We just concluded the CGIAR ICT annual meeting and the Alliance Deputies meeting on the shape of the Shared Services in the new consortium… . More on the results of these meetings later…

To prepare for the meetings, I looked at the proposed “Strategy and Results Framework” to how we could support the new CGIAR.

Mega programs

The proposed ‘Strategy and Results Framework’ introduces seven interlinked Mega Programs and two platforms — gender and capacity strengthening – that will serve as the building blocks for the work of the ‘new’ CGIAR.

How do information, knowledge, ICTs and related areas fare in these proposals?

Let’s see…. Mega-Program 3 is titled ‘Institutional Innovations, ICTs, and Markets.’ Its focus will be on: “Knowledge to inform institutional changes needed for a well-functioning local, national, and global food system that connects small farmers to agricultural value chains through information and communications technologies and facilitates policy and institutional reforms.”

This mega program “aims to unleash an ― institutional and information revolution – with and for farmers and the rural poor that improves and secures their livelihoods, and also promotes innovation along value chains.” It speculates that the “next big breakthrough in institutional innovation to be unleashed in support of poverty reduction, food and nutrition security, and environmental sustainability” might include: “linking of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to value chains and services for the poor in rural areas, through, for example, the cell phone and its increasing range of sophisticated derivatives.”

Within Mega Program 1 on ‘Crop Germplasm Conservation, Enhancement, and Use’, a program will “integrate bioinformatics and crop information systems.”

These proposals seem to recognize the importance of knowledge and information as well as ICT applications and tools within both CGIAR research processes and the agricultural innovation systems where organizations doing research and development interact. Hopefully, it will boost scattered efforts to increase research uptake, interaction and collaboration using ICTs and other innovative approaches to knowledge sharing in research.

Two cross-cutting platforms have been identified. The one on ‘capacity-building platform’ will “strengthen the capacity of the CGIAR and its partners through improved research networks, information technology, knowledge management systems, and training. The expected result is a dynamic knowledge creating and -sharing system comprising CGIAR centers, strong independent national agricultural research systems, and other research partners sharing knowledge.”

According to the plan, the capacity strengthening role of the CGIAR should “have two purposes: strengthening capacity for all Mega Program partners by fostering research collaboration and networking, and strengthening capacity for weak national agricultural research systems.”

The report goes on to say “An important element of both activities will be the development and use of advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) and knowledge management and innovation systems, including access of Mega Program partners to applications and resources such as databases.”

These proposals seem to include work by CGIAR centers to make their data, information and knowledge accessible (see recent work on AAA and CIARD), so often limited-access knowledge is freed to be exchanged and re-used. Hopefully, they will not forget the importance of open licenses such as creative commons, and open access in general. The ‘public goods’ need to be made public! as Peter Ballantyne pointed out.

The results of our external review and the expectations laid out on the new Mega Programs will be the basis for a renewed ICT-KM strategy.

Photo credit: Harry Nesbitt/2000 IRRI (Creative Commons)

Photo credit:H.Nesbitt/2000 IRRI (Creative Commons)

In 2008, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) launched a Change Initiative to identify how best to adapt to anticipated global changes and challenges.

The reforms will help to strengthen the CGIAR by establishing a results-oriented research agenda .

As part of this process, the CGIAR, in consultation with its partners, is presently seeking feedback on what can be done, through research and innovations, to reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, and enhance ecosystem resilience.

The Chair of the CGIAR Strategy Committee now invites all frontline researchers (including those in universities, national agricultural research and extension systems, farmer organizations, private sector and NGOs) to take part in a survey developed to identify agricultural research opportunities, offering large scale development impact.

The survey is available online until August 20, 2009.

At the conclusion of the survey process, the CGIAR Strategy Committee will synthesize and make the overall results available as part of its reporting.

Donate 30 minutes of your time to help shape the future of international agricultural research for development!

Social media is using the Internet to collaborate, share information, and have a conversation about ideas, and causes we care about, powered by web based tools.” – [We Media]

Background
From the learnings from the successful pilot (See blog posts about the event), and second  Social Media Online Workshop, the CGIAR through its ICT-KM Program, is pleased to offer a new online opportunity for social media explorations, this time with the specific objective to embed social media in participants’ contexts of international development work. This fully online workshop will run from September 7 to 25, 2009.

Social media offers development practitioners and organizations a move from “push” communications towards a place where we can interact with our constituents, listen and engage with them in ways we never could before. It enables us to network with colleagues and some stakeholders. If facilitates collaboration in the lab and in the field.

Social media also offers so many options that it can be overwhelming. This workshop focuses on exploration of social media from some specific development contexts. So instead of saying “there is a tool, how can we use it,” this workshop seeks to answer “we need to do this activity, how can social media support it and under what circumstances.”

If you ask yourself questions like these, you might consider joining the workshop:

  • How can I support collaboration in wide-spread teams?
  • How can I provide opportunities for open dialogue with my stakeholders?
  • How do we support communities of practice and thematic networks, online and offline?
  • How do we share our content and knowledge effectively online?
  • How can we make use of social media under low-bandwidth constraints?

This online workshop is designed for researchers, research and development communications professionals and knowledge sharing practitioners.

Objectives of the workshop
This three week online workshop will provide a collaborative, peer based learning opportunity for you, as development practitioners, to address if and how social media can help address your needs, opportunities or challenges related to collaboration, participation, or communication. By the end of the workshop you should be able to understand and analyze the opportunities that social media can offer in the view of your specific research and development context, identify some potential tools and create a plan of action.

During this workshop you will:

  • Identify possibles usages of social media through small group synchronous and full group asynchronous conversation, exploring opportunities and constraints related to your work.
  • Obtain an understanding and appreciation of the role and value of social media.
  • Explore 2-3 different social media tools which may be appropriate for your context.
  • Start to plan the implementation of one or more social media tools that fit our work environment.
  • Learn from participants of mixed professional and organizational backgrounds.

