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.

Although we like to look fresh and current, this isn’t the driving force behind the present revamp of the ICT-KM Program’s website. Our focus continues to be on providing our audience with an easy-to navigate, content-rich site. You won’t find any unnecessary bells and whistles on the soon-to-be-launched site, but you will be able to locate content with ease, take advantage of our interactive features, and follow what we do.

The new site, along with our blog (currently free and hosted at wordpress.com), will soon be relocated to our own WordPress content management system (CMS). But don’t worry; we’ll still be reachable at ictkm.cgiar.org. The move means that our blog will be more visible and accessible than it is presently, with information about us and what we do cross-linked and cross-promoted across the site.  In short, the new site will revolve around the blog, with lots of shortcuts to the social media we use the most, pictures, videos, twitter, etc. – all of which represent our overall approach to communication, outreach, being out there and interacting with like-minded people. Visitors will also be able to leave comments about the site content and contribute to the blog. This is the fun part of this new adventure.

However, our job is not just going to be more fun, it’s also going to be a whole lot easier for us behind the scenes. We are a small team at the Program, so we look forward to doing our housekeeping in one place, instead of managing two sites ( ictkm.cgiar.org and ictkm.wordpress.com). The CMS also means that will be faster and more accurate in keeping the site’s ‘stable’ content clean and fresh.

We’re all stat junkies at the Program, so we just love the idea that we’ll also be able to monitor and analyze traffic all at once.  This means, we’ll instantly gain more insight into how we’re doing on the Web and make adjustments accordingly.

What more could we possibly want? Well, we do have a little wish list:

  • an even more loyal audience (not that we’re complaining about our present followers)
  • more involvement from our audience in commenting, reviewing and sharing what we publish
  • more visibility and attribution for our blog authors, who are going to have more space to express themselves

With the help of you, our audience, we hope to realize this list.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new site later this month. Check back soon for news of our launch date!

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).

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. 

 

Chances are, you’ve used maps not only to find place or location, but also to explore an area based on a theme or criteria. For example, “I want to eat Korean food in Rome”. Where to eat Korean food in Rome is the geographic extent to a set of criteria to find what I want for planning my evening: Where Korean restaurants are located, when are they open, how are their ratings (reviews), what is the nearest public transportation to get me there and take me home, and do they take credit cards. I recently put this search to the test with an earth browser, and I must say I had a splendid night out!

The CGMap team is gearing up for the release of research plans to the world via KML, the Open Geospatial Consortium international standard for the geographic annotation and visualization in earth browsers, mobile maps, and Web-based maps. CGMap is the epitome of ICT-KM’s ‘Triple A’ approach, and once CGMap lands on the Web’s engines through KML, the project plans in CGMap will have an even greater Accessibility and Applicability potential.

Google Map Search for CIMMYT Projects

Search engines will now have geographic coordinates of the who, what, and where of CGIAR research. This means that searching for ‘maize and wheat genetic research’ will give results on CIMMYT projects, along side other relevant sources, like FAO.

Google Earth Sample Overlay CGIAR Projects with Koppen Climate Classification

Scientists, researchers and beyond … investors, partners … who use tools like Google Earth to study and plan activities will be able to build scenarios which provide a more intelligent context to their research. For example, a researcher using an earth browser to plan maize and wheat genetic research activities will be able to focus on any geographical region/location, search for maize and wheat genetic research, see results, add layers of required data (e.g: the Köppen climate classification), and save the scenario built on the fly.

Who is doing What and Where in the CGIAR?

From my first day with the ICT-KM Program, this has been an underlying question and driving force in most of my work with the Program. CGMap, launched in late 2008, is the CGIAR’s prime source of MTPs, the Medium Term Plans in which CG Centers and Challenge Programs express both their strategy and coherence to the CGIAR objectives and priorities.

