Knowledge Sharing in Research


Are you a researcher? Do you work in a research organisation, project or program? Are you looking for ways to better conduct your research for development, share knowledge, engage with stakeholders, and achieve impact?

To help answer those questions, visit Improving impact through knowledge sharing in researchthe newest context page to be recently added to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit.  The new page offers people ideas, experiences and inspiration on recommended tools and methods to share knowledge during the research project cycle.

The Knowledge Sharing toolkit has consistently provided lots of information on tools and methods for knowledge sharing. However, it has been striving to make this information more relevant and accessible to people’s needs and situations.

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To help its visitors even better find what they are looking for or figure out what they may need and could use- a ‘What is your context?’ page was also developed.

The new context page on knowledge sharing in research-‘Improving impact through knowledge sharing in research‘- takes people right into the research process with a basic diagram of the research cycle and its key stages.

KsinR context-pic

These stages are presented as ‘entry points’ through which knowledge sharing approaches can be made use of to address certain shortcomings and limitations which traditional research may experience such as:

  1. a lack of inclusion of priorities, needs and realities from the ground
  2. inadequate use of other sources of knowledge in planning research
  3. poor collaboration with stakeholders during research activities
  4. limited understanding of how research results can most effectively be made use of
  5. ineffective ways of getting knowledge to target groups
  6. limited opportunities for learning within research process

To address these, the context page invites visitors to consider which stage of research they are in- and asking a key question related to improving that stage. The page then provides a list of suggested methods- both Online tools and Methods as well as Other Knowledge sharing Tools and Methods- to try out. These tools and methods are linked to other pages within the toolkit. Tags of related topics are also provided.

Example:

Stage 1: Identifying research (questions) to undertake

Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 576

This information has come out of the resources collected, knowledge generated and experiences of the recently concluded two-year CGIAR ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project (2007-2009). The framework on which this context page is based was developed and tested particularly through 6 Pilot Projects.

These Pilot Projects are all projects of CGIAR Centres or System-wide or Challenge Programs which proposed to pilot the use of various knowledge sharing approaches and principles in their activities. This included:Picture3

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  • The convening of a Farmers’ Conference to bring out the knowledge, experiences and needs of farmers to help in planning of activities of the Participatory Plant Breeding department at ICARDA005
  • The use of a learning alliance approach by the IWMI WASPA project to bring together relevant stakeholders to link research to action
  • The IRRI-lead Pilot Project worked with key stakeholders to 2009_01150033_resizeunderstand how to write and package research results from projects working on rice in the Northern uplands of Laos, and created factsheets which were uploaded into the Laos Rice Knowledge Bank (online tool)

The selection of tools for each of the stages of the research cycle is based on the results and experiences of these 6 Pilot Projects as well as other projects and other documented cases. Documentation of the Knowledge Sharing in Research project, its pilot projects and other activities  can be found on the Documentation and Outputs page of the KSinR website section.

But this is not a blue print approach and each research project needs to find what fits with its own context, needs and objectives–the tools presented in this context page are just some suggestions to help.

If you have also used knowledge sharing approaches in your research let us know what you have done and how it worked. If you try any of these suggested approaches out, also let us know how it worked. You make contributions to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit to keep it a living and dynamic resource by signing up and adding your methods, ideas and experiences.

When we began our blog series on Social Medial Tools two months ago, we had no idea how successful it would be. Feedback from readers has been positive and encouraging, so much so that Meena Arivananthan (who has written the series with input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas) finished the tenth post on these tools a few days ago. And there’s no stopping her.

For easy reference, we have assembled the various links to these mini tutorials below, so you can now tell at a glance where to get help on newsfeeds, wikis, microblogging, and much, much more:

1. Microblogging
Looks at microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer

2. Blogging for impact
Blogging and agricultural research

3. Social Media: how do you know it’s working?
Incorporating social media into your communications strategy

4. Social Networks: friend or foe?
Using social networking sites to your advantage

5. Social Media: Are You Listening?
Practicing social media listening

6. Social Bookmarking: storm-a-brewing
Social bookmarking and the CGIAR

7. Wikis, sites, docs and pads: the many flavours of collaborative writing
Tools for collaborative writing

8. Are newsletters a dying breed?
How effective are e-newsletters today?

9. Newsfeeds: delivering the latest news to your virtual doorstep; and ways to share it!

Taking advantage of newsfeeds

10. Put it out there! Tools for photo, video and slideshow sharing

How to share photos, videos and slideshows

IFAD news

Our work in Knowledge Sharing is featured in this month’s Making a difference edition.

Thanks to IFAD colleagues for making our work known!

The Knowledge Sharing in Research Project Leader Nadia Manning-Thomas recently developed a think-piece for the Science Forum, held in Wageningen, The Netherlands, 16th and 17th June 2009.

The think-piece and presentation based on it given during the  Science Forum, were part of the background material contracted by the conveners of the Science Forum Workshop 3:  ICTs transforming agricultural science, research & technology generation.

