Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate as guest speaker to the first training session about Wikis at FAO and it was an enriching experience!

The 2-hour session was moderated by Gauri Salokhe and Romolo Tassone, both from the Web Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building Division at FAO.

These sessions at FAO are part of an ongoing series of workshops on the methods, tools and services that can facilitate knowledge sharing.  These trainings are offered weekly by the Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building Division (KCE), in collaboration with Staff Development Branch (AFHT).

The session was fully booked and it was interesting to see how more and more people that couldn’t register were arriving to see if, just by chance, they could get a seat to participate in the session. This shows there are a lot people interested in learning more about collaborative tools and how these can be applied to their work at FAO.

Initially the moderators introduced Wikis by showing one of the world’s most popular Wiki: Wikipedia. Actually at FAO, they have implemented MediaWiki, the software behind Wikipedia as their internal Wiki, but they also offer other Wiki tools depending on the users’ requirements.

Together with Gauri, we showed the example of the Knowledge Sharing toolkit (KS Toolkit), a collaborative wiki site using Wikispaces that assembles knowledge sharing tools and methods resources. The KS Tookit is an initiative of the ICT-KM’s Institutional Knowledge Sharing project and in collaboration with FAO and the KM4Dev community, it currently has approximately 120 people that contribute to keep this global public good growing.

I had the opportunity to show the Wikis we have implemented recently in the CGIAR. As part of the CGXchange project, we are currently offering Google Sites which is a Wiki that users can easily setup themselves and start collaborating quickly. Some of these Wikis are public or private. The private Wikis in the CGIAR are mostly being used for project/team collaboration and meeting sites. The public Wikis are shared with the world for viewing and only a few people with editing rights can maintain the content:

http://www.cgxchange.org (site that gathers tutorials and trainings of the collaboration tools available for the CGIAR staff)

http://alliance.cgxchange.org (the strategic framework of the new CGIAR is being shared through this public Wiki)

We also discussed about the Wikis that ‘die‘ because of the fact that people do not contribute. Of course…Wikis are just like any website, they need a moderator or at least a group people that are committed in keeping the content updated and encouraging others to contribute so they can be useful.

Towards the end of the session the participants had the opportunity to edit a Wiki that had been setup for the training using a free Wikispaces guest account. The participants had a lot of fun adding content, links, inserting videos and deleting what others had written!…thank goodness that Wikis have version history and you can easily go back and retrieve older versions! 🙂

You can find a summary of all the links to the Web pages that were viewed during the training session on this Delicious page: http://delicious.com/sharefair09/training_wiki

I would like to thank Gauri and Romolo for the invitation to participate as guest speaker for this session. I believe we learned a lot from each other and hope we continue partnering in these knowledge sharing sessions in the near future. 

I believe that we, in the ICT-KM program, are doing a lot of research about social media tools and have vast experience on these topics. Given the CGIAR’s dispersed locations, currently our main method to communicate our knowledge is using our blog, which is great, but many people still prefer hands-on training sessions than reading. In this respect, my take home message is that we should learn from our FAO colleagues and start organizing on-site or online training sessions as well, every now and then, to share our knowledge on social media tools for our colleagues in the CGIAR…

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The 2nd Online Social Media workshop is well on its way, with the first week having gone by. social media logoParticipants had their first tele-con session, organized on Skype and held on the 27th of May in two sessions. Telecon session B saw 14 enthusiastic participants raring to go: Helen Gillman, Margaret McEwan, Helene Ni Choncheanainn, Eugenia Isnardi, Maya Rajasekharan, Alice Thomann, Olive Thiong’o Wahura, Miriam Cherogony, Pamela Kilborn-Miller, Yassir Islam , Idris Jones, Brenda Bucheli and Bonnie McClafferty.

Facilitated by Nancy White, I was lucky enough to co-facilitate. Jonathan Thompson of the World Food Program, was also on hand as mentor. A noted blogger, he has just launched an internal microblog (laconi.ca), probably the first inside a humanitarian aid organization. Here’s the post: http://tinyurl.com/oec2zu

The introductory tele-con was a great way to gauge the comfort levels of participants and also to encourage them to see online social media tools as nothing more that just ways to get better results at work. While the participants’ experiences with social media tools were varied, this in no way hindered conversation flow. Many participants discussed their frustrations in using/ advocating tools like Delicious, Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Webex. Also noted was the need for low-bandwidth options in areas with poor Internet access.