Recent posts on the Social Media Tools Series have shed light on how social media tools provide researchers a more effective landscape for the collaboration and dissemination of research information. Exploiting research projects geographically will give rise to sharing and collaborating by using CGMap’s existing resources, the CGIAR project plans (who is doing what and where).

Stay tuned for future landings on maps and earth browsers of the CGIAR’s Ongoing Research: Focus on Africa (a.k.a. Eastern and Southern Africa – ESA).

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.

webThis year CIAT’s annual meeting, also known as KS Week is … unfortunately a 6-day power point event but I must admit that the level of discussion is good and that people seem engaged.

The innovation comes this time from the documentation and reporting side. The visit from ICT-KM’s Enrica Porcari and Peter Ballantyne to promote availability and accessibility of research results came timely to get CIAT’s communications unit started in the use of social media tools.

CIAT has set up a Web page with links to several social media channels. Have a look at:

  • The photos. Neil Palmer recently joined CIAT as a public relations officer and proved to be a very talented photographer
  • The video interviews
  • The presentations and more then 100 posters that are part of an exhibition
  • The blog, available in Spanish and English, where we collectively capture as many sessions as we can.

The communications staff is encouraged by the increasing number of visits: 600 in less then 3 days.

Congratulations CIAT!

Photo Credit: Neil Plamer, CIAT

Andy Jarvis

Andy Jarvis

An interview with Andy Jarvis, agricultural geographer, CIAT and Bioversity

Q: You say you have two “mantras.” What are they?

A: One is “crop wild relatives.” (Note: A crop wild relative (CWR) is the wild variety of a domesticated food crop.) When you look at the status of crop wild relatives, it’s actually very scary. They’re not conserved in the wild. And the degree of conservation in gene banks is appallingly low. Many have gone extinct already—and we have no idea what genes they might have had—for disease resistance, productivity, drought or salt tolerance….

At the same time, there’s exponential growth in the demand for and use of these genes through biotechnology. In the past, when you bred a wild crop relative with a cultivar you might get what you wanted—say disease resistance—but along with that came a tough seed coat or small pod or other things you don’t want. Now, you can use molecular markers to take just what you want.

Q: If they’re not in the genebanks, how do you find wild crop relatives?

A: We’ve been going through 30 major crop genepools, including beans, potatoes, wheat, rice, sorghum, cassava, some forages, coffee…. We collect all available information, through herbarium and genebank databases, of every point where wild crop relatives have been observed. Then we model the species distribution see what all these habitats have in common, to come up with suitability requirements.

So if, for instance, we know something exists in ten sites with these characteristics—where else in the world has those characteristics? That’s where you’re likely to find the species.

Q: For example…?

A: Geneticists were searching for wild chili peppers in Paraguay. We found records of 18 places with chili populations in the past, but they weren’t there any more, nor in collections So we modeled the conditions in the sites the botanists had described—and came up with 20 places with similar environments where people might look. It worked–they found the chilis in seven of those places.

In beans, there are 70-plus wild species, all in the Americas. There are 170-plus wild relatives of potatoes. But in lots of crops—maize being one of the most notable—there are just a few wild relatives left. Most of the species have been lost.

A massive global initiative is urgent for our major crops. That’s what the Global Crop Diversity Trust, housed at FAO, is trying to do.

Q: And the other mantra?

A: Climate change and crops. We’ve taken the 50 biggest crops, by area, and modeled how climate change will change their geography. After the biggest—rice, maize, wheat and a couple of others—no one has done this. We’re using a simple, niche-based approach: this crop grows in an environment with this rainfall and other characteristics, based on expert knowledge.

The shocking thing is that there are huge changes, for both 2020 and 2050. For instance, the models show that maize goes way down in Africa. But cassava gains area. Already, there’s anecdotal evidence of farmers shifting from maize to cassava or sorghum.

In a few areas farmers will lose all sorts of options. Maybe today they have 20 crop options; in the future, maybe they’ll only have 3. Some regions are in serious trouble: Southern Africa. Parts of Sahel. Eastern Brazil, northern Africa and the Mediterranean, including southern Europe.