The think-piece was found to be very interesting by a number of participants and it was asked whether this piece could be ‘re-published’ in other places.

Therefore, it is now available on the Web2forDev: Web2.0 for development gateway (website). To view the think piece–see the full article

ICT think-piece on WEb2.0fordev websiteTitle and Opening part of the article:

Changing the Emperor: ICT-enabled collaboration transforming agricultural science, research and technology into an effective participatory and innovations system approach

The CGIAR Centres and Programs with their many partners are together creating a wealth of knowledge to help increase agricultural productivity and improve livelihoods of poor communities, primarily in developing countries. The knowledge the CGIAR produces is vital to addressing and finding solutions for food (in)security around the world.  However, despite the creation of this wealth of knowledge, certain obstacles to uptake and impact of agricultural research remain. Many of these obstacles are related to the way in which knowledge and innovation are treated within the research process.

To view the think piece–see the full article

Banking your knowledge for others:

An interview with Benjamin Samson from the International Rice Research  Institute (IRRI) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Knowledge Management Harmonizing Research Output’

Communication is important. And how to do it. Leaflets? DVDs? Workshops?

But, regardless of method, something that should never be overlooked is the message.

Ben Samson has been thinking about all of this as Project Leader for a project working with rice farmers in Laos funded by the CGIAR Knowledge Sharing in Research Project.

“The situation we have in northern Laos is that farmers, because there is very little arable land, are constrained to grow crops on sloping areas,” he says. “Because they are cropping on sloping areas that are much more susceptible to soil erosion, the fertility of the soil rapidly decreases. You may get a good crop this year, but crop yields will be much less in the succeeding years. Typically farmers will only use land for one year. That’s the old system.

But, while working on these issues in Laos, Ben has seen the length of time during which land is left to rest decline. He thinks that it is now beginning to cause problems.

Rice farmers in the northern uplands of Laos

Rice farmers in the northern uplands of Laos

Because of increasing populations and government policy, the length of time in which land goes back into resting periods – or fallow periods – has decreased. What used to be 21 years is now only three years. That is amazing.”

Now the rice farmers in Laos – the poorest of the poor – have been forced to year-in-year-out use sloping lands that are difficult to farm.

There are agricultural researchers, scientists and government extension workers who can help. But there was a problem.

We used to write papers and report, conduct training, transfer to extension,” says Ben. “But when we evaluated the problem we realised that those that were carrying out research were writing in a way that the extension people didn’t understand. And even if the extension agents did understand it, they didn’t know how to express it in such a way that the farmers would be able to understand it. So we recognised that there is a difference in ‘language’ between the various groups involved in transmitting technologies to farmers.

The team decided to pilot a way of adding on to an existing  ‘knowledge bank’ of information in order to help farmers and government extension workers gain better understanding and access of the knowledge contained within the bank. They knew that they would have to be careful about how everything was phrased and said was a key issue towards understanding and usage of knowledge.

The issues for the project were how to get researchers to write for the knowledge bank in such a way that when extension people accessed it, they would understand it,” says Ben. “And, further, how to get the extension workers to use the knowledge bank. So those were the problems we were dealing with.

So with help from the Knowledge Sharing in Research project’s grant that was

Stakeholders at first Laos Rice Knowledge Bank meeting

awarded to IRRI, Ben was able to get everyone together to talk- the extension workers, the scientists, educators—all in one room. The idea was to identify the needs of the farmers and extension workers and then for the researchers to tailor their knowledge so it would be of the most use.

Stakeholders at first Laos Rice Knowledge Bank meeting

That was the whole scheme of this project,” he says. “It was very simple. Get them together and get them to write for the knowledge bank in concert with each other so that they agree that the material coming out is first of all useful and second of all is understandable.

EXample of one of the fact sheets prepared by the Pilot Project from rice reseacrh results-in Lao

Example of one of the fact sheets prepared by the Pilot Project from rice reseacrh results-in Lao

Ben thinks that knowledge sharing and his experience through the Knowledge Sharing in Research project will inform they way he works in the future.

What will become part of my work in the future is the impetus to make better use of the knowledge that we generate through research by making use of various knowledge sharing techniques that I have experienced using and have heard others talk about in the KSinR projects,” says Ben. “I think everyone wants to be able to make a difference in other people’s lives. I come from an academic background where writing and publishing about my work are valued activities, but these tools and methods that I have used and come in contact with make the results of my work more accessible to the people who can use it and improve their lives using it. I work in Laos and I see what it is like for people to try to survive on the meagre resources. It behoves me to try to find ways to make a difference.

This is one way I am making a difference – helping people have access to knowledge they can use through banking knowledge in a good way

For more information and outputs from this project-see the IRRI Research outputs harmonisation KSinR Pilot Project page

It’s good to talk:

An interview with Alexandra Clemett from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Learning Alliances for Wastewater Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviation (WASPA-LA)’

Achieving complex change often involves many different people, with many different priorities, who are engaged in many different things. And, if you need all of them to cooperate for your change to be successfully implemented, you have quite a challenge.

