May 2009


InterPressService recently published an article Development: Make use of African Skills which struck a chord with me.

My take-home message from the article, written as the Third Knowledge Management Africa conference is taking place in Dakar, Senegal: “look within the continent to find solutions!”

To find ways to apply vital information to the basic question of improving the lives of Africa’s people, you need not look beyond the boundaries of the continent.

This statement is a corollary to our thinking in the way we are shaping AGCommons, our program to provide location-specific intelligence to solve real problems.

As the implementation phase is designed we are looking into helping establish a stand-alone, Africa-based,  service bureau organization so that  AGCommons can contribute to improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers on a sustainable basis into the future.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. The ancient Chinese proverb goes.

With AGCommons we are looking into empowering the men and women of Africa to use geospatial tools to solve problems they know best!

So to build on the Chinese proverb: with AGCommons we are handing over the ‘nets‘.

It would be hard to use the Internet and not come across a slew of social networking sites. Facebook, MySpace…these are just two of the popular sites that regular Internet aficionados use to keep in touch with family and friends and/or meet new people.

Social networking sites allow users to create their own personal virtual space that includes applications like photo-sharing, instant messaging, Twitter and blogs. Users can connect to friends and family, but more importantly, their friends and family are connected to others, resulting in potential new networks. And therein lies the argument in favor of using these sites to promote our work in the CGIAR.

Of course, there has been extensive critique of social networking sites, with people calling them ‘useless time wasters that drag users in’, ‘ isolating rather than connecting’, ‘something for the kids’… Add to that the stigma that comes with social networking sites, thanks to cyber stalkers and identity theft. Whatever the reason for getting onto these sites or getting off them completely, there will always be people who either love or hate them. For those sitting on the fence – why not give them a try before you dismiss them? You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Why you should consider social networking sites for your work

Well, how does having access to a huge online audience sound to you?

Facebook alone boasts 175 million active users worldwide. LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, hosts more than 39 million members. This no-nonsense site lets you form links for career growth, and creates a unique environment where talent and expertise can be sourced by people you trust in your network.

Five years since the introduction of  Facebook in colleges, with many Facebook users jealously guarding their Facebook accounts as private social networks, keeping out colleagues and acquaintances, there has been an interesting development. Even in their private virtual spaces, some people are now looking for ways to engage and make a difference.

How you can use social networking sites to your advantage

  • Create awareness. Raise visibility and build a presence for your Center. There are already more than 100,000 non-profits, universities and other organizations using Facebook to connect with people. Recognizing the need, Facebook revamped its “Facebook Pages”, now known as “Public Profiles”, in March 2009. Check out the step-by-step guide to Public Profiles.
  • Engage people. Promote issues that resonate with people, such as food security, climate change, potable water for all, etc. A recent example of the strategic use of Facebook was the promotion of Earth Hour 2009, which saw almost one million people signing up on the Earth Hour site via Facebook. People were requested to switch off their lights for one hour on March 28 to promote an awareness of climate change and send a strong message to world leaders ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009. The result: millions of people voted “Earth” by posting photos, videos, blogs and using Twitter.
  • Form alliances. As Michael Hailu of ICRAF stated during the online Social Media workshop last March, “use these tools to link up with influential people and institutions”. He cited a blog post by the UK Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hillary Benn, who posted an entry about his visit to ICRAF.
  • Find expertise or talent. Sites like LinkedIn , which contain a network of trusted, professional contacts, may lead to potential partners, service providers and other experts.
  • Virtual Marketing. Use the extended networks in Facebook or your Facebook Page to publicize and promote specific activities such as blog posts, video clips or any new content. As noted online communications expert Nancy White states “we pay attention to things that are recommended to us by people in our network”.
  • Spread the word about your work, publications, website. Post short comments and links to news, updates and new content you release to let interested people pick them up and, if they are interested, redistribute them.

Tips for getting the best out of social networking sites

  • While there are quite a few sites that can be used to promote or publicize your activity, event or Center, it is wise to exercise restraint. How much time do you really have to dedicate towards updating and maintaining your Facebook page? You would ideally need to update it regularly (at least weekly). Do you have the resources to work on several social networking sites? These are things to consider before jumping in.
  • Make sure your profile page is complete before you present it to the online world. Incomplete information does not encourage return visits, mainly when it is about your face and credibility.
  • Content needs to be interesting, fresh, enticing … use your imagination. Remember, you’re going to be competing with singing dogs and flying babies! But seriously, there are many people online who crave knowledge and learning. Enlighten them! ICARDA’s Moyomola Bolarin had a great suggestion for YouTube videos being posted on social networking sites. It involved “combining a delicious chickpea recipe with information on how ICARDA work on its (chickpea) improvement”.
  • Keep track of whom you invite to your page; start with influential contacts who already have established networks. It is better to have a meaningful network of people who genuinely support and will likely promote your cause.