But in East Africa—the rainy parts, such as most of Uganda—massive increases in rainfall are predicted. So farmers may have more choices. And they may be able to crop continuously. But the models show that pests and diseases also rise.

The bottom line is that everything’s changing, and quickly. The first users of climate-change information should be researchers themselves. Most agricultural research programs take at least 10 years to come to fruition out in the fields. So researchers need to target a 2020 world for their 2020 research results—not work toward better strategies for a 2009 world in 2020.

Q: Why do you call yourself a “promiscuous geographer?”

A: I use the same geographic tools—but apply them to all sorts of things: what we’ve been talking about, plus forest biodiversity, coffee quality, forage, threats to protected areas…. I’m interested in so many things, I seem to need to keep moving around.

You can hear Andy’s perspective on BBC Digital Planet – available at ICT-KM Blog on Famers’ productivity

CJ Terborgh 

 

CJ Terborgh

An interview with Carmelle J. Terborgh, Federal/Global Affairs team lead, ESRI at the Africa Geospatial technology for Agriculture week in Nairobi

Context:

Launched 40 years ago as a consulting and research firm, ESRI created the first commercial geographic information software, ArcInfo. Since then, geographical information system (GIS) solutions have found use in at least 40 industries– from environmental management to epidemiology; agriculture to transportation; disaster response to demining.

ESRI and the CGIAR centres enjoy a close and longstanding relationship. It’s easy to see how the CG benefits: The memorandum of understanding with ESRI provides CGIAR centres with a number of licenses for software, plus technical support, training and professional development opportunities for a fraction of their commercial cost.

In her interview, ESRI’s Carmelle Terborgh describes, among other things, the arrangement from her company’s point of view.

Q: Why focus on GIS?

A: Our founder and president, Jack Dangermond, likes to say: When humans first developed a microscope, we could see things smaller than we could otherwise. GIS is a “macroscope.” Now we can see bigger parts of the world than we could without it. You can only see 13 miles on flat terrain. But the macrosocope gives you a way to understand the world in a way you could never experience from one location. You can sit in Nairobi, say, and see the world.

Q: How do you view the CGIAR?

We want to support people working in agriculture, food security, livestock—their work is critical, and we can’t do it ourselves. We support a number of conservation, humanitarian, educational programs.

As far as the CGIAR goes, we feel honoured that CGIAR centres are using this.

Jack and Laura (Jack’s wife and VP) have a passion for seeing these tools applied for really good purposes. When you see a huge need, you just have to respond.

Q: Any big event coming up for geospatial specialists to get together?

A: We like to convene the people who are using our software and give them a forum. We host the ESRI International User Conference–this year it’s July 13-17 in San Diego. It’s a really good professional development opportunity for CG staff. Usually representatives from about five CG centres come.

A few years ago we focused on poverty mapping. I’d love to do another one focused on food security. That’s an offer we can make to the CG.

Q: What’s a favorite example of using GIS for agriculture?

A: One of our customers, USAID, had a project in Ghana called TIPCEE. It was really innovative in that they had women using GPS to go out and map the size of farmer fields. One thing they found was that plots were generally considerably smaller than people had thought. So farmers had been wasting money paying extra money for fertilizer and plowing. Also, they were buying too much fertilizer, so it was likely running off into the groundwater.

Another result was that since they had good maps of where the cash crops are grown, they had a better idea of where cooperatives and warehouses should be. Better location of those facilities could mean faster processing for export and shipment.

In addition, the maps helped them get organic certification by European markets. For that certification, you need a map to show you’re not, say, in a protected area, or surrounded by farms using chemicals.

Q: How did you get into this?

A: I’m a geography geek. When I was a kid, I used to read a Time Magazine atlas of the world at night, under the covers with a flashlight.

In college I was a forestry major –I wanted to be working out in the field. But then I developed horrible allergies to trees. So I went back to my first love and did my Master’s and PhD in geography.

