KS Toolkit


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:

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Social media workshop evaluation

We, the workshop facilitators invited participants to review the activities through comments on the workshop platform, as well as through an online survey. We have set up surveys for all the workshops in the past. We did our own facilitator debrief as well. Here are some conclusions and ideas that emerge from the synthesis of the three types of reviews:

  • If we compare the results below with those from the evaluation of the first social media workshop, we can say that they are very similar and overall very positive. Respondents rated the workshop as excellent or good. However the group in the first workshop was smaller and more homogeneous, and the feeling of the participants was of better interaction. It seems that we should consider to limit the number of participants, perhaps to a maximum of 20.
  • Among the useful learnings, participants mention the importance of a needs and use analysis before setting up an application; The well shared resources, typology and context of tools; The useful discussion around social media practices for low-bandwidth issues; The reflections about social media strategies and the integration of tools. Some were happy to get into the use of specific tools like slide share, social reporting, delicious, twitter, wikis, the clock method for teleconference calls; The idea behind: sharing knowledge
  • In a next opportunity the workshop facilitators would like to make it more conversational, less focused on questions and replies. We would like to design a third social media workshop with a shift of focus from tools to contextual challenges i.e. :  Low bandwidth, networking / community development / stakeholder involvement, communication of research results, collaborative research / teamwork, online meetings, etc. This could make the workshop more conversational, bring in different audiences and weave in tools as they arise.

Results from the Survey:

17 participants replied  and 6 rated it as excellent (38%), and 9 (56%) as good, 1 as average.

15 respondents (88%) consider having increased their understanding of Social Media principles and tools.

In a range of 44 to 59%, participants found the different activities (introductions, tools explorations, teleconferences etc) very useful, the tools exploration getting the highest rates.

The tools that participants are already using are Photo-, Video-, and Slide sharing sites (56%), as well as Social networking sites (50%) and blogs (36%). Among the tools that respondents are most interested in exploring are: E-newsletters that incorporate social media (73%), RSS feeds (69%), social bookmarking (67%) and wikis (62%). Half of the respondents say that they don’t have plans to explore social media listening.

The moodle platform was considered as good with some 3 participants rating it as average or poor.

88% rated the effectiveness of the facilitators in supporting the learning experience as excellent

The size of the group was considered as just right for 69%.

The interaction with other participants was scored as average (47%) or poor (13%)

Among the suggestions of improvements are: more teleconference calls; hands-on sessions, make the workshop longer, work on smaller groups

Workshop facilitator’s debrief

  • This time we had some very active participants and a large lurker group. It is good to know that participants took time to read and browse through the site even if they didn’t actively contribute with comments or questions.
  • Next time we should try to give more focus in the introductory session and we need to create opportunities for more active interaction among participants. The purpose and needs of each participants could be crystallized more in this session.
  • The Tools explorations were animated and served to exchange lots of additional resources.  Most of those have been included in the KS Toolkit by the facilitators.
  • Time commitment is a real issue in on-line workshops
  • We felt that as facilitators we have been always was responsive and present; Nancy was present continuously, Jo gave valuable technical input and links to tool alternatives, Simone did lost of behind the scenes and administrative work in addition to some contributions on the site; Meena was less visible online but very active in observing and learning which was great; Antonella contributed with some great specific posts. Meena, Nancy, and Simone were continuously skype chat connected and coordinated interventions and tasks.

I think I’m finally beginning to understand the fear that some organizations grapple with when it comes to blogging. First of all, the nature of blogging itself goes against the grain of any institutional setting. My first job was in a multi-national scientific firm – they expected their staff to project a ‘corporate standard’, from what we said when meeting with clients to the way we dressed – it was all about image! So the idea of an employee writing an article from their perspective, that may or may not reflect the views of the organization must be scary.

Last week, I attended a very interesting session on blogging. This was organized by the FAO knowledge exchange group and facilitated by Gauri Salokhe and Romolo Tassone, this session was aimed at starting discussion at FAO on blogs and their potential to support the work they do. To illustrate the point, several bloggers were invited to discuss how blogs were helping their organizations. The list included Maria Garruccio  of Bioversity International who maintains the library blog, Roxanna Samii of IFAD who has both a personal and official blog, Michael Riggs of FAO who has a personal blog and yours truly, who blogs for the ICT-KM blog site along with at least 5 other colleagues.

