September 2009

Wondering how high resolution imagery can help smallholder farmers? The SIBWA – Seeing is Believing West Africa, one of the AGCommons quick win projects, blog series can help you find the answer.

VHRIex2: Mindsets & Skillsets to entrust smallholders with Very High Resolution Imagery- A manifesto against top-down approaches

REMEMBER ROME? They conquered Greece (with their warfare), and then the Greeks conquered the Romans (with their culture). Meaning, successful confrontation of know-how and know-ledge is always a two-way street. You trade technology for expertise. Insights for forethoughts. MOTIVES FOR CLUES. Read more…

SIBWA hits a home run with H.E. the Minister of Agriculture of Mali

H.E. Agathane Ag Alassane, the Minister of Agriculture of Mali toured the IER-Sotuba Regional Agronomic Research Center on Thursday 24 September as part of a preparatory site visit for the upcoming October AGRA-PASS General Meetings in Bamako, Mali. The AGRA-PASS General Meetings will involve a side visit by Kofi Annan and several West African Heads of State to IER-Sotuba, including a planned stop at SotubaGIS where the SIBWA project is housed. Read more…

VHRIBox….Very High Resolution? Veritably a huge revolution!

Remote sensing has had to offer an ever-growing wealth of information to monitor land processes and vegetation. From optical indices that intercept photosynthesis, to thermal sensors that sip out water stress, to microwaves that carve out canopy structure. But stay tuned. THE major operational breakthrough of this decade is, with no doubt… CRISPINESS. Without CRISPINESS, you wouldn’t see your cat in your driveway (okay, okay, your car). Without CRISPINESS, Google Earth wouldn’t exist. Without CRISPINESS, geography would remain an academic fantasy. Without CRISPINESS, you cannot relate to the people on the ground. You cannot relate to your neighbors. You cannot relate to yourself… well, wait a minute. Of course you can, but without optical depth. Read more…


AAA is not a new concept to those who read our blog, nor our tireless efforts to increase the availability of and access to our research. Just today here in Cali, at the CIAT campus I have been discussing a paper written by our colleague Edith Hesse about CIAT’s efforts to increase the availability and accessibility of their research, following our joint efforts to introduce web 2.0 tools in the CIAT science week.

And it was only yesterday that I got to know Mendeley, the latest innovation to organize, discover and share scientific papers.

It goes to show how fast things move in this area.

What is Mendeley? Apart from a great demonstration of how innovation in one area (music) can move to another (scientific publications)?

To understand Mendeley you need to know how works. It is a radio channel on the web where users can listen to their own songs and other tracks recommended by’s algorithms based on their tastes, including iTunes, and those of friends.

Think to apply the same principles to scientific research.

“Why can’t researchers, instead of waiting anywhere up to three years for their papers to jump all the hurdles, be part of a real-time market place – a fusion of iTunes and for science? ” wonders Viktor Keegan .

So meet Mendeley: a databank of scientific articles built using’s principles of recommending music, videos and concerts based on what you listen to.

Keegan goes on to explain how it works. “At the basic level, scientists can “drag and drop” research papers into the site at, which automatically extracts data, keywords, cited references, etc, thereby creating a searchable database and saving countless hours of work. That in itself is great, but now the bit kicks in, enabling users to collaborate with researchers around the world, whose existence they might not know about until Mendeley’s algorithms find, say, that they are the most-read person in Japan in their niche specialism. You can recommend other people’s papers and see how many people are reading yours, which you can’t do in Nature and Science. Mendeley says that instead of waiting for papers to be published after a lengthy procedure of acquiring citations, they could move to a regime of “real-time” citations, thereby greatly reducing the time taken for research to be applied in the real world.”

It looks like some of the large archives, such as ArXiv’s, efforts, with its half a million e-papers free online – will soon pale in comparison to the potential of Mendeley. The growth rate of Mendeley is impressive, over 4 million scientific papers have already been uploaded in a matter of weeks. If you think that the largest academic databases host about 20 million papers, you will see what I mean.

Is Mendeley also a rival for Google? The real innovation with Mendeley is that it does not limit itself to links to a website, but links like-minded people.

If you are not convinced yet, watch these videos

First, an overview:

And a sample use:

Could this be a way to change the face of science? Shall CGIAR researchers give it a serious try? Could this be a real breakthrough to ensure our researchers stay easily connected and their results easily get to the hands of those who need it?

A thank you to our friends from CGNET pointing Mendeley out to us

In the beginning … 
Shwu Jiau Teoh

Shwu Jiau Teoh

Way back in the early 1980s, there was no email in CGIAR. When scientists wanted to collaborate with each other, they did so using the technology available at that time: phone, fax, telex and cable. Some of these communication methods were often slow and unreliable, and always expensive – factors that had a direct bearing on critical research efforts. Then in 1985, with the advent of email across the CGIAR System, things began looking up. Almost overnight, day-to-day communications became much faster and cheaper. However, long-distance collaborative efforts could still be slow and, at times, confusing.

