July 2009


Why do some of us shy away from trying out new technology such as social media? I can think of several reasons: too complicated to figure out; too expensive to implement; my supervisor/colleagues would never approve; more suitable for geeks and teenagers; it’ll take too much time … Or my personal favorite: I like things the way they are now.

Matt Hamm's social media bandwagonYes, change can be a pain, because it can shake up your organized, structured existence. However, we can’t close our eyes and hope the Internet will go away. While I feel we should not jump onto the social media bandwagon just because everyone else is doing so, social media’s potential cannot be denied. Whatever the reason people give for avoiding social media, don’t let ignorance and fear hold you back from what will probably be the next revolution in the way people communicate.

Social media is breaking down communication barriers: allowing people to reach out to others around the world – letting them connect, engage and share among themselves. Now more than ever, agricultural research and development organizations such as ours can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs.

Social media tools can help you in your role as researcher, manager or communicator.

If all you’re interested in doing is organizing your online world, there are several social media tools that can simplify your life. These include social bookmarking sites that can help you organize your website resources and scientific literature. And if you’re struggling to keep abreast of updates from your favorite websites and blogs, newsfeeds may be your ticket out of mayhem. However, if you are yearning for more, hoping to connect with like-minded individuals or wanting to share your organization’s research with a larger audience so that it can be used, applied and improved upon, then read on!

The true value of social media lies in its ability to form communities organically. Often these communities, or social networks as they are called, come together because of common interests or a shared purpose. It is a nurturing environment filled with trust and camaraderie – the perfect milieu for effective collaboration and the sharing of ideas, information and knowledge. Add to that an outreach across vast geographical distances and the cross-linking between the different social media tools, and voila! You have a global, inter-linked audience at your fingertips.

Social media can give your communication strategy a boost in the following ways:

  • It can help you tap into a large, global audience base and go where the people are these days – the Internet!
  • The way people source for information has evolved. They are more discerning, preferring to seek out recommendations and suggestions from their colleagues, peers and experts. Information overload is a major concern, so people will not waste their time visiting a website, blog, database or any other resource unless someone they trust points them in that direction.
  • The usual way we do business is slowly coming to an end. Pushing information out to your target audience does not guarantee that it will be read and used. Information is useful only when it is received by the right person, who is looking, at the right time. Use social media tools as vehicles to get your message out.

How social media can boost your communication strategy:

Increase Visibility

  • Create awareness by raising the profile of your organization on social networking sites. Cultivate long term support for your organization by creating your own network of scientists, research partners and interested individuals.
  • Use social media tools to promote your projects, events and activities. Announce time-sensitive, newsworthy items and get a head-start on others by microblogging. Microblogging involves posting short sentences (max 140 characters) that can be used to promote your journal article or a useful website, act as a reminder for an activity, or even ask questions. Tip: Ensure that your microblogging network consists of like-minded individuals who share your interests and concerns so that the information exchange is meaningful. Be prudent in selecting whom you follow.
  • Promote your name: use social media to establish your reputation in the research and development arena. Blogging is a great way for researchers to share their research ideas with others and gain feedback from a wider, online audience. A recent Blog Tips post  provides practical reasons why blog sites may surpass websites in generating traffic to increase Internet presence.Well-thought-out blogs attract people with similar thoughts and queries, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.

Engage people

  • Promote issues that resonate with people to encourage involvement and gather support for your cause. A great example of this is the Obama campaign which relied heavily on social media to garner visibility and support, resulting in victory for the Obama camp.
  • Form strategic alliances with influential people and institutions that help boost your organization’s profile.
  • Source expertise or talent, whether potential research partners, service providers or other experts.
  • In the ICT-KM Program’s Social Media Tool series, I sharedMicrosoft Clipart some thoughts on how social networking sites can help you engage with others. Reinforcing the sentiment that it is easy to find and connect with people of similar interests and even easier to set up online groups, Christian Kreutz and Giacomo Rambaldi provide interesting examples of local and global engagement. They also describe the various levels at which people engage while participating in social networks.

