February 2009

Silvia Renn

Silvia Renn

We’ve all sat through talks that involve a PowerPoint presentation and conclude with a question and answer session. Although such presentations are not without value, not everyone feels comfortable or motivated enough to speak up at the end of them. Questions on the tip of the tongue can often go unasked, and valuable insights can remain unvoiced.
To encourage and maximize audience participation at the recent Share Fair held in Rome, Italy, PowerPoint presentations were banned from almost all sessions. Several participants, among them GIS Specialist Silvia Renn, voiced their approval of this decision.
“The Share Fair had a good overall atmosphere,” said Silvia when recounting the event. “People really committed and were participating, I think, partly because PowerPoint was banned. As a result, we used methods that were somewhat different to what we were used to. Often the Powerpoint presentation itself stands out much more than the actual topic and all the attention is focused on a screen. But the various tools that we were exposed to at the Fair soon had everyone participating.”
Silvia attended the Fair hoping to find innovations about knowledge sharing methods and tools that she could take back and use in her work at The WorldFish Center in Penang, Malaysia. She didn’t return disappointed.
“I attended an interesting session on geodata: Food Security and Vulnerability Mapping,” she explained. “Hosted by WFP, the session gave an overview of the organization’s work: what it was doing with its data and how and in which form the data was being made available to other organizations and/or the general public. I made many useful contacts during this session and had some interesting discussions, even long after the session had ended.”
Silvia also attended the session on Knowledge Sharing in Research Projects and enjoyed the discussion that got going during the event.
“It was a very practical discussion. People started talking about the challenges they were facing in the field and everyone chipped in to give best practice experiences from their own projects. So, in that regard, it was different from some of the other sessions.”
While at the Fair, Silvia was also introduced to Flash Meeting, a tool that she was eager to try out.
“Usually, I use Skype to have virtual meetings with my international colleagues. But Flash Meeting is much easier – I don’t even have to install anything to begin communicating with it. I just have to send the link to my colleagues, and they can immediately access the meeting, with or without a webcam. A meeting can also be taped and uploaded onto an FTP server, so people who missed it can view it later.”

Silvia has also blogged about another session she attended at the ShareFair on Data Management for logistics, a session where Peter Casier from WFP replaced powerpoint presentations with Rubik’s cubes!

Short after returning from the Fair, Silvia decided to try out this versatile, easy-to-use tool by scheduling a meeting with partners in Mozambique, Malawi, Germany and Zambia.
“I was really surprised at how well the meeting went,” she said afterwards. “Usually it takes some time before people get used to new tools. Everyone caught on quickly and we have agreed to use this tool for our next meetings as well. The best function is that only one person can speak at a time, so no interruptions. If someone would like to say something, they are placed in a queue.”
From the perspective of a GIS specialist, Silvia feels that knowledge sharing is vital in her field. Data generated by most organizations usually has too many restrictions attached to them when it comes making them accessible to others, but especially so with geodata. For example, organizations within the UN collect a wide array of geodata that they don’t share with the public or even other organizations within the UN. So they often end up collecting the same data twice.
“The CGIAR has a geoportal with geodata from many of the CGIAR Centers (CGIAR CSI),” Silvia said, “but the licenses often restrict users outside the research environment from using this data, and this prevents efficient sharing. I think it’s important for the CGIAR to incorporate knowledge sharing into its data policies, especially regarding geodata.”
Restrictions do not only apply to geodata but also to research papers and reports.
“I can’t even access some of the papers or reports generated by colleagues because of the restrictions,” she said.
Like many other participants, Silvia was also introduced to the KM4DEV online community for the first time at the Share Fair and was suitably impressed by the people involved.
“I found the KM4DEV members to be really open and inclusive, and not just online,” she explained. “It’s easy to be inclusive online, you just open a Wiki and everyone can contribute. But in real life the members were very welcoming and genuinely passionate about sharing knowledge. I am also impressed by the KM4DEV website because it has a toolbox of KM tools that is only one click away. I have accessed this site many times since the Share Fair and even sent the site link to friends.”
Needless to say, Silvia is already looking forward to other knowledge sharing events scheduled for the near future, the first of which will take place this month at WorldFish.
“My colleagues and I will give a ‘Food for Thought’ session about knowledge sharing possibilities within the organization. We will use Speed Dating, an inclusive method similar to the World Café, which I learned about at the Share Fair. Thanks to the new methods I experienced first hand at the Share Fair, I will finally be able to leave my laptop with the PowerPoint presentation at home!”

With thanks for Mary Schneider for interviewing Silvia!

