Tonya and her colleague Phillip Amoah

Tonya and her colleague Phillip Amoah

When Tonya Schuetz arrived at the Share Fair in Rome earlier this year, her main goal was to see and do as much as possible. She was especially keen to expose herself to new knowledge sharing methodologies and talk to as many people as she could about their experiences. However, after looking at the event’s packed program, she realized that she wouldn’t be able to cover everything that piqued her interest. At least, not on her own. That’s when her resourcefulness came into play.

As Tonya explained, “The program was very, very full. Sometimes, I couldn’t make up my mind as to which sessions I should attend. I wanted to go to so many. So I enlisted the help of a few people who went to the sessions I couldn’t attend. Then we would meet up during the breaks to exchange notes. I also managed to visit all of the booths and probably talked to the people manning half of those. I got some really good ideas from them.”

“Some of the sessions were very inspiring and exposed me to new methodology that I’m keen to use. For example, I loved the competition approach shown in a Latin American application that was exhibited at one of the booths; knowledge was shared when the competitors came together to present their submissions. I’m interested to explore the possibilities of using this methodology in Africa, but without the formal written application. Radio phone-ins might be a suitable alternative or we could have someone go out to collect the applications through interviews.”

Safe Food despite Waste Water Irrigation
In between attending sessions, Tonya also presented the work of a pilot project she had led under the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project.

“The Safe Food despite Waste Water Irrigation project was extremely well received,” she said. “People were interested in both the knowledge sharing methodology we’d used and the year-long research IWMI and its partners had done in health risk reduction with waste-water-irrigated vegetables, so I was happy with the response from the participants.”

Tonya also talked about the project’s poster presentation, which showed the different knowledge sharing methodologies that had been used to support the research and how the project had benefited from them.

“Over the course of the research project, we conducted World Café sessions for individual target groups to test the health-reducing methodologies developed, aired radio programs in local languages, and produced training DVDs on good practices, one for on-farm and the other for caterers preparing food with raw vegetables. Together with representatives of the agricultural extension agents, we also designed some outreach materials, such as flip charts with messages that the extension workers can use as cues.”

“During a road show, we brought the various stakeholder groups (farmers, buyers, caterers and local authorities) together along the contamination pathway on a bus tour and had representatives present the health reduction methodologies we’d developed at each station. The road show closed with a discussion, interaction among the different stakeholder participants, and a quiz. Contacts with the private sector were also established and resulted in their uptake and use of the training materials at their marketing events, where they showed the post-harvesting, safe-food-handling videos.”

“You could say it was a knowledge sharing methodology mix”, concluded Tonya.

Getting the Mix Right
Despite the success of the project, Tonya did wonder if they’d used the right mix of methodologies to support their research in an optimal way, a topic she had talked about during another Share Fair session, where she was one of four presenters.

“I talked about the tool mix that we used for our research projects and how we can evaluate ourselves to see if we’ve got it right. I posed the question: At what point do you know that you have the right methodology mix? Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to discuss this in any depth during the session, so I would love to be able to pick this up again at some point.”

What the Organizers Got Right
Like many Share Fair participants, Tonya was glad to see PowerPoint presentations taking a back seat for a change.

“The organizers did a great job, and it was good to see an event of that magnitude being successfully conducted without the use of PowerPoint presentations,” she said. “And the quality of exchanging knowledge and information certainly didn’t suffer. Quite the opposite. When people get the chance to talk to each other, they love it. Whenever I attend a conference, it’s the talking bit and the experience exchange and the other person’s lessons that I’m interested in.”

Of course, Tonya is aware that some people still think that such methodologies cannot possibly get across the same amount of information as a PowerPoint presentation can.

“I process information by talking to others, so it was good to talk during the breaks. Others processed their information by blogging and twittering during breaks, thereby making their experiences available to people who were not able to participate in the Share Fair.”

Looking Ahead
Although the Share Fair was a resounding success, Tonya feels that many people are not yet confident enough to do things in a different way, especially when the support they received while initiating a methodology is no longer there.

“We have to follow up, and provide back-stopping” she said. “We also have to realize that some people are more talented than others when it comes to conceptualizing and realizing interactive knowledge sharing methodologies in their research work. The CGIAR has so many different events, and they can all incorporate different knowledge sharing methodologies into their various activities. That way, techniques can be experienced by other people and also improved.”

So many events, so many possibilities …