April 2009


There was a distinct buzz in the air immediately following the dialog session (Finally, a CGIAR Reform Initiative with Legs) between the CGIAR Transition Management Team (TMT) and the group of communication specialists attending the second day of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia. A shift in perceptions had been brought about by the open, straightforward discussions that had just taken place.

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan, Head of Public Awareness, ILRI, was not alone in thinking that the candor of the TMT was refreshing. For the first time, she felt there was a distinct possibility that the communication specialists would be able to contribute to the CGIAR change process.

As she said after the dialog, “It always pays to be more straightforward, because you’ll get people’s engagement. The four TMT members said it the way it really is. For example, we heard them say that, yes, the CGIAR change process has been donor-driven.

“When people are straight in their speaking, I find myself trusting them. When people push information at me first, I find it hard to keep listening to them because I have no relationship with them. I would advise the TMT members not to be afraid to tell the truth, but to be themselves and honest about negative aspects of the change process. That will engender our trust.”

This one has legs

Part of Susan’s optimism has to do with some of the things said by TMT member Jonathan Wadsworth, who brings a donor perspective to the Team.

“Jonathan said the reason this reform initiative is different from previous CGIAR reforms is because it has legs,” she explained. “That bit of exciting news – that this change process, unlike former ones in the CGIAR, is going to go to the very end of the change process – has been missing in the CGIAR Change Management newsletter, blog, website and in messages from CGIAR Chair Kathy Sierra.

“In person, these are obviously honest, forthright, committed and intelligent men. But those engaging qualities are not yet reflected in their written communications about the change process. I would like to see more of their personalities and ideas featured in future communications by and about the TMT. I’m actually interested in what they have to say.”

The personal touch

Susan feels that face-to-face meetings are necessary to gain the trust of CGIAR staff.

“With about 10,000 people spread across the CGIAR Centers, real-time meetings with everyone would be impossible, but we mustn’t discount the effectiveness of such interactions,” she said. “For example, I first heard Ren Wang speak when he delivered an 8-minute talk to my Center’s entire assembly of staff. Although I was impressed with what he had to say and how he said it, his message wouldn’t have had the same impact conveyed in a blog or a newsletter. Perhaps we could communicate messages using videos.

“Even during today’s dialog session there were three things brought up that weren’t mentioned in the change strategy or any of the change management communications: change is necessary to keep our jobs; there’s a lack of efficiency in the System; and there’s a lack of leadership that’s palpable. None of this would have surfaced without a face-to-face meeting.”

The need for leadership

“If we don’t know the reasons behind change, if they haven’t been articulated, we can’t even begin to work on a message. We need leaders to tell us how things really are and give us their message for us to work on. Jonathan Wadsworth and his team, who seem to have an appetite for the way it really is and to have the natural ability to tell it like it is, make great spokespeople.”

A conversation with Meshak Nyabenge, GIS Unit Manager, WorldAgroforestry Center (ICRAF) Nairobi at the CSI-AGCommons meeting in Nairobi

Q: What sparked your interested in GIS?

A: As a kid, I was always imagining I could develop a boundary map of my village. I don’t know why–maybe ‘cause I was good in geography. I thought why not have a map of our own place, know where it begins and ends.

At the University of Nairobi I studied surveying and photogrametry—how to interpret aerial photos. Fortunately a professor impressed on me the benefits of geographical information. So now I’m a GIS analyst instead of surveying people’s plots and getting into land conflicts over where somebody’s property ends and where somebody else’s begins.”

Q: What are some of the cool things happening with GIS at ICRAF?

A: One is mapping of rainwater harvesting and potential in Africa. We estimated
how much rainwater can be harvested in a particular place based on rainfall and use of a specific technology—roof catchment, rock catchment, runoff, other methods. people can see how much water they’re likely to capture in a local area, with which technologies. It’s being used by the rainwater network in Kenya and at ICRAF.

