May 2009

This is the presentation by Simone Staiger-Rivas to CIAT 2009 Knowledge Sharing Week, delivered during a session yesterday on The  importance of communication

CIAT’s Knowledge Sharing Week (KSW09) started today here in Cali, Colombia. This is one of the Center’s most important annual events, gathering scientists from Africa, Asia, and Central America, and providing a unique opportunity to exchange and discuss experiences with colleagues at headquarters.

Taking advantage of web 2.0 technologies, KSW09 will offer interactive coverage including a daily display of photos in Flickr; RSS so users can subscribe and receive updates; and a blog in both English and Spanish. Tools such as Slideshare will also be used to facilitate the access to all the materials resulting from this event.

Stay tuned by checking CIAT’s Blog

When I was in university, I had an ingenious way of bookmarking important facts/points from articles: 3×5 inch white, lined cards! I would use one side to write out a key point and the reverse side for a citation of the relevant book or journal article. What can I say… it was the 90’s! My 300-odd cards were so valuable to me that whenever anyone wanted to borrow one, I’d watch them like a hawk – till I got it back. Not that I’m averse to sharing, but the time and energy spent bookmarking key points, and the fact that I was relying heavily on them to complete my literature review, made this resource too valuable to lose.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and enter social bookmarking. Filling a niche need for Internet users who navigate their way through websites, social bookmarking is like a little storm in a big teacup – a storm that it is growing bigger everyday.

Some of us may already be saving links to useful websites we visit by ‘adding’ them to our ‘Favorites’ or Bookmarks in our preferred browser. While this means these websites are pegged or bookmarked, the time it takes to retrieve these ‘favorite’ links and the fact that you will need to use your own computer to access the websites, limits this organization tool.

Social bookmarking takes you, the user, to a new level of organizing your precious research, whether it’s a useful restaurant review or a comparison of pathogenic plant viruses. Social bookmarking services such as let you save and store your favorite online resources in a single location that is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. All you need to do to organize your web links is to assign keywords (tags) that will help you recall the link when you need it. Bookmarks on can be shared publicly, for others to see and add to their resource lists, and vice versa. What a great way to filter through the information overload on the Internet!

How can you within the CGIAR benefit from social bookmarking?

Well, first, online resources can be shared across your Center between scientists and their peers. All that’s needed is a bit of thinking when tagging favorite website links with specific keywords.

As one participant of the Online Social Media workshop put it, “I can see real value in using social bookmarking to create ‘validated’ libraries of information sources on the Web. Choose a topic, set a ‘Network tag’, sign up a bunch of people interested in the topic and away you go. You could post the link to these ‘libraries’ on your own or your organization’s website.”

When you start using network tags, that’s where you really see the power of social bookmarking. Here are some simple instructions provided by Nancy White, online communication expert and lead facilitator at the Online Social Media workshop.

1. Choose a tag. This is a key practice!

2. Recruit Taggers. Here is my rule of thumb. In a group of 20 people, having 2 taggers will make a difference. It doesn’t have to be everyone. Some people are better scanners/taggers than others. I find people who are fast readers and global thinkers make great taggers. First I try and find out if anyone is already using and tagging. Then I ask them to consider tagging for the group as well. I always encourage people to install the little tag bookmarklet on their browser.
I REALLY love it when people don’t just tag, but they add a short annotation of why they think the link is valuable and add other tags beyond the shared tag that help further define the tag.

  • A tag should be somehow obviously related to the topic. People need to be able to remember it.
  • If it is related to an event, add a year at the end. So if we wanted to identify the CGSocialmedia resources to this year, we could make the tag CGSocialmedia09
  • If you need it to be unique to your group, you will have to work harder to make the tag unique. The tag socialmedia is used by many people so it is too generic.
  • Some caveats: Tags that are too long, have slightly weird spelling or too obtuse tend to have challenges. People forget them, mispell (and thus mistag) them. So bottom line, keep it as simple as you can while still being unique.
  • 3. Make the tag feed visible to users. So this may mean you are recruiting users, or simply making the fruits of the tagging visible to an existing group. You can pull the RSS feed (Meena: coming soon, I promise!) and embed it in a blog or webportal page or any site that allows simple scripts. You can find the RSS feed for any tag at the lower left of that tag page on

    Social bookmarking and scholarly literature

    Maybe you don’t use 3×5 inch cards, maybe you’ve been trying various free or licensed software to keep track of your references on your personal computer. How about a web-based application that allows you to do exactly what allows, for your scientific literature, with no more than a mouse-click?

    There are too many web-based/social bibliography management tools out there that try to meet the needs of the scientist, created by various sources from esteemed journal publishers to PhD students. I’m going to highlight just three here, namely Connotea, Aigaion and CiteULike. Not for any other reason except that Petr Kosina of CIMMYT sent out a little question on Yammer (see post on Microblogging) asking which of these three online reference management tools would be suitable for geographically distributed research institutions – which would apply to the CGIAR.

