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.


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!

On the SciDevNet website Opinions section today- there is an interesting article entitled ‘Scientists: wake up and communicate!’ from Valerie Corfield–read article below.
This brings up alot of the same issues being discussed in the CGIAR currently in terms how can we find ways to both interact better with stakeholders in our research process, but also importantly how can we find better ways to communicate and share the valuable knowledge generated from research with stakeholders that can and should make use of it.
This is something that the Knowledge Sharing in Research project of the CGIAR ICT-KM Program has been working on learning about and promoting.

Valerie Corfield calls for researchers to become ‘communicating scientists’.  How can we do this in the CGIAR as well?

‘Scientists: wake up and communicate!’

12 February 2009


Communicating scientists must share their knowledge beyond academia

Researchers in developing nations must become ‘communicating scientists’, sharing their knowledge beyond academia, says Valerie Corfield.

As scientists, most of us accept that ‘engagement’ activities, like keeping policymakers informed of science and technology advances and stimulating science curiosity in the young, are essential for developing a technologically-literate society. We cannot afford to work in isolation from our colleagues and from public and policy arenas.

Yet, my personal experience in South Africa shows that communicating scientists are often lone voices, unable to expand, or sometimes even sustain, their efforts.

For South Africa, this is partly because our recent political history has promoted a top-down approach to science communication, with little funding for public communication activities.

This emphasis on research without dissemination to a wider audience has helped foster long-lasting inequalities in education.

Until recently, as in many developing countries, incentives for scientists to become involved in or to sustain communication initiatives have been almost totally lacking.

Changing attitudes

But gradually, following other countries’ leads, and international donors increasing requirements to translate research into results for the general public, South Africa’s national funding bodies have begun to ask scientists how they will get their findings ‘back to the community’.

A growing number of success stories illustrate this change in attitude. For example, a tuberculosis initiative supported by the South African National Research Foundation has run informative, interactive and fun sports days for communities in the Western Cape. The foundation now provides some funding for outreach and communication.

The annual SciFest Africa and nationwide science weeks organised by the South African Department of Science and Technology are also promoting engagement between scientists, science communicators and even some politicians. Science centres and festivals can serve as intermediaries and are excellent ways to establish sustainable opportunities for dialogue between scientists and the public.

Of course, some branches of science offer more opportunities to engage the public than others. Charismatic animals, for example, catch people’s imaginations and can be used to help examine broader environmental and global issues. Successful public engagement here has included research on leopard toads, dolphins, tortoises and even sharks and vultures.

Other topics have more direct appeal to policymakers, for example research relevant to freshwater resources, food and public health. In such areas, scientists are well-placed to present the latest thinking and give informed advice. The South African Medical Research Council now recognises this and is encouraging its scientists to publish relevant evidence-based policy documents, making these a performance measure linked to bonuses and promotion.

The way forward

But how can we build on these efforts? Scientists must become proactive, and form a network of contacts beyond their own academic brotherhood. And they should recognise the value of science intermediaries, such as science centres and funding agencies’ research translation offices.

They must establish a lobby group to make institutions and government recognise the value of sharing research in accessible language.

They must also raise awareness of the need for grants and awards to fund engagement activities.

Equally importantly, to become communicating scientists, researchers must help others to spread the word. This means training ‘home-language facilitators’ — for example, staff at science centres who are fluent in a local language like Zulu. It also means attending science communication conferences to present research to science communicators — those who study the science of communicating science but who may not practice the methods.

They should also tell their more traditional audiences, at research-based science conferences, about their successful engagement activities.

Above all, being a communicating scientist means being cooperative — for example, by exploring new, sustainable ‘share-ware’ resources that can be borrowed or stored electronically for duplication. Successful communicating scientists do not selfishly guard their own successes — for example, when invited to speak to politicians, they use the opportunity to provide a list of other communicating scientist speakers on a range of relevant topics.

Communicating scientists in the developing world: it’s time to wake up, find each other and get involved!

Valerie Corfield is an associate professor at the US/MRC Centre for Molecular and Cellular Biology in the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.

ICARDA’s International Farmers’ Conference is featured in the June 2008 edition of the PRGA newsletter.

The newsletter also has some other interesting articles .

The second call for proposals from DFID’s Research into Use group is strongly linked to the Knowledge Sharing in Research project objectives, activities and knowledge being generated. The call focuses on proposals that look to use novel communication and/or public-private partnerships to move vital research into use.

These two areas are also being explored in the Knowledge Sharing in Research project, especially through the Pilot projects, to identify appropriate, useful and valuable approaches and lessons to help guide CGIAR centres, Program, projects and activities on communicating(sharing) their research results and also engaging in collaborative activities and partnerships better-with the aim of improving impact of research.