This was the challenge faced by Alexandra Clemett, Project Leader of a Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project awarded to IWMI, when working on a wastewater agriculture project in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In each of the cities where we work you’ll quite often have different organisations that are responsible for quite similar things,” says Alex. “You might have the urban development authority that does the planning and then the municipal council that has to implement. So you really need them to know what each other is doing, planning together and working very closely.

Different stakeholders need to be connected

Different stakeholders need to be connected

And this has not been happening-the results of which are reflected in sectoral planning, poor communication among government officials, no involvement of community members, lack of knowledge about other sectors and alternative technologies, and, sometimes, ignorance that wastewater irrigation is even taking place.

The team decided to use a ‘Learning Alliances’ approach to try to bring people together to share knowledge and collaborate more effectively to achieve their goals.

Stakeholders getting together to discuss in the WASPA Learning Alliance

Stakeholders getting together to discuss in the WASPA Learning Alliance

The idea was to bring all the different stakeholders together to talk to each other and understand each others’ issues so that they could try to build a better plan for addressing the wastewater and sanitation situation in the two Cities. So we brought together the municipal council, the water board, local government officials, the hospital, local people and farmers. We tried to bring in universities, too, because they could potentially bring in technical solutions.

A Learning Alliance is supposed to have platforms at different levels: National, intermediate, and community – which bring stakeholders together to promote and facilitate learning within them and also between the different levels. It is very strongly focused on effective sharing of knowledge and not just bringing people together.”

Although she believes knowledge sharing was useful, Alex says that she would, in the future, use an altered version of  the particular approach chosen- the Learning Alliance- if at all.

The approach was very time-consuming and a lot of the research became geared towards learning about and evaluating the Learning Alliance methodology itself.”

Unfortunately we haven’t really had any research results on whether this new approach improved health or livelihoods,” she says. “I think, whilst the method was useful, it was really time-consuming. I would not use it in that way again. I would modify it and use particular elements of it. And I wouldn’t even call it a Learning Alliance, because that just confused people. Not everyone knows the names of these types of approaches. It is what they do to serve a project which is better to focus on.

For Alex, the overall goal of the project was to find ways that wastewater can be managed properly so that household sewage and industrial waste does not enter the canals which then run into the paddy fields. While this overarching ambition wasn’t completely achieved, something did happen while the project was running. People became more aware of the issues involved.

This is not something that Alex underestimates.

If what we have achieved by the time the project ends is that all of the stakeholders are much more aware of the issue, then we still will have achieved a lot” she says.

Some people didn’t even know that wastewater was being used for agriculture, says Alex.

And some didn’t want to know because it’s actually illegal. But because these farmers don’t have access to better quality water they just go ahead and use it. So I think that at least some of the people who were involved in the planning and management of wastewater through the Learning Alliance now have better understanding of the issues.

The idea to involve universities in the Learning Alliance also achieved some new awareness and change amongst the other stakeholders.

Conducting studies on the canals

We’ve got some universities doing studies on small–scale appropriate treatment,” says Alex. “In the beginning the municipal councils were just not interested in things like this. They just wanted large–scale treatment, but now they’re starting to realise that these are good options that they can potentially achieve and potentially afford.”

Conducting studies on the canals

So even if the situation has not been completely resolved, some changes – especially in awareness – have happened from the various stakeholders coming together and sharing knowledge in the Learning Alliance.

So it is in fact good to talk.

For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI WASPA LA KSinR Pilot Project page

Vietnamese Visions:

An interview with Natasja Sheriff from the WorldFish Centre about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Applying KS tools to impact monitoring and evaluation’

Human beings have survived through adaptation. And for centuries peopleVietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 075 have come up with ingenious ways of coping with environmental extremes. In some parts of the world there is a dry season which is followed by not only a wet season but by flooding. Where crops stood a few short weeks ago, water now rolls and laps. What can a rice farmer do with this situation? Sit by for the months while his land is covered and simply wait for the season to end when he can plant crops again?

For most, struggling to get by, this is not an option. And so they adapt- making use of the water and its resources; they turn to fishing. This is the reality of the situation in the Mekong region of southern Vietnam.

But fishing is time consuming and doesn’t always yield that much for each individual.

Recognizing this predicament, the WorldFish Center set up a project in 2005 entitled ‘Community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains and irrigation systems’ sponsored by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh and Mali to look at the possibility of developing appropriate fish culture activities in seasonally flooding areas through an adaptive learning approach.

The project aimed to help farmers to set up collective fish culture, develop better techniques for breeding fish, find effective ways of managing fish culture and pool their resources to reduce costs. The project wanted to help them to achieve successful fish culture, so that they can be productive the whole year round.

The principle behind the project is that working together can reduce the cost of growing fish,” says Natasja Sheriff, KSinR pilot project leader for Worldfish, and leader of the Community-based fish culture project. “During the flood season, the costs of enclosing individual plots of land for fish culture would be prohibitive for a single household. By combining their land resources and culturing fish in a larger enclosed area, farmers can share the capital and labour costs of fish culture.”

