Banking your knowledge for others:

An interview with Benjamin Samson from the International Rice Research  Institute (IRRI) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Knowledge Management Harmonizing Research Output’

Communication is important. And how to do it. Leaflets? DVDs? Workshops?

But, regardless of method, something that should never be overlooked is the message.

Ben Samson has been thinking about all of this as Project Leader for a project working with rice farmers in Laos funded by the CGIAR Knowledge Sharing in Research Project.

“The situation we have in northern Laos is that farmers, because there is very little arable land, are constrained to grow crops on sloping areas,” he says. “Because they are cropping on sloping areas that are much more susceptible to soil erosion, the fertility of the soil rapidly decreases. You may get a good crop this year, but crop yields will be much less in the succeeding years. Typically farmers will only use land for one year. That’s the old system.

But, while working on these issues in Laos, Ben has seen the length of time during which land is left to rest decline. He thinks that it is now beginning to cause problems.

Rice farmers in the northern uplands of Laos

Rice farmers in the northern uplands of Laos

Because of increasing populations and government policy, the length of time in which land goes back into resting periods – or fallow periods – has decreased. What used to be 21 years is now only three years. That is amazing.”

Now the rice farmers in Laos – the poorest of the poor – have been forced to year-in-year-out use sloping lands that are difficult to farm.

There are agricultural researchers, scientists and government extension workers who can help. But there was a problem.

We used to write papers and report, conduct training, transfer to extension,” says Ben. “But when we evaluated the problem we realised that those that were carrying out research were writing in a way that the extension people didn’t understand. And even if the extension agents did understand it, they didn’t know how to express it in such a way that the farmers would be able to understand it. So we recognised that there is a difference in ‘language’ between the various groups involved in transmitting technologies to farmers.

The team decided to pilot a way of adding on to an existing  ‘knowledge bank’ of information in order to help farmers and government extension workers gain better understanding and access of the knowledge contained within the bank. They knew that they would have to be careful about how everything was phrased and said was a key issue towards understanding and usage of knowledge.

The issues for the project were how to get researchers to write for the knowledge bank in such a way that when extension people accessed it, they would understand it,” says Ben. “And, further, how to get the extension workers to use the knowledge bank. So those were the problems we were dealing with.

So with help from the Knowledge Sharing in Research project’s grant that was

Stakeholders at first Laos Rice Knowledge Bank meeting

awarded to IRRI, Ben was able to get everyone together to talk- the extension workers, the scientists, educators—all in one room. The idea was to identify the needs of the farmers and extension workers and then for the researchers to tailor their knowledge so it would be of the most use.

Stakeholders at first Laos Rice Knowledge Bank meeting

That was the whole scheme of this project,” he says. “It was very simple. Get them together and get them to write for the knowledge bank in concert with each other so that they agree that the material coming out is first of all useful and second of all is understandable.

EXample of one of the fact sheets prepared by the Pilot Project from rice reseacrh results-in Lao

Example of one of the fact sheets prepared by the Pilot Project from rice reseacrh results-in Lao

Ben thinks that knowledge sharing and his experience through the Knowledge Sharing in Research project will inform they way he works in the future.

What will become part of my work in the future is the impetus to make better use of the knowledge that we generate through research by making use of various knowledge sharing techniques that I have experienced using and have heard others talk about in the KSinR projects,” says Ben. “I think everyone wants to be able to make a difference in other people’s lives. I come from an academic background where writing and publishing about my work are valued activities, but these tools and methods that I have used and come in contact with make the results of my work more accessible to the people who can use it and improve their lives using it. I work in Laos and I see what it is like for people to try to survive on the meagre resources. It behoves me to try to find ways to make a difference.

This is one way I am making a difference – helping people have access to knowledge they can use through banking knowledge in a good way

For more information and outputs from this project-see the IRRI Research outputs harmonisation KSinR Pilot Project page

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It’s good to talk:

An interview with Alexandra Clemett from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Learning Alliances for Wastewater Agriculture and Sanitation for Poverty Alleviation (WASPA-LA)’

Achieving complex change often involves many different people, with many different priorities, who are engaged in many different things. And, if you need all of them to cooperate for your change to be successfully implemented, you have quite a challenge.

