Wednesday, April 1st, 2009


Nathan Russell

Nathan Russell

When the ICT-KM Program caught up with Nathan Russell, Senior Communications Officer, CIMMYT, immediately after the CGIAR communications group had concluded its second dialog session with the Transition Management Team (TMT) in Penang, Malaysia, he was in a celebratory mood.

“The outcome was really fantastic,” said Nathan, referring to the meetings with the TMT during the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop. “A number of important things happened during the first dialog: a group of people who felt largely cynical of the CGIAR change process met the people behind that process face-to-face, had a chance to have a conversation with them, and came away thinking, ‘Well, maybe this process is more important than we thought it was. Maybe it has a better chance of succeeding than we realized. These are pretty smart, well-meaning, committed people, and we think we can trust them to do the best possible job to make this change happen.'”

However, it is patently clear to Nathan and his peers that the TMT needs help with its communications.

As he explained: “A set of messages came out of a meeting in February this year that were, frankly, a source of great concern. This workshop has enabled us to meet the real people behind those messages. And we came away with, as Susan MacMillan (ILRI) put it, a sense that the TMT members are ready for primetime in terms of their personalities, but not in terms of their messaging. I think they now know that they’ve got a valuable resource, a group of professional communications people in the Centers who understand their predicament and who are willing to help them, at their disposal. I feel they respect the professional advice we’ve given them. So I think that was a great outcome.”

Walking a tightrope

As one of the workshop organizers, Nathan knew from the outset that the dialog sessions would need careful planning.

“From the time we began organizing this meeting, Laura Ivers, Simone Staiger-Rivas, I and others realized that it was going to be a balancing act,” he said. “On the one hand, we had some strategic communications issues versus some very specific communications business that needs to be done. And on the other hand, we had the urgent and immediate communications needs of the TMT versus the just as urgent communications needs of the entire CGIAR and the Centers that these communication specialists work for. I think we have struck a balance so far. We’ve addressed all those things in equal measure. As for the TMT, they were royally pleased with what they got out of this. And they were glad that we were able to deal with their business, our business and also the broader business of communications in the CGIAR. We’re not done yet, but we’re on the right track. It’s a good start.”

The feel-good factor

After the communication specialists had said goodbye to the TMT at the end of the second dialog session, the collective excitement in the room was palpable. Nathan puts the group’s success down to team work.

“It was certainly a group effort,” he said. “There was no star player who did a slam dunk of some sort. It was the collective body of advice from the communication people that did it. Personally, I feel pretty good. I really didn’t know what we were walking into before this workshop. I knew that we wanted to discuss a lot of issues that are somewhat sensitive, about which people feel strongly. Some people felt angry about the way those issues had been handled in the past. And I’m pleased that, despite the risks involved, the whole mood and flow of the meeting has been positive.

A group with no name

Despite the fact that the one mechanism that had enabled the communication specialist to act collectively (the Marketing Group) has been debilitated in recent years, the group is optimistic about their collective future.

“One of the reasons some of us are here, myself included, is to revive the Marketing Group,” explained Nathan. “Some people think that it’s a corpse. Others think it’s in a coma. And yet others think it’s just stepped out for a while; it’s in exile but it’s coming back. I would like to see it come back, under some new name, under some new arrangement, but with the essence of it intact. We still have a chance to do that.”

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In April 2008 we held a very interesting CSI meeting . Here is the group picture we took then

CSI meeting 2008

CSI meeting 2008

Yesterday we took a group picture for the CSI meeting in 2009

CSI 2009 meeting

CSI meeting 2009

No…location is not the difference..both are taken in Nairobi… so…what is the difference?

The second day of the CSI and AGCommons workshop is now underway with a theme of  ‘Spatial Solutions’. The day will involve presentations from almost all of the CGIAR Centres plus other organisations who have come to participate in this event-all presenting the work they are doing in terms of finding spatial solutions.

During the presentations the participants have been asked to consider what the ‘big issues’ are that are coming out across  the clusters of presentations. Participants have been asked to write these on cards which will be grouped and put up on the wall throughout the day as a set of building blocks to guide the deliberations on what should be done as future activities.

Cluster 1:

  • Bioversity
  • CIAT
  • CIFOR
  • CIMMYT

Cluster 2:

  • CIP
  • ICARDA
  • ICIMOD
  • ICRAF
  • Alliance of CGIAR Centers

Cluster 3:

  • IFPRI
  • IITA
  • ILRI
  • IRRI
  • IWMI

Cluster 4:

  • WARDA
  • WorldFish
  • Other non-CSI presentations

To better facilitate discussion on a number of key topics, issues, opportunities, and action points for the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) Annual Meeting, we decided to use a World Cafe approach.

Six topics:

  1. Delivery platforms for Partners
  2. Revitalizing Outreach and Engagement
  3. Core data and tool priorities
  4. Atlas products
  5. Plug and P(l)ay Geospatial Services for CG Mega programs
  6. Enhancing the contribution of the Geospatial ‘Sector’ to Agricultural Development

The participants had to choose only 4 of the 6 topics that they would want to discuss due to time constraints. One table was devoted to each of the 6 topics, and a round of discussion was organised to last 30 minutes–20 minutes of open discussions and 10 minutes of capturing and compiling key points. There were two rounds before lunch and two afterwards.

Th conversations at the tables were very active and at the end of each round participants were reluctant to end their very intensive discussions. After a break for another session, each session Chair was asked to present the key points coming out of their table. This was followed by the facilitator opening up the discussion to the whole group for presenting any gaps, additional ideas, and questions. The facilitator then also asked after each group, what the key action points would be.

For the majority of the group, this was the first time to use the World Cafe approach–so it was unsure how it would go and what the reactions would be.

These points will be taken forward throughout the rest of the workshop.

The reactions were very positive to this with the following comments being some of what was said about it:

*” It made the discussions much more structured than before”

*”It was fun!”

*”I like it alot and i thought it brought out alot of good points and generated alot of energy”