But as we all know, working together is easier said than done. And fish culture activities have suffered from issues of diverging goals and actions of those who should be working together—and the system has not succeeded in many cases.

Achieving successful community-based fish culture in Vietnam therefore has proven challenging for WorldFish and national project partners at the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.

The project recognized that in order to do achieve the goal it would be necessary for both national partners and direct beneficiaries at the community level to evaluate fish culture activities each year and modify the following year’s approach based on the results.

Early attempts at introducing monitoring and evaluation came in the form of lengthy, complex surveys undertaken by the project team-which was limited in its structure, cumbersome to process results and hardly ever filtered back to the stakeholders. Little learning was being achieved. The project then felt that a more participatory approach to impact monitoring would provide a more complete and accurate picture of the local conditions as well as project impacts, with project beneficiaries being able to both share and receive information better.

Something different was required…something that focused more on sharing of knowledge. And so with a grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project, it piloted the use of knowledge sharing (KS) tools to help.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 540

Outcome Mapping was the tool that was chosen to help with monitoring and evaluation in the project, but in a way more focused on effective knowledge sharing; and this was applied to WorldFish’s work in Vietnam.

When the partners in Vietnam suggested Outcome Mapping, I had actually not heard about it before,” admits Natasja. “Outcome Mapping is a process that can be used to monitor change. It can  also influence change by getting people together to talk about what it is they want to achieve and then developing markers or indicators to track progress. They say ‘how do we need to change in order to reach that goal?’ . A series of markers can be set up showing how we are all progressing towards achieving that goal.”

Natasja felt that Outcome Mapping could provide them with, not only a means of tracking their progression with the fish culture activities, but could additionally encourage them to look at what they themselves need to do to achieve their visions and commit to those activities by setting up regular monitoring towards achievable targets.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 574

We spoke to the farmers in Vietnam and we asked them to imagine a vision of the future, asking them to ‘Imagine you wake up at the end of the project, how have things changed?’ The vision they had was of  more income: they were able to send their children to school, they have electricity in the village, they work together better, there is increased solidarity. That is what they hope to achieve with the project, and it is fairly ambitious. That identifies for them as a group their aspirations, their hopes and dreams which should be realised from their efforts. But these changes do not happen on their own”.

What outcome mapping does is to help groups like this to then share with each other, what needs to happen, who needs to be doing what—for those aspirations, hopes and dreams to be realized.

The impact of the fish culture project in Vietnam will not be known until the fish are harvested. It’s success will depend on factors such as whether poaching has  been dealt with and what the community itself has decided to do with the money they have earned.

But it is not too early to begin to assess the impact of applying knowledge sharing tools.

Knowledge sharing in itself, I think, is really useful,” concludes Natasja.  “It is a way of getting together and sharing ideas, being more participatory in the way that we do research, and the way in which we work together with beneficiaries.  I think it is a worthwhile investment to apply these approaches as tools for monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment. I think if you prioritize such tools at the beginning of any project they can lead to improved relationships with both project partners and beneficiaries, more effective monitoring and ultimately greater impact. As scientists, we need to spend more time actually talking with the people we are trying to help.”

Knowledge sharing can help to better understand and hopefully realize some of these Vietnamese visions.

For more information and outputs from thsi project- see the WorldFish KSinR pilot project page

Blueprinting priorities:

An interview with David Raitzer from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Shared learning to enhance research priority assessment practices’

Money is hard to come by – especially these days. So when you secure research funding you better be sure you know how to spend it. Can knowledge sharing help with that?

David Raitzer, from the Center for International Forestry Research(CIFOR) thought so, and applied for a grant from the Knowledge Sharing in Research project to try it out.

David has been heading up a project, which reflects on the research priority assessment experiences of twelve CGIAR centres, programmes and partners.  This is all to be shared with broader audiences via a CABI book to be released in July.CIFOR CABI Book flyer

Researchers can choose many things to study, but funds are limited and research for development should have impact for the poor and/or the environment,” says David “So it’s about how research managers consider what they could achieve with different uses of research resources. We are therefore interested in looking at the methods they use to do so and what lessons are offered to improve future attempts.”

Without some sort of analysis of impact potential, scientists tend to choose what they want to do based on curiosity and scientific salience, and they may not fully consider other factors that affect whether their outputs lead to beneficial changes on the ground. But when they have to go through a process of laying out different options and making explicit the assumptions necessary for impacts, impact culture can be strengthened.”

David says the book will serve a number of purposes, not least of all valuable knowledge sharing.

The ultimate goal of the book is to improve methods for evidence based decision-making in the centers about what research is pursued As one means to do so, we hope that this helps to illustrate to donors that the impact potential of research can be systematically assessed, and that these efforts can benefit from appropriate incentives, such as the alignment of funding decisions to assessment results,” he says.