Outline of the 3-week event

  • Week 1 to 2 – Context and Application of Social Media: Introductions, and telephone conversations in small groups to assess your research for/and development context and identify opportunities for social media practices.
  • Week 2 to 3 – Testing Social Media Tools. Explore select social media tools in small groups.
  • Finalizing week 3 – Reflection for Action. Reflect on individual and group learning of the past two weeks and  create an initial plan for social media implementation.

Maximum Number of participants: 18

Language: English

Participant Requirement/Dedicated time: This workshop offers an in-depth exploration of social media tools adapted to your specific context with personalized support and work in small groups. To do this, we ask the following of each participant:

  • Organize your agenda to dedicate up to 1-1/2 hours per day during the three weeks. If you will be on travel and won’t have time in a particular week, save some time for “catch up.” If you will not be able to participate in more than one week, please consider taking a future workshop. It will become hard to catch up after missing significant time.
  • Participate in weekly telecons of  60-90 minutes. These are scheduled for the afternoons for those in Europe and Africa, mornings for North and South American, and evenings for Asia. We will try to accomodate all time zones as best we can.
  • Read and respond to blog posts
  • Explore at least 2 tools
  • Reflect and share your learnings on the workshop blog and wiki
  • Complete a pre- and post-workshop survey.

Open to: CGIAR staff, not for profit partners, agricultural and development organizations. Individuals, consultants and members of for profit organizations may join on a space available basis as the unsubsidized rate. (See costs below)

Platform: Blog, Skype and/or telephone, email and wiki. Our teleconference platform allows you to call for free using Skype. If you choose to use a landline for the conference calls, you will be responsible for long-distance costs. You should have regular access to the Internet. Some tools may not be accessible for those with low bandwidths. You may need to check with your IT department, as some web-based services you wish to explore may be currently blocked in your organization and you may need to seek support to access them.

Facilitators: Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Simone Staiger-Rivas (CGIAR-CIAT), Pete Shelton (IFPRI)

Cost: USD$ 850. Individuals who work for for-profits or consultants: USD$ 1050.

Contact: Please write to Simone Staiger-Rivas (s.staiger[at]cgiar.org) for questions and subscription by August, 10 at the latest.

As you can see from my previous three posts, I am wrapping up the Institutional KS project. This doesn’t mean that ICT-KM stops working on KS realted issues, far from that. However, as the project ended, we are going through a process of final evaluations, reporting and sharing of the results. Here is the summary of the final project report. Have a look at the lessons learnt and help me improving those / adding lessons I might have overseen.

Download the full report (650kb)

The Institutional Knowledge Sharing (IKS) project has completed its second phase (January 2007 to April 2009) to improve the CGIAR’s effectiveness. It promoted collaborative learning and innovation. It also supported effective use of KS approaches and tools throughout the CGIAR and its R&D partnerships. The project assumes that knowledge-sharing (KS) principles, attitudes, and skills can support organizational development; that these would help build internal capacity so that staff can work more effectively towards their institutional missions and sustain their organizations over the long term. These assumptions led the project to work at three different CGIAR levels: system, center, and community.

Video

A Revitalized CGIAR - Video

At the system level, the project demonstrated how KS methods and principles can open up meaningful spaces for face-to-face dialogues by enabling the establishment of explicit objectives and carefully designed group dynamics. The IKS also enhanced those virtual communications processes and products in the system that are related to current change processes. Furthermore, the project strengthened the capacity of CGIAR communications leaders in the area of innovative tools and methods.

cifor

CIFOR's strategic planning process

At the center level, the project supported three pilot projects in three centers—IRRI, WorldFish, and CIFOR—to experiment with innovative KS techniques. Each pilot project led to concrete outcomes or products that can be replicated in other centers or partner organizations. KS activities in six CGIAR centers, carried out by the IKS project during phase 1, were evaluated for progress, challenges, and lessons learned. Center communications staff also attended a KM strategy workshop to think about collective action in this area. The IKS project’s host center, CIAT, also benefited from project leadership and has incorporated KS tools and approaches into its communication plans and activities.

sharefair

ShareFair 09

At the community level, the project designed and delivered workshops on knowledge sharing and social media. So far, 110 CGIAR staff and partners have been trained; a KS Toolkit has been improved and expanded to become a key resource for knowledge practitioners; partnerships have been formed with FAO and other development organizations, as well as with KM4Dev, for capacity strengthening efforts; the Share Fair 09 at FAO demonstrated the project’s key inputs into the thriving KS movement. Through its network of 180 strong contacts, the project involves an estimated 9,000 users.

The initial project framework was prepared, conceptualized, and widely shared among interested centers and partner organizations, who then identified the three possible entry points for KS, as described above.

Simone Social Media

Social Media Talk CIAT

The project pioneered communications and documentation efforts that were relevant beyond the ICT–KM program. The use of social media has helped raise the profile of both project and program in the research-and-development arena. The project also delivered products such as leaflets, posters, and a peer-reviewed journal article with eight co-authors, all KS workshop participants.

toolkit

KS Toolkit

An end-of-project survey highlighted the project’s achievements, especially the usefulness of its workshops, KS Toolkit, and Web resources. Most of the 37 respondents considered the project’s achievements as excellent (36%) or good (53%). They (94%) also stated that project participation increased their understanding of KS issues and/or improved their ability to apply KS principles, methods, and tools to their work. The project leader’s effectiveness in supporting project participation was rated by 70% of participants as excellent, and 27% as good. Also, 97% stated they had made useful contacts during their participation in the project. All 37 respondents declared that as many as 1,850 people had been reached through the project’s activities or products as a consequence of their participation. If this ratio is upscaled to the project’s 180 strong contacts, then about 9,000 people have probably been reached through project activities.

Principle Lessons Learnt

The second phase of the Knowledge-Sharing project and its activities crystallized some important lessons:

Lever the multiple entry points: The project showed how effective working on three levels—system, centers, and community—is for mainstreaming KS and allowing bottom-up approaches and leadership support to confront challenges and create an amplifier effect.

