September 2008


tree at ICRISAT campusThe motto of the ICT-KM program always links me to trees. The campus of the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT, one of the CGIAR centers) extends over 3,500 acres in a beautiful setting. As you walk among the field trials of their 5 mandated crops, you cannot fail to remind yourself of ICRISAT’s mandate to improve people’s livelihoods in the semi-arid tropics through integrated genetic and natural resource management. ICRISAT’s headquarters in Patancheru, Andra Pradesh, are hosting the 2008 annual meeting of the IT managers in the CGIAR. This is a self-organizing community of IT professionals who apart from their centers’ specific duties are very committed to supporting an efficient and effective IT system for the CGIAR system. As the CGIAR reforms itself, IT remains central to its mission. This gathering offers an opportunity to share lessons and discuss how this group can strategically position itself to best serve the renewed CGIAR system. 

Advertisements

As we start the last week of the online phase of the KS Workshop, the conference call this morning was about looking back at the network mapping exercise and its usefulness. We talked about the tools and methods that we are currently exploring on our virtual discussion space, and we did a short evaluation of the workshop so far.

Many found the network maps really useful: “it is good to have it as a visual.” “It was the best workshop lesson because it showed the weaknesses and what I can do better to involve others” “It was good but now I have difficulties to relate the map with the tools” “It was great to do it with my colleagues” are some of the reactions. We also learnt an interesting unexpected use of the map: As an induction to a newcomer in the project team, or as a way to explain an organization, a project or a team during a recruitment process.  

For the upcoming workshop in Rome, many tools are on the list of desired hands on sessions and explorations: wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, tagging, Content Management Systems, but also communities of practice, World Cafés and After Action Reviews.

Finally there was a round of feedback on the workshop so far, and the issue of the amount of information and interaction that seems difficult to digest for many. On that one, I just came along a post by John Smith of CP Square called “How much time does it take?” He describes a very similar situation in his workshop about communities of practice. Have a look!

The Institutional Knowledge Sharing project is supporting three pilot activities in three CGIAR centers in order to contribute to institutional innovation, and learn about the effectiveness of KS approaches. Two of the pilots have now made available their products.
 
“Recovering from natural disasters” A ‘Storymercial’ by WorldFish
“The storymercial is e a combination of video, audio and images.  At the heart of the storymercial is the story; the oldest most proven way humans learn and remember information.” says Helen Leitch, Project Leader. “Despite a huge investment in communications, awareness of the CGIAR Centers’ work and contribution to development is often low. Since knowledge products with more mass appeal are needed, this project examined the role storymercials can play to attract our donors and partners to knowledge, thus increasing the uptake of research outputs”.  Have a look at: http://www.worldfishcenter.org/v2/rehabilitate%20livelihoods.html

Best Practices in Research data Management (IRRI)
“There is still little experience in using wiki technology within CGIAR. The openness and visibility of a wiki is often seen as a risk, rather than an opportunity for increased participation and collaboration in communities of practice.” states Thomas Metz, Project Leader. This project developed, collected, recorded, and applied good practices in research data management, and initiated a communities of practice for research data managers.  It is enabling scientists to produce better quality research and release their primary data as global public goods that will be available and usable for future secondary use. See the wiki at: http://cropwiki.irri.org/everest/

More to come soon…

Week two was very active at the FAO-CGIAR KS Workshop. Participants were invited to think about the people we do / need to share knowledge with. After having explored the issue of the “Why share knowledge?” during week 1, which aimed basically at getting to know each other’s contexts better, during week 2 we dived into the area of our networks.

KS is about people and people organize themselves in groups of all kinds. The network theory / approach allows us nicely to analyze those groups –call them teams, communities, units, organizations– in terms of: How do we share our knowledge currently and what could we do to improve interaction, enhance innovation, reach out to new users… We invited participants to listen to related podcats, look at a related IMark module, participate in a conference call, and most important to develop a network map that would look at the today of our project / group dynamics and at the opportunities for improvement. Our special guest this week was Eva Schiffer, former IFPRI, now consultant, who specialized in network mapping and helped us explore the potential of this method.

We offered two podcasts:

  • In her interview on social networks Patti Anklam who has a strong KM background and has been working for large computer companies before becoming a consultant, highlights how social network analysis (SNA) helped her to make sense of her intuitions: “SNA helps us to improve our understanding of organizations and ask relevant questions. We are used to see organizations through their charts (who reports to whom?), but to get things done we use much more our personnel connections. SNA illustrates the existing knowledge pathways and a map can illustrate questions like: Are we focusing too much on some individuals? Who are the connectors? And SNA can reveal the hidden value of people. Where do we need to create more pathways?” Patti recommends a reading for those who want a introduction to this area: Robert Cross: The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations
  • Eva Schiffer complements nicely Patti’s interview by linking SNA to our R4D context. She tells two stories that illustrate the use of SNA in research projects, done in low-tech environments with basic materials like paper, markers and post-its. “SNA opens the black box about impact, because it helps us to understand how things work and why we have or don’t have impact. It can give us additional information on how to reach better out to end users.” Eva uses SNA in meetings and asks project stakeholders questions like: – Who are the actors in your project? – How are they linked? What is their role (donor, advisor, partner…) – How influential are they? (using influence towers) – Have you influential friends / enemies “The complete map is for many an eye opener and generates excitement. It confirms intuitions for some, for others it highlights the different understanding that the actors can have about the relationships and dynamics in their network”, she says

Our weekly resource, the IMark module is definitively an extremely rich and useful resource for those who want to go more systematically through the issues of on-line communities and how to establish and make most out of them. The module offers us a first exploration with concrete situational examples within our R4D domain. Then it helps us go through a needs assessment, and have a look at the available options and tools. It guides us through all the design issues of on-line communities—from roles and responsibilities to online security issues—and has also a crucial chapter about online facilitation. On that one, and just as example, I really like the slides about cross-cultural differences i.e. about how we start a conversation, use humor, our attitudes towards time, conflict and moments of silent… very insightful.