The intended outcome is both to make donors aware of what the centres are doing to better prioritise research that will have an impact as well as to help those in the centers who are trying to assess priorities.”

David believes the book itself fills a knowledge gap. It allows research organisations to see what methods other organisations have used to inform decisions about what their research priorities should be.   But it also goes beyond the technical methods to the processes by which the methods are implemented, such as how assumptions are elicited from scientists and the interface between actual decisions about research priorities and the information offered by analytical exercises.  In so doing, it offers insights that cannot be found in prior texts on the topic.

These priority assessment methods are also knowledge sharing approaches in themselves. Tacit assumptions of scientists are made explicit, communicated to colleagues, refined and blended with external information.  Documented assumptions can then also be followed up with subsequent monitoring and evaluation. As a result, knowledge is not only shared, but is improved.”

Knowledge sharing can help in many ways when designing important and valuable blueprints for research-that will have an impact.

Never underestimate a quiet farmer:

An interview with Alessandra Galiè from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘The International Farmers’ Conference’

They say you can learn a lot from sitting on a thorn. Apparently, when it comes to plant breeding, you can also learn a lot from getting a few of them stuck in your hand.

Plant breeding is something that has always existed,” explains Alessandra Galie. “The idea is that you breed plants to be the best plants. So farmers usually pick up the seeds of the best plants to replant next year. That’s already a contribution to crop development.”

More formal plant breeding involves taking seeds from the best plants and crossbreeding them in an attempt to improve the plants slowly over the years. And this is something the ICARDA, and other research organisations, have been doing for years.

But now the basic question is- what is a better plant?” asks Alessandra “And who decides what are the criteria that make a plant better?

The problem with formal plant breeding, as done by research organisations, is that much of the knowledge that is needed to make such decisions was coming only from science, not from the farmers; farmers’ knowledge of plant breeding was being lost. Often there was no concerted effort to record the experiences of farmers as, season by season, they found ways to improve their plant breeds. And, sometimes, when efforts were made, they sought only the opinions of scientists and not of the people who handled the plants everyday: the farmers.

Alessandra also found that the opinions of women were being ignored.

Those who always got to choose what plants they liked best were men,” says Alessandra.080507-043

Therefore you exclude all the other criteria that women might have. For example women have very often cleaned the cotton plants from the field after the cotton has been harvested. And they complain if the plant is too hard on their hands. Or they themselves are cooking what they are growing so they can tell you if the taste is not good or if it’s very hard to cook the stuff they are growing.

There is an example of a woman in Jordan who was very interested in the straw of barley because she was making handicrafts with it. And she was saying ‘This one breaks so it’s not good for me’. And all of these criteria, all of these alternative priorities, are very often overlooked. If you don’t involve women then the improvement is only partial.”

So it was realised that greater knowledge sharing was needed- to find out about the knowledge and experiences of farmers, and to show researchers how valuable it is for plant breeding.

Alessandra was part of a team from the Participatory Plant Breeding program at ICARDA that organised an international farmers’ conference to help share knowledge between farmers and researchers and to give those involved in plant breeding a space in which to do that. Farmers, researchers and scientists came from countries such as Iran, Eritrea, Syrian, Jordan, Algeria and Egypt.

The Farmers’ conference involved farmers telling stories as a way of sharing their knowledge and experiences.

Farmers telling stories of their knowledge and experience with plant breeding

Farmers telling stories of their knowledge and experience with plant breeding

There was also a ‘Food and Seed Fair’ and a Network Mapping exercise.

IMAG8731

Network Mapping at Farmers' Conference

Food and Seed Fair at Farmers' Conference

Food and Seed Fair at Farmers' Conference

For some farmers, it was the first time scientists and researchers had listened to them.

The very important effect was the empowerment effect of the conference because the farmers really appreciated the fact that they were given a space,” she says.

The farmers appreciated that, for the first time, they could be on stage and could talk. Some of them had been to conferences before but were always in the audience. But this time they were so proud since they were sitting where the scientists usually sit and they told us that this time the scientists were actually listening to them.

For the women, too, the impact of the conference was remarkable.

The self esteem of the women farmers increased so much when they started talking,” says Alessandra.

They said that they really had trouble at the beginning talking to men and older participants. They were shy and uncomfortable but, when they started telling their stories, they started to receive positive feedback and people told them ‘Wow, you really know a lot about agriculture’ they really started feeling so much better and so much more confident.”

Many of them also learnt a lot. And they said that they will use this knowledge when farming.”

Alessandra says that, almost without knowing, she has been working on knowledge sharing for most of her career. But the more formal understanding of it she has developed during the opportunity to try out knowledge sharing through the grant received to carry out this pilot project, has helped her KS work become more structured.

It’s not like I can go back anymore,” she says. “It has very much changed my approach to doing research and thinking about how to interact with others.

Knowledge sharing helps you to recognise and unlock the value of farmers’ knowledge—so you don’t run the risk of underestimating them…even the quiet ones.

