March 2009


Klaus von Grebmer

Klaus von Grebmer

During the recent CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia, Klaus von Grebmer, Director of Communications, IFPRI, spoke about the need to implement collective communications activities among the CGIAR Centers. In an interview conducted at the conclusion of the first day of the event, he elaborated further.

“To illustrate my point,” he said, “take the recent food price crisis. The public had three questions during this crisis: What is happening? Why is it happening? What can be done to mitigate the effects or ensure that it does not happen again? IFPRI responded quickly and effectively to this situation and was also able to coordinate with some other Centers to get certain key messages out to the public, but the task was really too big for this core group alone.”

Although the key messages were available and accessible to everyone in the CGIAR System, Klaus does wonder if they couldn’t have gained even more mileage if all the Centers had pooled resources and amplified these messages in their respective regions and from the point of view of their own areas of expertise.

“If there is an expert organization on agriculture in this world, it’s clearly the CGIAR,” he said. “It needs to coordinate and pool its resources on occasions like this one to provide clear messages and respond quickly to questions from the public.”

Focus on the System
A System-wide communications strategy would also require staff to be more outward-looking.

“Currently, only a few Centers seem to care about the reputation of the CGIAR,” explained Klaus. “If you want to promote the System, then you have to promote System activities and System media events. If you are too Center-focused, then the System suffers. This was something I also experienced when I chaired the Marketing Group. I saw a discrepancy between authority, responsibility, and accountability. Some communications colleagues didn’t deliver on collaborative work because they felt they would be acknowledged more for the work they did for their own Centers than for the work they did for the System.”

Still, Klaus feels the new CGIAR has an opportunity to address the current lack of a collective communications strategy.

“Presently, the Transition Management Team responsible for revitalizing the CGIAR is mostly focusing on the development of content, such as the mega programs,” he said. “This is natural and very important, but the next area of focus must be on a System-wide communications strategy. You can have the best research in the world, but if the results are not communicated to the right audience, they will not have any impact. It is negligence to invest in research without appropriate investments in communications. If the System wants to enhance and maintain its leadership role in agricultural research, it is vital for it to communicate its research effectively to its key stakeholders, and also to its donors.”

 We are covering the CSI workshop via a number of social media tools–one of which is Twitter, a microblogging site

So check out the ictkm account on Twitter–www.twitter.com/ictkmcsi-posts-on-twitter

Today on the ILRI Campus in Nairobi, Kenya- a large group of people have gathered to discuss, learn about and plan around spatial analysis. This is the Annual Meeting of the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI). This event includes:

  • Two days of meetings around the CGIAR CSI
  • Two days of a AgCommons workshop
  • WhereCamp

The theme of this meeting is ‘Mapping our Future 2009-2014: Collective Action and Advocacy to Improve Spatial Solutions for Sustainable Development’.

Today-Tuesday 31st March 2009- is the CSI Business Day. In today’s program the group will:

*Be welcomed by John McDermott from ILRI

*Hear an opening address from Bashir Jama, Director of Soil Health, AGRA

*Discuss the objectives of the meeting

*Review some key aspects of CSI Status, Issues and Opportunities

*Define expectations

*Using a World Cafe approach–discuss a number of key topics in relation to CSI

*Look at vendor agreements and opportunities

*End the day with a report out, synthesis and next steps

We will be covering this event on this blog, so stay tuned for more information on what is happening in this exciting event.

From the length and breadth of the CGIAR they came, communication experts eager to be reunited as a group and keen to examine collective possibilities together. Despite their obvious enthusiasm, though, many of them admitted to a certain cynicism about another item on their agenda: a dialog session with the Transition Management Team (TMT) charged with overseeing the revitalization of the CGIAR . Such was the mood as day two of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop began in Penang, Malaysia.

All of the core members of the TMT were present at the meeting: Stephen Hall (CGIAR Alliance Executive Chair, Director General, WorldFish Center), Mark Holderness (Executive Director, Global Forum for Agricultural Research), Jonathan Wadsworth (Senior Agriculture Research Advisor, Department for International Development, UK), and Ren Wang (CGIAR Director).

Ren Wang got things underway with a brief overview of the strategic objectives of the new CGIAR. Then Ellen Wilson, Burness Communications, kicked off the Q&A session by asking the first question.

