During the recent World Congress of Agroforestry (WCA2009) in Nairobi, Kenya, the Congress reporting team plunged headlong into social media in a bid to maximize the event’s communications, which was achieved via the Congress blog, the @icraf Twitter account, pictures on Flickr and bookmarks on Del.icio.us.

Much energy and care went into the blog, which the team used for reporting on keynote sessions, announcing presentations and updates as they became available, highlighting the main articles published in the media and in other blogs about the Congress, and publishing the occasional opinion piece on what was being discussed in the sessions.

It was a challenge having to set up a reporting process in a few days, especially since there was so much more going on during the Congress, but the energy and motivation of the people involved helped with this unprecedented task.

However, the real challenge was getting started on Twitter. First, we had to get the team organized into ‘shifts’. We were lucky to have two volunteers joining us, enabling us to cover the keynote sessions. Second, we tried to keep an eye on how word was spreading about the Congress themes and speakers. And that’s when we found another ‘twitterer’ who was sharing info bits containing the Congress’ WCA2009 hashtag.

Curious and excited, Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF) and I tracked down our fellow twitterer and discovered it was Tom Vandenbosch, Programme Coordinator in the Training Unit at ICRAF. A scientist on Twitter? Yes. And much more, as you’ll find out from the following conversation we had with him.

Tom Vandenbosch (ICRAF)

Tom Vandenbosch (ICRAF)

[Antonella – AP]. Tom, who did you have in mind when you were tweeting from the WCA?
[Tom – TV].
Nobody in particular, because I have a few followers. It was more about taking notes and bookmarking interesting things for myself.

[AP]. How long have you been on Twitter?
[TV].
I haven’t had my personal account for a long time. I’m doing a PhD in e-learning, and as part of my studies, I have been testing many social media tools under different names.

[AP]. Did you follow the @icraf tweets?
[TV].
Yes, I followed them from the sessions. But honestly, I think it was overwhelming to have a sort of play-by-play report of what was being presented. Just the key facts emerging from the sessions would have been okay. People are following so many Twitter accounts, so it’s a bit of overloading. On another front, it helped me discover that it’s possible to have RSS feeds for hashtag searches on Twitter, so you can follow the conversations on a given topic with a RSS reader as well. Moreover, I think it’s good that we have the Twitter account labelled ICRAF, it’s short and handy to quote in re-tweets and replies.

[AP]. Do you think that tweets from the various sessions added any value to your Congress experience?
[TV].
It added a lot of value, especially because there were many things going on at the same time. They made it possible me to follow the sessions that I couldn’t attend. The next time Twitter is used for ICRAF events, there will hopefully be more followers and less irrelevant tweets. For example, a tweet like “#WCA2009 Noordwijk leaves the podium to a round of applause following a lovely sing-song!” is not very relevant to a person who is not at the event. Tweets should be used sparingly to avoid flooding followers’ Twitter streams. Potential followers will automatically be attracted to Twitter accounts that tweet high quality information, since this information can be re-tweeted by others. On the other hand, ICRAF might considerr promoting its Twitter account more widely in order to get more followers.

[AP]
. Have you been to other conferences where people were on Twitter?
[TV].
I attended one in FAO last June, where some participants were posting to Twitter but not in a systematic way. But FAO now tweets from a number of interesting accounts, including faonews for news releases and related coverage, and FAOWFD for World Food Day.

[AP]. Do you have colleagues at ICRAF or other institutions who are bloggers and twitterers?
[TV].
Besides Vanessa, who blogs at ASB (Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins) and PRESA (Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa), there are some others, but I don’t know if they’re real staff, students or interns. These blogs usually contain personal stories.

[AP]. Would you recommend your colleagues at ICRAF to get engaged with social media?
[TV].
Definitely. There’s a lot of value in Web 2.0 tools, but I think we’re over-creating new blogs and Twitter accounts, instead of consolidating what we have already, including our presence on other high-impact blogs.  It would be better to liaise and engage with those who are already out there, the same way you want to be on high-impact research journals. To give you an extreme example, if Britney Spears were tweeting about trees on farms, that would be excellent. She has more than 3 million followers on Twitter now, while ICRAF has about 100.

Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF)

Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF)

[Vanessa – VM]. ASB has contributed to a new blog, the Rural Climate Exchange, where the CGIAR is bringing together the Climate Change and Agriculture initiatives from across the System. Most of the content is developed by professional writers working closely with communications staff in the Centers. This type of collaboration, especially on such a high-profile issue, is bringing a lot of added value with minimal additional cost.

[TV]. When blogs get linked by popular traditional media, they often get a big boost. For example, a blog called Africa Expat Wives Club became one of the most popular blogs in Kenya after being featured in The Times.

[AP]. Do you think that social media have a role in mainstreaming agroforestry research?
[
TV]. Yes, but it is different if we talk about the general public or the scientific community. With the general public, we need to target people on social networks who are interested in receiving information about agroforestry. That’s what my PhD research is all about: me-learning, a new form of e-learning, based on individual requirements, on recommendations based on the user experience history, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Through cookies or other existing technologies, e-learners can receive learning propositions that suit their interests, experience levels and learning styles.

The role of social media would be different within the scientific community. Scientists tend to have a more traditional approach to publishing, through papers, assessments, journals, etc. And this has an influence on how they perceive the worth of a communications channel. It could possibly take another generation of scientists to start realizing the value of social media for science.

Perhaps it would be easier for them to perceive this value if more projects used these tools to gather data, such as via SMS-based systems. I’m thinking, for example, of an adaptation of Ushahidi for the collection of scientific data from a range of specific locations. Ushahidi is a platform that crowdsources crisis information: people can report incidents via the Web, email and SMS. The reports are then aggregated, geo-referenced, browsable and searchable on the Web.