For more information on and outputs from this project- see ICARDA Farmers’ Conference KSinR Pilot Project page

KSinR Synthesis workshop 221

Journalist interviewing Alessandra Galie from ICARDA on the KSinR Pilot Project she has been working on

During the Synthesis workshop for the Knowledge Sharing in Research Project held in November 2008, a professional journalist participated in the workshop to capture what was going at the workshop, give advice about using media and sharing messages with the public, as well as to conduct interviews with each of the Pilot Project Leaders (or representatives) to give them a chance to have ‘their say’ about:

  • knowledge sharing in research (the concept)
  • Knowledge Sharing in Research (the project)
  • their Pilot Projects
  • what they linked, didn’t like, would do differently
  • what they learned and will take away with them
  • how they think things went
  • how they think this may affect their future research
  • any other thoughts

It was decided to use an independent journalist to allow the Pilot Projects to feel more comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings, rather than speaking to the Project Leader to whom they may feel a certain accountability and need to show things in a positive light. It was also considered useful to have more journalistic pieces to describe the projects, which might appeal to certain people.

So in the next blog posts I will be sharing the ‘interviews’ with the Pilot Projects–so you can see what they had to say themselves…

…Stay tuned!

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…

Sharing knowledge can save lives:

An interview with Phillip Amoah and Tonya Schuetz  from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project- ‘The Knowledge Sharing approach to safe food

A lack of knowledge in Ghana can get you thrown in jail or even killed. Such are the stakes when dealing with the food that people eat.

In Ghana a lot of vegetables are produced using wastewater,” explains Philip Amoah, leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project.

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

“These vegetables are likely to be consumed raw. Lettuce, cabbage, raw onions. And this can have a lot of health implications.

IWMI has been undertaking a number of projects that are trying to conduct research to come up with simple risk-reduction options that can be used on farms, at markets and at food preparation points to make food safer. The teams test various interventions from farm to fork to enhance food safety and the potential to institutionalize such interventions so they become common practice.

The projects are then compiling techniques that can teach food growers, sellers and producers easy ways of improving food safety. Once these techniques have been devised the challenge is to ensure that as many people as possible hear about them and put them into practice.

This is where knowledge sharing (KS) comes in. A grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research Project helped them to be able to explore and try out ways to take these results, make them easily understandable and useful and get them out to the stakeholders who need them.

We get the results from these projects, modify them in a way to make messages that the end–users will understand and then we come up with simple communication methods to get these messages out to those who are growing, selling and catering these vegetables which may be at risk,” says Philip.

Knowledge sharing has been used in this project in two main ways.

Knowledge sharing approaches were used to help the project, and its researchers, to interact and collaborate better with various stakeholders within the research process, to help to understand better the situation and needs, as well as to get feedback on project results and support in developing appropriate messages and communication mechanisms.

IWMI Wastewater farmer discussion

World Cafe conducted by IWMI Wastewater project

We started off with a series of World Cafes during the research project. The World Café is a methodology where you put people in a room together-in a café style setting, to try to make them as comfortable as possible to discuss with others, and get them to tackle certain key questions.” The World Café approach was used to facilitate an open discussion with key stakeholders on the messages develop by the project and the appropriateness, viability, constraints and effectiveness of these in achieving adoption of suggested innovations.

With a greater focus on knowledge sharing, the Project also looked for more effective ways of getting the key messages out to the target groups.

Radio was believed to be a perfect medium for communicating the findings to as wide as possible an audience and in various local languages spoken in Ghana.

We did radio programmes in local languages because radio is accessible in Ghana even for the farmers. Almost everyone has a small radio,” says Tonya Schuetz who has been also working on the project.

6-CD Case_Farmer-training-small

COver of DVD produced to share good practices with farmers

The projects also produced a series of DVDs on safe food practices and presented these to farmers and householders, extension agents, as well as caterers too.

The caterers are interesting because we didn’t have them in mind at all when we set up the project,” says Tonya. “When we thought of end-users, we thought on a household level. But then we conducted  a study that showed that it is more often caterers in the street who prepare the vegetables that are consumed raw.

As she explains, progress has been swift. “With this KSinR Pilot project I really felt like a lot went very well,” says Tonya

Before beginning a concerted campaign of knowledge sharing in research, Philip says he sometimes had difficulty communicating even simple messages like the need for farmers to water crops at the root so as not to splash soil on to the leaves, causing a potential health hazard.

One time I was chased out of a vegetable growing site in Accra when I went to take water samples because at that time the farmers were not involved in the project,” he says.

They said that people had come before and taken water samples, after which some of the farmers had been arrested and people wouldn’t buy their vegetables. But now that we’ve got them involved, we better understand their situation and find better ways to communicate the results of the research to them to help them make changes and improvements. I’m free to go there at any time, to take samples and to do what ever research I want to do. And that has really helped a lot. So knowledge sharing is something I really want in my future research. I’ve even joined the farmers association now, attend meeting and pay dues and they now recognize me as one of them.