Who asked for this reform?
Jonathon Wadsworth: The call for change in the CGIAR was largely driven by a shift among key members of the donor community who feel that the CGIAR could and should do more but that the complexity of the current System undermines efficiency and effectiveness. Indeed, under the present System, donors are not harmonized and long-term funding is not guaranteed. Although the two previous CGIAR attempts at reform failed, the new change initiative is tackling these issues head on.

Ellen Wilson: “Is this a more profound reform, then?”

Jonathan Wadsworth: “It is the first one with legs. The other reforms were very academic and looked good on paper, but there was no real systematic follow-through.”

The floor was then turned over to the participants. The following are some of the questions and answers from that session:

What’s being eliminated from the old (present) CGIAR?
Jonathan Wadsworth: Some things in the present CGIAR will be replaced to make the System more efficient. The component parts that make up the CGIAR won’t necessarily change, but how they fit together will. Also, the way in which the CGIAR functions as a System needs to be streamlined and clearly defined.

Stephen Hall: There’s a leadership vacuum in the CGIAR: the whole notion of strategic leadership is missing. It’s not yet known exactly how the 15 Centers will fit together into a collective whole, but what is known is that by working together there will be less individual scrounging around for resources in the future.

Ren Wang: We are still developing the Consortium and don’t have all the answers. The ultimate goal of this reform or change is not to reduce the number of Centers, it’s to improve the competence of the System. The number of committees will be reduced; the reporting process for M&E will be more harmonized; and the accountability framework of the Fund and the System will be simplified.

What are the major risk factors that could possibly derail the change process?
Stephen Hall: Establishing the centralized Fund, a process that could affect cash flow at the Centers, obviously involves a certain amount of risk. However, the TMT is working to develop plans for the transition to ensure funding will not be disrupted while the new CGIAR becomes fully functional.

Scientists are not onboard, because the reform is not clear. How will they get their research funds?
Stephen Hall: We don’t even know the answer to that ourselves yet. We do know that we will ensure their work is not negatively affected by the transition and that a driver for the reform is to build a well-resourced and exciting research agenda that attracts and retains the best scientists in the world. As this becomes clearer and the reform changes start having a tangible impact on the research agenda, scientists will certainly be brought onboard.

What’s the partners’ take on the reform initiative?
Mark Holderness: The key risk is “business as usual.” Partners are not satisfied with the CGIAR’s impact or value when it comes to meeting partner demands. There are other players emerging, such as those in Brazil, India, and China, who are enabling national development outcomes. The CGIAR needs to recognize that there is a bigger game going on out there and it needs to be player. Partners want to see a CGIAR that is more open and more partnership-based; a System that focuses on development outcomes and not just technological fixes and research outcomes.

Are donors still behind the CGIAR despite the Financial Crisis?
Stephen Hall: The donors are expecting the CGIAR to change and if there isn’t change, regardless of a Financial Crisis, there may be some donors who will reconsider their funding position.

Jonathan Wadsworth: Several donors are sending out positive funding signs. During the Food Price Crisis before the Financial Crisis, world leaders committed to funding agriculture and doubling funding for the CGIAR. Meeting this ambitious target might be difficult during the Financial Crisis and may take longer, but CGIAR change is critical to strengthen the inflow of resources.

Won’t a more centralized structure stifle initiatives/research and create more bureaucracy?
Stephen Hall: Yes, if it’s not done well. But it’s not likely – that’s why we need leadership.

What about the role of communications in the new CGIAR?
Jonathan Wadsworth: Although the CGIAR has orphaned communications in some respects, people are increasingly aware of the crucial role it can play. At DfID, we’re doubling our spending on research across the board, with 20% allocated for communications.

Mark Holderness: The CGIAR has great potential for communicating what needs to be done and changed. Right now, communications are fragmented because most activities are carried out Center by Center. So we need to have a message on the role of international agricultural research – and there are some very important messages that need to go out. Let’s think big, otherwise, it’s not just the CGIAR that won’t get investments. The knee- jerk reaction to the Food Crisis has been seed and fertilizers, with not much focus on long-term needs.

Stephen Hall: When we talk about “the voice of the Consortium,” we are referring to communications.

What messages should we take to the Centers?
Stephen Hall: There’s a continuum or spectrum of expectation at the CGIAR Centers: there’s a wide range of people, some who care more and some who have interest in only specific aspects of the transition. We need communicators to help us figure out how to handle this divide.