This was the challenge faced by Alexandra Clemett, Project Leader of a Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project awarded to IWMI, when working on a wastewater agriculture project in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In each of the cities where we work you’ll quite often have different organisations that are responsible for quite similar things,” says Alex. “You might have the urban development authority that does the planning and then the municipal council that has to implement. So you really need them to know what each other is doing, planning together and working very closely.

Different stakeholders need to be connected

Different stakeholders need to be connected

And this has not been happening-the results of which are reflected in sectoral planning, poor communication among government officials, no involvement of community members, lack of knowledge about other sectors and alternative technologies, and, sometimes, ignorance that wastewater irrigation is even taking place.

The team decided to use a ‘Learning Alliances’ approach to try to bring people together to share knowledge and collaborate more effectively to achieve their goals.

Stakeholders getting together to discuss in the WASPA Learning Alliance

Stakeholders getting together to discuss in the WASPA Learning Alliance

The idea was to bring all the different stakeholders together to talk to each other and understand each others’ issues so that they could try to build a better plan for addressing the wastewater and sanitation situation in the two Cities. So we brought together the municipal council, the water board, local government officials, the hospital, local people and farmers. We tried to bring in universities, too, because they could potentially bring in technical solutions.

A Learning Alliance is supposed to have platforms at different levels: National, intermediate, and community – which bring stakeholders together to promote and facilitate learning within them and also between the different levels. It is very strongly focused on effective sharing of knowledge and not just bringing people together.”

Although she believes knowledge sharing was useful, Alex says that she would, in the future, use an altered version of  the particular approach chosen- the Learning Alliance- if at all.

The approach was very time-consuming and a lot of the research became geared towards learning about and evaluating the Learning Alliance methodology itself.”

Unfortunately we haven’t really had any research results on whether this new approach improved health or livelihoods,” she says. “I think, whilst the method was useful, it was really time-consuming. I would not use it in that way again. I would modify it and use particular elements of it. And I wouldn’t even call it a Learning Alliance, because that just confused people. Not everyone knows the names of these types of approaches. It is what they do to serve a project which is better to focus on.

For Alex, the overall goal of the project was to find ways that wastewater can be managed properly so that household sewage and industrial waste does not enter the canals which then run into the paddy fields. While this overarching ambition wasn’t completely achieved, something did happen while the project was running. People became more aware of the issues involved.

This is not something that Alex underestimates.

If what we have achieved by the time the project ends is that all of the stakeholders are much more aware of the issue, then we still will have achieved a lot” she says.

Some people didn’t even know that wastewater was being used for agriculture, says Alex.

And some didn’t want to know because it’s actually illegal. But because these farmers don’t have access to better quality water they just go ahead and use it. So I think that at least some of the people who were involved in the planning and management of wastewater through the Learning Alliance now have better understanding of the issues.

The idea to involve universities in the Learning Alliance also achieved some new awareness and change amongst the other stakeholders.

Conducting studies on the canals

We’ve got some universities doing studies on small–scale appropriate treatment,” says Alex. “In the beginning the municipal councils were just not interested in things like this. They just wanted large–scale treatment, but now they’re starting to realise that these are good options that they can potentially achieve and potentially afford.”

Conducting studies on the canals

So even if the situation has not been completely resolved, some changes – especially in awareness – have happened from the various stakeholders coming together and sharing knowledge in the Learning Alliance.

So it is in fact good to talk.

For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI WASPA LA KSinR Pilot Project page

Vietnamese Visions:

An interview with Natasja Sheriff from the WorldFish Centre about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Applying KS tools to impact monitoring and evaluation’

Human beings have survived through adaptation. And for centuries peopleVietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 075 have come up with ingenious ways of coping with environmental extremes. In some parts of the world there is a dry season which is followed by not only a wet season but by flooding. Where crops stood a few short weeks ago, water now rolls and laps. What can a rice farmer do with this situation? Sit by for the months while his land is covered and simply wait for the season to end when he can plant crops again?

For most, struggling to get by, this is not an option. And so they adapt- making use of the water and its resources; they turn to fishing. This is the reality of the situation in the Mekong region of southern Vietnam.

