February 2009


Few would deny that in the 21st Century, biotechnology and materials science have replaced plant breeding and soil science as the frontier areas of agricultural research. What is not really clear is how the application of computers and new ICTs are becoming centre stage in transforming agricultural science, research and technology generation.

High capacity computing power and use of ICTs in bioinformatics and managing massive databases have already demonstrated their effectiveness in generating new, more relevant and useful crop varieties in very short periods of time and at less cost. This will be critical in meeting the challenges of climate change. Modelling and simulation of crop performances, economic impacts and effects of weather and climate, use of geographical information systems and knowledge based systems are making vast contributions to making agriculture at various levels precise, predictable and proficient and more risk-averse. Embedded sensors, networks and ICTs are making farming less arduous and economical.

During the Science Forum 2009, a workshop will be organized to provide a venue to discuss how to exploit the potential of computing and ICTs in agricultural science, research and technology generation especially in the context of technologically less developed countries and for the benefit of millions of resource poor farmers and producers. The workshop will seek to identify the global priorities in research in use of ICT in agricultural science and technology generation and needs for technologically less developed countries to make full use of ICTs in harnessing agriculture science for their development and progress.

A call for proposal for posters to be presented during the Science Forum has been launched. The posters aim to present how Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are enabling agricultural science to be a social endeavor by communities rather something done in laboratories by professional scientists.

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Everything is ready for this event that registers fully booked with 30 communication professionals from 13 CGIAR centers.

We will start for three days with introductions and a short review of our communication goals. Next Tuesday we will hold a teleconference call (in two sessions to cover different time zones). We will talk about what social media is and how it can help us achieve our goals.

For two weeks participants will explore specific tools of their interest (i.e. blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, photo and video sharing, micro blogging etc). For each tool the facilitation team (Nancy White, Petr Kosina, Simone Staiger) prepared a short introduction, recommends some resources and offers a couple of questions as discussion starters.

At the end of the workshop we will discuss via the event platform Moodle and a second conference call how social media might play a role in the new CGIAR communications approach, taking specifically into account the CGIAR change process: What role could / should social media play in future communications strategies? What are the ideas that we could start to try out together?

Watch out this space for regular posts about this event.

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The Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR) recently released its newsletter. Please find attached the February 2009 Issue of the GFAR Newsletter. The web edition will be available soon at  http://www.egfar.org/egfar/website/new/newsletters

The Knowledge Sharing in Research project was featured in this newsletter in an article entitled: “The CGIAR: learning how to improve its research effectiveness and impact through knowledge sharing”ksinr-in-gfar-newsletter


florine-limHow long does it take to make an impact on a potential investor? Several days, perhaps? Or several hours? Or a few minutes?

Florine Lim will tell you that The WorldFish Center can get the job done in just 90 seconds.

According to Florine, two WorldFish storymercials shown during the recent Share Fair in Rome, Italy, have been causing quite a stir. These short videos of 90 seconds, which were co-sponsored by the ICT-KM Program and feature the Center’s work on fish farming in Malawi and the rehabilitation of communities following disasters in Aceh, Indonesia, have been enthusiastically received by investors, both current and potential, and have attracted much media interest since their release last year.

Florine, an Office Manager at WorldFish, Penang, talked enthusiastically during her interview about the interest generated by the videos.

“I presented the two storymercials at the WorldFish exhibition booth at the Share Fair, where quite a number of people expressed interested in them as communication tools,” she said. “Although the storymercials were originally created to attract potential investors (busy people who usually don’t have time to sit through lengthy video presentations), we wanted to get as many people as possible interested in this medium of knowledge sharing. The demand for our knowledge kit, a step-by-step guide on how to produce a storymercial, was fantastic. Indeed, almost all the available kits were snapped up on day one of the Fair.”

Click here for a more detailed report on the storymercials.

While at the Fair, Florine also had an opportunity to sit in on a few of the other sessions.

“I found facilitator Nancy White’s session on Low Bandwidth Solutions for Communications to be quite enlightening. She shared tool kits and a link that can be used for lower-cost calls. We also talked about Skype and other Internet communication tools: their pros and cons.

“WorldFish has a number of regional offices in Africa and South East Asia that have Internet connection problems, especially when using Skype, which sometimes doesn’t work well for conference calls or sending large files over low bandwidths. Nancy’s session provided several options that we were encouraged to try out for ourselves.”

Florine also attended a session on Google Apps facilitated by the ICT-KM Program’s Antonella Pastore.

“The response to this session was overwhelming,” she said. “I learnt about online collaboration tools and services like Gmail, Calendar, etc. At WorldFish, we’d already been using Google Documents, a tool that our scientists use when they want to share files online, so it was good to learn about some of the other applications.

“The best thing about these sessions, though, was the best practices shared by some of the participants. It was rewarding listening to the experiences of those who had already tried and tested the various applications.”

Like many Share Fair participants, Florine was also impressed by the eagerness of everyone to share their experiences.

“This was the first time that I’d had an opportunity to come together with people so determined to share,” she explained. “You could feel the enthusiasm. Although the purpose of the event was to share, everyone seemed open-minded and eager to learn too. I also had a lot of fun meeting new people, putting faces to email contacts and catching up with old friends. I can’t wait to do it again.”
Upon her return to Penang, Florine immediately began making plans to share her experiences and the knowledge she had gained at the Fair with her colleagues and other members of staff. During one of the Center’s weekly ‘Food for Thought’ meetings, a session entitled ‘Speed Dating for Knowledge’ used the speed dating methodology highlighted during the Fair. Staff were also given an opportunity give Florine some insights into the sort of knowledge sharing tools they would like to use in the future, while colleague Silvia Renn showed some other knowledge sharing approaches picked up at the Fair.
Although the Food for Thought session lasted a little longer than 90 seconds, you can’t help but be blown away by Florine’s determination to share.

