Meena Arivananthan

Meena Arivananthan

Six months ago, when Meena Arivananthan posted the first installment of her Social Media Series on our blog, no one could have envisaged the impact and popularity of her articles. This versatile woman has a passion for both writing and knowledge sharing, attributes that are evident in her posts. Indeed, those initial pieces, written in Meena’s informative, reader-friendly style, guaranteed that visitors to our blog would keep coming back for more.

A Knowledge Management and Sharing Officer tasked with overseeing our Triple A Project, Meena joined the Program at the beginning of 2009, a mere three months before she began writing her blog series – an obvious testimony to her ability to quickly embrace new technology and tools and translate her  know-how for others to understand. However, this modest young woman is quick to point out that she couldn’t have written some of her pieces without input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas

Find out more about Meena in her Program profile.

If you missed any of the articles in Meena’s series, the following handy recap will let you know where you can get information and tips on using newsfeeds, wikis, microblogging, and much, much more:

1. Microblogging
Looks at microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer

2. Blogging for impact
Blogging and agricultural research

3. Social Media: how do you know it’s working?
Incorporating social media into your communications strategy

4. Social Networks: friend or foe?
Using social networking sites to your advantage

5. Social Media: Are You Listening?
Practicing social media listening

6. Social Bookmarking: storm-a-brewing
Social bookmarking and the CGIAR

7. Wikis, sites, docs and pads: the many flavours of collaborative writing
Tools for collaborative writing

8. Are newsletters a dying breed?
How effective are e-newsletters today?

9. Newsfeeds: delivering the latest news to your virtual doorstep; and ways to share it!

Taking advantage of newsfeeds

10. Put it out there! Tools for photo, video and slideshow sharing

How to share photos, videos and slideshows


11. Social Media: The Next revolution

How agricultural research and development organizations can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs

During the recent World Congress of Agroforestry (WCA2009) in Nairobi, Kenya, the Congress reporting team plunged headlong into social media in a bid to maximize the event’s communications, which was achieved via the Congress blog, the @icraf Twitter account, pictures on Flickr and bookmarks on Del.icio.us.

Much energy and care went into the blog, which the team used for reporting on keynote sessions, announcing presentations and updates as they became available, highlighting the main articles published in the media and in other blogs about the Congress, and publishing the occasional opinion piece on what was being discussed in the sessions.

It was a challenge having to set up a reporting process in a few days, especially since there was so much more going on during the Congress, but the energy and motivation of the people involved helped with this unprecedented task.

However, the real challenge was getting started on Twitter. First, we had to get the team organized into ‘shifts’. We were lucky to have two volunteers joining us, enabling us to cover the keynote sessions. Second, we tried to keep an eye on how word was spreading about the Congress themes and speakers. And that’s when we found another ‘twitterer’ who was sharing info bits containing the Congress’ WCA2009 hashtag.

Curious and excited, Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF) and I tracked down our fellow twitterer and discovered it was Tom Vandenbosch, Programme Coordinator in the Training Unit at ICRAF. A scientist on Twitter? Yes. And much more, as you’ll find out from the following conversation we had with him.

Tom Vandenbosch (ICRAF)

Tom Vandenbosch (ICRAF)

[Antonella – AP]. Tom, who did you have in mind when you were tweeting from the WCA?
[Tom – TV].
Nobody in particular, because I have a few followers. It was more about taking notes and bookmarking interesting things for myself.

[AP]. How long have you been on Twitter?
[TV].
I haven’t had my personal account for a long time. I’m doing a PhD in e-learning, and as part of my studies, I have been testing many social media tools under different names.

[AP]. Did you follow the @icraf tweets?
[TV].
Yes, I followed them from the sessions. But honestly, I think it was overwhelming to have a sort of play-by-play report of what was being presented. Just the key facts emerging from the sessions would have been okay. People are following so many Twitter accounts, so it’s a bit of overloading. On another front, it helped me discover that it’s possible to have RSS feeds for hashtag searches on Twitter, so you can follow the conversations on a given topic with a RSS reader as well. Moreover, I think it’s good that we have the Twitter account labelled ICRAF, it’s short and handy to quote in re-tweets and replies.