But fishing is time consuming and doesn’t always yield that much for each individual.

Recognizing this predicament, the WorldFish Center set up a project in 2005 entitled ‘Community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains and irrigation systems’ sponsored by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh and Mali to look at the possibility of developing appropriate fish culture activities in seasonally flooding areas through an adaptive learning approach.

The project aimed to help farmers to set up collective fish culture, develop better techniques for breeding fish, find effective ways of managing fish culture and pool their resources to reduce costs. The project wanted to help them to achieve successful fish culture, so that they can be productive the whole year round.

The principle behind the project is that working together can reduce the cost of growing fish,” says Natasja Sheriff, KSinR pilot project leader for Worldfish, and leader of the Community-based fish culture project. “During the flood season, the costs of enclosing individual plots of land for fish culture would be prohibitive for a single household. By combining their land resources and culturing fish in a larger enclosed area, farmers can share the capital and labour costs of fish culture.”

But as we all know, working together is easier said than done. And fish culture activities have suffered from issues of diverging goals and actions of those who should be working together—and the system has not succeeded in many cases.

Achieving successful community-based fish culture in Vietnam therefore has proven challenging for WorldFish and national project partners at the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.

The project recognized that in order to do achieve the goal it would be necessary for both national partners and direct beneficiaries at the community level to evaluate fish culture activities each year and modify the following year’s approach based on the results.

Early attempts at introducing monitoring and evaluation came in the form of lengthy, complex surveys undertaken by the project team-which was limited in its structure, cumbersome to process results and hardly ever filtered back to the stakeholders. Little learning was being achieved. The project then felt that a more participatory approach to impact monitoring would provide a more complete and accurate picture of the local conditions as well as project impacts, with project beneficiaries being able to both share and receive information better.

Something different was required…something that focused more on sharing of knowledge. And so with a grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project, it piloted the use of knowledge sharing (KS) tools to help.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 540

Outcome Mapping was the tool that was chosen to help with monitoring and evaluation in the project, but in a way more focused on effective knowledge sharing; and this was applied to WorldFish’s work in Vietnam.

When the partners in Vietnam suggested Outcome Mapping, I had actually not heard about it before,” admits Natasja. “Outcome Mapping is a process that can be used to monitor change. It can  also influence change by getting people together to talk about what it is they want to achieve and then developing markers or indicators to track progress. They say ‘how do we need to change in order to reach that goal?’ . A series of markers can be set up showing how we are all progressing towards achieving that goal.”

Natasja felt that Outcome Mapping could provide them with, not only a means of tracking their progression with the fish culture activities, but could additionally encourage them to look at what they themselves need to do to achieve their visions and commit to those activities by setting up regular monitoring towards achievable targets.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 574

We spoke to the farmers in Vietnam and we asked them to imagine a vision of the future, asking them to ‘Imagine you wake up at the end of the project, how have things changed?’ The vision they had was of  more income: they were able to send their children to school, they have electricity in the village, they work together better, there is increased solidarity. That is what they hope to achieve with the project, and it is fairly ambitious. That identifies for them as a group their aspirations, their hopes and dreams which should be realised from their efforts. But these changes do not happen on their own”.

What outcome mapping does is to help groups like this to then share with each other, what needs to happen, who needs to be doing what—for those aspirations, hopes and dreams to be realized.

The impact of the fish culture project in Vietnam will not be known until the fish are harvested. It’s success will depend on factors such as whether poaching has  been dealt with and what the community itself has decided to do with the money they have earned.

But it is not too early to begin to assess the impact of applying knowledge sharing tools.

Knowledge sharing in itself, I think, is really useful,” concludes Natasja.  “It is a way of getting together and sharing ideas, being more participatory in the way that we do research, and the way in which we work together with beneficiaries.  I think it is a worthwhile investment to apply these approaches as tools for monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment. I think if you prioritize such tools at the beginning of any project they can lead to improved relationships with both project partners and beneficiaries, more effective monitoring and ultimately greater impact. As scientists, we need to spend more time actually talking with the people we are trying to help.”

Knowledge sharing can help to better understand and hopefully realize some of these Vietnamese visions.