For an organization like FAO, this might have looked like collective ambush. But if the staff who attended were keeping an open mind, they would have noticed that the bloggers were responsible, mature individuals who recognized the value of their organizations. The bloggers with personal blogs made a clear distinction between what was private and institutional. They were careful not to represent the voice of the organization.

Roxanna Samii echoed the sentiment of using common sense when dealing with content that may be deemed sensitive. 

For the institutional blogs, Maria, Roxanna and I felt results speak for themselves. The attention the blogs have received show that as a communication medium, institutional blogs are making waves. The ability to measure this impact with statistics (a feature of many blog sites e.g. WordPress) lends credibility. These blogs resonated with people and feedback was encouraging.

The blog content featured may be updates to an event/ activity, but not limited. Maria has been promoting the library and new collections that arrive.  Michael has been using his personal blogs as an avenue for his interests in knowledge management and new technology. I am using the ICT-KM blog site to introduce newcomers to social media – from a non-technical point of view. In short, our blogs have purpose and if they connect with others, it is because of the shared interest.

Used responsibly, blogs become a meeting point for people with similar interests to learn and engage, besides being a great marketing tool for an organization to promote their work. Incidently, here’s an interesting post I read yesterday on why your non-profit organization needs a blog which may help tip the scales for blogging.

Of course, there are challenges aplenty – most apparent TIME. But it was pointed out that time as a constraint does not exist if you are passionate about the topic. Blogging is just another way to get your message across and should not be looked at as an additional burden to your existing workload.

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(photo credit: Microsoft clipart)

The greatest challenge though is the mindset. Whether you’re a part of a large organization like FAO or a small ten-people company, the organizational culture is determined by it. And that is hard to change, though not impossible. Trust plays a big role – Meena says in all naivete. The knowledge exchange team advocating blogs for FAO are embarking on a huge effort, but they’re off to a great start in showing their staff success stories. The proof is in the pudding!   

Till next time…

The web site is not the community: it’s the people

The second and last call of the social media workshop was about strategies. How do we use social media tools effectively? How do we choose the tools according to our user groups, bandwidth constraints, and organisational culture? How do we plan their introduction? How do we get them used and how do we market them?

Some principles that we mentioned when it comes to consider social media and desired change:

  • It’s about people not about tools: It is very good to know about the tools but the purpose and needs have to be clear. Early adopters and champions can do miracles.
  • Learn as you go: An important point was raised when we encouraged each other to try out different tools in different settings, adjust as we go and learn from what is going wrong.
  • Take risks: The introduction of social media doesn’t often generate immediate change. It can take a while and also, it can create change in unexpected places of the organization and among unexpected groups of people. It is worthwhile to take the risk to open up and allow broader use of social media, and simultaneously talk with staff about how we use this liberty in the organization.

Two resources were on the table for our conversations: A mind map of our communication needs and goals that we had expressed during our workshop introductions and the Developement 2.0 Manifesto sugggested by some World Bank staff.

The group of 12 conference call participants shared their ideas on how each of us might pursue social media explorations:

Tools

  • Improving existing tools set ups: Improving tagging, work on M&E of the current social media approach, practice social media listening.
  • Look at possible tools to facilitate virtual decision making.
  • Overcome the tech-jargon of social media.
  • Try out Facebook and Twitter / Convince rigid organisations to embrace such ideas
  • Include social media i.e. delicious in existing Drupal site
  • Improve staff involvement through good video streaming services / improve intranet
  • Experiment with Mobiles in Africa

Process

  • Social Media to create a global network and consider the issue of scale
  • Set up a social media approach for a new organizational research unit where lots of leadership support is guaranteed
  • Start over again and ask target groups about their needs and preferences
  • Identify champions in the target region, likeminded people for joint activities
  • Tackle low bandwidth issue in Africa through the use of mobile phone. Have a look at the gender implications
  • Involve project partners in the social media strategy and planning process
  • Survey all of our network members to define and prioritize their ICT needs.
  • Distinguish between internal communications needs for a distributed team (Google Wave promises to offer good features http://wave.google.com/), and external needs: e-newsletter to keep people in touch and engaged
  • Facilitate a core contributor group
  • Position ourselves on issues like social media abuse, bandwidth control, required standards

KS Workshop Mind Map

KS workshop mind map: Social media needs and goals (by Meena)

Newsletters are like teasers – they Mailing_Listhighlight issues and activities, celebrate success stories, point to useful resources and give you a hint of upcoming events. A great way to build a relationship with your target audience, an email (e-) newsletter is cost-effective and a valuable tool for communicating via the Internet.