Also…my father’s blind, and I think his lack of vision made me passionate about seeing the world. I got pretty good at describing the world to him as we walked together, and as we traveled. And geography is the art of describing our world.

Whitney Gantt

Whitney Gantt

Whitney Gantt

A Quick Win: Community Knowledge Workers in Uganda

AGCommons, the newly funded project coordinated by the CGIAR, is about getting the right farm information to the right person in the right place at the right time.

To jumpstart the effort, in December 2008 AGCommons challenged organizations to come up with a “Quick Win”: a product that would have real impact on the ground, useable within six to nine months.

The Grameen Technology Center, an initiative of the Grameen Foundation, is one of 5 recently announced winners out of 40 entries. Known for supporting microfinance programs across the world, Grameen Foundation also sponsors other wealth-creation ideas, including “Village Phone”. For this micro-enterprise, a villager takes out a loan, buys a phone, or rather a “business in a box”—and then allows everyone in the village to use the mobile for a small fee

“ Village Phone worked really well in 2001 when we started it, but began losing competitiveness as the cost of mobile phones dropped,” says Whitney Gantt, a Program Officer working with Grameen Technology Center. “But mobiles have much more potential for rural dwellers than just phone calls….”

Enter Grameen’s Quick Win solution.
First, Grameen is creating a network of Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). They will be the information “hubs” who connect agricultural and research institutions with farmers, and vice versa. They’ll have a mobile phone with either a camera or a camera and GPS.

Next comes figuring out the exact types of information farmers need—and how to collect, package, and deliver it through the CKW’s mobile devices. So, for instance, instead of calling an uncle in Kampala to ask about fertilizers, a farmer could ask a CKW, who would connect to the right data source and a have a site-specific answer.

One use of the CKW setup would be an early warning system for crop diseases. Banana diseases, for instance, create a huge drain on farmer income in Uganda, where bananas are a staple crop.

A farmer could call the CKW: “There’s a disease on my bananas.” The CKW motors or bikes to the farm, snaps a photo of the infected plant, and debriefs the farmer with a structured survey, already installed in the mobile. A few clicks send that info plus the exact location (in GPS coordinates) directly to the computers housing the database. As more surveys come in, an analysis of the disease’s whereabouts and progression comes back to the CKWs to distribute to the farmers—along with treatment or preventive actions to take.

And there’s more. “We want to create a suite of information products that CKWs can access and pass along to farmers,” says Whitney. These might include:

 Real-time information on markets and prices
 Where to buy high-quality seed and chemicals—plus information on improved seeds and how to use them
 A farmer hotline. Operators at a call center would answer technical questions using a database, or search on the internet—even connect directly to an expert if necessary. The call-center pilot will begin in early April
 A way for institutions and innovators to get news to farmers, e.g. on a new technique for growing organic coffee, or improved, drought-resistant seeds.

“My dream vision,” says Whitney, “is to see this network scaled up—one community knowledge worker per parish. And all functioning as a two-way info channel. Then farmers can overcome info barriers, increase productivity, get higher prices….

“One big challenge is gender. We have about one third women. But it’s not easy to find women to participate. They can get stuck on the farm with their duties. Or prevented by family members from attending meetings or trainings. How to ensure that this includes women and doesn’t exacerbate gender imbalances is a priority.

“I like how dynamic this is. There are a lot of different opportunities to create value with the farmers and CKWs. It’s not just one mobile application focused on markets. You have a system you can plug ideas into and test. If they work, great. If not, you move on to the next thing.”

The second day of the CSI and AGCommons workshop is now underway with a theme of  ‘Spatial Solutions’. The day will involve presentations from almost all of the CGIAR Centres plus other organisations who have come to participate in this event-all presenting the work they are doing in terms of finding spatial solutions.