[AP]. Do you think that tweets from the various sessions added any value to your Congress experience?
[TV].
It added a lot of value, especially because there were many things going on at the same time. They made it possible me to follow the sessions that I couldn’t attend. The next time Twitter is used for ICRAF events, there will hopefully be more followers and less irrelevant tweets. For example, a tweet like “#WCA2009 Noordwijk leaves the podium to a round of applause following a lovely sing-song!” is not very relevant to a person who is not at the event. Tweets should be used sparingly to avoid flooding followers’ Twitter streams. Potential followers will automatically be attracted to Twitter accounts that tweet high quality information, since this information can be re-tweeted by others. On the other hand, ICRAF might considerr promoting its Twitter account more widely in order to get more followers.

[AP]
. Have you been to other conferences where people were on Twitter?
[TV].
I attended one in FAO last June, where some participants were posting to Twitter but not in a systematic way. But FAO now tweets from a number of interesting accounts, including faonews for news releases and related coverage, and FAOWFD for World Food Day.

[AP]. Do you have colleagues at ICRAF or other institutions who are bloggers and twitterers?
[TV].
Besides Vanessa, who blogs at ASB (Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins) and PRESA (Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa), there are some others, but I don’t know if they’re real staff, students or interns. These blogs usually contain personal stories.

[AP]. Would you recommend your colleagues at ICRAF to get engaged with social media?
[TV].
Definitely. There’s a lot of value in Web 2.0 tools, but I think we’re over-creating new blogs and Twitter accounts, instead of consolidating what we have already, including our presence on other high-impact blogs.  It would be better to liaise and engage with those who are already out there, the same way you want to be on high-impact research journals. To give you an extreme example, if Britney Spears were tweeting about trees on farms, that would be excellent. She has more than 3 million followers on Twitter now, while ICRAF has about 100.

Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF)

Vanessa Meadu (ICRAF)

[Vanessa – VM]. ASB has contributed to a new blog, the Rural Climate Exchange, where the CGIAR is bringing together the Climate Change and Agriculture initiatives from across the System. Most of the content is developed by professional writers working closely with communications staff in the Centers. This type of collaboration, especially on such a high-profile issue, is bringing a lot of added value with minimal additional cost.

[TV]. When blogs get linked by popular traditional media, they often get a big boost. For example, a blog called Africa Expat Wives Club became one of the most popular blogs in Kenya after being featured in The Times.

[AP]. Do you think that social media have a role in mainstreaming agroforestry research?
[
TV]. Yes, but it is different if we talk about the general public or the scientific community. With the general public, we need to target people on social networks who are interested in receiving information about agroforestry. That’s what my PhD research is all about: me-learning, a new form of e-learning, based on individual requirements, on recommendations based on the user experience history, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Through cookies or other existing technologies, e-learners can receive learning propositions that suit their interests, experience levels and learning styles.

The role of social media would be different within the scientific community. Scientists tend to have a more traditional approach to publishing, through papers, assessments, journals, etc. And this has an influence on how they perceive the worth of a communications channel. It could possibly take another generation of scientists to start realizing the value of social media for science.

Perhaps it would be easier for them to perceive this value if more projects used these tools to gather data, such as via SMS-based systems. I’m thinking, for example, of an adaptation of Ushahidi for the collection of scientific data from a range of specific locations. Ushahidi is a platform that crowdsources crisis information: people can report incidents via the Web, email and SMS. The reports are then aggregated, geo-referenced, browsable and searchable on the Web.

[VM]. Many projects I’m working on at the moment have a knowledge sharing and communications component built in the design, so this is changing… like with the PRESA, it was a direct request from the donor, IFAD. Impetus is coming from different places, and this could shift research priorities. Many of the scientists I work with understand the value of integrating knowledge into a proposal, with proper funding for it. Hopefully the trend is over, of asking the communications unit to churn out a policy brief at no cost, after the project is already finished.

In the beginning … 
Shwu Jiau Teoh

Shwu Jiau Teoh

Way back in the early 1980s, there was no email in CGIAR. When scientists wanted to collaborate with each other, they did so using the technology available at that time: phone, fax, telex and cable. Some of these communication methods were often slow and unreliable, and always expensive – factors that had a direct bearing on critical research efforts. Then in 1985, with the advent of email across the CGIAR System, things began looking up. Almost overnight, day-to-day communications became much faster and cheaper. However, long-distance collaborative efforts could still be slow and, at times, confusing.

The age of social media

Fast forward to the 21st century and we have a completely different scenario on our hands. Welcome to the Age of Social Media!

To find out how today’s scientists are collaborating in the CGIAR, we caught up with WorldFish GIS specialist Shwu Jiau Teoh at her office in Penang, Malaysia.