What I found personally interesting was the perception many of us have when advocating a tool/ technology. It may be easy to use, it may make your life easier but if people are not engaged, it might as well be ineffective. To counter this, Nancy suggests the first point of action should be to decide on what it is that you want to do.

Once there is purpose, you can start thinking of tools and practice. Think of what can engage them. Is it going to make a difference in their work?

On how blogging could help us track our success in engaging people, Jon Thompson, our blogging expert gave a few pointers:

  • Statistics provide legitimacy to your blogs, pay attention to them
  • Your title is the life or death of a blog post, a well-titled blog is everything 
  • Write what you believe in
  • Raise visibility of the blog by sending links by microblogging. Using tools together helps improve visibility of tools all around.

The tele-con lasted one hour, but no one noticed. Discussions could have continued. With minor hiccups of dropped calls, which were compensated by chat room texting for those missing out, participants left the virtual ‘room’ feeling energised.

This morning we had our first conference call with 14 social media workshop participants.

Nancy's clock notes from the call

Nancy's clock notes from the call

We went around the clock (see the method described in our KS Toolkit http://www.kstoolkit.org/Teleconference+Clock) to have a chance to introduce us quickly and share the type of social media tools we are already using for personnel or professional purposes. Almost all the tools we will be discussing over the next three weeks have been mentioned: Twitter, Yammer, Blogs, Facebook, Slidesharing etc. Nancy compared this group’s feedback with the initial comments we got when we launched the first knowledge sharing workshop early last year. “It is incredible how much more tools you are using and it is only one year later”, she said.

Nancy also made the point that it is quite easy to get overwhelmed with the number of tools that are out there. “Over the next 3 weeks we will try to get to know those tools, and think about the strategic path each of you might take. The tip is to focus on what matters to you. You don’t need to look at all the tools” Nancy suggests.

We then spent some time on participant’s examples. Florence Sipalla who is a Communications Officer with the CGIAR Gender & Diversity Program tells us about the AWARD fellow ship blog which tries to “reach out to more people more frequently then the newsletter”.
Salomon, World Agroforestry’s Web coordinator seemed excited about the Slide Share site where the center shares its presentations.

Talking about slide-sharing: Social Media is indeed a lot about sharing: It is based on the assumption that you don’t have all the content yourself and that using and re-using of materials can improve the content but it can also help adapt the content to specific user groups.  Another important characteristic of social media is that the emphasis is less and less less technology, to become each day easier to set up, learn and use.

The obvious downside of social media is the bandwidth problem. “Users with low bandwidth are having a hard time in accessing some of the tools,” Nancy states: “But people are also getting creative in the way they address low bandwidth issues”. There are a series of tips and tricks that can help and that we have to learn. One example is to share on a blog a link to a power point presentation rather then to embed the presentation into the blog which makes the page faster to load.

Another participant raised the sometimes difficult choice of reaching users through email versus social media: Too much in peoples email box leads to overload and there is a need to balance. Participants seemed to agree that “email is still essential”

Maria Iskandarani from the CGIAR Secretariat asks if blogs are good discussion tools. Nancy thinks that in general discussions are difficult because of the ‘dominant role” of the blog author. A blog doesn’t put the reader and the blogger on the same level. A comment on a blog is more like an input to an author than a conversation. Also Nancy emphasizes that the adoption of a blog can really take time, as the ICT-KM Program blog https://ictkm.wordpress.com/ shows which needed almost a year to thrive including trying out different techniques, fine tuning ownership issues, getting the whole team on the blogging board, as well as adding a marketing component like Twitter.

The final issue raised was about security related to our digital identity. Nancy suggests being careful when you share information related to your location, your personal telephone numbers etc. “If you just start now with social media, choose a secondary email when you sign up.” Antonella Pastore from ICT-KM shares a great link with us:    http://security.ngoinabox.org/ Tools and tactics for your digital security!

Stay tuned….

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

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

Did we accomplish what we planned to do?

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

How did the different sessions go?

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

The group appreciated almost equally:

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

Another group of similar and positive rated sessions were:

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

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

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

The workshop was only the beginning hopefully to more communication and exchange among the CG colleagues – thank you for bringing us closer togetherquote from a workshop participant

In-between all this important and exciting traffic on our blog, I am coming back to our social media online workshop to share the results of the participants evaluation.
15 of the 30 participants replied to the survey, which seems like the maximum you can get in those days of evaluation overload. 😉

The workshop was rated excellent by 57% and good by 36%.