Tonya says it was not only farmers, but researchers, too, who changed their attitudes.

We started off working with researchers who were open to it but did not really believe in it,” she says. “They felt that knowledge sharing was something they had already been doing for a long time. But when they saw how we used various knowledge sharing methodologies even at a very early stage in our project and the results we got, they realised that it was slightly different to what they’d been doing before. It’s a lot more about continuous interaction with stakeholders, rather than just going there once, talking to your partners and then just going and doing your research.”

Knowledge sharing has changed the way they work.”

Hopefully knowledge sharing will help us to save lives.

For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI Wastewater KSinR Pilot Project page

The CGIAR Science Forum was recently held in Wageningen, The Netherlands, 16th and 17th June 2009. As part of the Science Forum, a number of workshops were convened on key topics. This included:

Workshop 3. ICTs transforming agricultural science, research and technology generation

I (Nadia Manning-Thomas, KSinR Project Leader) was asked to prepare a think-piece for this particular workshop and also give a presentation during the workshop session.

My presentation was entitled “ICT-enabled collaboration for agricultural science for development” and consisted of three main sections:

1. ScenariosSlide2

In this section I outlined the evolution in agricultural science from a more traditional research approach which did not involve much participation of others in the research process. While this may have rendered scientifically rigorous results, shortfalls to this approach included a lack of adoption of outputs, little addressing of key needs and priorities on the ground, and poor recognition and inclusion of additional knowledge sources.

The participatory research and innovations systems movements evolved to address this and focus heavily on stakeholder engagement in research. However these approaches have usually focused on face-to-face participation which due to its expense can be limited and may also not achieve as wide participation as possible. Also bringing people together does not necessarily result in meaningful collaboration and participation–key methods need to be used to ensure that this happens.

I then introduced a scenario called ‘ICT-enabled collaboration’ which showed that ICTs-to be considered in  their broadest form of both technology and non-technology approaches- can help to multiply the numbers of stakeholders with whom we can collaborate as well as finding meaningful ways for participation and collaboration to be achieved.

2. Opportunities

Slide3

While a large number of ICT tools and methods exist it is very often the case that these are not used. One reason is that researchers are unsure of which tools should be used when and for what purpose. One opportunity to address this is the very process through which research is usually conducted–as shown in the diagram. The research cycle actually offers a very good opportunity for making use of ICTs in a meaningful way through the various entry points its stages offers. Each stage has certain objectives it wants to achieve and certain activities that take place. Looking at these ‘entry points’ certain ICTs can be identified which can help to enhance the collaboration during these activities and in achieving the particular objectives.

Some options were shown in a table in the next slide:

Slide4

3. Issues

Slide5However this will not happen on its own and certain challenges and blockades need to be addressed before the ICT-enabled form of collaboration can really start to move forward within the CGIAR. A number of key issues and questions related to this were raised in the final slide.

The Science Forum ICT workshop documents (program, background notes and think pieces) are all available on the website:  http://www.egfar.org/egfar/website/new/eventpage?contentId=2601

Here’s a test: Take a look at the bookmarks of your favorite websites and blog sites, and tell me how often you browse them? If your answer is not often enough, allow me to let you in on a little secret – it’s called “RSS” in geekspeak, and “newsfeeds” in English.

If you’d like to have the information you want or need at your fingertips, you no longer have to go looking for it. Instead, you can have it delivered to you via what is known as a ‘newsfeed reader’ or ‘feed aggregator’. A newsfeed reader is like an email inbox or website that holds all the newsfeeds to which you subscribe. And before you say, “Information overload! Not another Internet thingy”, let me share with you the power of the newsfeed reader.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re browsing the Internet and come across an excellent article on a research and development website. The website appears to be authored by an expert on issues that are of interest to you. You bookmark the site on delicious.com and plan to return to it in two weeks. However, other priorities soon relegate all such plans to the backburner. While the bookmark on delicious.com lets you share useful sites with colleagues and partners, how can you keep track of new articles and updates without having to visit the individual sites?

The technology that underlies newsfeeds, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), lets you subscribe to web content. Once you’re subscribed to a feed, a reader, also called aggregator, looks for new content at intervals and retrieves updates. So, instead of having information ‘pushed’ to you by email or other media, you decide the websites from which you’d like to receive updates.

All you need to do is:

  • sign up for a free reader from Google, Bloglines or Newsgator (there are many more, and some can be customized to suit different tastes),
  • go to a website or blog site you like and subscribe by clicking on the RSS icon (if available),
  • enjoy reading the updates at your leisure.

Looking for an  introduction to RSS and how it can help your work? Here’s a simple slideshow on Syndication of online content created by our colleagues at Bioversity International

What are the benefits to you as a scientist?

  • Your choice: you pick the newsfeeds you want to receive, thereby controlling the flow of information coming your way. In effect, you build your own little online newspaper.
  • Flexibility: you are the master of your newsfeed reader. So you can scan the headlines for interesting news items; view several content streams from various sites; and add or remove feeds as you like.
  • De-clutter your email inbox. Yay!

