In July 2008 the Institutional Knowledge Sharing (IKS) Project commissioned RE4D.net to conduct an independent evaluation of the first phase (2004-2006) of the Knowledge Sharing project. This study assesses the results of the four pilot activities, illustrates the systemic impact of the project, and presents lessons distilled from the combined experience of KS professionals in six CGIAR centers.

The study used semi-structured, open-ended telephone interviews to gather feedback from 14 CGIAR staff and consultants who were involved in the first phase of the KS project or undertook similar initiatives at the same time. This anecdotal feedback was then categorized, allowing for a meaningful analysis of the benefits of the KS project and the challenges it faces.

The study issues three major recommendations:

1. Common front for change initiatives
The various initiatives promoting innovation, learning, KS, and change in the CGIAR should develop a common advocacy strategy enabling them to insert key messages into organizational development processes. The aim of this strategy should be to generate commitment at the top end of the hierarchy to those interlinked issues in order to increase impact.

2. Show benefits better, specifically for senior scientists
The challenge for the KS community is to lower the threshold of KS for first-time users and to change the perception of KS as time-consuming. Furthermore, senior scientists are a powerful constituency with the potential to obstruct new KS initiatives. They often have little to gain from KS and other participatory techniques because they already have a voice and a network. To increase senior scientist buy-in and therefore impact the impact of KS, the KS community needs to make more obvious to senior scientists the benefits of the initial investment.

3. Work on definition
The KS community should invest time to define the fundamental concepts of knowledge sharing so as to create a specific body of knowledge on KS and establish it as a separate discipline.

10 Key Lessons summarize the project learnings that have been reinforced and worked upon since then in project phase 2.

  1. When introducing KS, start with a small project and with people willing to experiment. Getting early wins and finding the right people in the right context is important.
  2. A successful intervention needs funds as well as explicitly mandated staff with the right skills and enough time to do the work.
  3. Without a specific focus, a KS initiative will grow beyond what is feasible to manage. Setting the initiative’s scope is important.
  4. KS enables us to pay attention to how we interact with each other and creates spaces where people can be heard.
  5. Formulating strategies using KS principles, tools, and methods allows staff to engage in the process and gives them a sense ownership of the results. This in turn ensures continuity in institutional cultures and facilitates the management of change.
  6. To successfully communicate KS principles and methods to scientists, practitioners need to show how KS can contribute to their research organization’s objectives.
  7. KS works best when applied simultaneously at the grass roots and the leadership level. Senior management buy-in is critically important for integrating KS principles, methods and tools into meetings.
  8. KS tools are not enough. To be successful, the KS Project needs champions to advocate for it and continue the work.
  9. It is important to build institutional capacity in KS principles and methods. In-house expertise will increase effectiveness of meetings and lead to mainstreaming KS within the institution.
  10. KS works best when it is integrated into the organization’s overall business plan, alongside communications and other activities, not as a separate department.

Download the full report

The Spider Diagram method is a “quick and dirty” way to get a useful snapshot about how participants evaluate a workshop. Use it along with interviews and if necessary in addition to a more formal survey. It allows you to give participants an immediate visual impression of the group’s thinking related to an event.

We used it this time to get an idea of how the group felt about the accomplishment of the workshop objectives and the different sessions of this 3 ½ day event.

Did we accomplish what we planned to do?

  • “Identify a set of story ideas”: Definitively yes.
  • “Identify means, incentives, and opportunities to strengthen collective communications”: participants agree that this was achieved “more or less”.
  • “Develop a work plan for 2009 collective communications”; And “Provide input into the CGIAR Reform”: Some say yes, some say more or less.

How did the different sessions go?

  • The two opportunities of a dialogue with the Transition Management Team where highly appreciated and got the best rankings.

The group appreciated almost equally:

  • The River of Life where Nathan Russell, with the help of many long time members of the group, reviewed the history of the different attempts of collective communication actions in the CGIAR.
  • The Speed Open Space where participants could share and learn more about other’s peoples work and ideas in 20 minute parallel sessions.
  • The presentation by Helen Leitch (WorldFish) on the results of WorldFish’s CGIAR center survey on Communications.

Another group of similar and positive rated sessions were:

  • The story development session led by Jeff Hawskins from Burness Communications.
  • The collective effort to set up and prioritize a work plan for 2009.

