KS Workshop


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:

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.

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

I always enjoy reminiscing about the way things were before the advent of the mobile phone or the Internet or thumb-size music machines… and I usually think to myself, in a corny fashion: Isn’t technology amazing?

Now, if you’ve been collaborating with colleagues (whether in your office or across different time zones) on reports, projects, events and meetings, you’re probably aware of the frustrations involved. One immediately springs to mind: email exchanges that involve logistics, participant lists, activities and, most annoying of all, documents that appear in various draft stages from different senders – it’s enough to confuse anyone.

On that note, I have to say that collaborative writing has evolved in ways that have left me in awe. When you need to work with several people to produce written documents, such as agendas, reports and proposals, emails are the least productive way to go.

Granted, the humble email has done a lot for collaboration between people in different locations, but there are now more effective online tools that can help you with collaborative writing in the research arena. Not only do these tools enhance your writing experience within the group, but they also reduce the ridiculous number of emails that make it hard for you to retrieve the correctly revised versions of documents from your In-box.

While collaborative writing can make us more efficient and effective, several issues need to be addressed: the imbalance in contributing to content, the lack of interest, the subtle hierarchies which hinder real collaboration, and also the difficulty in relinquishing autonomy or control over the written word.

So be warned, we are now moving into a truly ‘democratic’ zone of collaboration. Ready to let go of the control panel? Read on!

Tools for collaborative writing

Wikis: the word originates from Hawaii – ‘wiki wiki’ means quick. Wikis let you create your collaboration environment online very ‘quickly’. What this means is that you can actually create your own wiki site, place your content on it and allow access to any number of people to see, add to or edit it in almost ‘real-time’. A history of revisions is maintained online, so you can check back on earlier versions.

Ideally, a team member can add to or edit an existing draft, with equal measure. The focus is on content and not the person who contributes. So your team will need to comprise people who are willing to contribute to the content subject, who enjoy the stimulus of sharing thought processes collaboratively and who also do not feel too much pressure from having their colleagues edit them. So, wikis may not suit everyone.

It would also be wise to have an editor or person-in-charge to maintain and update the site – this is called wiki gardening, for obvious reasons. Pages will need to be linked, content may need to be removed if not relevant anymore and indexes will need to be created.

When to use wikis
Wikis are worth using when you want to build a body of knowledge online, such as a handbook, a toolkit, raw data sets, even a book chapter, but with collaboration from others. The most obvious example is Wikipedia, a web-based encyclopedia that lets just about anyone with access to the Internet add or edit content. However, there are many uses for wikis. Check out the KS Toolkit page on wikis and see for yourself!

Wikis are also excellent for planning events and documenting meetings. Once you have your team members in mind, you can create a wiki site and allow access to them. Being a collaborative tool, a wiki site lets you and your team prepare agendas, activity lists, proposals and reports collaboratively. Whatever the content, new pages can be created by anyone in your team and linked, ensuring that all documents are found in one site.

How to get started with wikis: there is a wealth of wiki tools, go to wikimatrix.org to find the one for you.

Examples

Google Sites: originally based on wiki technology, Google Sites has shortcuts and improvements that include website management features.

Taking the wiki a step further, Sites lets us choose from different page types, such as a list, a file cabinet, a dashboard, announcements. Google documents, spreadsheets and presentations – as well as videos, maps, calendars and all the goodies you can build with Google Apps and services, all of which can be easily embedded into a Google Site. Collaborators can add comments and attachments. A site map is automatically created. And voilà! You have a ‘website’ for your collaborative writing.

When to use Google Sites
Google Sites is perfect for all non-techies out there who need an online collaborative environment to write, share and collect different types of information in one place, while maintaining a semblance of order.

Examples of public sites on CGXchange 2.0 (Google Apps for the CGIAR)

Google Docs: well, you’re probably wondering what took me so long to get to this, and chances are that you may already have tried this tool out.

In case you haven’t, Google Docs lets you and your team collaborate using text documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. While it is similar to wikis and Google Sites, Google Docs is used for collaboration on one specific piece of content at a time. This content can then be exported and used in blogs, reports, proposals, etc.

When to use Google Docs
Google Docs is best used when you have one document requiring input from others. You simply prepare the document and invite collaborators (anyone with a Google account). Any revisions made will be kept online, so nothing gets lost. In addition, spreadsheet documents allow real-time discussion between collaborators, thanks to a built-in chat room.