On-line Social Media Workshop for CGIAR Communications Professionals March 2-13, 2009

070119_finish_your_rssToday, Communications within the CG must go beyond scientific journal articles, press releases, or static web sites to engage the users of our research in new ways. Social media is an alternative to traditional mass-media that may allow the CGIAR to target its audience in different and more effective manners.

In addition to the exiting forms of communication and marketing of our research processes and results, social media has a huge potential for the CGIAR to increase its visibility, participate in conversations and debates around our research areas, and strengthen relationships with peers, partners and actors in our field of work.

This two-week online workshop offered by the Institutional Knowledge Sharing project will allow CGIAR communications professionals to go deeper and explore how social media can help to innovate in the communications area.

The workshop is a follow-up activity to the KS Workshop that has already involved many center and partner staff.   Nancy White will facilitate our collective exploration with support from Simone Staiger-Rivas (CIAT, ICT-KM Program) and Petr Kosina (CIMMYT).

Blogs, twits and pics are just a few of the online collaborative tools and services that can be used to increase the visibility of an event. The more buzz, the better.

Blogs can help promote an event before it takes off and also be used to report on an event’s activities, as and when they unfold. And once the event is over, what better way to keep everyone informed of the outcome than with an easy-to-maintain blog that allows anyone to leave a comment.

Photos of the event can be uploaded on a service like Flickr for all to view and download, and participants can also leave comments on Twitter, a service that lets you keep in touch with people through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question.

Raising an event’s profile is now as easy as ABC. In fact, most online tools and services are so user-friendly that you’d have to be a twit not to take advantage of them.

The Knowledge ShareFair is just one recent example of an event that benefited from online collaboration and social reporting.

The participants and the facilitators created a lot of buzz about the event with a blog, a Twitter feed, by promoting a common tag and by posting pictures online.

The ICT-KM blog contributed 56 posts tagged with ‘sharefair09’.

Tried different approaches? Leave a comment below.

Since participating in the first Knowledge Sharing Workshop in March-May 2008, I’ve been trying to implement new processes, technologies and methods for KS into my work. Simone wrote a nice post about this back in July. Seven months and one Share Fair later, it was time to do some show and tell with a small group of staff at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) , and show them how new ways of sharing knowledge had made a big impact for our projects.

With our communication director’s consent, we set up a brown bag lunch (ok catered cafeteria lunch) with our communications unit and library last week to share with them what we’ve been doing at the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins. I used examples from our work to introduce them to the concept of blogs (which we use for our news site), rss/feedreaders (how we gather news) and social bookmarking (how we encourage our scientists to share resources), explaining why we chose these tools and how they work for us.

I also showed the commoncraft videos to give an overview of RSS and social bookmarking, which people seemed to like. I asked my peers, a mixed group that included IT people, designers, librarians and communications officers, to think about how these tools might be applicable in a wider ICRAF context or even in their personal day to day work. We had a brief discussion about the benefits of getting comfortable with tools for your personal use before trying to apply them to a project or institution. This led to a request that we hold a technical “hands on” session sometime soon to help people set up their own news aggregators and delicious accounts. People were really interested in general and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to learn these new concepts. People were specifically interested in how we were tracking impact — I pointed to a huge increase in site hits, publication downloads, requests for information and more hard evidence that our research was getting the attention it deserves.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be delivering a modified version of the same session, but this time sharing our stories with the wider ICRAF community. One of my objectives is to invite all the communications staff from the CG institutions hosted at ICRAF (CIMMYT, G&D, MDG Centre etc) to help build a local community of practice on our campus .

An even bigger objective is to get senior leadership onboard, and ask some of my scientist colleagues who have been benefitting from these tools to be knowledge sharing ambassadors. It’s always more convincing coming from someone well-established inside the institution.

Overall I hope that the upcoming seminar will get people aware and interested in new KS approaches and realize they can learn from experiences within ICRAF and within the CG (and that there are many resource people to turn to). I’ll be sharing periodic updates about this process so please stay tuned!

Dgroups is as an online platform for groups and communities interested in international development that allows users to follow email discussions either through email or by logging onto the website and accessing the ‘discussions’ area for a community.

The CGIAR centers have been using Dgroups 1.0 over the past few years given that we’re members of the Dgroups partnership. With over 150 Dgroups created, the CGIAR has benefited from this tool supporting the activities of teams, groups, networks, partnerships and/or communities. 

In October 2008, the Dgroups Executive Committee started working on a new Dgroups version (Dgroups 2.0) to improve its current architecture and provide a more efficient and effective application for the users.

We are glad to announce that Dgroups 2.0 is now up-and-running, and the Dgroups 2 development team is currently finalizing the migration of the CGIAR’s groups to this new version as per their migration schedule:

Dgroup 2 migration timeframe

What’s new in Dgroups2?