The age of social media

Fast forward to the 21st century and we have a completely different scenario on our hands. Welcome to the Age of Social Media!

To find out how today’s scientists are collaborating in the CGIAR, we caught up with WorldFish GIS specialist Shwu Jiau Teoh at her office in Penang, Malaysia.

“I feel social media is changing the way some CGIAR researchers work with partners and present the results of their research,” she says. “For example, my team uses Google Sites to share documents and collaborate. It’s easy to create a website using the Google Sites template. You don’t even have to have a programming background – I picked it up in a few minutes. It’s ideal for accessing and sharing information and it’s free.”

Site features

Shwu Jiau is also impressed with the various features and functions of Google Sites.

“My team in Penang needs to be able to share information and collaborate with our Chinese partners while working on our project Valuing Living Aquatic Resources of Wetlands in China, led by Dr. Suan Pheng Kam,” she explains. “We started using the site last May, when the project first got underway, and we feel that the 10GB of storage (Google Apps standard edition) is more than enough for our needs. We have created content on a public Google site, so that visitors are informed of our work as the project advances. But we also set up a restricted site available to just our team members for sharing knowledge and documents in one place. The site settings allow us to easily assign different levels of permission to our members.

“Any changes to a document are tracked in a history archive, so we can follow the evolution of a document as it is accessed and changed by the various team members. There’s also a calendar, a section where members can see announcements in real time, and a page for project and research documentation. A dashboard page, which is by default a two-column webpage with four placeholder gadgets, automatically gives an overview of the project: an embedded calendar with the most recent posts from the announcements page, a list of updated files from the project document page and links to the different research components page.

File Cabinet

Of all the easy-to-use features available on Google Sites, this GIS specialist feels the File Cabinet, in which project documents and literature are stored, to be the one that team members value the most.

“Without Google Sites, we would have to communicate via email, which wouldn’t be convenient when we want to share large files, as some mail boxes have limitations,” she explains. “The File Cabinet is very useful for storing our reports and research literature. In addition, it immediately displays the latest version of all our documents. This makes it easy for team members to keep up to date and also helps with the compilation of donor reports – this is easily done by referring to the related documents available on the project page, without having to search through all the annexes.

“We also use the File Cabinet when we want to prepare material for a workshop and need input from our Chinese counterparts. At the conclusion of a workshop, we usually upload material from the event onto the site for the team members to access and also embed into the site a Picasa slideshow that displays the workshop photo album. There’s no way we could go back to using just email to accomplish this.”

It looks as if Shwu Jiau and her team have their feet firmly planted in the 21st century.

For those who are already using Google Sites, we’d love to hear your story, too.

Francesca Pelloni

Francesca Pelloni

Life is a balancing act. Finding an equilibrium that works for you, your family and your friends is often difficult to achieve. And no one knows this better than AGCommons Project Officer Francesca Pelloni. After a five-year hiatus of sorts from the hectic world of IT project management, she is back with a well-grounded enthusiasm for her career and a strong sense of purpose that will surely benefit the Project.

“I took a break from full time work because, like so many people these days, I found myself working from morning till night, with little time or energy left to devote to myself or my family,” she explains. “Although I did do some consultancy work during the past five years, I basically took the time away to discover what I wanted out of life.”

Fortunately for the ICT-KM Program, Francesca was planning to resume her career at a time when the Program had just committed to manage a new project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: AGCommons.

When Francesca talks about the AGCommons Project, her passion is palpable. “It’s certainly challenging to work on a big project again, but I’m excited about the possibilities,” she says. It’s great to be involved in something that has the potential to impact so many lives in Africa.”

This project officer also has a thirst for knowledge that goes beyond the information necessary to carry out her job well.

“I love learning about new things,” she says. “Although I wasn’t a complete stranger to geographical information systems when I came on board, I’ve learned so much about this technology, and this has given me a greater insight into how such systems impact most of our lives on a daily basis, sometimes without us even realizing it. Each project I’ve managed in the past has enlightened and enriched my life in a similar way. That’s one of the things I love about being a project manager.”

An insatiable thirst for knowledge is sometimes indicative of someone who is not afraid to embrace change and challenges; something that holds true for this native of Rome.

“I got into project management quite by accident,” she says. “I majored in humanistic studies and political relations at university, then got married and had my daughter. When I entered the work force a year later, it was as an assistant to the Managing Director of the Inter Press Service (IPS), an international agency that focused on the third world, as developing countries were referred to back then. At that time, the organization had offices in 90 countries, and I helped coordinate their ICT activities. That was the start of my project management career.”

In 1995, Francesca joined the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), where she was involved in a project that was responsible for equipping the organization’s field offices with email.

“I was there for two years,” she says, “and I’m amazed when I look back and realize that FAO offices have only had email for 14 years. It seems like it’s been around forever.”