Don’t expect the formatting power of Word or PowerPoint, or the computing power of Excel. The point is … this is not the point! The formatting is so basic that Google Docs just lets you focus on what you want to write, and helps you collect and refine the collaborators’ contributions. Then, when everything has been finalized, you can export the content or copy/paste it into the final destination format.

Examples
Docs are usually not public (with exceptions). Here, on the ICT-KM Program blog, the Social Media Tools Series posts are developed in Google Docs: Meena writes, Antonella contributes, and Mary edits. When the content is final (and it is in HTML from the start, which helps a lot), it is pasted and given final formatting in WordPress. Another great example is Silvia Renn’s post on Using Google Docs for Proposal Writing.

How to get started with Google Sites and Docs: all you need is an account with Google (i.e. sign up for Gmail): these tools are available to Google account holders.  CGIAR Staff can get started  by requesting an account at CGXchange 2.0, where they will find a fully managed set of collaboration tools included in Google Apps.

etherpadEtherpad: Taking the term ‘real-time’ literally, this is probably the next step in collaborative writing. It’s a kind of wiki but easier to use and can accommodate up to 8 participants typing at the same time. While changes are updated every 15 seconds on Google Docs, Etherpad updates a document every half second, thus providing a dizzying combo of wiki and chat (see what Etherpad looks like). Isn’t technology amazing?

Updated: The next generation in collaborative writing is close at hand. As early as end of 2009, we may be able to collaborate in absolute ‘real-time’ as Google Wave promises today with ‘live’ transmission collaboration. 

Examples
Check the Use Cases on the Etherpad site. One of the sessions in the Real Time Virtual Collaboration (RTVC) experiment, held last May 9, was run on Etherpad: check the RTVC mindmap also for other examples of real-time collaboration tools.

So there you have it! Some tools to help you get started with collaborative writing. In a nutshell, these tools can benefit you by:

  • bridging geographical distances, allowing people across continents to collaborate with regard to event/project development, information gathering and knowledge management;
  • uncluttering your email box along with the email boxes of your collaborators. While some may be content to use email for their communications, many people are looking for ways to reduce their email load. Whether working on project proposals or creating a knowledge base, these tools eliminate countless email transfers and, along with them, bits of information scattered in several different messages. These tools also house content at one location online, with researchers being able to access and collaborate on a living document.

Nonetheless, the process of writing within a team is challenging on its own, and the tools only provide a conducive environment. Getting past the hierarchies and the defensiveness requires tactful handling.

It would be a good idea to establish rules for collaborative writing, nothing set in stone, just simple guidelines on what is expected of the team, the purpose of the collaboration, and respectful editing practices that help the team to negotiate during discussions between collaborators when changes are needed.

Engaging collaborators at the very beginning, clarifying the objectives of the collaboration, suggesting a set of rules and encouraging them to add to it, may foster a sense of ownership and accountability. After all, technology can only go so far!

Till next time…

P.S. My thanks to Antonella Pastore, whose collaborative input made this blog post possible.

social mediaThe second social media workshop of CGIAR’s ICT-KM Program kicks off next Monday with 35 participants from 10 different organizations, among those IFAD, CTA, IRG, and CARDI.

The facilitators team Nancy White, Meena Arivananthan, and Simone Staiger-Rivas also welcome participants from 2 Challenge Programs, 6 CGIAR centers, as well as eco-regional and systems-wide programs, and the CGIAR Secretariat.

In this edition we are also happy to have a workshop mentor: Jonathan Thompson from the World Food Programme.

We are looking forward to three weeks of social media explorations and discussions. Pre-workshop preparations include a short survey that invites the group to share existing IDs or set up accounts for the social media tools that we will be learning about (Skype, Fickr, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) The three weeks have each a different focus:

  1. Thinking About Your Social Media Needs
  2. Exploring and Picking Tools
  3. Social Media Strategy and Implementation

The workshop menu includes also 2 optional teleconference calls and discussions on the internet platform Moodle. The facilitators provide the group with discussion starters, tools introductions and related links, and will refer to the KS Toolkit as central resource. Watch out this space for summaries of the event!

Photo Credit:  Matt Hamm

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