“I feel social media is changing the way some CGIAR researchers work with partners and present the results of their research,” she says. “For example, my team uses Google Sites to share documents and collaborate. It’s easy to create a website using the Google Sites template. You don’t even have to have a programming background – I picked it up in a few minutes. It’s ideal for accessing and sharing information and it’s free.”

Site features

Shwu Jiau is also impressed with the various features and functions of Google Sites.

“My team in Penang needs to be able to share information and collaborate with our Chinese partners while working on our project Valuing Living Aquatic Resources of Wetlands in China, led by Dr. Suan Pheng Kam,” she explains. “We started using the site last May, when the project first got underway, and we feel that the 10GB of storage (Google Apps standard edition) is more than enough for our needs. We have created content on a public Google site, so that visitors are informed of our work as the project advances. But we also set up a restricted site available to just our team members for sharing knowledge and documents in one place. The site settings allow us to easily assign different levels of permission to our members.

“Any changes to a document are tracked in a history archive, so we can follow the evolution of a document as it is accessed and changed by the various team members. There’s also a calendar, a section where members can see announcements in real time, and a page for project and research documentation. A dashboard page, which is by default a two-column webpage with four placeholder gadgets, automatically gives an overview of the project: an embedded calendar with the most recent posts from the announcements page, a list of updated files from the project document page and links to the different research components page.

File Cabinet

Of all the easy-to-use features available on Google Sites, this GIS specialist feels the File Cabinet, in which project documents and literature are stored, to be the one that team members value the most.

“Without Google Sites, we would have to communicate via email, which wouldn’t be convenient when we want to share large files, as some mail boxes have limitations,” she explains. “The File Cabinet is very useful for storing our reports and research literature. In addition, it immediately displays the latest version of all our documents. This makes it easy for team members to keep up to date and also helps with the compilation of donor reports – this is easily done by referring to the related documents available on the project page, without having to search through all the annexes.

“We also use the File Cabinet when we want to prepare material for a workshop and need input from our Chinese counterparts. At the conclusion of a workshop, we usually upload material from the event onto the site for the team members to access and also embed into the site a Picasa slideshow that displays the workshop photo album. There’s no way we could go back to using just email to accomplish this.”

It looks as if Shwu Jiau and her team have their feet firmly planted in the 21st century.

For those who are already using Google Sites, we’d love to hear your story, too.

Thanks to Nancy White, workshop facilitator for sharing this update.

The “Social Media in International Development” Workshop kicked off on September 7th with four CGIAR members, two World Bank staffers, a representative from a Dutch NGO and from an Australian university.

With this diversity, the group was off to a great start in their work to understand the application of social media in international development. We covered four continents and 5 time zones!

The first week focused on understanding social media and the context for the its use in development. There are many potential applications from supporting scientific research, collaboration, engaging with stakeholders and disseminating information. The accompanying mind map offers a glimpse of the conversation, which included  defining social media, exploring the participant’s potential applications and then beginning to open up the implications of the use of social media.

Social_Media_in_International_Development_Workshop_

Click here to enlarge

These week one conversations held  asynchronously online and with a weekly telephone/skype call set the stage for week two which began an exploration of three types of social media identified by the group: blogs, wikis and collaborative platforms. This activity will culminate in the production of a summary page on a blog, wiki or added to the existing base resource of the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit http://www.kstoolkit.org

In addition to the conversations,

Chantal and Vanessa tweeting from the plenary on Day 1

Chantal and Vanessa tweeting from the plenary on Day 1, WCA2009

We’re past midway through the Congress, it’s end of Day 3. The WCA2009 blog is up and running with a variety of posts, lots of photos are available on the ICRAF Flickr photostream, and the @icraf on Twitter has 300 tweets from the plenary sessions and a few side events (and went from 0 to 90 followers in 3 days).

The reporting team embraced the idea of posting informal reports from the sessions and the conversations in the hallways. And even people who had never had the opportunity to blog before posted a few interesting things. In fact, most of the social media team became new users of blogging, photo sharing and microblogging tools.

At the beginning of this buzz-making adventure, we started to promote the use of the #WCA2009 tag. However, the full name of the Congress has been around for a while, so we’re keeping an eye on World Congress of Agroforestry as well.

While it’s early to draw any conclusions on how it’s going based on the numbers, here’s  a list of places I’m keeping an eye on to track how the WCA2009 is doing on the Social Web.