Clarify definitions: The phase 1 evaluation study revealed that the project had neglected to work continuously on the issue of KS definitions and to make explicit the evolution of those definitions. By doing so, KS could be better positioned and promoted.

Learn by doing: At the center level, the pilot project approach delivered three products (IRRI’s Research Data Management Wiki, WorldFish’s  video “Storymercial”, Cifor’s processes for participatory strategic planning). However, the call for proposal and “classical” project implementation model was counterproductive to the KS principle of joint learning by doing. This didn’t facilitate the socializing and promoting of the experiences.

Facilitate: We are not experts, but facilitators for research for development. Hence, the effort to cultivate networks and relationships in accordance with relevant thematic inputs has paid off. The decision to share unfinished content was good: it encouraged dialogue; opportunely delivered useful material; and left time and space for adaptation, improvements, and adoption.

Partner up: The project showcased how strong and successful involvement in related but external communities of practitioners (KM4Dev and FAO) can make a project stand out and thus raise its profile within its host institution.

Adapt management: The ability to make needed adjustments and benefit from unexpected opportunities was crucial to the project’s success. It was relevant to have planned the budget accordingly.

Monitor and evaluate: The project consistently evaluated its activities. However, a more consistent M&E framework could have been identified and implemented from the beginning to increase the value of current M&E efforts.

Future possibilities

Opportunities were identified at all three levels of intervention:

  • System, for example, supporting consultations on change processes, and sharing knowledge on those in innovative and transparent ways
  • Center, in terms of capacity strengthening and collective action
  • Community, through continuous improvement of KS resources and partnership development

Evaluation demonstrated the power of KS principles, tools, and methods for revitalizing the CGIAR. Indeed, they are crucial in times of globalization, networking, intense research and development, and CGIAR change. Hence, these principles and products will continue to be used, and to be strengthened as they are adopted, adapted, and improved.

There was a distinct buzz in the air immediately following the dialog session (Finally, a CGIAR Reform Initiative with Legs) between the CGIAR Transition Management Team (TMT) and the group of communication specialists attending the second day of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia. A shift in perceptions had been brought about by the open, straightforward discussions that had just taken place.

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan, Head of Public Awareness, ILRI, was not alone in thinking that the candor of the TMT was refreshing. For the first time, she felt there was a distinct possibility that the communication specialists would be able to contribute to the CGIAR change process.

As she said after the dialog, “It always pays to be more straightforward, because you’ll get people’s engagement. The four TMT members said it the way it really is. For example, we heard them say that, yes, the CGIAR change process has been donor-driven.

“When people are straight in their speaking, I find myself trusting them. When people push information at me first, I find it hard to keep listening to them because I have no relationship with them. I would advise the TMT members not to be afraid to tell the truth, but to be themselves and honest about negative aspects of the change process. That will engender our trust.”

This one has legs

Part of Susan’s optimism has to do with some of the things said by TMT member Jonathan Wadsworth, who brings a donor perspective to the Team.

“Jonathan said the reason this reform initiative is different from previous CGIAR reforms is because it has legs,” she explained. “That bit of exciting news – that this change process, unlike former ones in the CGIAR, is going to go to the very end of the change process – has been missing in the CGIAR Change Management newsletter, blog, website and in messages from CGIAR Chair Kathy Sierra.

“In person, these are obviously honest, forthright, committed and intelligent men. But those engaging qualities are not yet reflected in their written communications about the change process. I would like to see more of their personalities and ideas featured in future communications by and about the TMT. I’m actually interested in what they have to say.”

The personal touch

Susan feels that face-to-face meetings are necessary to gain the trust of CGIAR staff.

“With about 10,000 people spread across the CGIAR Centers, real-time meetings with everyone would be impossible, but we mustn’t discount the effectiveness of such interactions,” she said. “For example, I first heard Ren Wang speak when he delivered an 8-minute talk to my Center’s entire assembly of staff. Although I was impressed with what he had to say and how he said it, his message wouldn’t have had the same impact conveyed in a blog or a newsletter. Perhaps we could communicate messages using videos.

“Even during today’s dialog session there were three things brought up that weren’t mentioned in the change strategy or any of the change management communications: change is necessary to keep our jobs; there’s a lack of efficiency in the System; and there’s a lack of leadership that’s palpable. None of this would have surfaced without a face-to-face meeting.”

The need for leadership

“If we don’t know the reasons behind change, if they haven’t been articulated, we can’t even begin to work on a message. We need leaders to tell us how things really are and give us their message for us to work on. Jonathan Wadsworth and his team, who seem to have an appetite for the way it really is and to have the natural ability to tell it like it is, make great spokespeople.”

Want to find out what was cooking at the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia?

Below, you can find out the ingredients that went into this four-day event. Read what the Transition Management Team had to say; what the CGIAR Communications Heads had to say; what the CIO had to say; what one of the facilitators had to say; and much more …

Then you can have your say, simply by leaving a comment or two.

Yammer Like a Twit

The Rise and Fall of Future Harvest – An Interview with Ruth Raymond

What Gets our Communications Leaders Excited?

Pictures Tell the Story

Finally, a CGIAR Reform Initiative with Legs

Giving the Sleeping Giant a Voice – An Interview with Klaus von Grebmer

A Collective Slam Dunk – An Interview with Nathan Russell

All You Have to Do Is Expose Yourself … So said Enrica Porcari

Fiona Chandler: Waiting for the Next Dance

Of Brick Bats and Kudos – An Interview with Simone Staiger-Rivas

What the participants are saying …

What the Transition Management Team is saying …

Spider Diagrams: CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop Evaluation

On the last day of the CGIAR Strategic Communication Workshop in Penang, Malaysia, some of the participants kindly agreed to give their feedback on the four-day event. Find out what they had to say: what worked, what didn’t work, and what they hope to see happening as an outcome of the workshop …

Savitri Mohapatra, Communications Officer, WARDA

Savitri Mohapatra

Savitri Mohapatra

I didn’t realize that we would meet all the Transition Management Team members and have an in-depth conversation with them. So that was the best part of the workshop: to see that there is a vision, that the changes are really going to take place, and that communications has a role to play in the change process.

