The April 2009 edition of the CGIAR E-News has just been released and is now available- see CGIAR News April 2009.cgiar-news-april_ks-article-highlighted

According the Laura Ivers  from the CGIAR Secretariat Communications Unit who produces the E-News- from her Yammer post:

” This issue highlights innovative CGIAR research initiatives delivered through collective action and partnerships and the promising impact of this work in the field. We hope you find the information to be of interest.”

Of particular interest in this issue is an article prepared by Nadia Manning-Thomas, project Leader of the Knowledge Sharing in Research Project, on the recently held Knowledge Share Fair. Held in FAO HQ in Rome in January 2009, this innovative event was the first of its kind, organised by FAO, CGIAR (through the ICT-KM program), Bioversity, IFAD and WFP.

To read this article see- ‘Thanks for sharing’


Vanessa Meadu

The concept of paying it forward fits in nicely with Vanessa Meadu’s idea of the nature of true knowledge sharing. She strongly believes that when you benefit from someone else’s experiences and knowledge, you can optimize that gift by passing it onto others who can profit from it, too. As such, it’s possible for a single knowledge sharing event to create a ripple effect capable of touching a large number of people outside of the event.

Not only did this Nairobi-based Communications and Project Officer benefit from the recent Share Fair held at FAO Headquarters in Rome, but she also has great respect for the CGIAR’s burgeoning Knowledge Sharing community.

“It’s certainly advantageous to have a knowledge sharing community in the CGIAR,” she said. “Among other things, the members provide a great support system. If I have a question about, say, blogging, I can email Simone Staiger-Rivas (Project Leader of the ICT-KM Program’s Institutional Knowledge Sharing project), and if I have a question about technology, I can email someone else for assistance. It’s good to have someone to turn to for advice.

“Being able to communicate with knowledge sharing experts is invaluable. Events like the Share Fair helped reinforce that feeling, and that’s what I’m trying to do at ICRAF now. I let people know that there are knowledge sharing examples from which they can learn, as well as people who are willing to share their knowledge with them. So I’m going to try to bring that out a little more in the sessions I conduct and also encourage other people to give innovative knowledge sharing examples of their own. The KS community needs to keep growing, and we can only do this by continuing to share knowledge and experience with our peers.”

Walking the Talk  

This dynamic woman admits that the Share Fair has already had a spin-off effect at her Center. “The Fair has been a big incentive towards a movement for better knowledge sharing at ICRAF,” she explained. “Since the event, I’ve held two seminars, one of which I wrote about on the ICT-KM Program’s blog. I conducted a small lunchtime session with the Center’s communications unit and shared with them some of the experiences we had with newsletters and blogging for the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins (ASB), a CGIAR System-wide program.

“I then conducted an open session for the entire ICRAF campus called Blogging for Impact. I talked about how the ASB blog has been used to enhance dissemination and knowledge about our research and our activities. I also gave participants information about our web stats and publication downloads, to show the tangible impact it’s had on research dissemination. This session was extremely well attended. We even had people coming in from off-campus. Most people attending had heard of blogs and had read them, but they’d never had experience using them in their research and in their project activities. I’d say that for about 90% of the people this was a fairly new concept.

“People got really excited. One guy even asked me if we could do a week-long course. It was also heartening to see a lot of scientists in the room. These are the people we want to reach, and these are the people we also want inspire to think differently about communications.”

E-News is not Old News

Getting back to the Share Fair … Vanessa also shared some ideas and insights at this event.

Drawing on her experience coordinating and distributing the monthly email newsletter for the ASB partnership, Vanessa participated in a panel session called E-News is not Old News, which was based on a proposal she developed with her Nairobi-based colleagues at ICRAF, Gender & Diversity, and CIMMYT. The panel responded to questions about the strategic use of email newsletters to reach a broad audience, specifically in the African context, and also discussed this tool as an appropriate means of reaching people who may not have regular or fast Internet access.

“The panel session was well received,” said Vanessa as she summed up the event. “Many participants simply wanted advice on how to put together an effective newsletter. As such, they really hadn’t thought about the great potential of this tool. People asked very practical questions, but I think the more interesting questions concerned the use of email newsletters to broaden knowledge sharing impacts. I think an e-newsletter should be a way of bringing people to an organization’s website. It should be both a standalone tool and a means of increasing hits and drawing people to a site by posing summaries of the stories in the newsletter, with links to the full story online. Many people reacted very positively to this idea. Although it’s a very simple idea, it has so much potential to make a difference.”

The Big Picture
As the interview wound down, Vanessa contemplated the impact knowledge sharing could have on the larger CGIAR.

“There is such a wealth of knowledge and expertise within the Centers, and it’s vital that we encourage people to learn from each other, and let them know about the resources that are out there and the good practices they can build on. We can have a high standard of knowledge sharing throughout the CGIAR System if we capitalize on these kinds of events and keep the momentum going at each of our Centers.