Google Blog Search

The name says it all: it’s Google search just for blogs. Using it to search for full name of Congress.

World Congress of Agroforestry on Google Blogs Search

World Congress of Agroforestry on Google Blogs Search

Socialmention.com

Socialmention.com helps you search selectively on blogs, microblogs, comments, events, bookmarks, videos, Q&As, audio, video. The hashtag and the full Congress name are showing results in real time (a bit contaminated by a concurrent use of the WCA2009 tag for a number of different events).

#WCA2009 hashtag search on microblogs via Socialmention.com

#WCA2009 hashtag search on microblogs via Socialmention.com

Twitterfall

Real-time tracking and display of whatever you’re keeping an eye on. Here’s the fall this afternoon on the WCA2009 tag. Thanks to @romolotassone for pointing me to this.

WCA2009 on Twitterfall

WCA2009 on Twitterfall

Tweetgrid

Helps you visualize multiple real-time searches on one screen

Hashtag and Congress name search on Tweetgrid

Hashtag and Congress name search on Tweetgrid

Backtweets.com

Useful to track the links to the ICRAF site on Twitter, reads ‘through’ short URLs.

Backtweets

Backtweets

What else is out there? If you have tried these approaches before, how do they compare to each other? Any strategy you want to suggest? We’d love to know.

The 2nd World Congress on Agroforestry starts Monday and preparations are hectic here at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi.

The reporting team is getting ready to make some buzz about the Congress. We’ll do our best to leverage social media to increase reach, participation and sharing during the Congress. We have a team of 8 eager reporters ready to go.

Whether you’re participating in the Congress or not, you will be able to follow what’s going on through a variety of channels:

We’re looking for volunteers to rove the Congress meeting rooms, hallways and corridors to scout some good stories.

This post on WCA 2009 Blog has more about how to join the social reporters: check out the tags and how to contact us.

Get in touch!

poster_ILRI… at final last. This morning I was at ILRI Headquarters in Nairobi to meet with a few people that I had only met virtually, via email or skype or phone. With some we carry out common work so it’s a steady relationship.  It was so good to finally have the opportunity to meet them in person.

First, Evelyn Katingi, from the Collective Action Regional Plan: we’ve been working together on the CGIAR Research Map. We talked about the status of Phase II developments and the feedback she is getting about the Research Map from the scientists she’s in touch with all the time. Very promising outlook for this project.

Muthoni and Susan, Public Awareness, ILRI

Muthoni and Susan, Public Awareness, ILRI

Then, Susan McMillan, Head, Public Awareness, and her staff of young, committed people in the PA team. We had no agenda for this meeting, we just wanted to share our experience with social media. And what a job ILRI is doing! Videos, blogs, and online accessible documents! The meeting ended up in a fascinating brainstorming session on how to bring a conversational quality to the documentation process of intense meetings, and eventually in some sort of speed geeking with quick tours of what we are doing on the Web.

Finally I met with Ian Moore, the ILRI-ICRAF IT Manager. I had met Ian before but only very quickly at the IT Managers’ meeting in Bioversity back in 2007 when I had just arrived in the CG and was still pretty frightened at the new turn in my career. Forty-five minutes with Ian were enough to agree on some key points of the single sign on project for CGXchange 2.0 that has been discussed with other colleagues online for a few weeks now.

Last but not least, I met Leah Ndungu, Research Management Officer, who is the EasyMTP Focal Point at ILRI. It had only been skype chats and phone calls with Leah so far, mostly in the rush of the MTP submission deadline. So it was good to finally see her smiling face.

Off to ICRAF in the afternoon where I met Michael Hailu, Director of Communications, and Solomon Mwangi, Web Developer. And this is only a taste of the great bunch of people who will make the reporting team at the Second World Congress on Agroforestry. We’re getting ready to bring in the social Web to the Congress starting from Monday 24.

Self portrait of the author on ILRI campus

Self portrait of the author on ILRI campus

As Tania suggested in her post on the wiki session at FAO, we’re getting really good at online collaboration, but eventually nothing beats the power of the face and the personal touch.

Thank you, all, it was good to see you…

… at final last. This morning I was at ILRI Headquarters in Nairobi to meet with a few

people that I had only met virtually, via email or skype or phone. With some we carry out

common work so it’s a steady relationship. so it was so good to finally have the opportunity

to meet them in person.