I also liked the social media exposure, because that’s something new for me. I’m excited to continue with that when I get back to WARDA.

The meeting was really participative and focused. I have been to other workshops where some people talk too much, and others don’t get a chance to speak. Simone Staiger-Rivas’s facilitation kept us focused and got output from everyone. Sometimes, we thought, “Ooh, she’s not letting us speak”, but I think it’s good to control the group. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been enough time to cover everything. It happens a lot during meetings.

In fact, the only problem was the lack of time spent on the new story ideas that are already on the calendar, but we can probably continue those via email.

Paul Stapleton, Head of Communications and Public Awareness, CIP

Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton

As far as I’m aware, everyone was very happy and satisfied about the whole workshop process. It was disrupted slightly by the Transition Management Team (TMT), but that was good because it gave us a chance to contribute to a very important process. We still managed to develop our stories, but perhaps not as intensively as planned. I think the work that we did looking at the CGIAR change process was very important and, obviously from what we heard, the TMT was very impressed with the contributions that were made. So, all in all, I think it’s been successful

I think Simone Staiger-Rivas’s facilitation was very good. Few of us were restrained about making our opinion heard, so Simone did a very good job of controlling us. She made sure everyone spoke in turn and guided the contribution. So I think most people were happy with the discussion part of the workshop as well as the presentations.

Nonetheless, I feel there should have been room for a discussion about the future of the communications group. If we could form a group with a clear identity, we might be able to make our voices heard in the CGIAR.

Mike Listman, Interim Head, Corporate Communications, CIMMYT

Mike Listman

Mike Listman

I came to Penang to see how CGIAR communicators can work together better in the future, whatever the form of CGIAR change.  After hearing the Transition Management Team talk, my early skepticism about the change process was mitigated somewhat. The meeting was very productive, both for my own particular work agenda and, in my opinion, for the CGIAR.  After not having interacted directly with the other communicators for quite some time, I was newly impressed with their professionalism, their knowledge and their enthusiasm to work together.

The workshop facilitation was very effective for what we needed to do. It helped bring out good ideas and got people working together on a common agenda. One particular aspect of facilitation that I hadn’t seen before was the Samoan Circle. I thought it was interesting and fun.

Sophie Clayton, Media Relations Manager, IRRI

Sophie Clayton

Sophie Clayton

I’ve only been with IRRI for six weeks, so I appreciated the importance of having a network of professionals and expertise coming together. Sessions like Nathan Russell’s that provided an historical perspective were really useful for a newcomer like me. It helped to understand where the organization has been, the support communications has received over the years, and the individual experiences and expertise.

I came into the workshop without knowing anything about the CGIAR change process, so trying to understand that, the communications of the change process, and who was responsible for what, was confusing at times. But the discussions within the communications group and with the Transition Management Team have clarified that somewhat.

The communication group’s positive outlook and willingness to contribute to the greater good, while continuing to get support for communications, was impressive. A community of communications professionals is very important.  The group’s feedback into the transition process is a positive step in ensuring that the expertise within the network is in the System – I can benefit from that, too.

Michael Hailu, Director of Communications, ICRAF

Michael Hailu

Michael Hailu

Before the workshop, I’d hoped to meet with the other CGIAR communicators to talk about story ideas and also to see if we could have some interaction with the Transition Management Team (TMT). What we actually achieved exceeded my expectations. I was really impressed with the TMT’s openness, the way they took on our ideas, and the intensity of the interaction between them and the communications group.

Last year, we came together as a communications group to work on specific story ideas for the media.  But it’s been two or three years since we’ve met to really think strategically and work on a plan. So it’s been nice.

Simone Staiger-Rivas did an excellent job in keeping the energy going and allowing people who are quieter to actually participate. Had the workshop not been facilitated, it would have been hard to hear everyone’s voice – in previous meetings, you’d have to fight for attention. I think overall the results were very good and the meeting has recreated the team’s enthusiasm and energy to keep it going, which I think is important.

Simone Staiger-Rivas

Simone Staiger-Rivas

Simone Staiger-Rivas has an intensity about her that leaves a mark on almost everything she does. She knows nothing about half measures or being just good enough. At least, not when it comes to her work. And once again, this knowledge sharing exponent was in top form as she went about her business helping to facilitate the recent CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia.

The event, which brought together communications experts from almost every corner of the CGIAR System, took place a few short weeks after many of the same participants had taken part in a two-week online workshop, which Simone also helped organize.

“While I was helping to prepare and design the Penang meeting with Nathan Russell (CIMMYT) and Laura Ivers (CGIAR Secretariat), I thought it would be a good idea to organize a workshop on social media for the participants,” she said. “I thought it would be especially interesting for this particular group, because social media is not something that many of them use strategically enough. It was great to get the CGIAR Secretariat’s green light, and most of the participants who made it to Penang took part in the online event. Over the two weeks, the participants were exposed to social media tools like wikis, blogs, Twitter, Yammer, etc.”

Simone had also hoped to examine the different ways in which social media can contribute to the new CGIAR.

“Unfortunately, we ran out of time,” she said. “I think the participants wanted to learn more about the CGIAR change initiative before coming to any conclusion about the role that social media could play in a revitalized System, and understandably so.”

The feedback from the online event was mostly positive, and thus it was a buoyant Simone who arrived in Penang, eager to meet the participants face-to-face again.

“Over the two years that I’ve been involved in the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing Project, I’ve met almost all the participants at some workshop or another,” she said. “So it was great to meet up with them again.”

Simone used a number of different workshop dynamics in Penang: River of Life to review the past and prepare for the future; Samoan Circle to reflect on communications in the new CGIAR; Card Sorting to prepare the matrix for the 2009 work plan; Spider diagram to evaluate the workshop; and a speed Open Space to share with and learn from colleagues. A popular lunchtime session was Simone’s demonstration of Twitter and Yammer (Yammer like a Twit). The communication specialists were duly impressed, to the extent that the group immediately created their own space on Yammer.