An interview with Florine Lim by Mary Schneider

wherecampafrica
First of all you may wonder: What is a WhereCamp?

It is an “unconference” for geographers, mobile location experts and social cartographers and all kinds of folks interested in “place”. It will follow the annual CGIAR gathering of the geospatial scientists and on 4th April 2009 will bring together software developers, artists, geographers and academics for a one day extended discussion.

WhereCamp is an opportunity to present on ideas, questions, projects, politics, technical issues that you have – and contribute to and get feedback from other people and to make new friends with similar interests. It’s free and fun.

Why would you want to go?Society is being transformed by new maps and new mapping technology. This is an opportunity to help create a free forum in Africa for people to talk about, present, explore, and learn about projects that involve place.

What’s new about this?This will be the first gathering of its kind to take place in Africa.

What is an “unconference” ?An unconference is a conference planned by the participants. After a morning plenary to help frame the discussion we all convene together, plan sessions, and have break-outs into sessions. The idea comes from FooCamp and BarCamp as a way to give everybody an opportunity to bring to the table the things that interest them the most and lets us talk about new topics that are still new and exploratory. Part of what is important to hearing new voices and getting new ideas is lowering barriers to participation – this event is free and it is driven by the participants.

What kinds of topics will be discussed?This event is community driven and is what you make it. It provide cross pollination between many different kinds of folks from all walks of life.

Although we cannot predict exactly what will happen, topics might include:

Mobile location
Remote Sensing
Geoinformatics
Mapping and Agriculture
Food Security and Location
Community Mapping
Local Search
social cartography
Crisis Mapping
Iphones Androids and the way the web is falling into mobile

Expect to participate in conversations on the nature of place as described in pixels, with rays, on paper, and by social practice!

How exactly do I get to WhereCampAfrica?
visit www.wherecampafrica.org to find out!

AGCommons is proud to join others in co-organizing this innovative event!

impact

In September 2007, together with Frank Rijsberman, then Director General of the International Water Management Institute, Sanjini de Silva then Deputy Head of IWMI’s Information and Knowledge group, I co-authored the paper “Outcome Contracting: Show me the impact!”, a thinkpiece on how to be relevant and effective and not just a “drop in a bucket!”

I found the principles and ideas presented in that paper still extremely relevant if I look at the current reform efforts of the CGIAR and Agriculture Research in general, at the AAA framework that we are advocating, and our work on Public International Goods. So here is the paper again – good food for thought.

Let’s look at what it is all about: Scientific research has historically been assessed by the level of citations a publication or researcher has – the more the better being the mantra. The reasoning being that the “credible” researcher (or significant work) would automatically lead to citations or popularity: the more “credible” leading to more citations. Problems with this model are quite obvious, as it leads to a “publish or perish” mentality and encourages “popular” or trendy research. In addition, frequently cited publications are, at times, cited for their controversial nature, and not necessarily for their significance or impact in terms of research. But what does that mean for agricultural research? I am not arguing peer-review processes are to be discarded. They are important to ensure the scientific excellence of our work. But my argument: they are not sufficient.

The final product of agricultural research should, at the end of the day, have a measurable positive impact on the lives of the poor. If that is taken as a given, then we must reconsider our current evaluation models for agricultural scientific research. Various other strategies have been considered to address some of the shortcomings of the “publish or perish” model. However, most of these strategies aim to include the end-users either in the developing of the project or in training at the tail end of the project.

Is this enough? Is there not a better way to measure impact? How can we better link outputs to results? What about accountability?

The basis of the proposed “Outcome Contracting” model is accountability, both in terms of project design and funding. If the primary goal of our work and research is poverty reduction, should we not be held accountable for it? In the new model, researchers, along with the end users, partners etc, identify the impact pathway of any particular project, and decide up to which point the project can be held responsible. Accountability is established and funding, or partial funding, is awarded upon achieving the intended goal.

Can such an inclusive model be adopted in our new environment? How would that affect our current approach to research? And the funding?
Last week I participated in a workshop on “Data for decision making” hosted by the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation where I was quite inspired by how the funder was showing direct interest in understanding the factors that affect a project, and work together to find ways to mitigate any negative impact. Real interest was shown on the “impact” rather than just the “outputs”. More on that in a later post.

More work on this new inclusive model to reserach has been carried out by our Knowledge Sharing in Research Project.

The Triple-A Framework developed by ICT-KM seeks to assist CGIAR Centers/ Programs and their scientists decide on the level of availability and accessibility they want for their research outputs, and also the pathways to get there. For that to happen, ICT-KM is benchmarking the outputs of  selected Centers against measures of availability and accessibility. The Centers that have been quick to sign up for this opportunity are: Bioversity, CIAT, CIP, CIMMYT, ICARDA, ICRAF, WorldFish and the Challenge Program for Water and Food.

Based on the current status of Availability, Accessibility and Applicability (AAA) of their research outputs, Centers will be better able to devise pathways to turn these outputs into International Public Goods. ICT-KM will be on hand to help Centers identify their aims within the next 12 months following the benchmarking and also help them identify pathways to implement the AAA roadmap. 

A draft workplan has been set and we’ve begun assessing the availability of research outputs from the WorldFish Center. What will it reveal?

Watch this space…

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