For more information and outputs from thsi project- see the WorldFish KSinR pilot project page

Blueprinting priorities:

An interview with David Raitzer from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) on the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Shared learning to enhance research priority assessment practices’

Money is hard to come by – especially these days. So when you secure research funding you better be sure you know how to spend it. Can knowledge sharing help with that?

David Raitzer, from the Center for International Forestry Research(CIFOR) thought so, and applied for a grant from the Knowledge Sharing in Research project to try it out.

David has been heading up a project, which reflects on the research priority assessment experiences of twelve CGIAR centres, programmes and partners.  This is all to be shared with broader audiences via a CABI book to be released in July.CIFOR CABI Book flyer

Researchers can choose many things to study, but funds are limited and research for development should have impact for the poor and/or the environment,” says David “So it’s about how research managers consider what they could achieve with different uses of research resources. We are therefore interested in looking at the methods they use to do so and what lessons are offered to improve future attempts.”

Without some sort of analysis of impact potential, scientists tend to choose what they want to do based on curiosity and scientific salience, and they may not fully consider other factors that affect whether their outputs lead to beneficial changes on the ground. But when they have to go through a process of laying out different options and making explicit the assumptions necessary for impacts, impact culture can be strengthened.”

David says the book will serve a number of purposes, not least of all valuable knowledge sharing.

The ultimate goal of the book is to improve methods for evidence based decision-making in the centers about what research is pursued As one means to do so, we hope that this helps to illustrate to donors that the impact potential of research can be systematically assessed, and that these efforts can benefit from appropriate incentives, such as the alignment of funding decisions to assessment results,” he says.

The intended outcome is both to make donors aware of what the centres are doing to better prioritise research that will have an impact as well as to help those in the centers who are trying to assess priorities.”

David believes the book itself fills a knowledge gap. It allows research organisations to see what methods other organisations have used to inform decisions about what their research priorities should be.   But it also goes beyond the technical methods to the processes by which the methods are implemented, such as how assumptions are elicited from scientists and the interface between actual decisions about research priorities and the information offered by analytical exercises.  In so doing, it offers insights that cannot be found in prior texts on the topic.

These priority assessment methods are also knowledge sharing approaches in themselves. Tacit assumptions of scientists are made explicit, communicated to colleagues, refined and blended with external information.  Documented assumptions can then also be followed up with subsequent monitoring and evaluation. As a result, knowledge is not only shared, but is improved.”

Knowledge sharing can help in many ways when designing important and valuable blueprints for research-that will have an impact.

Never underestimate a quiet farmer:

An interview with Alessandra Galiè from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘The International Farmers’ Conference’

They say you can learn a lot from sitting on a thorn. Apparently, when it comes to plant breeding, you can also learn a lot from getting a few of them stuck in your hand.

Plant breeding is something that has always existed,” explains Alessandra Galie. “The idea is that you breed plants to be the best plants. So farmers usually pick up the seeds of the best plants to replant next year. That’s already a contribution to crop development.”

More formal plant breeding involves taking seeds from the best plants and crossbreeding them in an attempt to improve the plants slowly over the years. And this is something the ICARDA, and other research organisations, have been doing for years.

But now the basic question is- what is a better plant?” asks Alessandra “And who decides what are the criteria that make a plant better?

The problem with formal plant breeding, as done by research organisations, is that much of the knowledge that is needed to make such decisions was coming only from science, not from the farmers; farmers’ knowledge of plant breeding was being lost. Often there was no concerted effort to record the experiences of farmers as, season by season, they found ways to improve their plant breeds. And, sometimes, when efforts were made, they sought only the opinions of scientists and not of the people who handled the plants everyday: the farmers.

Alessandra also found that the opinions of women were being ignored.

Those who always got to choose what plants they liked best were men,” says Alessandra.080507-043

Therefore you exclude all the other criteria that women might have. For example women have very often cleaned the cotton plants from the field after the cotton has been harvested. And they complain if the plant is too hard on their hands. Or they themselves are cooking what they are growing so they can tell you if the taste is not good or if it’s very hard to cook the stuff they are growing.