In a nutshell, newsfeed readers allow you to manage your collection of favorite information sources and, ultimately, your attention.

So, why are we focusing on newsfeeds as social media? Here comes the sharing part …
 

Using feeds for sharing

Newsfeeds can be shared with like-minded individuals so they, in turn, can use and share them with others.

The research and development work carried out in the CGIAR does not progress in isolation. It involves communications among colleagues, peers, experts, national partners and students. We cannot deny that we are unofficial communicators and, sometimes, experts whom people rely on.

As communicators, content to which you subscribe can be used to populate other communications media such as your newsletters, Twitter account, and basically any other social media tool that you’re linked to. If you’re a closet techie and need to know how it works, RSS liberates Web-based content from format by packaging it in such a way that it can be shared and republished on other websites and newsreader services.

As experts, the newsfeeds to which you subscribe could be of immense value to your colleagues, partners and anyone else looking for some guidance.

Newsfeeds are probably the easiest and fastest way to facilitate the exchange of information. The format can travel very far. If you include a newsfeed subscription option on your website, it will make it easier for people to follow you and build loyalty over time. Many CGIAR Center websites already have this, which is great, but how about including the newsfeeds to which you subscribe on your website?

Why put newsfeeds from other sources on your website?

  • Establish your expertise. Offering selected newsfeeds from external sources via your website will only add to its popularity as the website of choice when someone needs a selection of trustworthy sources on specific topics. As an expert in your field, what you know is influenced by your networks and contacts. Your circle establishes your credibility. As a content selector, you offer your audience (networks) content that is relevant and quality-controlled.
  • Enable value-added information services. Newsfeeds can be shared extensively. Your selected content can be aggregated by other people to read, re-use and store on multiple devices. People can take the content and create valuable information out of it. And if you’re concerned about intellectual property rights, your newsfeeds will attribute the source of all content.
  • Create a participatory, collaborative Web presence. When a group of partners who already have their own websites come together for a joint initiative, feeds from existing sources can be selected and aggregated to create a space for a truly shared voice on the Web.

End-user, communicator, expert, maven, whichever hat you’re wearing, it appears newsfeeds may solve many communication challenges. Whether you want to keep updated on website content, populate other communication channels or establish your role as an expert, newsfeeds make content really simple to syndicate.

Till next time…

Thanks to Antonella Pastore for the valuable discussions over coffee on the use of newsfeeds and for giving up ‘deejay’ in favour of ‘maven’.

Examples:

Resources:

Agricultural research and the innovations that arise from it are important in addressing food security and improving livelihoods of the poor. So those of us in the business of non-profit agricultural research really have an obligation to make sure our research data, information and knowledge resources reach the audience that drives this research in the first place – farmers, farmer organizations, policy makers and other researchers.

When the UK DFID (Department for International Development), aware of the value of putting research into use, commissioned FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) with the task of catalyzing efforts to ensure that agricultural research information and knowledge become public domain, it triggered the formation of a global partnership on Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD). The partnership includes FAO, GFAR, the CGIAR, CTA and others in the agricultural research community.

The partners in the CIARD initiative are committed to promoting the sharing of data, information and knowledge to empower the various stakeholders involved in agriculture. To begin with, CIARD outlined a checklist – the Triple A checklist that defines what is meant by ensuring your research outputs are Available, Accessible and Applicable.

The ICT-KM office has been actively measuring or rather, benchmarking the availability and accessibility of research outputs in several Centers in the CGIAR, namely Bioversity, WorldFish and CIAT. This will extend further to include CIMMYT, CIP, ICARDA and ICRAF, who are in the first batch of volunteers.

What makes this exercise fruitful is the suggested CIARD pathways or processes that Centers can adopt to make their research more accessible. Pathways will help researchers identify a publisher who has more flexible policies on open access, so that they do not have to sign away all rights to their journal article. These pathways will also help a senior manager understand the value of institutional policies that enable sustainable development of repositories for their center. They will be brief and to the point. Where users like the IT unit and librarians, want more detail i.e. on Creative Commons, there would be linked resources on the web.

The pathways could broadly be clustered as:
• General – strategic and policy issues, organizational issues which need to be addressed in handling research outputs.
• Capture, Collection and Curation of research outputs – ensuring that all the outputs are described in a form that makes them available and accessible.
• Managing Web Presence – using the internet to make the information accessible to others.

In order to take stock of feedback and define these pathways further, CIARD partners met last week in a Writeshop, May 28 – 29 at Bioversity, Rome. Hosted by ICT-KM, the group worked on clarifying the users for the many pathways proposed, the authors and format for each pathway.

Given our experience in social media, ICT-KM will be heavily involved in providing resources and support in the third cluster of pathways.

CIARD now has a clear action plan that aims to get many of their draft pathways out in their website (www.ciard.net) for testing, usage and feedback. It is hoped these pathways will become living knowledge and users will take over where CIARD stops. Watch this space…

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