Feedback

The positive feedback from the Penang event was overwhelming: Here are just a few of the comments: “The best workshop with this group in 20 years,” said one participant. “It was fantastic. I am full of ideas,” said another. “The different session formats along with the facilitation helped us to achieve an enormous amount of things,” said yet another.

Another notable testimony to Simone’s skills as a facilitator came after the first day of the workshop, when one of the participants announced that the facilitation approaches used had enabled him to achieve more in one day than he would normally achieve in a week.

When this feedback was relayed to Simone, she simply smiled.

“Although I appreciate positive feedback just as much as the next person, because it tells me I’m on the right track, I’m  no stranger to negative comments,” she said later. “Over the years, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of skeptics – people who have scoffed at my knowledge sharing techniques and written them off as childish nonsense. Nonetheless, I still believe in what I do.”

Come to think of it, Simone probably deserves a few kudos just for hanging on in there.

Fiona Chandler

Fiona Chandler

When Fiona Chandler arrived in Penang, Malaysia, to attend the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop, she wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even after the first dialog session between the Transition Management Team (TMT) and the group of CGIAR communicators had taken place, she felt a clear relationship had yet to be established between the two groups.

The ICT-KM Program caught up with Fiona, the Scientific Liaison Officer for the Alliance Office, shortly after the second dialog session to see if her opinion had changed.

“After that first meeting, it still wasn’t clear how the two parties were going to work with each other,” she said. “But something must have happened overnight, because this morning when they came together for the second session, the communication folks were meaningfully interacting with the TMT. I think people had time to think about the first session overnight and realized the opportunities available to them.

“The group acknowledged that the TMT, which is guiding the CGIAR change initiative, had made time to listen to them, an indication that the group’s input mattered. The communicators also had a choice to make. They could have responded by whining about things that didn’t go well, but instead they took advantage of the opportunity to talk to the TMT in a very strong, purposeful, confident, dynamic way. In return, the TMT gave them good, solid information that they can use. I think it helped that the group had time to reflect on the first dialog session, both as a group and as individuals. We can all benefit from distilled thinking. I was very proud of what I saw today.”

Good stuff
“The TMT was also more than impressed by the communicators,” said Fiona. “When Stephen Hall (DG WorldFish) says ‘that’s good stuff,’ you can guarantee that it is, indeed, ‘good stuff’. When the TMT pushed on certain things, they were rewarded with thoughtful answers, showing that the communicators had really been thinking about their possible role in the change process. This is great for a community who only yesterday said they were lacking leadership, voice, and profile. Suddenly, they’re taking leadership and they’re giving informed, significant comments into the change process. It was a huge switch.”

Getting the job done
Bringing the geographically dispersed communicators together to work on the change process will not be without its challenges, but Fiona thinks the group will rise to the occasion.

“If there’s any group in the CGIAR that can do this work virtually, it’s this one,” she said. “Not only do they really know how to communicate, but they also have the necessary experience and skills to make a difference. Also, with the backing of the TMT, freeing up Center Communicators workloads shouldn’t be a problem.”

One dance doesn’t make a relationship
“Although both parties obviously feel that they are much further ahead than they had been before they met, the dialog still needs to be sustained and good information still needs to come through when it’s needed for the transition process,” said Fiona. “It will be interesting to see how things evolve.”

The workshop was only the beginning hopefully to more communication and exchange among the CG colleagues – thank you for bringing us closer togetherquote from a workshop participant

In-between all this important and exciting traffic on our blog, I am coming back to our social media online workshop to share the results of the participants evaluation.
15 of the 30 participants replied to the survey, which seems like the maximum you can get in those days of evaluation overload. 😉

The workshop was rated excellent by 57% and good by 36%.

Here is a summary of the workshop evaluation:

  • 73% of participants say that after participating in this workshop they have increased their understanding of social media principles and tools?
  • Usefulness of each activity and discussion focus: The lively welcome and introduction session was very useful for 64%. All participants found the tools exploration or very useful (50%) or useful (50%).  The suggested discussion on the opportunities of social media for the new CGIAR didn’t fully kick off, maybe because the 2-week workshop was really short. Only 36% found it useful. The teleconferences and the discussion summaries were useful for those who participated or looked into it.
  • Wikis, Blogs, RSS feeds, Photo-,Video-, and Slide Sharing as well as social networking sites (i.e. facebook) are the social media tools that most participants already use. After the workshop the following tools triggered interest:  Micro Blogging, the use of social media for organisational web sites, social reporting, social media listening and social media for new e-newsletters, as well as social media strategy M&E.
  • Participants found the Moodle platform good in terms of ease of use, connectivity, look and feel, and structure.
  • 65% scored facilitation excellent, 29% good.
  • For the majority (85%) the size of the group was just right. The interaction with other participants could be better: 50% found it good, 36% average.
  • Half of the participants state that they did make useful contacts during the workshop.

ICT-KM is currently thinking about offering two more social media workshops for the larger community, including researchers, partners, and development practitioners. This time the workshop would be 3-week long to respond to the mayor suggestion for improvement: Give more time for the tools exploration.

Stay tuned….

Nathan Russell

Nathan Russell

When the ICT-KM Program caught up with Nathan Russell, Senior Communications Officer, CIMMYT, immediately after the CGIAR communications group had concluded its second dialog session with the Transition Management Team (TMT) in Penang, Malaysia, he was in a celebratory mood.

“The outcome was really fantastic,” said Nathan, referring to the meetings with the TMT during the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop. “A number of important things happened during the first dialog: a group of people who felt largely cynical of the CGIAR change process met the people behind that process face-to-face, had a chance to have a conversation with them, and came away thinking, ‘Well, maybe this process is more important than we thought it was. Maybe it has a better chance of succeeding than we realized. These are pretty smart, well-meaning, committed people, and we think we can trust them to do the best possible job to make this change happen.'”