Still unsure? Well, why not start with a small event that may be happening at your Center – promote it on Facebook or any other social networking site, and monitor the impact.

As for me, once this blog post is published, I’m going to include the link in my email list, Yammer and Facebook!

Till next week…

Pssst! BTW if you’d like to explore the area of social media more extensively, check out ICT-KM’s social media workshop starting May 25th.

Facebook examples


Resources

At the recent CSI-AGCommons-WhereCampAfrica event in Nairobi we interviewed some of the participants to get their perspectives on why maps are important, on their role in the response to climate change, on their use in recent crises….

Why maps? is a video produced by a Nairobi-based crew to help highlight the value of geospatial technology in agriculture.

If you are responsible for communications in your organization, you will know the value of having a clear strategy and a way of evaluating it. This post will discuss some social media tools and give you ideas on how to include social media appropriately in your communications plan and measure its effectiveness.

Setting your goal

A good social media strategy should take into consideration goals, target audiences AND technological implications. For example, while it is true to say that most of the CGIAR’s constituents are not even online, many of its strategic audiences, such as donors, researchers and policy makers, will be. The Social Media Strategic Planning Worksheet from We Are Media will help you plan your social media strategy.

Here are some questions you might want to answer as you start to include a social media component in your communications strategy:

  • What communications objective do you want to try to support with social media?
  • What are the benefits, both tangible and intangible, that a social media strategy might offer?
  • What value does your social media strategy provide to your organization and/or stakeholders?
  • What type of quantitative and qualitative information do you need to track to measure your success or learn how to improve your social media strategy?

In the Blogging for impact post, you will find a number of reasons for establishing a blog. Some of the key objectives that this social media tool can help your organization achieve include: increased visibility, enhanced reputation, knowledge sharing and audience participation. These objectives don’t just apply to blogging; they can also be extended to many other social media activities such as microblogging.

Introducing a social media component into your communications strategy requires an understanding of your chosen tools and how the network dynamics work. If you are interested in learning more about strategic social media planning and have a project that you want to introduce to the Social Web, you may want to sign up for the ICT-KM Program’s Online Social Media Workshop to be held from May 25 to June 12, 2009.

Measure as you go

It is fairly simple to experiment with social media and throw out an experiment that is not working for you. Think small, low risk, frequent experiments, rather than trying to build “the perfect system” and over-investing in any one tool until you can see its value to your organization.

For example, you can create a blog as an alternative to a traditional email newsletter. By creating a central online archive for your news items, you can:

  • track traffic to individual posts – find out how many times a blog post has been viewed by using your blog software or a tool like Google Analytics).
  • read any comments you might get when you post entries that specifically ask for feedback. People are more likely to respond to open-ended questions.
  • monitor incoming links to your newsletter address and individual posts. You can monitor traffic sources (i.e. referrers in your traffic analysis reports) and keep an eye on the sites that link to your blog, simply by leveraging the search engine indexes. For example, you can set up a Google Alert to check who has linked to a specific URL or to your site, as their pages are registered with the Google index. You can also use Yahoo Site Explorer to monitor incoming links.
  • analyze those blog posts that are more popular and, accordingly, adjust your posting style, choice of topics, areas you want to focus on, etc.

The above approach relies on quantitative metrics. For a great list of other metrics, please see Rachel Happe’s blog post on Social Media Metrics.

Social listening

In the early phases of using social media, you will typically try things out and begin “listening” for the response as indicated by page views, links, responses and actions of your target audience.

Check out Beth Kanter’s blog post about evaluating first projects, where she links to Geoff Livingston’s post called “Getting Social Media Approved By Your Boss,”  in which he talks about organizational culture change and resistance, but with the emphasis on the importance of a proof of concept project. Here’s an excerpt:

First off, we recommend using a pilot project to get through the door. Reticence is often conquered by a win, and the best way to provide a win is via a pilot project. Tips to ensuring you choose the right pilot project:
  • Begin with some form of listening or monitoring. You must be in tune with your social web community if you want this to work. Hopefully you are doing this before you begin, but just in case…
  • Simple and relatively low cost is good. When there is fear involved, an easy, relatively affordable project is an easy thing to sign off on.
  • Short timeframes help, too. You want to make this a quick test.
  • Make sure you have a measurable goal. Look at your strategy, it will tell you exactly what to measure. You must be able to attain ROI. That is why attaining something worthwhile is essential, whether it’s micro-donations, market intelligence, feedback on a new product, click-throughs to a store, registrants for a value added webinar, or some other measurable result. You must be able to declare victory.

Social media has been around for a while (social bookmarking was already all the rage back in 2005 when Yahoo acquired Del.icio.us). However, it’s the growth in the adoption and use of social networks that has started to generate increasing traffic to the websites that get bookmarked, shared, commented on, and spread in whatever way through the networks. This is driving the demand for data related to social media: how many people are following us? what topics do they find interesting? who else is in their networks?