Here is a summary of the workshop evaluation:

  • 73% of participants say that after participating in this workshop they have increased their understanding of social media principles and tools?
  • Usefulness of each activity and discussion focus: The lively welcome and introduction session was very useful for 64%. All participants found the tools exploration or very useful (50%) or useful (50%).  The suggested discussion on the opportunities of social media for the new CGIAR didn’t fully kick off, maybe because the 2-week workshop was really short. Only 36% found it useful. The teleconferences and the discussion summaries were useful for those who participated or looked into it.
  • Wikis, Blogs, RSS feeds, Photo-,Video-, and Slide Sharing as well as social networking sites (i.e. facebook) are the social media tools that most participants already use. After the workshop the following tools triggered interest:  Micro Blogging, the use of social media for organisational web sites, social reporting, social media listening and social media for new e-newsletters, as well as social media strategy M&E.
  • Participants found the Moodle platform good in terms of ease of use, connectivity, look and feel, and structure.
  • 65% scored facilitation excellent, 29% good.
  • For the majority (85%) the size of the group was just right. The interaction with other participants could be better: 50% found it good, 36% average.
  • Half of the participants state that they did make useful contacts during the workshop.

ICT-KM is currently thinking about offering two more social media workshops for the larger community, including researchers, partners, and development practitioners. This time the workshop would be 3-week long to respond to the mayor suggestion for improvement: Give more time for the tools exploration.

Stay tuned….

Today we had our second and last conference call with 11 participants. Before the call started Nancy White shared some statistics with me about the workshop participation. It was interesting to see that participants were more active in the first week (this week there was apparently an annual report deadline in many centers), and that there were more or less three times more reading then posting going on. This was confirmed in our call today where participants highlighted that they enjoyed the reading even if they didn’t participate that much.

In total and until today 165 posts have been shared and approximately 800 views registered. Not bad!!!

We did a first round of comments and asked participants what ideas the tools generated. Here are some examples:

  • Innovative e-newsletters using more communication channels like YouTube for example
  • Possibilities of social media as a discussion topic in the upcoming Penang workshop of Communications Directors
  • Social reporting
  • Twitter / Yammer as a short messaging system
  • Start to think about M&E of social media
  • More strategic use of social bookmarking
  • More strategic use of Wikipedia, Bioversity experience
  • Google apps for increased collaboration needs in the CG
  • Use social media promote a campaign (Facebook, YouTube)
  • Support school to school exchanges in Africa (Mobile phones)

The other topic we started to surface in the call relates to the question on how we might use social media in the “new” CGIAR: Should we have a strategic approach or should we experiment and learn first?

  • We should go the exploratory path. We could put some funds into pilot projects, learn and make recommendations.
  • We need to start to think about quantitative and qualitative analysis of the experiments we undertake.
  • We could start to more intensively aggregate feeds from different centers
  • Social media could kick off the Marketing group again who lost its energy and impact. The Marketing group was networking solution of its day. We should combine it with social media, the technological aspects and open it up to new members.
  • Social media is subversive as it goes around the formal channels element. And this is the perfect time to present the opportunities and do some positive disruptions within the CG
  • Social media represent the tools of the future. We need mechanisms to get to talk about them widely, and go beyond the experts to reach a second level of adoption.-    Social media can empower the younger CG staff. We should let them show us the way through social media instead of telling them what to do.
  • We need to show the impact of social media in research to convince.

Some closing impressions from participants

  • Now I know some people I can go to if I have questions
  • We shouldn’t be that careful and try things out.
  • The potential of social media becomes clearer
  • We have to look at the M&E of social media
  • Look at http://search.twitter.com/search?q=agriculture just to get a sense how powerful Twitter might be!

Our colleagues Sophie Alvarez and Boru Douthwaite from the CGIAR are busy with their team supporting projects all over the globe with their project planning and M&E by using a novel approach that has lots to do with knowledge sharing. The Participatory Impact Pathways (PIPA) is now outlined in our KS Toolkit.

Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA) is a project planning and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) approach. It is a relatively young and experimental approach that draws from program theory evaluation, social network analysis and research to understand and foster innovation. It is designed to help the people involved in a project, program or organization make explicit their theories of change, in other words how they see themselves achieving their goals and having impact.

More at: http://www.kstoolkit.org/Participatory_Impact_Pathways_Analysis_%28PIPA%29