As Nancy White, online communications expert and lead facilitator at our Social Media Workshop, believes,

“E-newsletters serve as a great summary for ongoing information that may be available in other forms such as blogs, twitter, discussion forums. The target audience that seems to appreciate them the most are people who don’t use many online tools and/or who are not online a lot and like to print and read offline.”

E-newsletters not only overcome a lack of technological know-how, they also transcend geographical boundaries and low bandwidth issues.

Used widely within CGIAR Centers, e-newsletters communicate department/project updates and Center-wide research activities. They are informative, contain useful resources and are often archived as institutional memory.

However, the BIG question is: Is your e-newsletter being read?   

To ensure that your e-newsletter is being read, there are two things to consider: target audience and content.

We know the reach of the e-newsletter is wide, and if you have an extensive distribution list, even better. But then, so does everyone else with a reasonably attractive newsletter. In effect, your newsletter will be competing not only with other research-oriented newsletters, but also with high priority emails, project meetings and an assortment of work-related activities.

Ruthless people are made, not born

People have become adept at managing their email inboxes. Many juggle several email accounts at one time, with each established for a different purpose: work, study, family and yes, even newsletter subscriptions. They can also be ruthless in deleting emails that are of little value to them, a decision that often takes place in the first few seconds of seeing an email in the preview pane of their inbox.

Unless your e-newsletter appeals to the reader in that small space, chances are it may not be opened right away, and may even get deleted.

How to garner the attention your e-newsletter deserves:

  • E-newsletter title – the subject part of the email can be used to your advantage. Use keywords from topics instead of volume number and issue.
  • Headline title – keep it short, attention-grabbing, possibly controversial
  • Subheading – use keywords, state the purpose of the news item
  • Order – place your two best stories at the top to maximize the view in the preview pane
  • Graphics – minimal is best; consider a simpler newsletter header so it does not take up too much space in the preview pane

(A little trivia: Based on eyetracking studies conducted on reading behavior, it was found that e-mail users are extremely fast at both processing their inboxes and reading e-newsletters. The average time allocated to an e-newsletter after opening it was only 51 seconds, with most participants reading only 19% of a newsletter)

So based on the data above, once your e-newsletter is opened, you have approximately 51 seconds to impress your readers.  The more discerning readers will quickly size it up by scanning the headlines and subheadings. If they do not find anything of relevance or interest, you’ve lost them for that particular issue. They may try the next issue you send out, but if the trend continues, they may un-subscribe from your e-newsletter.  So keep track of subscribers and un-subscribers.

For e-newsletter content to be appreciated, it has to be presented in an appealing manner. The look and the feel should be inviting – easy-to-read fonts, minimal images and reasonable length. Description under the headline titles should be short and succinct. Include a link to the source, for people who want more information.

Long e-newsletters risk losing valuable readership. If your e-newsletter is lengthy, it may be prudent to review the rationale behind it. Whether you split your e-newsletter content into shorter e-newsletters that are sent more frequently, or whether you decide to edit content to only showcase the top 5 -6 news items, depends on the purpose of the e-newsletter and the target audience.

There are some quarters who believe newsfeeds are slowly replacing the e-newsletter. Newsfeeds are subscriptions people can make to websites, blogs and other online sources to inform them when new content is introduced to these sites. The ‘news’ comes in the form of headlines. While this is very useful, newsfeeds are impersonal.

The e-newsletter, on the other hand, has the power to be the voice of your cause.

Till next time…

Some examples:

Resources:

The Challenge of introducing new tools: About attitudes and preferences

Today we received some fundamental questions about social media practices. Getting social media into use is indeed a crucial issue and we got one question about possible ways to achieve staff adoption and involvement. I wrote this contribution with inout from Nancy White for the workshop and I am sharing it here:

social media mkt madness

In order to engage staff into social media it is important to take into account different learning styles and preferences in the way people make choices:

Learning a new tool is often not that simple:

  • Some enjoy tips and trick conversations within a group.
  • Some learn alone, and click themselves through the pages jungle.
  • Some might need some coaching, sitting down and go through the step-by-step approach.