Our weekly conference call (divided as always in three alternative schedules to cover the different time zones of our participants) allowed us to have Eva Schiffer with us and to explore network issues around some examples given from the participants. On the call we explored questions like: incentives and the existence of a “tipping point” for active participation and how to reach it; the role of a core group as most active members who engage the others; the potential of focal points to reach out within the network; the notion of “boundary spanners” between the more connected and the less connected in a network; the trap of seeing us too often in the center of the network as an indispensable node; the power of informal meeting opportunities for networking; the power of on-line tools for active networking and the need to offer different tools or channels to meet member’s varying preferences.

The network mapping exercise generated some good on-line discussions on our Moodle space. So far participants contributed 10 maps or so. The discussion came up about the need to map the network with regard to the people we have relationships with, not so much the units or groups. It’s the nodes between actors of the network that we can influence / work on. Another important step in the mapping exercise is to look at the map as it is now but also to add the links and relationships we dream of developing. Here are examples of issues that emerged while analyzing three of the maps:

  • “ By looking at my map, I found that we should involve more on our Focal units, because they are working at the national level and they have a close collaboration with their national institutes and researchers. A Regional Information System doesn’t mean nothing if it doesn’t has the support of National Agricultural information system.” The feedback suggested for example to aim at a face-to-face meeting to strengthen and motivate the focal units.
  • “ I envision that I have currently centralized to such a point where I am the only connector and now I would like to ensure that the relevant areas take on ownership of their own pieces of the Portal.” Eva reported an example of a colleague who tries to be very involved in the strategic development of his projects in the beginning, but who right from the start will look for a “leadership apprentice” to take over and who can assure continuity.
  • “Our partners are of different nature, positions, cultures, but they are all committed to information exchange. The actors involved are basically those who produce information (data providers) and the big audience that uses this knowledge.” Workshop participants reply: the challenges is to moving individuals in the network from a mindset of “data exchange” to thinking about KS, i.e. What would the map look like if those same end users were able to shape the type of content that goes into the platform in the first place?

It is also worthwhile mentioning that this week we experienced some problems with our Moodle space. Many participants had problems to post their messages, specifically when they were pasted from another document. While this is been currently addressed we all had some frustrations and certainly lost some good comments. We hope that next week will be a no technology problem one! We are looking forward to now explore tools and methods for knowledge sharing during week 3 of our workshop!

As the workshop moves into its second week of on-line discussions, and learnings (week one we talked about Why KS, now we explore the Who via a network mapping exercise), I wanted to share with you the amazing role that our two workshop mentors are playing. Not only do we have two former participants (Pete Shelton from IFPRI and Gauri Salokhe from FAO) as facilitators. We have also two mentors who volunteered to redo the workshop and bring in additional perspectives: Michael Riggs from FAO/Asia and Alexandra Jorge from ILRI/Bioversity are doing an amazing job in bridging the two workshops, supporting participants with tips, and linking many ideas. Congratulations Alexandra and Michael.

Our colleagues Sophie Alvarez and Boru Douthwaite from the CGIAR are busy with their team supporting projects all over the globe with their project planning and M&E by using a novel approach that has lots to do with knowledge sharing. The Participatory Impact Pathways (PIPA) is now outlined in our KS Toolkit.

Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) is a project planning and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) approach. It is a relatively young and experimental approach that draws from program theory evaluation, social network analysis and research to understand and foster innovation. It is designed to help the people involved in a project, program or organization make explicit their theories of change, in other words how they see themselves achieving their goals and having impact.

More at: http://www.kstoolkit.org/Participatory_Impact_Pathways_Analysis_%28PIPA%29

Some interesting responses have come to the blog post on

“Sharing knowledge-tell us a story”–article on KSinR project in latest New Agriculturalist

The questions which have arisen have asked whether this type of work has not already been done-thus we are re-inventing the wheel. It has been pointed out that many approaches, initiatives and attempts have already been made at learning, adopting and following knowledge sharing in research type activities (participatory)–much coming out of the influence of Chambers’ “Farmers’ First” work. This work has resulted in many resources (mostly literature) on the subject.

My response to this questions was, if this is the case then why is it still an issue, why has change not occurred in the face of all that previous work?

The KSinR project is not trying to replicate the work already done, and also does not focus solely on participatory research–it is broader than this, encompassing this valuable work,a s well as work on priority setting, communication, dissemination, extension, local knowledge, and much more. The project has three main objectives:

* knowledge generation-through learning from what others have discovered and also from the piloting of activities

*sharing, brokering and promoting this knowledge, experience and elssons

*supporting the application of such approaches and ideas

The main framework which KSinR tries to use is the integration of knowledge sharing approaches into the research cycle.

So a further question for discussion whcihw as brought up was in light of what has already been done, what is new/different about this current work of KSinR .

Any thoughts out there on this?

Next Page »