    A quick scan of Connotea, Aigaion and CiteULike reveals:

    • All three software are free: CiteULike and Connotea are hosted services, while Aigaion is a web application that needs to be installed on a server
    • You can save and organize your links to references found online
    • Your bibliography/list of references can be easily shared among colleagues/peers
    • Use any computer to access your list of references anywhere, anytime
    • CiteUlike allows you to store your pdf files for easy access from any computer
    • Aigaion enables you to export references to other formats, like bibtext

    (Updated: Here’s another bibliography management tool, Mendeley, which indexes pdfs and manages bibliography in Word – courtesy of William Gunn)

    As you can see, your choice of online reference management software will depend on your needs. Shop around and check out some of the links below that make more detailed comparisons.

    If I can sum up the utility of social bookmarking sites, I’d say it’s the wealth of useful links you can get from having access to your colleague’s list and vice versa. Cutting out unnecessary trawling, it is time-saving and leads to the discovery of new, subject-relevant articles. Also having all your useful website links online just makes it easier to shed a few pounds off your travel gear. It’s just one more way to lose your notebook when you travel!

    Till next time….



    Two ICT-KM supported activities were among those selected to be showcased at the Science Forum in the Poster Competition:

    Well done!!!!

    The full list of posters is in this EGFAR E-News

    CGMap, a System-wide application that enables users to navigate easily through information on research and research-related activities that the CGIAR Centers and Challenge Programs publish in their Medium Term Plans (MTPs) every year, recently teamed up with the CGIAR’s Regional Plan for Collective Action.  Their goal?  To put active research projects in East and Southern Africa firmly on the map.

    Read on for a rare glimpse into the workings of the CGMap application. Although this article is a little technical, we’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible, in the hope that it will guide you towards a better understanding of what goes on in CGMap’s navigation room. (more…)

    My colleagues Meena and Antonella started a great blog series on Social media tools that complement the KS Toolkit and will serve as input for the upcoming social media workshop. Antonella wondered at the beginning of this week how we know if social media is working, and mentioned social media listening as an important practice.  Here is a little bit more about it:

    Good conversations require us to listen actively

    Les Causeuses de Camille Claudel

    Les Causeuses de Camille Claudel

    “Social Media is not about technology. It is about conversations enabled by technology.” I used this quote, which can be found in many presentations, in a recent social media presentation I gave at CIAT.

    So if Social Media is about conversations, we need to have at least two actors alternatively talking and listening. This is a critical point that is often questioned by social media sceptics. Just the other day, I was copied in on an email from an IT manager of a CGIAR Center who was wondering about the real level of interactivity of many blogs. Indeed, Nancy White states that only 10% of the social media content is truly interactive. The other 90% is dedicated to dissemination without any visible reaction through online comments.

    Listening as a way to market our research

    We can do better. Social Media Listening is a great opportunity for us to engage with stakeholders and possible users of research products, people we probably wouldn’t meet anywhere other than online. While we think about possible ways and alternatives to get our messages out more effectively, through different channels, and in different formats, we also need to keep an eye on what other organizations and people are writing about those issues that are related to our research. Reading, following and commenting on other people’s work and thoughts is essential if we are to engage with stakeholders of all kinds, and should be part of our Social Media strategies. If we want to make our media interactive, we also need to take the time to interact with others online. And all social media tools allow us to interact with authors through comments (i.e. blogs, photo and video sharing sites, wiki discussion pages etc).

    In addition, social media listening is an excellent way of talking about our research processes, products and achievements.

    What we can expect from practicing Social Media Listening

    Social Media Listening is a new way of raising the profile of our organizations, projects and even ourselves as we gain visibility by adding value to online conversations related to topics that we care about. It should also help us find new partners, networks, research ideas and, perhaps, even new donors. By participating in online conversations, we leave footprints in the Internet sphere that raise the probability of us being found and contacted. Finally, we can hope that this practice leverages our impact paths by accelerating the effective dissemination of our work.

    How to practice Social Media Listening

    Comment field on a blog

    Comment field on a blog

    Start by following information on the Internet that is related to your work. As Chris Brogan states “Google is your front page whatever happens”, but there are other ways to find opportunities for valued added conversations:

    • Technorati is a good site to start searching for related blogs.
    • Go to Twitter and search for tweets that might be of interest. You will be surprised how many interesting links you will discover.
    • Subscribe to the RSS feeds of the sites you find interesting.
    • Join listservs and communities that tackle your or related issues.
    • Ask your colleagues and peers about their favourite professional social networking sites for you to consider.
    • Start contributing with comments, questions, answers and links to your own sites.
    • Work hard on composing and refining keywords for your own sites and searches. Keywords allow you to find the hidden treasures.

    Who should practice Social Media Listening?

    While all of us, researchers and research supporters alike, can gain from keeping up to speed with the latest innovations and developments in our respective areas of expertise and interest, social media listening should be practiced by all communications professionals, especially those working in the field of public relations.

    Beth Kanter and Chris Brogan are two geeks covering this area. Have a look at these:

    Practice Social Media Listening and start a conversation now:

    • What are your first reactions to the practice of social media listening?
    • What would it take to make this a permanent and strategic activity?