Also, ICRAF wanted to scale up their agroforestry programs. So we developed suitability maps as way of targeting where to scale up use of, say, fodder trees, like caliandra, glyricidia.

Third is, for GTZ and an energy company, we mapped where 11 key biofuel crops could be grown in Kenya. We looked at jatropha, croton, caster, coconut, cotton, sorghum, sugar cane, sunflower, rapeseed (canola) pagamia…. The oil crops would be for producing biodiesel, and the others, like sugar cane, for bioethanol.

Q: What’s next?

A: We’re now combining the biophysical and agronomic data with socioeconomic data—population, labour availability. Then we’ll know where it’s most suitable to invest in biofuel crops—and what the potential returns would be.

GTZ and the Government of Kenya plan to use this information for planning and as the basis of investment discussions.

We’ve now received funding to map four more countries: Ethiopia, Rwanda, TZ, Uganda for biofuel potential.

We’re also working with a Kenya-based NGO—the Vanilla Jatropha Development Foundation—to do biofuel mapping, specifically for potential for plantations of jatropha, the “oil tree.”

Q: What do you like most about working with GIS?

A: I use it to conceptualize the human dream. And I can manipulate options to come up with scenarios, applied in different fields. Basically, I’ve always worked with geographic information, and can’t imagine not doing so.

Q: So how about that village map?

A: Until now I still haven’t done it…. There have been a lot of other things to do!

ICT-KM Blog stats

When I started blogging in 2007 (see blue curve) I really didn’t know exactly how to do it, what to blog about and when or how often. It was a slow process and needed my patience and persistence.

Then came a team meeting in May 2008 (red curve) and after a discussion on the need to communicate more, my colleagues started to join the adventure. Immediately the number of visits began to increase.

Today in 2009 (green curve) we are more than 5 active bloggers at ictkm.wordpress.com, we learnt to benefit from events and do social reporting, sometimes with the help of professional writers. We also learnt to give a voice to others through interviews and guest blogs. We increased our networks and twitter, yammer about our work, linking to relevant posts. We use our facebook and skype status to tell our friends and contacts what’s new. Sometimes we even e-mail about it… It becomes actually pretty difficult to escape  😉

This is a great success story and thanks to Enrica for pointing us to the fact that today we broke our record of daily visits. A fantastic team effort!

Patti Kristjanson

Patti Kristjanson

A reaction to the CSI conference from Patti Kristjanson
Leader, Innovation Works Initiative
International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya

Governments, particularly in places like Africa, collect all this data. And they hang onto it. It’s starting to change, but it is still challenging even to find government data and maps in many African countries.

But now, through sites like GoogleEarth, everybody can put up spatial information and make it available to the world. People will actually know what’s going on and where.

This knowledge is power! When people see what’s really going on—the trends in water, in soils, livestock, farming, hunger, disease, and poverty–it will change the way governments function in Africa.

With CSI and collaboration across CGIAR centres, we have a great opportunity to bring together our spatial information on poverty and environment. Together, we can tell a truly powerful story on issues the world cares about–more powerful than we can do as individual centres.

Our comparative advantage lies in the analyses we do to address these tough challenges . And we can really take advantage of opportunities now offered to reach the world by putting our spatial analyses on GoogleEarth, MapMaker, HealthMap and others.

Google Earth is not doing any such spatial analyses, but sure doesn’t mind sharing our results!

More opinions from the participants in the CSI meeting can be found in this blog searching for CSI09

The Spider Diagram method is a “quick and dirty” way to get a useful snapshot about how participants evaluate a workshop. Use it along with interviews and if necessary in addition to a more formal survey. It allows you to give participants an immediate visual impression of the group’s thinking related to an event.

We used it this time to get an idea of how the group felt about the accomplishment of the workshop objectives and the different sessions of this 3 ½ day event.

Did we accomplish what we planned to do?

