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.