There is an example of a woman in Jordan who was very interested in the straw of barley because she was making handicrafts with it. And she was saying ‘This one breaks so it’s not good for me’. And all of these criteria, all of these alternative priorities, are very often overlooked. If you don’t involve women then the improvement is only partial.”

So it was realised that greater knowledge sharing was needed- to find out about the knowledge and experiences of farmers, and to show researchers how valuable it is for plant breeding.

Alessandra was part of a team from the Participatory Plant Breeding program at ICARDA that organised an international farmers’ conference to help share knowledge between farmers and researchers and to give those involved in plant breeding a space in which to do that. Farmers, researchers and scientists came from countries such as Iran, Eritrea, Syrian, Jordan, Algeria and Egypt.

The Farmers’ conference involved farmers telling stories as a way of sharing their knowledge and experiences.

Farmers telling stories of their knowledge and experience with plant breeding

Farmers telling stories of their knowledge and experience with plant breeding

There was also a ‘Food and Seed Fair’ and a Network Mapping exercise.

IMAG8731

Network Mapping at Farmers' Conference

Food and Seed Fair at Farmers' Conference

Food and Seed Fair at Farmers' Conference

For some farmers, it was the first time scientists and researchers had listened to them.

The very important effect was the empowerment effect of the conference because the farmers really appreciated the fact that they were given a space,” she says.

The farmers appreciated that, for the first time, they could be on stage and could talk. Some of them had been to conferences before but were always in the audience. But this time they were so proud since they were sitting where the scientists usually sit and they told us that this time the scientists were actually listening to them.

For the women, too, the impact of the conference was remarkable.

The self esteem of the women farmers increased so much when they started talking,” says Alessandra.

They said that they really had trouble at the beginning talking to men and older participants. They were shy and uncomfortable but, when they started telling their stories, they started to receive positive feedback and people told them ‘Wow, you really know a lot about agriculture’ they really started feeling so much better and so much more confident.”

Many of them also learnt a lot. And they said that they will use this knowledge when farming.”

Alessandra says that, almost without knowing, she has been working on knowledge sharing for most of her career. But the more formal understanding of it she has developed during the opportunity to try out knowledge sharing through the grant received to carry out this pilot project, has helped her KS work become more structured.

It’s not like I can go back anymore,” she says. “It has very much changed my approach to doing research and thinking about how to interact with others.

Knowledge sharing helps you to recognise and unlock the value of farmers’ knowledge—so you don’t run the risk of underestimating them…even the quiet ones.

For more information on and outputs from this project- see ICARDA Farmers’ Conference KSinR Pilot Project page

Sharing knowledge can save lives:

An interview with Phillip Amoah and Tonya Schuetz  from the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) on the KSinR Pilot Project- ‘The Knowledge Sharing approach to safe food

A lack of knowledge in Ghana can get you thrown in jail or even killed. Such are the stakes when dealing with the food that people eat.

In Ghana a lot of vegetables are produced using wastewater,” explains Philip Amoah, leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research Pilot Project.

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

Vegetables being watered with wastewater

“These vegetables are likely to be consumed raw. Lettuce, cabbage, raw onions. And this can have a lot of health implications.

IWMI has been undertaking a number of projects that are trying to conduct research to come up with simple risk-reduction options that can be used on farms, at markets and at food preparation points to make food safer. The teams test various interventions from farm to fork to enhance food safety and the potential to institutionalize such interventions so they become common practice.

The projects are then compiling techniques that can teach food growers, sellers and producers easy ways of improving food safety. Once these techniques have been devised the challenge is to ensure that as many people as possible hear about them and put them into practice.

This is where knowledge sharing (KS) comes in. A grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research Project helped them to be able to explore and try out ways to take these results, make them easily understandable and useful and get them out to the stakeholders who need them.

We get the results from these projects, modify them in a way to make messages that the end–users will understand and then we come up with simple communication methods to get these messages out to those who are growing, selling and catering these vegetables which may be at risk,” says Philip.

Knowledge sharing has been used in this project in two main ways.

Knowledge sharing approaches were used to help the project, and its researchers, to interact and collaborate better with various stakeholders within the research process, to help to understand better the situation and needs, as well as to get feedback on project results and support in developing appropriate messages and communication mechanisms.