After her stint at FAO, Francesca moved to Milan to manage other IT projects of a different nature and in a different environment, with a company in the private sector, after which she made the decision to move to the countryside to lead a simpler, less chaotic life.

“It was an interesting time,” she says, recalling the move. “I suddenly found myself with a completely different rhythm. Having the whole day at my disposal to do as I pleased was yet another new experience. I learned a lot of different things during my time away: I learnt about plants and how to grow flowers and vegetables, horse riding, piano lessons and belly dancing. I also took time to travel and indulged in my passion for cooking.  I can now make a mean Ravioli di Magro, even if I say so myself.”

She adds, “I love to eat. I don’t think you can cook well if you don’t love to eat.”

The same passion that Francesca has in the kitchen is also reflected in her enthusiasm for her new role in the workplace; something that’s bound to have a positive effect on the AGCommons Project. 


Thanks to Nancy White, workshop facilitator for sharing this update.

The “Social Media in International Development” Workshop kicked off on September 7th with four CGIAR members, two World Bank staffers, a representative from a Dutch NGO and from an Australian university.

With this diversity, the group was off to a great start in their work to understand the application of social media in international development. We covered four continents and 5 time zones!

The first week focused on understanding social media and the context for the its use in development. There are many potential applications from supporting scientific research, collaboration, engaging with stakeholders and disseminating information. The accompanying mind map offers a glimpse of the conversation, which included  defining social media, exploring the participant’s potential applications and then beginning to open up the implications of the use of social media.


Click here to enlarge

These week one conversations held  asynchronously online and with a weekly telephone/skype call set the stage for week two which began an exploration of three types of social media identified by the group: blogs, wikis and collaborative platforms. This activity will culminate in the production of a summary page on a blog, wiki or added to the existing base resource of the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit

In addition to the conversations,

Well, while the summer heat was blessing the northern emisphere, and many were enjoying some well deserved rest, the ICT-KM program team continued to work…. and I wanted to share some of the things we did in the month of August that make us very proud!

Reshaping Agricultural Research and Innovation

Our Simone Staiger-Rivas is supporting the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) process that is being organized by GFAR. Aimed at creating new ways of working together to enhance the development value of research, GCARD 2010 will see ICT-KM coordinating and facilitating several key e-consultation processes.

World Congress of Agroforestry, Nairobi, August 24 – 28

Our Antonella Pastore has been actively involved in the reporting of Congress activities with social media. A designated social reporting team embraced blogging and microblogging in providing informal, interesting reports from sessions and hallway conversations that took place. Many in the reporting team are first time users to blogs, Twitter and photo sharing, yet the impact was staggering – participation and sharing was extensive and it is reaching many beyond the participants of the congress. Read more on monitoring the buzz!

ICT-KM – a resource hub

Our Knowledge Sharing Toolkit is an excellent example of collaboration between ICT-KM, the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community and also the FAO. This has resulted in us being tapped into as resource persons for training sessions on social media at the FAO.

On another note, the toolkit now boasts a new context page that offers scientists ideas, experiences and recommendations on tools and methods for knowledge sharing within the project cycle. Fruit of the hard work of our Nadia Manning-Thomas read about improving impact through knowledge sharing in research.

Monitoring our blogging impact

Those who know me best, know I do not easily get impressed with statistics. My favourite question is “So what?”. But numbers are a good place to start. We took stock of our foray into social media recently, namely blogging, to see how successful ICT-KM was in the last 6 months in the blogosphere. We looked at blog traffic statistics as key indicators to monitor and assess the value of putting our program-related activities and CGIAR initiatives on the Web, in our effort to improve our visibility, and – to later be able to answer the famous “so what?” question – our impact. An obvious finding was that more content meant more web traffic, but the trend showed that original work was more popular than our other blogs. Our Meena Arivananthan was queen of the month, with her very successful social media series. Read on to find out what the other 4 lessons learnt are. We are working to be able to answer the “So what?” question with full details….

Good Practice Guides: IT related issues

ICT-KM has just published a new series of Good Practice Guides based on the collective work of the IT community of practice. These useful guides address issues that CGIAR centers face worldwide, including challenging connectivity or minimal IT support. We believe these guides, which were developed in collaboration with the Internal Audit Office, will benefit IT departments seeking to implement improved approaches.

Sharing what we learn…

Our Tania Jordan has given presentations at FAO about the use of Wikis in the CGIAR with quite some success… they keep on asking her back!

And…. Michael Marus is hard at work on our research maps, our new site is being finalised, we are actively engaged in the CGIAR reform process….so much more going on…and more to look forward to making us proud next month.

What made me most proud this month? See the tenacious commitment of the ICT-KM team members despite the heat! Quite remarkable really!

For more updates on all activities of the ICT-KM program, keep following us on our blog or subscribe to our newsletter….