During the presentations the participants have been asked to consider what the ‘big issues’ are that are coming out across  the clusters of presentations. Participants have been asked to write these on cards which will be grouped and put up on the wall throughout the day as a set of building blocks to guide the deliberations on what should be done as future activities.

Cluster 1:

  • Bioversity
  • CIAT
  • CIFOR
  • CIMMYT

Cluster 2:

  • CIP
  • ICARDA
  • ICIMOD
  • ICRAF
  • Alliance of CGIAR Centers

Cluster 3:

  • IFPRI
  • IITA
  • ILRI
  • IRRI
  • IWMI

Cluster 4:

  • WARDA
  • WorldFish
  • Other non-CSI presentations

To better facilitate discussion on a number of key topics, issues, opportunities, and action points for the Consortium for Spatial Information (CSI) Annual Meeting, we decided to use a World Cafe approach.

Six topics:

  1. Delivery platforms for Partners
  2. Revitalizing Outreach and Engagement
  3. Core data and tool priorities
  4. Atlas products
  5. Plug and P(l)ay Geospatial Services for CG Mega programs
  6. Enhancing the contribution of the Geospatial ‘Sector’ to Agricultural Development

The participants had to choose only 4 of the 6 topics that they would want to discuss due to time constraints. One table was devoted to each of the 6 topics, and a round of discussion was organised to last 30 minutes–20 minutes of open discussions and 10 minutes of capturing and compiling key points. There were two rounds before lunch and two afterwards.

Th conversations at the tables were very active and at the end of each round participants were reluctant to end their very intensive discussions. After a break for another session, each session Chair was asked to present the key points coming out of their table. This was followed by the facilitator opening up the discussion to the whole group for presenting any gaps, additional ideas, and questions. The facilitator then also asked after each group, what the key action points would be.

For the majority of the group, this was the first time to use the World Cafe approach–so it was unsure how it would go and what the reactions would be.

These points will be taken forward throughout the rest of the workshop.

The reactions were very positive to this with the following comments being some of what was said about it:

*” It made the discussions much more structured than before”

*”It was fun!”

*”I like it alot and i thought it brought out alot of good points and generated alot of energy”

Technology continues to change; the way we collaborate with others has changed; and the way the CGIAR conducts its business is currently undergoing radical change. With the present air of change that is permeating the entire System, it was inevitable that CGXchange would, sooner or later, have to answer the call for a portal that meets current needs. As such, CGXchange’s intranet concept has been exchanged, so to speak, for a dual-concept application that satisfies both the need for public content and the need for ‘private’ collaboration spaces.

Past and present in the CGXchange 2.0 logo

Last month, we introduced the new, improved CGXchange 2.0, a platform based on Google Apps that satisfies our current needs by facilitating online collaboration and exchange both inside and outside the CGIAR.

Why Google Apps?” you might ask.

Well, with a highly decentralized set up like that of the CGIAR, over 8,000 staff in 120 offices, mostly in countries where connectivity is a challenge, and with a dire need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, we are always on the look out for solutions that simplify our work. So last year, we tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools and were suitably impressed. You can read the results of our experiments in the CGIAR Google Apps report.

A few months later, during the first half of March 2009, a selected group of testers evaluated a beta version of the site. The summary report of the test results is just out on CGX 2.0: tried, tested and passed with flying colors! We have included our replies to the comments and questions from the test participants.

So what’s so new with CGX 2.0?, you might as well ask. In a nutshell:

  • Public content: the tutorials, guides, links to useful resources, outcomes of our tests are open to anyone who wants to learn how non-profit institutions such as the CGIAR are taking advantage of online tools for improving communication, sharing and collaboration.
  • Openness is our main driving principle: while CGIAR staff benefits from the availability of the Google Apps collaboration tools, then anyone with a Google account can be invited to collaborate and view the information CGIAR staff will create with Google Apps.
  • Freedom of choice is our other driving principle: we aim to inform you and show you the possibilities that the Web offers to share knowledge and collaborate more efficiently online. The available tools can be safely used for closed and/or geographically distributed groups. We can guide you through the tools available, but you will make the final decision as to what is best for you.
  • We walk the talk and share the lessons by doing our best to test the tools in our context and share the circumstances in which they proved to be suitable and useful and referring to more than two years’ experience with the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing projects.