IWMI Wastewater farmer discussion

World Cafe conducted by IWMI Wastewater project

We started off with a series of World Cafes during the research project. The World Café is a methodology where you put people in a room together-in a café style setting, to try to make them as comfortable as possible to discuss with others, and get them to tackle certain key questions.” The World Café approach was used to facilitate an open discussion with key stakeholders on the messages develop by the project and the appropriateness, viability, constraints and effectiveness of these in achieving adoption of suggested innovations.

With a greater focus on knowledge sharing, the Project also looked for more effective ways of getting the key messages out to the target groups.

Radio was believed to be a perfect medium for communicating the findings to as wide as possible an audience and in various local languages spoken in Ghana.

We did radio programmes in local languages because radio is accessible in Ghana even for the farmers. Almost everyone has a small radio,” says Tonya Schuetz who has been also working on the project.

6-CD Case_Farmer-training-small

COver of DVD produced to share good practices with farmers

The projects also produced a series of DVDs on safe food practices and presented these to farmers and householders, extension agents, as well as caterers too.

The caterers are interesting because we didn’t have them in mind at all when we set up the project,” says Tonya. “When we thought of end-users, we thought on a household level. But then we conducted  a study that showed that it is more often caterers in the street who prepare the vegetables that are consumed raw.

As she explains, progress has been swift. “With this KSinR Pilot project I really felt like a lot went very well,” says Tonya

Before beginning a concerted campaign of knowledge sharing in research, Philip says he sometimes had difficulty communicating even simple messages like the need for farmers to water crops at the root so as not to splash soil on to the leaves, causing a potential health hazard.

One time I was chased out of a vegetable growing site in Accra when I went to take water samples because at that time the farmers were not involved in the project,” he says.

They said that people had come before and taken water samples, after which some of the farmers had been arrested and people wouldn’t buy their vegetables. But now that we’ve got them involved, we better understand their situation and find better ways to communicate the results of the research to them to help them make changes and improvements. I’m free to go there at any time, to take samples and to do what ever research I want to do. And that has really helped a lot. So knowledge sharing is something I really want in my future research. I’ve even joined the farmers association now, attend meeting and pay dues and they now recognize me as one of them.

Tonya says it was not only farmers, but researchers, too, who changed their attitudes.

We started off working with researchers who were open to it but did not really believe in it,” she says. “They felt that knowledge sharing was something they had already been doing for a long time. But when they saw how we used various knowledge sharing methodologies even at a very early stage in our project and the results we got, they realised that it was slightly different to what they’d been doing before. It’s a lot more about continuous interaction with stakeholders, rather than just going there once, talking to your partners and then just going and doing your research.”

Knowledge sharing has changed the way they work.”

Hopefully knowledge sharing will help us to save lives.

For more information and outputs from this project- see the IWMI Wastewater KSinR Pilot Project page

Time to get connected —The wheel has already been invented

An interview with Geoff Parcell at Share Fair 09

As much as we might try, it’s not always possible to collect and document everything relevant to our work. Nonetheless, if we try, we can usually find a balance between collecting knowledge and connecting people. Today’s organizations need to focus on connecting their people, listening to them, and learning from them. We need to stop reinventing the wheel, over and over again, because the knowledge we need might just be a desk away. And no one knows this better than Geoff Parcell, the co-author of the best-selling book Learning to Fly

 

Geoff, who is also the knowledge management coach for the WHO, UNDP, the World Bank and the Swiss Development Agency, delivered the keynote speech at the Opening Ceremony of the recently held Share Fair organized by Bioversity International, the CGIAR ICT-KM Program, FAO, IFAD and WFP. Held at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, from the 20th to 22nd January 2009, the Fair also saw Geoff convening some sessions on Knowledge Management.

 

The ICT-KM Program’s Nadia Manning-Thomas caught up with Geoff at the end of the Share Fair to capture his impressions of the event, the CGIAR and its knowledge sharing successes, challenges and opportunities.

 

 

Nadia Manning-Thomas: First off, let me ask if you enjoyed the Share Fair and if it was what you’d expected it to be?