Share Knowledge

  • Social media transcends geographic boundaries. Test your research ideas by sharing them with your colleagues globally. Collaborate, enrich and validate your work at a fraction of the time and cost associated with face-to-face meetings. As wide-reaching as it can be, collaborative sharing sites also come with security options that allow secure knowledge sharing.
  • Create an environment where people recognize your expertise, and establish your organization as the expert in your field of research. Whether you are a researcher who is new to a field and eager to learn more, or the resident expert, share your knowledge and experiences by contributing to insightful blogs. I may be new to blogging, but already I’m learning so much from just opening up to a new community. My boss, Enrica Porcari, CGIAR Chief Information Officer, is a regular blogger and attests to its value. As she believes, and as I have been experiencing, blogs go beyond just sharing your words. The true value of blogging is in the exchange of information and knowledge, and the nurturing environment that allows differing ideas and opinions to emerge without defensiveness.  See how these successful bloggers use their expertise to share and learn:
    • Agricultural Biodiversity blogs  (by Luigi Guarino and Jeremy Cherfas, who are living their passion for all things related to biodiversity in agriculture)
    • ICT-KM Blogs (Blogs on knowledge sharing and social media in the CGIAR by 6 active bloggers and many guest bloggers)
    • Blog Tips (On blogging and social media for non-profits)
    • NEW: Rural Climate Exchange (new CGIAR blog connecting agricultural and environmental science to the climate change agenda) 
  • Share your photographs and videos online. Place useful slides online so others can learn from them. Tip: Think about the keywords/tags that you use to describe your product, such as blog, photograph, slides, videos, etc. How would you search for information online? Use that as a guide for your tags.
  • Get more mileage out of your research outputs by filtering content to fit different social media tools. Think of social media as strategic communication lines that branch outward to several different networks, which in turn branch into other networks.
  • Reach out to interested people outside your regular circle and gain valuable ideas/feedback from your pool of social networks. Practice what some call social listening.

As my colleague Simone Staiger-Rivas often quotes, “Social media is not about technology. It is about conversations enabled by technology.”

  • Going beyond self-promotion, we should be paying attention to conversations that are already ongoing on social media sites; conversations that we are also passionate about. Sharing is a two-way process, and we should take the time to interact with others in a similar fashion.
  • Share resources within interested communities and broaden horizons at a fraction of the time it would take to search for data or information or knowledge on your own. Social Bookmarks and Newsfeeds are great for keeping track of what’s being published on your favorite websites and blogs. Share this with others, and see the favor being returned manifold.

Consider your communication goals when you decide to incorporate social media into your strategy:

  • Decide on whether you want to increase visibility for your organization, share knowledge or engage people.
  • Choose the right social media tool(s) for your organization based on the target audience, research content and technology available.
  • Start small. Many social media tools are relatively low-cost to implement in your organization:
    • Experiment with a low-risk pilot project.
    • Use short timeframes, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
    • Evaluate your progress with pre-determined goals and measure its success. Read Antonella Pastore’s post on how to check if social media is working for you.
    • In the event a social media tool does not work for your organization, it is wise to let go and start over with a different, more suitable tool. Don’t take it too personally.

 Until you try social media out for yourself, you will never know what you’re missing. This reminds me of the days before the mobile telephone came along. Can’t imagine your life without it now, right? Similarly, the potential of social media is limitless. When you use several social media tools in tandem to inform, disseminate, share, collaborate and interact, you work within an environment of networks that grow exponentially. That’s power you can’t afford to ignore. Resistance is futile!

Till next time.

Resources: 

Social media is using the Internet to collaborate, share information, and have a conversation about ideas, and causes we care about, powered by web based tools.” – [We Media]

Background
From the learnings from the successful pilot (See blog posts about the event), and second  Social Media Online Workshop, the CGIAR through its ICT-KM Program, is pleased to offer a new online opportunity for social media explorations, this time with the specific objective to embed social media in participants’ contexts of international development work. This fully online workshop will run from September 7 to 25, 2009.

Social media offers development practitioners and organizations a move from “push” communications towards a place where we can interact with our constituents, listen and engage with them in ways we never could before. It enables us to network with colleagues and some stakeholders. If facilitates collaboration in the lab and in the field.

Social media also offers so many options that it can be overwhelming. This workshop focuses on exploration of social media from some specific development contexts. So instead of saying “there is a tool, how can we use it,” this workshop seeks to answer “we need to do this activity, how can social media support it and under what circumstances.”

If you ask yourself questions like these, you might consider joining the workshop:

  • How can I support collaboration in wide-spread teams?
  • How can I provide opportunities for open dialogue with my stakeholders?
  • How do we support communities of practice and thematic networks, online and offline?
  • How do we share our content and knowledge effectively online?
  • How can we make use of social media under low-bandwidth constraints?

This online workshop is designed for researchers, research and development communications professionals and knowledge sharing practitioners.