The first thing to do, as stated in the excerpt above, is to identify the goal you want to measure and choose the analysis tools that best cater for the job. For example, you can create buzz around an event so you engage participants before, during and after the event, the success of which can be measured in terms of the number of times your event information is viewed. You can also check the spread of an individual message across networks.

A great starting guide for measuring traffic generated by social media can be found at HOW TO: Track Social Media Analytics. Another article about reputation monitoring focuses on the tools you might want to set up to find out what is being said about your organisation, project or initiative so that you can participate in the conversation.

Capturing intangibles

Of course, using quantitative metrics is not the only way of evaluating your social media ROI. Successful communications often involves intangibles, like, say, a donor reading a blog post that tells the story of a project and, as a result, begins to engage more deeply to support the work involved. Or it could be about people who start following your Twitter messages and gain a deeper appreciation for, say, food and hunger in the world and start making small changes in their own lives. These things require a deeper listening – such as finding stories, carrying out interviews with people from your target audience, etc. For more on this, here is another blog post from Beth Kanter on intangibles as part of ROI.

As you get a sense of how social media is helping you achieve your communications strategy, you can begin to incorporate social media evaluation into your overall communications evaluation work:

  • keep anything that is working
  • adjust those aspects that might be working
  • stop doing anything that isn’t working

Note: Sometimes, it takes both experimentation and time to find out if something is working. So don’t give up too quickly.

Additional Resources

About this post. Originally developed by the Social Media Workshop facilitators, expanded by Antonella Pastore, edited by Mary Schneider.

I am doing it again…giving titles that sound like an Aesop’s fable….just like my earlier “The Starfish and the Spider” post. But again, this has nothing to do with the more famous fables…. This is about applying map technology to reduce a public-health menace. After all this is a blog about ICTs, knowledge and agriculture…

 

Sibiry Traore

Sibiry Traore

Ok….let’s see what our conversation with Pierre Sibiry, research scientist at ICRISAT in Mali during our First Africa Geospatial week reveals…

 

“You don’t have to describe to a child what an elephant is when he can see one.” Pierre borrows this Dagaare proverb from Ghana to explain the sheer visual power of maps.

On the other hand, he is also quick to admit not understanding, just yet, why West African farmers are captivated by digitized, very high resolution maps of their land.

“We don’t know why they like this imagery,” says Traore, “but they seem to love it. They all ask for it. Why not provide very high-resolution imagery everywhere for rural communities? You could map villages, fields, trees, cart paths, landscapes. You could have every mayor, village chief, farmers’ representative discuss local maps with local people and see what happens.

“Ever wondered why you stare at your own backyard on Google Earth? Well, the farmer might just be like you – or vice versa. There is no reason to deprive the majority of Africans of that imagery.”

One unpredicted effect of maps on Traore himself has been a growing interest in aflatoxins—toxic substances produced by the Aspergillus fungi that infest peanuts and other crops. Aflatoxins are among the most potent carcinogens known, and particularly affect the liver.

“I recently read that one in ten males in the Gambia die from liver cancer. Isn’t that shocking? West Africans eat a lot of peanuts—a majorl source of protein and energy. In addition, you find aflatoxin in weaning formulas and milk when cows are fed infected peanuts—it causes stunting and other child health problems.”

So what does this have to do with maps?

Weather and field conditions control how quickly the fungus grows in any particular harvest. And these environmental and management conditions can be monitored by satellite.

“It turns out that peanut pods are particularly susceptible if they matured during a dry spell – weaker shells allow the fungus in. But also if they sit on the ground after harvesting when it’s damp—then the fungus just explodes. Quite often you can see the fungus in the peanut shell—a green powdery stuff. But it doesn’t have to be visible to be dangerous.”

Some weather satellites can help predict harvest time and moisture levels. Combined with very high-resolution imagery—satellite pictures that allow you to zoom in very close and see inside fields, they help tell whether a particular field has a high, medium, or low risk of aflatoxin in the harvest. That means they show critical places where farmers should rush the crop off the field to dry.

Resistant varieties are in development. In the meantime, the most important defense is not to let the crop sit on the ground in damper than average conditions.

“It’s not that the farmers leave them there out of neglect. Peanuts often come last. Cotton can’t stand in the field or it gets ruined—and it’s cash so it’s more urgent. After that comes millet and sorghum, since they’re staples for family. Then you can turn your attention to the peanuts.”

Most in West Africa simply have no idea of the dangers of aflatoxin.
“Aflatoxin is like tobacco—you usually don’t see the effects till many years later. In Kenya in 2004, about 130 people died from eating contaminated maize. But the bigger impact is chronic exposure. It’s well documented in the medical literature, but the problem is hugely underestimated in Africa. Aflatoxin delays development. And it’s a silent killer..”

With luck and funding, that particular elephant might be tamed.

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