However, it is patently clear to Nathan and his peers that the TMT needs help with its communications.

As he explained: “A set of messages came out of a meeting in February this year that were, frankly, a source of great concern. This workshop has enabled us to meet the real people behind those messages. And we came away with, as Susan MacMillan (ILRI) put it, a sense that the TMT members are ready for primetime in terms of their personalities, but not in terms of their messaging. I think they now know that they’ve got a valuable resource, a group of professional communications people in the Centers who understand their predicament and who are willing to help them, at their disposal. I feel they respect the professional advice we’ve given them. So I think that was a great outcome.”

Walking a tightrope

As one of the workshop organizers, Nathan knew from the outset that the dialog sessions would need careful planning.

“From the time we began organizing this meeting, Laura Ivers, Simone Staiger-Rivas, I and others realized that it was going to be a balancing act,” he said. “On the one hand, we had some strategic communications issues versus some very specific communications business that needs to be done. And on the other hand, we had the urgent and immediate communications needs of the TMT versus the just as urgent communications needs of the entire CGIAR and the Centers that these communication specialists work for. I think we have struck a balance so far. We’ve addressed all those things in equal measure. As for the TMT, they were royally pleased with what they got out of this. And they were glad that we were able to deal with their business, our business and also the broader business of communications in the CGIAR. We’re not done yet, but we’re on the right track. It’s a good start.”

The feel-good factor

After the communication specialists had said goodbye to the TMT at the end of the second dialog session, the collective excitement in the room was palpable. Nathan puts the group’s success down to team work.

“It was certainly a group effort,” he said. “There was no star player who did a slam dunk of some sort. It was the collective body of advice from the communication people that did it. Personally, I feel pretty good. I really didn’t know what we were walking into before this workshop. I knew that we wanted to discuss a lot of issues that are somewhat sensitive, about which people feel strongly. Some people felt angry about the way those issues had been handled in the past. And I’m pleased that, despite the risks involved, the whole mood and flow of the meeting has been positive.

A group with no name

Despite the fact that the one mechanism that had enabled the communication specialist to act collectively (the Marketing Group) has been debilitated in recent years, the group is optimistic about their collective future.

“One of the reasons some of us are here, myself included, is to revive the Marketing Group,” explained Nathan. “Some people think that it’s a corpse. Others think it’s in a coma. And yet others think it’s just stepped out for a while; it’s in exile but it’s coming back. I would like to see it come back, under some new name, under some new arrangement, but with the essence of it intact. We still have a chance to do that.”

Klaus von Grebmer

Klaus von Grebmer

During the recent CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia, Klaus von Grebmer, Director of Communications, IFPRI, spoke about the need to implement collective communications activities among the CGIAR Centers. In an interview conducted at the conclusion of the first day of the event, he elaborated further.

“To illustrate my point,” he said, “take the recent food price crisis. The public had three questions during this crisis: What is happening? Why is it happening? What can be done to mitigate the effects or ensure that it does not happen again? IFPRI responded quickly and effectively to this situation and was also able to coordinate with some other Centers to get certain key messages out to the public, but the task was really too big for this core group alone.”

Although the key messages were available and accessible to everyone in the CGIAR System, Klaus does wonder if they couldn’t have gained even more mileage if all the Centers had pooled resources and amplified these messages in their respective regions and from the point of view of their own areas of expertise.

“If there is an expert organization on agriculture in this world, it’s clearly the CGIAR,” he said. “It needs to coordinate and pool its resources on occasions like this one to provide clear messages and respond quickly to questions from the public.”

Focus on the System
A System-wide communications strategy would also require staff to be more outward-looking.

“Currently, only a few Centers seem to care about the reputation of the CGIAR,” explained Klaus. “If you want to promote the System, then you have to promote System activities and System media events. If you are too Center-focused, then the System suffers. This was something I also experienced when I chaired the Marketing Group. I saw a discrepancy between authority, responsibility, and accountability. Some communications colleagues didn’t deliver on collaborative work because they felt they would be acknowledged more for the work they did for their own Centers than for the work they did for the System.”

Still, Klaus feels the new CGIAR has an opportunity to address the current lack of a collective communications strategy.

“Presently, the Transition Management Team responsible for revitalizing the CGIAR is mostly focusing on the development of content, such as the mega programs,” he said. “This is natural and very important, but the next area of focus must be on a System-wide communications strategy. You can have the best research in the world, but if the results are not communicated to the right audience, they will not have any impact. It is negligence to invest in research without appropriate investments in communications. If the System wants to enhance and maintain its leadership role in agricultural research, it is vital for it to communicate its research effectively to its key stakeholders, and also to its donors.”

From the length and breadth of the CGIAR they came, communication experts eager to be reunited as a group and keen to examine collective possibilities together. Despite their obvious enthusiasm, though, many of them admitted to a certain cynicism about another item on their agenda: a dialog session with the Transition Management Team (TMT) charged with overseeing the revitalization of the CGIAR . Such was the mood as day two of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop began in Penang, Malaysia.

All of the core members of the TMT were present at the meeting: Stephen Hall (CGIAR Alliance Executive Chair, Director General, WorldFish Center), Mark Holderness (Executive Director, Global Forum for Agricultural Research), Jonathan Wadsworth (Senior Agriculture Research Advisor, Department for International Development, UK), and Ren Wang (CGIAR Director).

Ren Wang got things underway with a brief overview of the strategic objectives of the new CGIAR. Then Ellen Wilson, Burness Communications, kicked off the Q&A session by asking the first question.

Who asked for this reform?
Jonathon Wadsworth: The call for change in the CGIAR was largely driven by a shift among key members of the donor community who feel that the CGIAR could and should do more but that the complexity of the current System undermines efficiency and effectiveness. Indeed, under the present System, donors are not harmonized and long-term funding is not guaranteed. Although the two previous CGIAR attempts at reform failed, the new change initiative is tackling these issues head on.