We need to give real power to communications. It’s also okay to have doubts and not know everything.
Stephen Hall: We need a professional strategy for communications.

Jonathan Wadsworth: There seem to be issues with information sharing and communications across the System, with some information not flowing freely into Centers, which seem to be a bit Stone Age. The blockages to free access to information must be addressed.

Will WorldFish become a CGIAR office in Penang?
Stephen Hall: In terms of legal structure, it’s likely that WorldFish will continue as is. The Consortium will be “owned” by the Centers and be a single corporation driven by the Centers. It can be expected that the Center Boards will remain intact and the Directors General will likely go unchanged. Ideas on other structural changes will be considered later in the process, if appropriate.

Mark Holderness: Over time, the purpose of the Centers must be driven by their respective benefits, and we need to see how effective these institutions are. Centers need to be managed so they deliver according to their individual purposes.

At the end of the session, the participants came away with other questions that were in need of answers. Check back here to read one of the participant’s thoughts on this session, and find out what happened during a follow-up dialog the next day!

Yesterday, TechCrunch published a guest post by Vic Gundotra, Vice President of Engineering for Google’s mobile and developer products, with the title: Follow the Mobile User.

Kudos to the editor for combining in one short title the three very keywords that made all ring bells go off in my monday-morning-challenged brain, on day 2 of daylight saving time. They worked better than a caffeine shot.

The post is a fully disclosed Google take on what will enable the growth of mobile Internet usage (in the US, with projections sort-of worldwide) based on a fair amount of hard data, some of which from Google’s internal sources.

Gundotra builds his argument around three enabling factors: “simpler data plans, better web browsers, and a smoother on-device experience“, which equal:

  • cheaper mobile Internet connectivity: tough to disagree here;
  • better browsers, that let us go on the Internet the way we’re used to with PCs. That is, give us a browser that works like the browser we’re used to;
  • more usable applications, that make it easy to find, try and access mobile data services. In short: improve the usability.

Good reading to start off the week mumbling on future trends.  It’s a view on infrastructure and software as enablers, takes for granted 3G network coverage and may be a one-sided view (as remarked in the comments, also worth reading). Still, it’s got some figures, not only opinions, and highlights three key preconditions of technology adoption that can easily apply beyond the industrialised world.  Food for thought for the ICT4D community’s attempt to identify the content and context enablers of the mobile Web in research, agriculture and development at large.

Should you decide to read the full post on TechCrunch, you may want to mind this slang alert:

  • phat: acronym for “Pretty, Hot, and Tempting” (source)
  • fugly: very, very ugly (source)

The photos of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop are now online. Here are some snapshots

We started the Strategic Communications Workshop with a round of introduction in presence of the Transition Management Team (TMT) with the question: Please share one piece of work that has been exciting in the last six months or so.

Obviously we wanted to impress the TMT with all the interesting activities that happen in the centers, but we also wanted to kick the workshop off with some energizing ideas for our communications work. Here are some of the replies:

  • We started to design the campaign for the International Year of Biodiversity
  • We got huge coverage of the food price crisis and our Indian state-hunger index generated enormous interest and reactions
  • We were successful in communicating our EPMR
  • The last issue of the Climate Change Caravan was very successful
  • We achieved high levels of staff engagement around our center strategy
  • We started to use social media
  • We were able to cover 7 media stories
  • The journalists who have been visiting our center got very excited about our work
  • The work around the Passion Beyond Normal book was rewarding
  • We had a energizing workshop of our knowledge management group

The prospect of more collective action among centers with regards to communications seemed the most exciting for participants. This became very clear during another but related workshop activity that happened during the River of Life where participants shared their ideas for improvement related to our collective work.

  • Build capacity at different levels, from scientist to director general, for communications and media work.
  • Expand our media coverage into languages beyond English with French and German translations.
  • Develop performance agreements between communications staff and their directors general that include collective action work.
  • Provide centre communications staff with incentives for collective work.
  • Develop a matrix of shared activities and projects.
  • Develop central, shared resources such as media database.
  • Communicate big global themes and issues.
  • Energize collective communications so that campaigns are not driven by the Secretariat alone but rather get everyone involved and taking ownership.
  • Unify messages for common purposes.
  • Do more collective communication events.
  • Place communications high on the agenda of the CGIAR chief executive officer.
  • Understand the communities we are trying to reach so that we can control our messages better.
  • Use innovations to target our audiences (e.g., start with social media.)

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