September 2008

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 …

Sue Parrott from Green Ink.

Sue Parrott from Green Ink.

As I am participating in a meeting of the Change Management Process of the CGIAR at IRRI in Los Baños, Philippines I was happy to have a chat with Sue Parrott who took over the role of a live blogger during the event. Sue works for Green Ink., a UK-based communications consultancy, and has been reporting meeting sessions and interviewing participants in this event that aimed at engaging the Working Groups, and the Steering Committee with a whole range of stakeholders in a consultation process. Very soon –in less then a month—the Steering Committee has to make recommendations to the Executive Committee of the CGIAR, which will lead to final decisions about the future of our System during the Annual General Meeting in December this year.

Stakeholder engagement is a crucial element of the whole process (see a related post reflecting the reactions of Ruth Haug from Norway) and the blog has been identified as one possible channel to convey frequent up dates and hopefully get some feedback.

So, I asked Sue about her blogging experience:
It has been really good fun. The blog, as a new channel and trendy media, generated interest among the meeting participants who responded very positively to my interview invitations. I could work very independently also I would almost have liked interviewees to be more controversial. Sue and I agreed about the importance of keeping the blog going actively until the December meeting at least, and to publicize it. Sue admits that this is her first event blogging experience and would love to get feedback about its usefulness: Does it give you information you can’t get elsewhere, is it timely?

The blog covered the 3-day event with 15 posts, more then 10 of them being interviews of participants, many in video format.

The Instiutional KS project has been working with the CGIAR Secretariat on stakeholder enagement and knowledge sharing issues over the last 3 years.

A research-oriented organization such as the CGIAR cannot be satisfied just knowing that it has produced good research. It is critical to ensure that the knowledge or outputs this research produces is put to the best possible use. Using the same philosophy that questions how a crop grown in a lab can feed a hungry person, the issue here is to find the pathway that will take research information off of library shelves and out of hard drives and make sure it is available to its intended users – be they policy makers, researchers, extensionists or the farmers themselves.

The CGIAR ICT-KM Program has developed a plan to assist the CGIAR Centers in taking the steps necessary to ensure that all outputs from their research become international public goods, in other words, that they are Available, Accessible and Applicable to all who could benefit from their use – a Triple-A approach.

ICT-KM believes the Triple-A approach offers a pathway for bringing the benefits of the crops grown in the lab to the people who need them.

More on this topic soon….

The CGIAR is undertaking a major Change management process,  and new governance and funding options are already on the table for discussion.

The CGIAR has opened up access to all interested to participate in this debate through the Virtual Forums at

A live blogger has joined the change management retreat group meeting in Los Banos, Philippines 7-9 September …you can comment virtually on the discussions by posting your views on the Change management blog

Time to be bold, says Kathy Sierra, Chair of the CGIAR

Join the discussion and help shape the future of the CGIAR!

September 2-4, 2008. A CGIAR / FARA Consultation towards Partnerships and Coordinated Implementation was held at FARA’s Headquarters in Accra to harmonize CGIAR and FARA research initiatives in Africa.

This consultation was not intended to cover the overall operation of CGIAR and FARA in the continent. The focus was on collective action initiatives requiring strategic partnerships between the CGIAR and FARA,
and which have capacity for contributing towards the overall CAADP agendas of Africa. .

I participated to represent the ICT-KM program and seek synergies and collaborations with FARA’s Regional Agricultural Information & Learning System (RAILS). A number of collaborative activities have been planned between our initiatives, as a result of this consultation.

Look at what Dr. Ola Smith, from ICRISAT, one of the research centers of the CGIAR thought of the meeting.

Since 2004 the ICT-KM Program has funded the Online Learning Resources (OLR) project to identify and apply innovative ways to make available and accessible content knowledge of the CGIAR for teaching and learning purposes.

From the 15 of September, for 2 days participants from most CGIAR centers, a number of advanced research institutes and partner institutions will meet in Rome to look at the achievements, look for synergies with other related initiatives of the CGIAR and its partners and plan the activities ahead in the area of learning and capacity building.

Since  2004, the Online Learning Resources (OLR) Project has been adapting international educational technology standards to enhance the availability and accessibility of CGIAR learning resources for distance learning and Web-based instruction through a repository integrated with an open source learning management system. Recently, the OLR project has begun to assess the viability of an ISO standard for quality assurance for education, training and learning to enhance the quality of CGIAR learning resources and partnerships.
The project has also advised CGIAR training and capacity-building officers on pedagogical and technical implications of these technologies, and helped facilitate incorporation of these technologies to disseminate content knowledge for agricultural education, training and research capacity-strengthening. It has engaged with southern universities and researchers to identify needs for, and seek contributions to, share learning resources and related research or training support products. Northern universities have also assisted to facilitate international educational technology standards for knowledge sharing.

The following quote from the Evaluation and Impact of Training in the CGIAR, (CGIAR Science Council Secretariat, 2006) is evidence of the importance of the work of the Capacity Building community in the CGIAR:

“Greatest demand in [the] future is nevertheless foreseen for specialized short courses, individual non-degree and higher degree training (in collaboration with northern / southern universities). A major contribution is expected by making more materials available on-line. In this respect the Panel’s conclusions are supportive of the System’s ICT-Knowledge Management Initiative’s Online Learning Resources project, the objectives of which include to strengthen capacity, facilitate cooperation between Centers as well as to disseminate existing training and learning materials. […] The most promising future strategy for efficient sharing of responsibilities would seem to be through the multipartite training partnerships, already in operation, where northern and southern institutions are linked with the Centers, and the work load shared efficiently according to the distinctive competence of each one.”

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