  • Dgroups 2 is about simplicity, ownership and email integration.
  • Improved user-friendly interface
  • Getting technology out of the way of real communication. It’s about using what we already know to improve the way we work
  • Taking advantage of a “Shared inbox” that keeps groups of people on the same page.
  • Dgroups administrator can create sub-communities from a parent community



How can I access Dgroups 2? 

http://d2.dgroups.org (login with your Dgroups password)

How do I get Dgroups support in the CGIAR?

The ICT-KM Program provides support to Dgroups for the CGIAR. Please contact cgxchange@cgiar.org to request a new group and/or request support in the CGIAR. We will be adding more posts soon on how to use the new tool.

Until the next update! 

Pleased to introduce you to the e-Agriculture.org community, to which many CGIAR staff are members.

I am sharing here the February 2009 update, written by the team with contributions from members.
The overall aim of e-agriculture.org is to enable members to exchange opinions, experiences, good practices and resources related to e-agriculture, and to ensure that the knowledge created is effectively shared and used worldwide. To improve this task we have updated our YouTube account and linked many new, interesting videos to our list of favorites. Everybody can sign up for a YouTube account. Just follow these steps:

1)      go to www.youtube.com and register and log in.

2)      go to the youtube.com/eagriculture site and subscribe to favorites, so you can share YouTube videos relating to agriculture and rural development, which demonstrate the use of information and communications technologies in facilitating agriculture and rural development.

It works in exactely the same way for the e-agriculture del.ic.ious, Flickr and Twitter accounts. Please also feel free to contribute to the Knowledge Base and the News and Events sections on the e-agriculture website. The more people participate, the richer and broader will be the exchange. You can also set the stage for further forum topics through our new survey about the most important topic to be discussed regarding the role of ICTs in agriculture.

Mobile Telephony

The forum on “Mobile Telephony in Rural Areas” from 17 to 28 November 2008 examined the challenges that rural communities face in enhancing the benefits of mobile telephony, and looked at some examples of interesting initiatives and good outcomes from around the globe. Thanks go to over 150 community members from over 50 countries who participated in this exciting forum. Due to demand, we will keep this topic up on the portal by introducing a new page on key topics starting with mobile telephony. A final policy brief will be posted soon.

As follow-up of the Virtual Forum, Ms. Anna-Maria Walter has had the opportunity to speak with Christian Kreutz, Subject Matter Expert from the recent forum, and Mr. Naimur Rahman, head of the OneWorld office in South Asia. Christian shared his vision for the future of mobile phones in rural development with Anna-Maria, and Naimur talked about his experiences from the LifeLines India project.

1 to 12 December 2008 a group of 53 e-agriculture members from Asia took part in the Online Short Course “Networking in Support of Development”, a follow-up of the Information Management Resource Kit (IMARK). The e-learning course described how information and communication technologies (ICT) are not only a technology but also a medium for communications and concentrated on how the different levels of ICT in a country fit together to provide a workable means of communication. Alexander Flor, Dean and Professor of the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies at the University of the Philippines Open University, facilitated the course and introduced the various topics through a series of interactive lessons which were followed by web-based group discussions. Participants were also assigned a series of exercises and case studies to work during the course. Congratulations to those participants who completed the training successfully.

Knowledge Share Fair for Agricultural Development and Food Security
From 20 to 22 January 2009, Bioversity International, the CGIAR ICT-KM program, FAO, IFAD and WFP organized this innovative event. During the Share Fair over 700 participants had the opportunity to showcase, recreate and invent ways to share knowledge and improve access to it. The Share Fair covered various agricultural development and food security issues through several information sessions that focused on the knowledge sharing aspects of the initiatives. The outcomes are now available online through the event blog and many other forms of social media. Two sessions, the Rural telephony session and the sessionLeveraging Connections Amongst Networks”, were relevant to the e-agriculture agenda.


The e-Agriculture team is looking forward to Your contributions!


Dr. Paul Van Mele, Program Leader Learning and Innovation Systems, at WARDA participated in the recently held Share Fair 09 at FAO HQ in Rome from 20th-22nd January 2009. Paul presented WARDA’s work on Rural Learning.

During the Share Fair Paul interviewed some people on the subject of Rural Learning and also on the efforts made by WARDA.

This includes the following interviews:

  1. Mark Holderness, Executive Secretary of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), presents his viewpoint on WARDA’s integrated rural learning approach (01:29).
  2. Nancy White, visual facilitator of Full Circle Associates, talks about how WARDA enabled cross-cultural learning through video (01:02)
  3. Riccardo del Castello, Communication for Development Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), shares his ideas on how synergies can be built between rural radio and educational videos (02:53)

These interviews in the form of short video clips are now available on WARDA’s Rural Learning webpage- see Feedback on Rural Learning page


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