Examples of novel communication efforts being explored and learned about in KSinR can be seen in:

  • IWMI Wastewater Pilot project using radio programs, training videos, flip charts, Farmer Field School and Catering School curricula as avenues for getting research results across to various target groups
  • ICARDA’s Pilot Project held a Farmers’ Conference for farmers to share their knowledge and experiences and also facilitated sharing of research and farmer knowledge via stories shared through videos sent on cell phones
  • IRRI’s Pilot Project is compiling research results, technologies and knowledge into carefully formatted ‘packets’ in a Rice Knowledge Bank and training extension agents to access and use these for work with farmers in the Lao northern uplands

An example of public-private partnerships and partnerships more broadly being explored and learned about in KSinR can be seen in:

Extracts from the call can be found below and also at:

The second Research Into Use (RIU) call for proposals is for the African Innovation Challenge Fund (African ICF). The purpose of the fund is to provide financial support to teams so they can take promising research, funded by DFID, to the next stage of use. The selected initiatives will contribute to RIU’s purpose by delivering significant use of Renewable Natural Resources Research Strategy (RNRRS) programme research and other natural resources research outputs for the benefit of poor men and women in different contexts.

The focus of this second call will be on Africa and also on two key elements which DFID/Research into Use feel are critical in getting research into use and from which lessons can be drawn for decision makers. These two elements are:

  • novel communication methods
  • public-private partnerships

both of which can stimulate the use of natural resource technologies and processes produced by DFID research activities for the benefit of large numbers of people.

The RIU Innovation Challenge Fund Africa will focus on the following countries in sub Saharan Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa plus three Francophone countries – Senegal, Mali and Niger.

The theme of today’s blogging is “Why 2 Web 2.0” and we invite you to post any comments, responses, ideas or thoughts on this particular topic whether you are attending the Web 2.0 for Dev conference or not.

– Do want to or need to share information and knowledge with others?

-Do you work in or with a team that is geographically dispersed? Do you need something to help with communication, working together and sharing with this dispersed team?

-Do you want to improve and increase collaboration with others?

Web 2.0 is a new era of electronic, virtual, online tools and applications which move beyond static posting, managing and sharing of knowledge. Web 2.0 introduces new opportunities for interaction, collaboration, networking, and multi-dimensional sharing.

Have you ever used a blog to have a discussion?

What about a wiki for collaboration on projects with dispersed teams and partners?

There have been a lot of successes in the use of these tools to open up the globe and its people to the vast amount of valuable knowledge in written, visual, audio, video, and interaction with people formats.

So why 2 web 2.0? Because it offers potential for greater, wider, more effective, more efficient, and more participatory working and living.

Why not to web 2.0? Does everybody have the infrastructure, the connectivity, the capacity or even the desire to use these tools?

What do YOU think?

Stay tuned…

Today, Tuesday 25th September is Day 1 of the Web2.0forDev conference taking place at FAO HQ in Rome. The focus of this conference, being held in the midst of the E-Agriculture week is learning about, experiencing and exploring participatory web for development.

Along with other organisations, the CGIAR is helping to organise this interesting and innovative conference. The CGIAR is widely represented at this conference, with 5 presentations being given by CGIAR people, attendance by many IT and IM managers from various centres, as well as other projects from the CGIAR ICT-KM program.

There are people and organisations from around the globe and from various sectors, coming together to share knowledge and experiences of the use of web 2.0 tools in and for development.

To share with others out there the CGIAR representatives here plan to use this blog to present some of the ideas, discussions and approaches featuring in this conference.

Join us each day on this blog, where we will explore a different angle of Web2.0 for Dev:

Tuesday 25th Sept (Day 1)—Why 2 Web 2.0

Wednesday 26th Sept (Day2)—How to Web2.0

Thursday 27th Sept (Day 3)—Where 2 Web 2.0

Stay tuned…

I just finished facilitating a 4-day meeting for the IT Managers of the CGIAR: Around 16 participants (only one female participant) in mostly plenary settings. Some lessons learnt or confirmed:

  • It is so much better to be involved in the agenda setting… Making process suggestions during the meeting is difficult, and setting a different tone as well.
  • The people who talk little are definitively more at ease in small group discussions.
  • When a session is “only” for information sharing, there is not really much a facilitator can do.
  • Facilitating highly technical specialized conversations is a challenge.

And last week I facilitated an Open Space session for the Water and Food Challenge Program (CPWF) with only 12 participants, who gathered in 8 sessions during the morning, then prioritized three issues and moved forward to outline related synthesis papers. Lessons learnt:

  • Open Space works really well, also in small groups.
  • The reporting back can be a real stimulator and time-saver.
  • Facilitate a one-day portion of a longer workshop makes it difficult to reach closure.