The workshop for example combines the first two aspects. The virtual environment isn’t necessarily the best one for the hands-on part. But it is definitively a tip for you whenever you have a chance to do it to try to sit down with someone who knows and ask this person to guide you through a tool with the computer in front of you.

Also, being exposed to new tools generates feelings of:

  • Resistance to spend time exploring it.
  • Fear of not being able to understand how it works.
  • Worry of liking it so much that we need to re-organize our way of working, get team members convinced and start a new adoption cycle.
  • Doubts of loosing focus and putting the tools first instead of the people.

When it is about making choices we are often overwhelmed by the so many possibilities. It’s just like buying a pair of shoes:

  • Some are impulsive, go and focus on one pair of shoes and just buy it.
  • Some are hesitating and try out everything available in their size.
  • Some are systematic and look mainly at the prize and make a pre-selection.
  • Some know exactly what they need and buy the one pair that fits their need.

Making a choice about a tool and introducing it in an organization can certainly be far more complex then buying a pair of shoes. 😉 What I want to highlight is that we need to be aware of those preferences and be prepared for an adoption pathway in zigzag. (Nancy White once told me after I shared my frustration to get a blog adopted that it takes 7 times, 7 attempts to get it right.)

Finally it is about making a tool trendy, because when people follow a trend they overcome fears, doubts, and worries more easily to follow the crowd (for the girls in this workshop: I am sure all of us have at some point bought the most uncomfortable pair of shoes to be trendy…).

Here are some tips to make your tool trendy:

  • Try to find a champion in your organization or team.
  • Create a core group around you and the champion to then enlarge the user group progressively.
  • Keep using the tool for a while even if it is not adopted immediately or used.
  • Experiment with the many features of the tool.
  • Try to find a community of likeminded to share your doubts, and experiences (the KM4dev one is a good starting point).
  • Invite external “experts”. For some reason organizations tend to trust them more than their own staff  😉
  • Find entry points for launching the tool (like an event, a workshop).
  • Believe in what you do and don’t be afraid of insisting in your views (and that is the tuffest part for many of us).

Photo Credit: Hubspot

The 2nd Online Social Media workshop is well on its way, with the first week having gone by. social media logoParticipants had their first tele-con session, organized on Skype and held on the 27th of May in two sessions. Telecon session B saw 14 enthusiastic participants raring to go: Helen Gillman, Margaret McEwan, Helene Ni Choncheanainn, Eugenia Isnardi, Maya Rajasekharan, Alice Thomann, Olive Thiong’o Wahura, Miriam Cherogony, Pamela Kilborn-Miller, Yassir Islam , Idris Jones, Brenda Bucheli and Bonnie McClafferty.

Facilitated by Nancy White, I was lucky enough to co-facilitate. Jonathan Thompson of the World Food Program, was also on hand as mentor. A noted blogger, he has just launched an internal microblog (laconi.ca), probably the first inside a humanitarian aid organization. Here’s the post: http://tinyurl.com/oec2zu

The introductory tele-con was a great way to gauge the comfort levels of participants and also to encourage them to see online social media tools as nothing more that just ways to get better results at work. While the participants’ experiences with social media tools were varied, this in no way hindered conversation flow. Many participants discussed their frustrations in using/ advocating tools like Delicious, Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Webex. Also noted was the need for low-bandwidth options in areas with poor Internet access.

What I found personally interesting was the perception many of us have when advocating a tool/ technology. It may be easy to use, it may make your life easier but if people are not engaged, it might as well be ineffective. To counter this, Nancy suggests the first point of action should be to decide on what it is that you want to do.

Once there is purpose, you can start thinking of tools and practice. Think of what can engage them. Is it going to make a difference in their work?

On how blogging could help us track our success in engaging people, Jon Thompson, our blogging expert gave a few pointers:

  • Statistics provide legitimacy to your blogs, pay attention to them
  • Your title is the life or death of a blog post, a well-titled blog is everything 
  • Write what you believe in
  • Raise visibility of the blog by sending links by microblogging. Using tools together helps improve visibility of tools all around.

The tele-con lasted one hour, but no one noticed. Discussions could have continued. With minor hiccups of dropped calls, which were compensated by chat room texting for those missing out, participants left the virtual ‘room’ feeling energised.

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