[VM]. Many projects I’m working on at the moment have a knowledge sharing and communications component built in the design, so this is changing… like with the PRESA, it was a direct request from the donor, IFAD. Impetus is coming from different places, and this could shift research priorities. Many of the scientists I work with understand the value of integrating knowledge into a proposal, with proper funding for it. Hopefully the trend is over, of asking the communications unit to churn out a policy brief at no cost, after the project is already finished.

Advertisements

If you are looking for good ICT practice guides, or want to find out more about low-bandwidth collaboration tools, or see what CGIAR-wide applications are available to you, then ICT Infopoint is the place for you. ICT Infopoint provides CGIAR staff located at headquarters and in regional offices with a convenient one-stop location on CGX2.0, where they can find timely and up-to-date ICT information and links. If you need to speak to someone about your ICT problems, ICT Infopoint can also help by providing you with the contact information of all CGIAR Center Helpdesks. ICT Infopoint is open 24/7, so please drop by anytime!

This handy resource will be updated regularly with content from the ICT-KM Program and the Centers, as it becomes available. ICT Infopoint has also received input from several ICT support staff in small offices in Africa and India, enabling content to be developed that could potentially help them and local researchers improve the way they work and collaborate.

ICT Infopoint is a collaborative effort involving input from the ICT-KM Program’s Second Level Connectivity Project and the CGIAR Centers.  Formerly known as the ICT Briefcase, an output of the Second Level Connectivity Project led by Ian Moore (ILRI-ICRAF), this resource has been further refined in terms of design and content by Tania Jordan, ICT-KM Technical Coordinator, and Antonella Pastore, CGXchange Project Coordinator.  The change of name from ICT Briefcase to Infopoint was made to better reflect the present-day product.

Please come on by and check it out for yourself!

If you have any suggestions or comments about ICT Infopoint, please contact the CGXchange team at cgxchange@cgiar.org.

“Volevi la bicicletta, ora pedala!”  This Italian saying, translated as “You wanted a bicycle, so get pedaling”, can describe situations where we have a goal to meet or decision to make that can only be realized if we get on with taking the required action.

The goal of CGMap is to make CGIAR research projects fully accessible and available.  So we’ve continued ‘pedaling’ towards this fundamental goal in order to open new paths to accessing our research project factsheets.

The key to systematically making information available and exchangeable is what we call Syntactic Interoperability, the underlying concept behind RSS feeds, SQL databases, and Web Services.  CGMap is no stranger to interoperability, as it was born to receive data via XML from a completely different system.

cgmap2.0Today, we are releasing a new version of CGMap, CGMap 2.0, that completely opens the access to new and improved project factsheets, giving donors, researchers, partners, and search engines, as well as systems and Web sites catering to them, direct access to CGIAR research projects.




In this release:

  • Sitemaps:  Search engines can use our sitemaps to index research project factsheets; systems and Web sites can use the sitemaps to list and link to factsheets as applicable (for example, by CGIAR Center/Challenge Program, time period, project code);
  • Improved project factsheets:  The new factsheets provide details of the planned outputs of the project, thereby providing a clear window into the ‘What, Where, and When’ details of the research. The factsheets have a simpler visualization of the project Overview and Rationale, Outputs, and Financial Tables, so that navigating or printing a project factsheet is much easier. Also, the factsheets can be bookmarked and directly linked to, so any applicable circumstance is possible (for example, a link from a Center/Challenge Program’s Web site, a bookmark in a researcher’s browser, or a link from a partner’s project Web page).

So don’t be surprised if you are searching the Web for, say, chickpea research in India, and you find the factsheet ICRISAT-6: Producing more and better food at lower cost from staple open-pollinated cereals and legumes in the Asian SAT (sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut) through genetic improvements.

“Volevi la bicicletta, ora pedala!”  This Italian saying, translated as “You wanted a bicycle, so get to pedaling”, can describe situations where we have a goal to meet or decision to make that can only be realized if we get on with taking the required action.

The goal of CGMap is to make CGIAR research projects fully accessible and available.  So we’ve continued ‘pedaling’ towards this fundamental goal in order to open new paths to accessing our research project factsheets.
The key to systematically making information available and exchangeable is what we call Syntactic Interoperability, the underlying concept behind RSS feeds, SQL databases, and Web Services. CGMap is no stranger to interoperability, as it was born to receive data via XML from a completely different system.
Today, we are releasing a new version of CGMap, CGMap 2.0, that completely opens the access to new and improved project factsheets, giving  donors, researchers, partners, and search engines, as well as systems and Web sites catering to them, direct access to CGIAR research projects.
In this release:
  • Sitemaps:  Search engines can use our sitemaps to index research project factsheets; systems and Web sites can use the sitemaps to list and link to factsheets as applicable (for example, by CGIAR Center/Challenge Program, time period, project code);
  • Improved project factsheets: The new factsheets provide details of the planned outputs of the project, thereby providing a clear window into the ‘What, Where, and When’ details of the research. The factsheets have a simpler visualization of the project Overview and Rationale, Outputs, and Financial Tables, so that navigating or printing a project factsheet is much easier.  Also, the factsheets can be bookmarked and directly linked to, so any applicable circumstance is possible (for example, a link from a Center/Challenge Program’s Web site, a bookmark in a researcher’s browser, or a link from a partner’s project Web page).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: www.agcommons.org

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

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

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

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

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

Think to apply the same principles to scientific research.

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

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

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

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

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

If you are not convinced yet, watch these videos

First, an overview:

And a sample use:

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

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

In the beginning … 
Shwu Jiau Teoh

Shwu Jiau Teoh

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

The age of social media

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

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

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

Site features

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

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

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

File Cabinet

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

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

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

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

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

Francesca Pelloni

Francesca Pelloni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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