Objectives of the workshop
This three week online workshop will provide a collaborative, peer based learning opportunity for you, as development practitioners, to address if and how social media can help address your needs, opportunities or challenges related to collaboration, participation, or communication. By the end of the workshop you should be able to understand and analyze the opportunities that social media can offer in the view of your specific research and development context, identify some potential tools and create a plan of action.

During this workshop you will:

  • Identify possibles usages of social media through small group synchronous and full group asynchronous conversation, exploring opportunities and constraints related to your work.
  • Obtain an understanding and appreciation of the role and value of social media.
  • Explore 2-3 different social media tools which may be appropriate for your context.
  • Start to plan the implementation of one or more social media tools that fit our work environment.
  • Learn from participants of mixed professional and organizational backgrounds.

Outline of the 3-week event

  • Week 1 to 2 – Context and Application of Social Media: Introductions, and telephone conversations in small groups to assess your research for/and development context and identify opportunities for social media practices.
  • Week 2 to 3 – Testing Social Media Tools. Explore select social media tools in small groups.
  • Finalizing week 3 – Reflection for Action. Reflect on individual and group learning of the past two weeks and  create an initial plan for social media implementation.

Maximum Number of participants: 18

Language: English

Participant Requirement/Dedicated time: This workshop offers an in-depth exploration of social media tools adapted to your specific context with personalized support and work in small groups. To do this, we ask the following of each participant:

  • Organize your agenda to dedicate up to 1-1/2 hours per day during the three weeks. If you will be on travel and won’t have time in a particular week, save some time for “catch up.” If you will not be able to participate in more than one week, please consider taking a future workshop. It will become hard to catch up after missing significant time.
  • Participate in weekly telecons of  60-90 minutes. These are scheduled for the afternoons for those in Europe and Africa, mornings for North and South American, and evenings for Asia. We will try to accomodate all time zones as best we can.
  • Read and respond to blog posts
  • Explore at least 2 tools
  • Reflect and share your learnings on the workshop blog and wiki
  • Complete a pre- and post-workshop survey.

Open to: CGIAR staff, not for profit partners, agricultural and development organizations. Individuals, consultants and members of for profit organizations may join on a space available basis as the unsubsidized rate. (See costs below)

Platform: Blog, Skype and/or telephone, email and wiki. Our teleconference platform allows you to call for free using Skype. If you choose to use a landline for the conference calls, you will be responsible for long-distance costs. You should have regular access to the Internet. Some tools may not be accessible for those with low bandwidths. You may need to check with your IT department, as some web-based services you wish to explore may be currently blocked in your organization and you may need to seek support to access them.

Facilitators: Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Simone Staiger-Rivas (CGIAR-CIAT), Pete Shelton (IFPRI)

Cost: USD$ 850. Individuals who work for for-profits or consultants: USD$ 1050.

Contact: Please write to Simone Staiger-Rivas (s.staiger[at]cgiar.org) for questions and subscription by August, 10 at the latest.

Three CGIAR-related blogs we’ve come across recently:

Rural Climate Exchange: Connecting agricultural and environmental science to the climate change agenda

The Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and their partners generate a wealth of knowledge that can better enable rural people in developing countries to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. The purpose of this blog is to help bring such knowledge to light, so it can better serve global efforts to cope with climate change.

Crop Genebank Knowledge Base Blog: this is the blog of the Crop Genebank Knowledge Base promoted by the Systemwide Genetic Resources Programme (SGRP).

The Regional Plan in Eastern and Southern Africa Blog: last but not least, the blog of the CGIAR Regional Plan for Collective Action in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The Regional Plan in eastern and southern Africa, is the evolving, collaborative program of a network of the fifteen CGIAR Centers with Sub-Regional Organizations, FARA, regional networks and voluntary partners primarily from national agricultural institutes and universities that aims to add value to ongoing agricultural research in eastern and southern Africa.

Our colleagues at the ESA Regional Plan have recently published two reports based on the data collected in the CGIAR Research Map in Africa, powered by CGMap and based on the Google engine behind the system:

By the way, the CGIAR Research Map in Africa was selected as one of the top ten entries in the 2009 Science Forum Poster Competition on the theme “ICTs:  Enabling Agricultural Science to Be a Social Endeavour”. Check the announcement on the GFAR Website.

Special thanks to Simone Staiger and Evelyn Katingi for sharing the good news.

What else is out there? Post a comment and let us all know!

ICTKM Newsletter BannerStories in the latest newsletter:

Enjoy and let us know what you like the most.

Today it was an insightful day in the structures of an organization. The delivery of the class was interesting…it was like going to a film club.

