I (Nadia Manning-Thomas, KSinR Project Leader) was amongst the many that participated in the recently convened CGIAR Science Forum, June 16th and 17th in Wageningen, The Netherlands.

The Science Forum was well organised by the Science Council, The Alliance of CGIAR Centres, GFAR and Wageningen UR and brilliantly hosted by Wageningen UR.

The event was two days long and consisted of a mixture of plenary sessions with key note speakers and panels as well as workshop sessions on 6 different topics. I was part of Workshop 3- ICTs enabling transformation in agricultural science for development- for which I had developed a think piece and gave a presentation–see blog post on ICT-enabled collaboration for agricultural science for development

I thought I would share some of my impressions with you about this event and various components:

1. The event as a whole

  • It was well organised and ran quite smoothly
  • There was a striking lack of social sciences in the program
  • There was still the concept of ‘senior experts’ telling everyone what should be done at work with lots of time devoted to a number of key note speakers. While this was interesting, it took up a lot of time and there was no time for interaction with these speakers or as a plenary as a whole.
  • There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm amongst all the scientists–science is still exciting and valuable.
  • NO free wireless connection in rooms to allow those of us who wanted to cover the event using social media
  • It was very nice that the organisers were open to the inviting of young professionals from within the CGIAR to be part of the forum–but how many of their voices were heard?
  • A lot about genetics and genomics–seems to be a hot topic right now with lots of potential but still some things to be careful about and also still need to think about ultimate adoption and impact
  • The topic of bio-products focused solely on bio-fuels–what about fibres for clothing and thatching, medicinal plants, etc—biofuels can offer a lot of positive but need to think through carefully as can also have major implications for food production, land and water usage
  • While we might have identified a list of science topics–I didn’t get the impression we thought about how these can be operationalised and how they link together as well as to development impacts
  • Good message to us from Bill Clark on Linking Knowledge to Action for Sustainable Development
  • I enjoyed eating the ‘alternative protein’ (read: worms, grasshoppers, etc) snacks at the Forum evening event

2. ICT workshop

  • Well organised by convenor Ajit Maru from GFAR with a wide range of think-pieces prepared and presented
  • Interesting background piece developed by Ajit Maru (GFAR), Enrica Porcari (CGIAR ICT-KM), and Peter Ballantayne
  • Wide range of ideas, perspectives and opinions on ICTs
  • Still alot of bias towards very technical aspect of ICTs
  • The short presentations given by presenters were actually short and punchy and interesting.
  • Use of buzz groups in between sets of 3 presentations was a nice way to digest the presentations, find connections, hear what others thought about it etc
  • World Cafe is always a win approach for achieving meaningful small group discussions around key questions and topics…it also allows people to interact with many others during the time. Always creates a lot of conversations, a lot of energy and also of ideas!
  • From my World Cafe table on Innovations necessary to support adoption and use of ICTs in agricultural science for development a number of key things emerged:
  1. Need to develop good M&E system around ICT use in agricultural science for development to be able to track, learn and adjust along the way. We need to know if these tools are really working toward more effective, efficient and impactful work.
  2. Need to build up and support the right mix of personnel with the right skills to be able to carry out the work of ICTs in ag science for development. We need both new curriculum to support this as well as ongoing capacity building opportunities to keep people ‘on the ball’
  3. Incentives–if people are going to be engaging in clearly beneficial work to the institutes and their activities-but it does not involve publications but carrying out other activities and achieving different outputs, then we need to find a way to recognise and reward them.
  4. Need to make sure when we introduce and use new tools–that they have a clear purpose and are not just used for sake/fun of it. ICTs need to advance us along the impact pathway.

3. Networking

  • A large number of CGIAR staff in attendance–it is always nice to meet others in the system and make contacts and learn what others are doing.
  • A lot of interesting non-CGIAR participants from whom we can learn a lot, should consider working/linking with, and who can help us with outreach of our work
  • CGIAR still does not come across as a very ‘partner-oriented’- system–hope we can change that in this reform taking place as we are not the only players in ARD and many others are doing very interesting and worthwhile science and development
  • Young scientists (<40) were encouraged to network with the help of YPARD who organised a networking event specifically for Young Professionals attending the Science Forum.

But these are just MY impressions.

If you were also at the Science Forum–share with us YOUR impressions…