)

AGM CGIAR 2007You are invited to take part in a facilitated on-line conversation, beginning on November 19. Its main purpose is to provide CGIAR scientists, partners and
Members with an opportunity to contribute to, and keep informed about, activities and outcomes of the Science Forum to take place at the CGIAR’s 2007 Annual General Meeting (AGM07) in Beijing on December 4.

The Science Forum is aimed at fostering dialogue about achievements and new opportunities in agricultural science. Building on the excellent feedback we received through an on-line survey conducted last August, we will focus the on-line conversation specifically on steps that the CGIAR and the Centers it supports can take to better mobilize advanced science for sustainable agriculture.

To take part via e-mail, please sign up for the on-line dialogue with the facilitator, Simone Staiger, email address: s.staiger@cgiar. You can also participate at the following Web site: or if you prefer to subscribe via RSS, please enter the following URL to your RSS news feeder:

As even the “older” generations are getting caught up in the Facebook and social networking mania, it might be interesting to highlight the possible uses of Facebook to the growing, though still dormant, CGIAR network which was set up within the CGIAR by Luz Marina Alvaré from IFPRI, who is always at the cutting edge of ICTs. A growing group of now 147 members have signed up, but the question is… what for?

It would be great to brainstorm on social networking possibilities within the CGIAR. To start the ball rolling, perhaps we could use Facebook to…
– Establish an expertise database?
– Publicize new projects, results, and products?
– Announce job openings?
– Share CGIAR staff blogs?

I’m sure that the above do not even cover 5% of the possibilities that Facebook could offer our System. So why not explore this further and find ways to strengthen the bonds between center staff?

This is a blog post about the host center of the Institutional KS project– the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)– the host country Colombia and one historical example of activities around ICT4D that I would like to celebrate.

Knowledge Sharing has been part of a CIAT project called Inforcom (, now closed. Inforcom focused on strengthening local capacity for innovation by better enabling rural communities and the R&D organizations that serve them to obtain, create, and share information and knowledge, with the aid of new ICTs. It started with a project on community telecenters “InforCauca”, which was a pioneer project. Its objective was to strengthen communities in marginalized areas in their capacity to appropriate new information and communication technologies (ICT) for their own development. Models had previously and successfully been tested in southwestern Colombia. The project’s goal was therefore to implement three community telecenters in this area.  Then other subsequent projects looked at further steps that can be taken so that groups and individuals in rural communities can derive greater benefits from ICT services. One such intervention is to strengthen the role and capacities of information intermediaries, which are another key component of local information networks.

CIAT is not anymore directly involved in the telecenter movement in Colombia, but more than ever is ongoing, with for example the most recent 4th national meeting of telecenters in Popayan, entitled “Strategic Strengthening of Community Knowledge Networks”. It is with great pleasure that the Institutional KS project and CIAT colleagues contributed with a very small seed to the event by orientating the organizers in the set up of a Knowledge Fair and an After Action Review to allow informal conversations and exchanges of multiple local experiences.

One key actor in the telecenter movement is the Colombian NGO Colnodo. Colnodo provides information on and access to Internet since 1993, with specific focus on issues like human resources, digital inclusion, gender and governance. It’s Action Applications were one of the first Web content development systems with Web 2.0 features I experienced. This was in 2002.

More on telecenters in Colombia (in Spanish) at:

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