Ellen Wilson: “Is this a more profound reform, then?”

Jonathan Wadsworth: “It is the first one with legs. The other reforms were very academic and looked good on paper, but there was no real systematic follow-through.”

The floor was then turned over to the participants. The following are some of the questions and answers from that session:

What’s being eliminated from the old (present) CGIAR?
Jonathan Wadsworth: Some things in the present CGIAR will be replaced to make the System more efficient. The component parts that make up the CGIAR won’t necessarily change, but how they fit together will. Also, the way in which the CGIAR functions as a System needs to be streamlined and clearly defined.

Stephen Hall: There’s a leadership vacuum in the CGIAR: the whole notion of strategic leadership is missing. It’s not yet known exactly how the 15 Centers will fit together into a collective whole, but what is known is that by working together there will be less individual scrounging around for resources in the future.

Ren Wang: We are still developing the Consortium and don’t have all the answers. The ultimate goal of this reform or change is not to reduce the number of Centers, it’s to improve the competence of the System. The number of committees will be reduced; the reporting process for M&E will be more harmonized; and the accountability framework of the Fund and the System will be simplified.

What are the major risk factors that could possibly derail the change process?
Stephen Hall: Establishing the centralized Fund, a process that could affect cash flow at the Centers, obviously involves a certain amount of risk. However, the TMT is working to develop plans for the transition to ensure funding will not be disrupted while the new CGIAR becomes fully functional.

Scientists are not onboard, because the reform is not clear. How will they get their research funds?
Stephen Hall: We don’t even know the answer to that ourselves yet. We do know that we will ensure their work is not negatively affected by the transition and that a driver for the reform is to build a well-resourced and exciting research agenda that attracts and retains the best scientists in the world. As this becomes clearer and the reform changes start having a tangible impact on the research agenda, scientists will certainly be brought onboard.

What’s the partners’ take on the reform initiative?
Mark Holderness: The key risk is “business as usual.” Partners are not satisfied with the CGIAR’s impact or value when it comes to meeting partner demands. There are other players emerging, such as those in Brazil, India, and China, who are enabling national development outcomes. The CGIAR needs to recognize that there is a bigger game going on out there and it needs to be player. Partners want to see a CGIAR that is more open and more partnership-based; a System that focuses on development outcomes and not just technological fixes and research outcomes.

Are donors still behind the CGIAR despite the Financial Crisis?
Stephen Hall: The donors are expecting the CGIAR to change and if there isn’t change, regardless of a Financial Crisis, there may be some donors who will reconsider their funding position.

Jonathan Wadsworth: Several donors are sending out positive funding signs. During the Food Price Crisis before the Financial Crisis, world leaders committed to funding agriculture and doubling funding for the CGIAR. Meeting this ambitious target might be difficult during the Financial Crisis and may take longer, but CGIAR change is critical to strengthen the inflow of resources.

Won’t a more centralized structure stifle initiatives/research and create more bureaucracy?
Stephen Hall: Yes, if it’s not done well. But it’s not likely – that’s why we need leadership.

What about the role of communications in the new CGIAR?
Jonathan Wadsworth: Although the CGIAR has orphaned communications in some respects, people are increasingly aware of the crucial role it can play. At DfID, we’re doubling our spending on research across the board, with 20% allocated for communications.

Mark Holderness: The CGIAR has great potential for communicating what needs to be done and changed. Right now, communications are fragmented because most activities are carried out Center by Center. So we need to have a message on the role of international agricultural research – and there are some very important messages that need to go out. Let’s think big, otherwise, it’s not just the CGIAR that won’t get investments. The knee- jerk reaction to the Food Crisis has been seed and fertilizers, with not much focus on long-term needs.

Stephen Hall: When we talk about “the voice of the Consortium,” we are referring to communications.

What messages should we take to the Centers?
Stephen Hall: There’s a continuum or spectrum of expectation at the CGIAR Centers: there’s a wide range of people, some who care more and some who have interest in only specific aspects of the transition. We need communicators to help us figure out how to handle this divide.

We need to give real power to communications. It’s also okay to have doubts and not know everything.
Stephen Hall: We need a professional strategy for communications.

Jonathan Wadsworth: There seem to be issues with information sharing and communications across the System, with some information not flowing freely into Centers, which seem to be a bit Stone Age. The blockages to free access to information must be addressed.

Will WorldFish become a CGIAR office in Penang?
Stephen Hall: In terms of legal structure, it’s likely that WorldFish will continue as is. The Consortium will be “owned” by the Centers and be a single corporation driven by the Centers. It can be expected that the Center Boards will remain intact and the Directors General will likely go unchanged. Ideas on other structural changes will be considered later in the process, if appropriate.

Mark Holderness: Over time, the purpose of the Centers must be driven by their respective benefits, and we need to see how effective these institutions are. Centers need to be managed so they deliver according to their individual purposes.

At the end of the session, the participants came away with other questions that were in need of answers. Check back here to read one of the participant’s thoughts on this session, and find out what happened during a follow-up dialog the next day!

Day one of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop kicked off in earnest in Penang, Malaysia, with a history lesson of sorts. Chronicling the joint efforts of CGIAR communication specialists over the last two decades, Collective Communications in the CGIAR: A short history of a longstanding effort elicited a lively discussion among participants, some of whom were around when the Public Awareness Association (PAA) was established way back in 1988.

Ruth Raymond

Ruth Raymond

Ruth Raymond, Head of Public Awareness Unit, Bioversity International, recalls the early days of the Association and its role with Future Harvest.

“The PAA supported an attempt to rebrand the CGIAR System,” she explains. “It established a small office in the CGIAR Secretariat that was tasked with promoting the work of the Centers under the new brand of Future Harvest. As a result, each of the Centers became a Future Harvest Center. For example, IRRI became known as ‘IRRI, a Future Harvest Center’. Although we kept the formal acronym of the CGIAR, the Centers were promoted collectively under the new brand.”