We watched scenes from “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest” where to avoid prison McMurphy pretends to be insane and serves time in an asylum ward controlled by Nurse Ratched who rules the asylum with an iron fist, controlling every aspect until the inmates form coalitions to counter her will. We looked at the nature of organizational politics. It is a jungle, where might is right, the big animals eat the small ones, Where 3 is 2 against 1! So coalition is the recipe for survival, especially in time of scarce resources. The leaders sharpen a competitive spirit, followers act in solidarity. It can be quite a depressing environment…especially if you do not how to survive in the lion’s den!

How many “Nurses Ratched” can you count in your organization?

Hint! A coping strategy: “EVLN”: If you have trouble to fit in this frame here are your choices:
E for Exit, get out!
V for Voice: speak up, ask for help, build coalitions.
L for loyalty, work with the system.
N for Neglect, psychologically check-out while remaining in position.

The choice is yours!

Ghandi’s life was the inspiration for the next film clip. The 1982 Oscar grand slam featured Ghandi when he decides to challenge the Royal monopoly on salt-making in India through civil disobedience. The movie was full of symbols – compelling signs with a significance. Salt as independence, the white clothing as solidarity, the sunset as the end of the British empire, the lighthouse as symbol of hope …..

Ghandi an inspiration for all, representing a compelling value system, embodying justice and shared beliefs. He brings inspiration and a sense of authenticity. Ghandi’s equivalent in an organization is the “fearless leader” one who inspires confidence, one that we would follow blindly, who provides the glue that holds the organization together. Quite compelling….who in your organization inspires you?

“Five Easy Pieces” features a brilliant Jack Nicholson, a lapsed pianist on his way to see his ailing father who stops with a group of friends at a roadside café to have a meal…. Things quickly go wrong when he demands a toast…. not on the menu. The waitress refuses to “break the rules” and Nicholson shows the best of his acting! Should the waitress have been more flexible, and Nicholson willing to meet half way?

This clip was meant to show us the importance of human development, should the waitress have been better trained? But also I wonder: Should Nicholson learn some manners? Do we think we can fix all with some training?

“Twelve O’Clock High” a 1949 film about a military operation during world War II showed the importance of firm leadership in an organizational structure.

Every organizations has in some measure all of these aspects, the question is do we know how to balance? How to adjust according to organizational need? Do we have too much of a jungle? Too little inspirational culture?

And if so….what are we going to do about it?

Lately, we’ve been receiving many requests from people who would like to write documents collaboratively.

This is not the first time we write about this topic: Meena published a general overview of collaborative writing approaches, and Silvia Renn shared tips on writing proposals with Google Docs.

Having been involved in the Google Apps Case Study and currently in CGXchange 2.0, I’d like to share my experience with Google Docs and Google Sites since I’ve found these tools are helping me and the ICT-KM team improve the way we work.  In particular, I’m sharing tips for organizing comments and edits so that every collaborator feels comfortable with the tools and the collaborative writing process.

Enjoy and share your experience and feedback!

(more…)

blindfolded
Today while a group was being coached by media professionals, others played a team building game where a group of us seating around a table was given a set of shapes – two pieces were missing from the set and we had to identify the missing pieces in 30 minutes. Piece of cake you would say…yeah, right… the only caveat…we were blindfolded. It was a horrific experience. We had to wear the blindfold from the very beginning, even when we were given instructions – for me this was the first moment of frustration….. I realized I cannot follow instructions if I cannot see – some may argue I cannot follow instructions period, but that’s not the point here.

Three teams were playing. At the end of the period, and despite an extension of 10 minutes nobody could identify the missing pieces. Frustrated, we took a break to re-gather a few minutes later to debrief on what we could have done differently…on what we could have done as a team to get to success. Bear in mind, the groups were extremely diverse, we never worked together before, we came from different countries, different background, very few were English mother tongue…. This is an occasion where diversity did not help. We did not have a common understanding, we did not have common grounds, we had different ways to express ourselves, referring to a piece in our hands as “This” does not help when you cannot see. We did not identify a leader….we did not spend any time agreeing on what the task at hand was…we all started from our understandings and the assumptions others understood the same, we did not spend enough time checking on progress as time was passing, we just concentrated on the task at hand, we set to work immediately, trying to get the job done without planning, without agreeing on roles, on responsibilities..just charging ahead…. A big lesson, learned at the expense of a frustrating afternoon.

Working with blindfold made me think of working with colleagues virtually….when you cannot see a person everything seems so much more difficult!

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