The one single session that received mixed evaluation was the Samaon Circle on Communications in the New CGIAR. Was it because of the topic or the format of the session? This is something we still need to figure out.

Social, Logistics (thanks WorldFish) and facilitation got very positive rankings.

The last week of the online phase of the KS Workshop offered an opportunity to continue discussions about KS tools and methods. We also started reflections about the workshop experience, invited participants to take an evaluation survey, and offered an additional conference call with our guest Sophie Alvarez on Participatory Pathways Approaches (PIPA).

In the weekly conference calls we reviewed the network mapping exercise, and asked for participant’s interest in specific tools and methods to explore further in the Rome face-to-face meeting next week. Here is a summary of one of the call sessions: Many found the network maps really useful: “it is good to have it as a visual.” “It was the best workshop lesson because it showed the weaknesses and what I can do better to involve others” “It was good but now I have difficulties to relate the map with the tools” “It was great to do it with my colleagues” are some of the reactions. We also learnt an interesting unexpected use of the map: As an induction to a newcomer in the project team, or as a way to explain an organization, a project or a team during a recruitment process.  For the upcoming workshop in Rome, many tools are on the list of desired hands on sessions and explorations: wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, tagging, Content Management Systems, but also communities of practice, World Cafés and After Action Reviews. Among the facilitators we decided to organize a 1 ½ day Open Space session to allow detailed exploration of all those topics in small groups. 

A Conference call on Participatory Impact Pathway Approaches (PIPA)
The call was joined by 6 curious workshop participants and our special guest was Sophie Alvarez who works with the PIPA team out of CIAT, Cali, Colombia. Without getting into the details of the PIPA methodology (see ILAC brief for that), what I most highlighted for myself was that PIPA tries to bring to the surface the mental models, the perspectives of the stakeholders about how their project might achieve impact. PIPA combines elements of classic project planning with social network analysis and appreciative inquiry.

First reflections on online phase of the workshop
Here are some of the very first and fresh reactions as the online phase is ending:I have appreciated the first four weeks of the Workshop. Alternately, I have felt overwhelmed and enthusiastic.

  • I thought that the resource library (imark lessons, screencasts and podcasts) was very useful and I liked that I could go back to things at my own pace.
  • The support facilitators was really a positive aspect .
  • I loved it.
  • A few little disappointments: 1) Skype connection from work was horrible.  2) Skype teleconferencing was just not my thing. I had nothing to look at so my attention drifted. 3) I found the KS toolkit didn’t go into enough detail.
  • The interactions with all of you were great and enriching. I had lots of fun trying out some of the tools and blogging on my learning log.
  • This is a great community that has been emerging.
  • I am hoping that while the Phase 1 workshop officially ends this week, we can still use the F2F and online to move to that more strategic bit. To take all the good work of the maps and thinking about purpose and people and map those tools and processes in a holistic way

More to come soon about the participant’s evaluation of this event.

Last but not least we went through an evaluation of the workshop. As a way to share reflections and to crystallize trends, we asked participants to reflect individually and answer three questions, then to share those answers in pairs and finally in groups of four.
When asked what was useful for them from the last three days, participants highlighted the relational aspects: Learning with peers, meeting and working with people who have similar problems, networking… those have been primary positive and useful aspects of the workshop. Participants also appreciated learning about methods and tools. The Peer assist methodology was mentioned several times, as well as the hands-on sessions about tools.
The second question was about things that our group still wants to learn more about, and this are: tools, tools, and more tools. The use of RSS feeds is a real learning need for many participants. But our colleagues are also intrigued to learn more about some methods, like facilitation techniques, and approaches related to monitoring and evaluation, and impact assessment, specifically of KS approaches.
When asked “What would you do differently in the workshop based on your experience of the last three days?” participants gave us the principle suggestion to have more time to explore tools, and if possible hands-on (which requires internet connection ;-).

Evaluations questions

A short talk during the morning break with Peter Shelton from IFPRI about his perception of yesterday:

Our small group discussions worked really well where we went through our projects and we identified pertinent questions, and issues related to each others projects and then from there we went through the SWOT analysis. Doing that collectively was a great exercise.
So far the workshop has been really good. The time for preparing our project posters and 2-minute presentations was too short. We focused then mostly on our posters to get the finished and couldn’t really listen to the other presentations. But so far I really enjoyed it.

Peter Shelton