Click to read the latest ASB e-newsletter: March 2009 – ASB endorses call for US leadership on Forests and Climate Protection

Tonya and her colleague Phillip Amoah

Tonya and her colleague Phillip Amoah

When Tonya Schuetz arrived at the Share Fair in Rome earlier this year, her main goal was to see and do as much as possible. She was especially keen to expose herself to new knowledge sharing methodologies and talk to as many people as she could about their experiences. However, after looking at the event’s packed program, she realized that she wouldn’t be able to cover everything that piqued her interest. At least, not on her own. That’s when her resourcefulness came into play.

As Tonya explained, “The program was very, very full. Sometimes, I couldn’t make up my mind as to which sessions I should attend. I wanted to go to so many. So I enlisted the help of a few people who went to the sessions I couldn’t attend. Then we would meet up during the breaks to exchange notes. I also managed to visit all of the booths and probably talked to the people manning half of those. I got some really good ideas from them.”

“Some of the sessions were very inspiring and exposed me to new methodology that I’m keen to use. For example, I loved the competition approach shown in a Latin American application that was exhibited at one of the booths; knowledge was shared when the competitors came together to present their submissions. I’m interested to explore the possibilities of using this methodology in Africa, but without the formal written application. Radio phone-ins might be a suitable alternative or we could have someone go out to collect the applications through interviews.”

Safe Food despite Waste Water Irrigation
In between attending sessions, Tonya also presented the work of a pilot project she had led under the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project.

“The Safe Food despite Waste Water Irrigation project was extremely well received,” she said. “People were interested in both the knowledge sharing methodology we’d used and the year-long research IWMI and its partners had done in health risk reduction with waste-water-irrigated vegetables, so I was happy with the response from the participants.”

Tonya also talked about the project’s poster presentation, which showed the different knowledge sharing methodologies that had been used to support the research and how the project had benefited from them.

“Over the course of the research project, we conducted World Café sessions for individual target groups to test the health-reducing methodologies developed, aired radio programs in local languages, and produced training DVDs on good practices, one for on-farm and the other for caterers preparing food with raw vegetables. Together with representatives of the agricultural extension agents, we also designed some outreach materials, such as flip charts with messages that the extension workers can use as cues.”

“During a road show, we brought the various stakeholder groups (farmers, buyers, caterers and local authorities) together along the contamination pathway on a bus tour and had representatives present the health reduction methodologies we’d developed at each station. The road show closed with a discussion, interaction among the different stakeholder participants, and a quiz. Contacts with the private sector were also established and resulted in their uptake and use of the training materials at their marketing events, where they showed the post-harvesting, safe-food-handling videos.”

“You could say it was a knowledge sharing methodology mix”, concluded Tonya.

Getting the Mix Right
Despite the success of the project, Tonya did wonder if they’d used the right mix of methodologies to support their research in an optimal way, a topic she had talked about during another Share Fair session, where she was one of four presenters.

“I talked about the tool mix that we used for our research projects and how we can evaluate ourselves to see if we’ve got it right. I posed the question: At what point do you know that you have the right methodology mix? Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to discuss this in any depth during the session, so I would love to be able to pick this up again at some point.”

What the Organizers Got Right
Like many Share Fair participants, Tonya was glad to see PowerPoint presentations taking a back seat for a change.

“The organizers did a great job, and it was good to see an event of that magnitude being successfully conducted without the use of PowerPoint presentations,” she said. “And the quality of exchanging knowledge and information certainly didn’t suffer. Quite the opposite. When people get the chance to talk to each other, they love it. Whenever I attend a conference, it’s the talking bit and the experience exchange and the other person’s lessons that I’m interested in.”

Of course, Tonya is aware that some people still think that such methodologies cannot possibly get across the same amount of information as a PowerPoint presentation can.

“I process information by talking to others, so it was good to talk during the breaks. Others processed their information by blogging and twittering during breaks, thereby making their experiences available to people who were not able to participate in the Share Fair.”

Looking Ahead
Although the Share Fair was a resounding success, Tonya feels that many people are not yet confident enough to do things in a different way, especially when the support they received while initiating a methodology is no longer there.

“We have to follow up, and provide back-stopping” she said. “We also have to realize that some people are more talented than others when it comes to conceptualizing and realizing interactive knowledge sharing methodologies in their research work. The CGIAR has so many different events, and they can all incorporate different knowledge sharing methodologies into their various activities. That way, techniques can be experienced by other people and also improved.”

So many events, so many possibilities …

Meena in Penang

Meena in Penang

Mary Schneider talks with Meena Arivananthan

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you might have gotten a high out of the recent Share Fair held at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy. Or as Meena Arivananthan described it “A buzz from the buzz.”

“I enjoyed the adrenaline rush,” said Meena, the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Management & Sharing Officer. “Just the idea that I could meet so many different people from different organizations in one place was quite exciting. When you find out that they’re doing things that you’re interested to know more about, it helps you to open up a conversation. Now that I’m back at The WorldFish Center in Penang, Malaysia, where I’m based, I find myself going back to the Share Fair website in an attempt to relive that feeling. It was a great experience.”