What do I do now?, you might, again, ask.

You have a few options (and NOT necessarily in this sequence):

  1. Visit CGXchange 2.0
  2. Take a quick tour of the collaboration tools
  3. Request access to the Apps for yourself and your colleagues (if you’re CGIAR staff)
  4. Browse around the CGX 2.0 Newsfeeds Aggregator to experience keeping up-to-date with RSS feeds
  5. Sing along

The Consortium on Spatial Information (CSI), of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), in partnership with AGCommons Program, has organized the first African Geospatial Week, to be held in Nairobi 31 March – 4th April, 2009.

The week will include three events, the CGIAR-CSI 2009 Annual Meeting (31 March – 1 April),  a two-day workshop on the AGCommons Program (2 – 3 April) and finally the WhereCampAfrica day (4 April): the first event of its kind to be held in Africa.

With the theme “Mapping our Future 2009-2014: Collective Action and Advocacy to Improve Spatial Solutions for Sustainable Development”, the CGIAR-CSI Annual Meeting will open the week. It is in the context of growing recognition of the importance of location as well as potentially major institutional change that the CSI holds its annual meeting. The CSI needs to respond coherently and responsibly but also with boldness and imagination to this unique time and opportunity.

It will be followed by the AGCommons workshop: Phase I of the Program is underway with consultation activities in Africa and the implementation of five “Quick Win” projects; the workshop will provide guidance for planning the second Phase of the Program (2010-2012).

The primary goal of the AGCommons Program is to identify and develop data, tools and services that deliver relevant, timely and targeted information directly to farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and those working on their behalf.

With real-time, location-specific information, farmers will be able to plan and decide more effectively which crops or livestock will perform best on their farms, anticipate and manage disease outbreaks and rainfall shortfalls, as well as decide when to harvest and to which markets to sell. The farmers’ rich knowledge on various aspects of farming will feed into the upcoming information toolkit in AGCommons that will deploy high-tech geospatial technology to the service of Africa’s farmers.

 WhereCamp Africa  is the closing event of the week: it is a free “un-conference” for geographers, mobile location experts and social cartographers and anyone interested in “place” or locational information and technologies.

The idea comes from FooCamp and BarCamp as a way to give everybody an opportunity to bring to the table the things that interest them the most and lets them talk about topics that are still new and exploratory. Part of what is important to hearing new voices and getting new ideas is lowering barriers to participation – this event is free and it is driven by the participants. Wherecamp will bring together software developers, artists, geographers and academics for a one day extended discussion, as an opportunity to present on ideas, questions, projects, politics, technical issues and get feedback from other people.

 Society is being transformed by new maps and new mapping technology. WhereCampAfrica is an opportunity to help create a free forum in Africa for people to talk about, present, explore and learn about projects that involve “place” and relevant technologies.

Top ten reasons to participate:

§         To formulate a CSI vision of the enhanced role of spatially-referenced and location-aware data, analysis, and knowledge products for sustainable agricultural development, improved livelihoods, and food security.

§         To achieve consensus on a strategy (or as a minimum, agreeing a rapid, cost-effective process for developing such a strategy) for CSI’s engagement with the donor, development and science communities in making progress toward achieving that vision.

§         To have a scientific exchange on CSI member research and implementation activities

§         To develop specific recommendations on strategic opportunities to the AGCommons Program 

§         To participate in WhereCampAfrica, the first event of its kind to take place in Africa

… only 5 reasons? Find out the others in Nairobi!

 With over 100 participants expected, the African geospatial week will be held at John Vercoe Conference Room, ILRI Headquarters, Nairobi, Kenya