    ICT tools have become crucial to the accomplishment of the organizational missions of the CGIAR Centers. The average CGIAR employee uses word-processing and spreadsheet programs, communications tools such as Skype or Communicator, media creation, management software, and online information management systems for documentation, finance or research. When these systems fail or become unreliable, the CGIAR suffers in its ability to accomplish its missions and meet its targets.

    During the initial phase of the ICT-KM Program’s Second Level Connectivity (SLC) project, it was discovered that many regional, country and project offices of the CGIAR receive poor ICT support. With the majority of research and administrative work relying on ICT, this means that there is much inefficiency in the way staff work and a lack of coordination both within the regions and with CGIAR HQ offices. This has led to poor implementation of standards and procedures, loss of data and information through poor data management and lack of access to important resources on the intranet and Internet sites. Local ICT support is usually provided by contracting local ICT professionals following the advice of a regional specialist.

    Regional ICT Specialist

    In an attempt to rectify this situation, the SLC project implemented a 10-month trial to provide a regional ICT specialist to coordinate and carry out ICT support within the East and Southern Africa region, with technical backstopping support from the joint ICT Unit of ILRI and the World Agroforestry Centre.

    The ICT specialist was responsible for:

    • Coordinating the local ICT support provided to the CGIAR offices in the region, ensuring the required quality was provided and maintained and that the CGIAR standards were implemented.
    • Providing ICT Support, advice and guidance, both remotely and during site visits to the CGIAR offices in the region.
    • Acting as the link between the CGIAR offices in the region and the respective CGIAR HQ Offices on technical ICT issues.

    The goal of the position was not to provide hands-on, technical support but to ensure improvements in the ICT standards, conditions and practices in the region.

    At the end of the 10-month trial, the pilot project’s effectiveness was evaluated via email, an online survey and interviews (conducted by an external evaluator) with CGIAR staff ranging from local users and office heads, through regional ICT staff and administrators to Center HQ ICT managers.

    The Benefits

    The evaluation highlighted certain practical, technical benefits arising from the position:

    • New shared VSAT satellite systems for IITA and IFPRI in Kampala, ICRISAT in Bulawayo, and CIMMYT and CIAT in Harare
    • Inventory of ICT status of offices in the region and development of improvement plans following discussions with office heads (Chetedze and other locations)
    • Improved backup procedures for local ICT staff (Chitedze, Harare and Kampala)
    • Assistance to WorldFish in remote locations (Maputo and Zomba)
    • Improved understanding, by staff and management, of ICT challenges: careless use of bandwidth, and efforts to address anti-virus and data backup needs

    Organizationally, the benefits included:

    • Development of a mailing list for ICT support issues
    • Improved ability of ICT staff in the region to liaise with their own HQ ICT staff
    • Development of relationships between the ICT specialist and regional managers and office heads and the initiation of discussions about developing common ICT staff or services in areas where CGIAR Centers share common premises
    • Improved standardized systems and practices in support of mobility for traveling CGIAR staff and visiting researchers

    In offices where the ICT specialist was able to contribute to visible improvements (such as improved bandwidth and ISP services and, in some cases, assistance with developing terms of coordination between local CGIAR offices), there is broad support for such a position. A number of staff interviewed felt that the value of strategic and planning advice is more important than the technical skills of the specialist. Even in the case of two small offices where the experiences of the office with the work of the specialist were not entirely positive, there is, nevertheless, extremely strong support of the concept of a regional ICT position.

    The Challenges

    Of course, employing an ICT specialist on a permanent basis won’t be without its challenges, chief of which relate to the following:

    Geography – The position needs to be located in a place from which travel is most effective and as inexpensive as possible.

    Finance – With only one exception, the HQ ICT managers supported in principle a financing model whereby they support overhead costs for the position, including one trip per year to each CGIAR office in the region, with the local offices paying for any additional visits or work they request or require.

    Management – the specialist and his/her supervisor must both be comfortable and skilled in the use of communications tools and be in the habit of initiating communications between each other about successes, problems, changes or initiatives as appropriate.

    Collaboration – The specialist must demonstrate an ability to work collaboratively, both in person and remotely, using such ICT collaboration tools as are shown to work well in the region.

    Looking ahead

    The major benefit to come out of this pilot project is a rare and encouraging display of unanimity across a broad spectrum of staff, offices and locations that a regional ICT specialist position is very important and central to their ability to accomplish their work efficiently and productively. More importantly, even when this support was offered with caveats about the implementation of the post, no one questioned whether or not it should exist.

    At levels from local or regional offices to HQ ICT managers, there is broad agreement on a cost-shared funding approach. In addition, there is an existing model for cross-Center ICT management that provides possible guidance for a management model. One CGIAR programme director described cross-Center services as “the future for such things as ICT support”.

    Indeed, the biggest risk to ICT management as a consequence of this pilot might be that it not result in a permanent post for the region, which would likely bring to a close several promising initiatives and practices coming out of the project to date and would respond poorly to the many comments about the importance of the post.

    All it takes is just one specialist.

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