Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

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?

It may sound like the title of one of Aesop’s fables….but it really is the title of a very intriguing book I just finished reading.

It is a book about the power of decentralised organizations: the parallel to the animal kingdom is intriguing! If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; if you cut off a starfish’s leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional top-down organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world. Rings a bell???

Starfish organizations are taking society and the business world by storm, and are changing the rules of strategy and competition. Like starfish in the sea, starfish organizations are organized on very different principles than we are used to seeing in traditional organizations. Spider organizations are centralized and have clear organs and structure. You know who is in charge. You see them coming.

Starfish organizations, on the other hand, are based on completely different principles. They tend to organize around a shared ideology or a simple platform for communication. They arise rapidly around the simplest ideas or platforms. Ideas or platforms that can be easily duplicated.

In today’s world starfish are starting to gain the upper hand.

How can Toyota leverage starfish principles to crush their spider-like rivals, GM and Ford? How did tiny Napster cripple the global music industry? Why is free, community based Wikipedia crushing Encyclopedia Britannica overnight? In today’s world to answer this it is essential to understand the potential strength of a starfish organization.

The parallel to the way the CGIAR is organized came to mind many many times as I was reading the book.  To our structure, to the innovation we foster, to the creativity we encourage…the CGIAR is our starfish! A timely reading as the CGIAR is going through its Change Management process. How can we ensure we preserve our starfish-like structure to support our science but create small, nimble agile spider-like departments where centralization means efficiency? Should we think of a hybrid model?

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, made me look at the organization we work for in a very appreciative light.

Happy reading!

An organization that does not change is bound to die….. all centers, our teams, our partners all face similar challenges. We need to build on each other’s strength, on the lessons we learn to be able to move forward…

We know there a lot of good stories you can tell us on how you..

  • Work in geographically distributed environments?
  • Capture and share local (indigenous) l knowledge, issues and ideas?
  • Deal with culture and gender issues?
  • Retain knowledge when workers leave?
  • Build relationships or networks?
  • Effectively communicate internally (within your organisation and project) and externally (partners, stakeholders)?


We dare to tell us your story …