  • “Identify a set of story ideas”: Definitively yes.
  • “Identify means, incentives, and opportunities to strengthen collective communications”: participants agree that this was achieved “more or less”.
  • “Develop a work plan for 2009 collective communications”; And “Provide input into the CGIAR Reform”: Some say yes, some say more or less.

How did the different sessions go?

  • The two opportunities of a dialogue with the Transition Management Team where highly appreciated and got the best rankings.

The group appreciated almost equally:

  • The River of Life where Nathan Russell, with the help of many long time members of the group, reviewed the history of the different attempts of collective communication actions in the CGIAR.
  • The Speed Open Space where participants could share and learn more about other’s peoples work and ideas in 20 minute parallel sessions.
  • The presentation by Helen Leitch (WorldFish) on the results of WorldFish’s CGIAR center survey on Communications.

Another group of similar and positive rated sessions were:

  • The story development session led by Jeff Hawskins from Burness Communications.
  • The collective effort to set up and prioritize a work plan for 2009.

The one single session that received mixed evaluation was the Samaon Circle on Communications in the New CGIAR. Was it because of the topic or the format of the session? This is something we still need to figure out.

Social, Logistics (thanks WorldFish) and facilitation got very positive rankings.

As part of the Knowledge Sharing in Research project grants were given out to 6 selected proposals for knowledge sharing activities or approaches to be undertaken.

One of these was put forward by David Raitzer of CIFOR on behalf of the System-wide Initiative on Priority Assessment entitled: ” Shared Learning to Enhance Research Priority Assessment Practices “.

This project proposed to bring together and share- using various knowledge sharing activities- a range of methods for research prioritization, which are in themselves a knowledge sharing activity by virtue of supporting Centres  to make explicit their knowledge, ideas, lessons and reasons about research to undertake.

One of the main results is the compilation of chapters based on many CGIAR and other organizations’ methods and experiences.

CABI is publishing this book, which will initially be on sale and then information will be available online.

A flyer—see image below– was recently developed and has been circulated to advertise this valuable resource which will soon be ready.

Watch this space for further announcements…cifor-cabi-book-flyer

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan

I was happy to meet Susan MacMillan, Head of Public Awareness at ILRI, in Penang at the CGIAR strategic communications meeting. We had met for the last time at AGM08 where she attended the first day of the Knowledge Management, Education and Learning Workshop. That event had kicked off with a presentation by Steve Song from the Shuttleworth Foundation. Steve introduced participants to the fundamental changes around Web 2.0 tools. While I was fascinated by his talk, I was wondering what Susan was doing in the back of the room, very actively typing in her lap top. I am ashamed to admit that I thought she was doing email and not paying attention to what I considered as a crucial opportunity for the participants and the research and development community as a whole.  Later on, Susan shared with me the amazing article which she had written for ILRI’s Intranet during Steve’s presentation about the potential of web 2.0. Very kindly Susan authorized us to publish the text as a blog post. Now, meeting again in Penang I was even more delighted about her telling me how much this presentation had impressed her and opened the doors for ILRI’s path towards social media. While she became an ambassador for social media in her center, the Webteam already plans an ILRI Web site renewal based on the principles and tools of social media tools.

Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton

The second example could be called CIP 2.0. While Paul Stapleton, CIP’s Head of Communications and Public Awareness,  was one of the first to sign up for the recent social media online workshop, we discovered that he uses social media a lot for personal purposes, but hasn’t started to consider it for CIP’s communication processes. That changed quickly during and after the workshop: Paul was immediately part of the CGIAR Yammer group that was created during the Penang meeting, and has become a daily user of it. Once back in Lima, he included social media ideas into a presentation to his management, who got very excited about the prospects and so Paul is going to start a wiki for them.

Those are very encouraging examples for all of us who are working towards the use of innovative communications and knowledge sharing tools and methods.

Thank you Susan and Paul for your open minds and enthusiasm!

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