As the Chair of the PAA from 1998 to 2002, Ruth was active during the establishment of the Marketing Group, which succeeded the PAA.

“In 2002, the PAA merged with the Resource Mobilization Network (RMN) to become the Marketing Group,” she says. “This arose from a recognition that the resource mobilization people and the communications people needed to collaborate and coordinate their efforts since the activities are (or should be) dependent on each other. So the PAA and RMN started meeting together during the annual CGIAR meetings. Then we had a big meeting in Annapolis in 2001, where we decided that we would merge the two groups and become the Marketing Group.”

The rise
At the time the Marketing Group was created, there was a good relationship between Future Harvest and the CGIAR Centers.

“Future Harvest was helping the Centers get their stories into the media” explains Ruth. “The Centers were working together on a lot of different projects and often attended major international conferences representing the System. Although this did not discourage individual Centers from promoting their own roles, it told the outside world that we were a system: an alliance of scientists working together to support agriculture research for the benefit of the people. We appreciated the association with Future Harvest: the name is easy to remember and has a certain ring to it, unlike the alphabet soup of Centre acronyms.”

The fall
Although Future Harvest was successful in raising awareness of the Centers’ work, the initiative was to be short-lived

”For a time, Future Harvest had strong support throughout the System. Certainly, the communications specialists in the Centers appreciated the support they received from the initiative. But the overall support seems to have been more personal than institutional and it was questioned by new donors and managers coming into the System who had not been involved in the design and development of the new brand. Many donors identified closely with the CGIAR brand. Also, there was a feeling that Future Harvest should have led to additional resources coming into the System following its success at awareness raising. We were probably overly optimistic about how quickly that would happen.”

With support ebbing, it was only a matter of time before Future Harvest was forced to close down operations. The apparent lack of support for collective action under Future Harvest led the Marketing Group to lose its way, and some Centers didn’t see the benefit anymore of being part of the Group, so they backed out altogether.

“It was heartbreaking for those of us who had worked for years to try to get Future Harvest and the Marketing Group up and running,” Ruth says of that time. “The resource mobilization people never really integrated themselves with the communications people and vice-versa. Despite the obvious link between the two areas, coordination is still lacking in many Centers. In some cases, they are still in different silos and don’t talk to each other nearly enough. It’s not a fight that’s easy to win.”

The future
“There is formally a Marketing Group, but other than sharing information and experiences on a listserv, we really don’t do anything much together anymore. I hope that as a result of this workshop we can come to some sort of an agreement on how collective communications will work in the future, because I feel there are real benefits from working together.”

Twittering away...

Twittering away...

Attending a workshop in a time zone vastly different from your own can often tax your powers of concentration, especially when you have to participate in an afternoon session after a heavy lunch. Full stomachs and jet lag can lead to diminished attention spans, putting pressure on facilitators and presenters to come up with ways of re-energizing participants.

Someone who certainly knows how to deal with post-lunch fatigue in others, even while combating her own jet lag, is workshop facilitator extraordinaire Simone Staiger-Rivas, who successfully led day one of the CGIAR Strategic Communications Workshop in Penang, Malaysia.

In a lively half-hour lunchtime session, Simone introduced participants to Twitter and Yammer, social media tools that can a have huge impact on the way we communicate our work to colleagues, friends and the world.

Simone excitedly recounted a recent experience with Twitter, a real-time short messaging service that works over the web or mobile phone.

“Last week, I conducted a seminar at CIAT on social media entitled Let’s Really Go Online! The Potential of Social Media for Improving Organizational, Project and Personal Impact,” she said. I was a little disappointed because only 20 people came to this face-to-face meeting.

“However, prior to the meeting, I’d uploaded the presentation onto SlideShare, a Website for sharing presentations, and put the link on my Twitter and Facebook pages, and also on my Skype Status tab. By 3:00 pm that day, just before I gave the presentation at CIAT, 20 people had seen the presentation online, and I’d received about nine comments on Facebook.”

By the following afternoon, more than 180 people had viewed the slide show, and Simone began to get really excited.

“My Twitter contacts, some of whom have a huge number of followers, had ‘re-tweeted’ the link to the presentation, sharing it with all their contacts. And that was the beginning of a snowball effect. Then two days later, almost 300 hundred people had seen the presentation.”

Three days after the CIAT seminar, more than 400 people had viewed Simone’s presentation, with seven bookmarking it as a favourite. As a result of the number of hits her presentation received on SlideShare, the site listed the slideshow under the ‘Technology’ section, giving it even more prominence.

Now, 400 isn’t an enormous number, but when you compare it to the number of people who attended the face-to-face session, it’s huge.

Yammer

Simone also talked about the usefulness of Yammer, often called Twitter for organizations. Like Twitter, Yammer is a micro-blogging service that allows users to post short messages (140 characters maximum) and follow updates from others. Unlike Twitter, Yammer focuses on work-related networks comprising users with the same organizational email address. Yammer users can update colleagues on events or ask each other questions without clogging e-mail inboxes. Users can also search Yammer to find people working in similar fields and subscribe to RSS feeds on a specific topic.

Participant Mike Listman, CIMMYT, was excited about the possibilities of such social media tools after listening to Simone’s demonstration. “I’d never heard of Yammer until today, but I’ll certainly get my team to explore how we can use it in our work,” he said.

Ellen Wilson, Senior Vice President, Burness Communications, on the other hand, is already a convert. She and her colleagues, who are spread across four different offices, use Yammer regularly to update each other on their respective activities, share cool articles, and answer work-related questions.

“If you are reluctant to use services like Yammer, the messages can also be sent to your email account,” said Ellen.

Such was the enthusiasm for Yammer that the CGIAR communication specialists attending the workshop have decided to establish their own Yammer group.

This not the first time Twitter has been highlighted during a CGIAR event. The ICT-KM Program conducted a training session on the tool during the recent Share Fair held in Rome.

Please visit the Program’s Twitter by clicking here!