Meena was also asked to facilitate two sessions at the Fair. To make sure she carried out the tasks assigned to her with ease, she began familiarizing herself with the content of the presentations as soon as she’d agreed to be a facilitator and was immediately impressed by the originality of the methodology highlighted in one of the video presentations.

Share Fair participants who sat in on this particular presentation were shown a video of a water contest in Bolivia – an event that helped rural communities to capture and share local good practices. Finalist in the water contest had their practices documented by a film team, and the resulting videos were then shown at an exposition fair in the country. Showcasing the videos in such a way enabled the exchange of local knowledge and experiences on good water use practices. The contest also provided an opportunity to link the rural poor to national policy level and other development institutions.

“People who attended this session were interested to find out who would actually benefit from such a video and also how much it would cost to make one,” said Meena. “Although it can be relatively expensive to put such an effective communication tool together, there is a lot of scope for replication and upscaling. To give you an idea of cost, a similar video shot in Africa using a local film crew cost about US$10-15,000.”

The other session Meena facilitated involved a successful pilot project in Bangladesh that is now looking to upscale its activities with input from others. The project aims to educate policy makers in Bangladesh and seeks their involvement to bring about change.

During this Share Fair session, participants were asked to give their comments and views on the project’s goals.

“I think the project did make some progress,” said Meena. “The session got a lot of people interested in what the project was doing, and I think this may lead to meetings outside of the session. So that meeting really did make a difference.”

Other than facilitating her two events, Meena also attended some of the Fair’s other sessions.

“By far, my highlight of the Share Fair was seeing people from FAO, IFAD and the CGIAR actually talking. Anyone who has been to FAO headquarters before will probably remember it as a stoic-looking building that doesn’t encourage conversation. But during the Share Fair, booths were set up in the atrium, giving it a marketplace feel. People just walked in and out of booths eager to share what they had with others. A lot of interest was generated. Collaboration was in the air, which is what you expect from such an event. People were so open to sharing. I just hope this attitude continues outside of the Fair.”

The Fair also benefited Meena in ways that will help her with her work at The WorldFish Center.

“I attended a hands-on session on podcasting,” she explained. “I was wondering how tough podcasting might be, but Luca Servo of FAO explained it in a simplified way. It was like an “Idiot’s Guide” type of presentation. I found that very useful, and I can see me using it in the future.”

Meena also commented on the impact the Share Fair and other knowledge sharing activities might have on the CGIAR as a system.

“I think that many new linkages were formed at the Fair. There is already an online community of knowledge sharing proponents (KM4DEV), and I think more CGIAR staff are getting involved in this. Beyond that, I also think people are very excited about using the KS Toolkit as a result of its increased visibility at the Fair. A lot of new CGIAR staff also attended the event and were quite excited with the things that were going on. I think that’s also something that’s going to grow.”

Time for another buzz, perhaps.

Thursday, 22 Jan 09. For the first session I attended the technical session on ‘Technical Tools on RSS’ in the E-learning Lab. The session was facilitated by Pier Andrea Pirani (Euforic) and Romolo Tassone (FAO).  We were joined by Nancy White, facilitator extraordinaire, to help us on the practical exercise.

The session gave us an introduction to the RSS and a very useful practical session on how to sign up for an RSS reader, where to find RSS on a website, how to gather RSS feeds and how to subscribe to websites and blogs. In no time, everyone was busy building up their own RSS!  

You can learn more about RSS feeds, what they are, how to use them at:

– RSS is a way to get a quick list of the latest story headlines from all your favorites websites and blogs.

– RSS makes it a lot easier and faster for you to get the stories you care about from around the web without having to visit them all individually.

– Look for an RSS symbol on a website, blog or browser window to ‘subscribe’ to their RSS list feed.  

Via RSS, we can pick and choose what we need, take what we are interested in, and use RSS to make navigating the web content a lot more precise and suited to our individual needs.

So what is RSS?  —- I am ready for some stories!  

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.



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.

…then you should have attended the session on ‘KM strategies and activities for rural development’ that took place in the India Room on Thursday 22nd January from 13:45-15:00 at the Share Fair—or you can at least find out a bit of what went on in the session by reading this blog post.

The session began with a short verbal presentation of two projects on the topics of:

  1. Embedding KM tools such as documenting learning and systematisation in rural development projects—IFAD
  2. Sharing knowledge to do things better: embedding KM strategy in rural development projescts–IFAD-PAMA

Some highlights from the presentations included:

  • workshop was a key instrument used through the project–particularly thematic workshops
  • capturing interesting stories from the field and publishing them using the website and also local media
  • study tours and exchanges between one community and another
  • project website (but more for purpose of collating the materials from the project rather than for daily work)
  • video on the program and its experiences–targetted at bringing visibility to the program and the issue of market linkages to top of national agenda
  • invited politicians to be invovled in a number of visable events–to capture their attention
  • policy workshops, working groups