 

Geoff Parcell: It was fun and pretty much what I’d expected. I attended the Dare to Share Fair at SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) and can see that a lot was used from that model.

 

NMT: What was the highlight of the Share Fair for you?

 

GP: The engagement with the self-assessment process that took place during the session I led on this tool. In particular, there was a striking moment with 35 FAO people sitting outside the Iran Room discussing their own capacity in knowledge sharing with no boundaries or defensiveness. An additionally exciting part of the event for me was being able to witness the overall chaos and energy in the Atrium. (Booths had been set up in the Atrium and served as a focal hub for the Share Fair.)

 

NMT: What were the challenges, if any, that you felt or observed during the event?

 

GP (chuckling and pointing to the meeting rooms with their screwed-down furniture): This is not particularly conducive to this type of event, its activities and goals. This shows that organizations like yours need to be moving towards more flexible room setups with small tables to allow for small group work and alternative and effective methods of sharing knowledge.

 

During the event, I found that there is still a mix of attitudes when it comes to knowledge management and sharing. Essentially knowledge management is an attitude change from ‘we are the experts, telling others what to do’ to ‘let’s look at what’s going on and see how to support those efforts.’ The problem is that people feel threatened by change. What they don’t realize is that it can be a very powerful thing to facilitate processes rather than dictating or leading them.

 

All of the organizations involved in this Share Fair can no longer think of themselves as the authority on food and agriculture. People will get information wherever they can. And especially with new and advancing technologies, information is now available in many more ways than it has been before.

 

NMT: So what is their role now?

 

GP: These organizations need to see a new role for themselves in providing platforms, in facilitating the processes of getting people connected.

 

NMT: The big question that always comes up at events like this focused on new ways of operating is that it is difficult to bring about change, difficult to get organizations and people to make the shift. What are your thoughts on how to encourage and bring about change?

 

GP: We need to tell stories; stories about how these new approaches are being used and are working. We need to encourage people to follow examples—such as the activities carried out at this Share Fair. We should be making connections happen and work.

 

NMT: Coming from the CGIAR, I would like to know if you have any impressions about the CGIAR System in relation to knowledge sharing.

 

GP: I didn’t know much about the CGIAR before this event, but after attending some sessions that presented CGIAR projects and activities, seeing booths with CGIAR materials, and talking to some CGIAR staff, I got some impressions about the System and its successes and needs related to knowledge sharing. I was struck by something in particular I heard about the CGIAR and knowledge management strategies. When I heard that each of the 15 Centers in the CGIAR System plans to write or has written its own knowledge management strategy, I thought, this is crazy! There should only be one strategy developed for the whole System. A knowledge management strategy is mostly about process so it doesn’t matter about differences in content. I assume that most Centers have similar knowledge management goals, so the focus should be on the knowledge management process to achieve those goals – and applying the process to particular content.

 

It is about getting people to have the right conversations. It’s also important to find ways to have learning incorporated into any organization’s project or activity – before, during and after the event.

 

Sometimes it is just simple things that we need to change or adopt, and importantly we must keep our minds open to things that can be transferable to our needs and situations, even if they come from very different sectors, groups, or situations.

 

At one point the Steering Committee of the Share Fair asked me if I could make my keynote speech a bit more relevant to ‘their’ reality – meaning the food and agriculture sector. I replied by saying that “knowledge sharing is not about telling people how to do things. It is about people figuring out how to adapt practices to their conditions and needs.”

 

We’re not as different as we think we are.

 

NMT: There is often a lot of (differing) perspectives on what knowledge sharing is. Do you have a definition that you use?

 

GP: Knowledge is whatever we use to get action. Reports may be fulfilling for the writers but the goal of your organizations is to reduce hunger; therefore, we need to make sure that what we generate gets to the point of application. The situation is like a massive supply chain along which knowledge must flow. Although, you may not be responsible for all parts of the chain, you need to find ways to work together; to make the right connections to make sure that knowledge gets to the end.

 

My model for knowledge management is using knowledge in service of delivering results.

 

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Thank you to Simone Staiger and Meena Arivananthan who also took part in the interview.

Thank you to Mary Schneider for adding the journalistic touch to this piece.