First, Evelyn Katingi, from the Collective Action Regional Plan: we’ve been working together

on the CGIAR Research Map. We talked about the status of Phase II developments and the

feedback she is getting about the Research Map from the scientists she’s in touch with all

the time. Very promising outlook for this project.

Then, Susan McMillan, Head, Public Awareness, and her staff of young, committed people in

the PA team. We had no agenda for this meeting, we just wanted to share our experience with

social media. And what a job ILRI is doing! videos, blogs, and online accessible documents!

The meeting ended up in a fascinating brainstorming session on how to bring a conversational

quality to intense meetings, and eventually in some sort of speed-geeking with quick tours

of what we are doing on the Web.

Finally I met with Ian Moore, the ILRI-ICRAF IT Manager. I had met Ian before but only very

quickly at the IT Managers’ meeting in Bioversity back in 2007 when I had just arrived in

the CG and was still pretty frightened at the new turn in my career. Forty-five minutes with

Ian were enough to agree on some key points of the single sign on project for CGX 2.0 that

has been discussed with other colleagues online for a few weeks now.

Last but not least, I met Leah Ndungu, Research Management Officer, who is the EasyMTP Focal

Point at ILRI. It had only been skype chats and phone calls with Leah so far, mostly in the

rush of the MTP submission deadline. So it was good to finally see her smiling face.

Off to ICRAF in the afternoon where I met Michael Hailu, Director of Communications, and Solomon Mwangi, Web Developer. And this is only a taste of the great bunch who will make the reporting team at the World Congress on Agroforestry. We’re getting ready to bring in the social Web to the Congress starting from Monday 24.

As Tania suggested in her post, we’re getting really good at online collaboration, but

eventually nothing beats the power of the face and the personal touch.

Thank you, all, it was good to see you…

© 2003 - Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar Animation Studios

Source: IMDb - © 2003 - Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar Animation Studios

When I started drafting this post about our traffic trends for the first two quarters of 2009, I thought I’d call it: Six months of social media and how are we doing? But, as I was writing it, I realized that the story I wanted to tell was more about what we’ve learned so far from blogging and increasing the visibility of the ICT-KM Program on the Web than just measuring the impact of social media per se. Of course, the use of social media is part of the bigger picture, but what I had to say had more to do with an organic approach to the monitoring and evaluation of our Web publishing work.

Traffic monitoring and analysis play a big role in gathering insights into what we’re doing on the Web and how we’re doing it. In a previous post about including social media appropriately in a communications plan and measuring its effectiveness, the core message was ‘measure as you go and abandon that which doesn’t work‘. Well, here I attempt to explain what we’re learning from the main ways in which we measure traffic (blog page views and referrers, the two core stats provided by hosted blogs at WordPress.com) and what we’ve learned so far about blogging.

(more…)

Why do some of us shy away from trying out new technology such as social media? I can think of several reasons: too complicated to figure out; too expensive to implement; my supervisor/colleagues would never approve; more suitable for geeks and teenagers; it’ll take too much time … Or my personal favorite: I like things the way they are now.

Matt Hamm's social media bandwagonYes, change can be a pain, because it can shake up your organized, structured existence. However, we can’t close our eyes and hope the Internet will go away. While I feel we should not jump onto the social media bandwagon just because everyone else is doing so, social media’s potential cannot be denied. Whatever the reason people give for avoiding social media, don’t let ignorance and fear hold you back from what will probably be the next revolution in the way people communicate.

Social media is breaking down communication barriers: allowing people to reach out to others around the world – letting them connect, engage and share among themselves. Now more than ever, agricultural research and development organizations such as ours can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs.

Social media tools can help you in your role as researcher, manager or communicator.

If all you’re interested in doing is organizing your online world, there are several social media tools that can simplify your life. These include social bookmarking sites that can help you organize your website resources and scientific literature. And if you’re struggling to keep abreast of updates from your favorite websites and blogs, newsfeeds may be your ticket out of mayhem. However, if you are yearning for more, hoping to connect with like-minded individuals or wanting to share your organization’s research with a larger audience so that it can be used, applied and improved upon, then read on!

The true value of social media lies in its ability to form communities organically. Often these communities, or social networks as they are called, come together because of common interests or a shared purpose. It is a nurturing environment filled with trust and camaraderie – the perfect milieu for effective collaboration and the sharing of ideas, information and knowledge. Add to that an outreach across vast geographical distances and the cross-linking between the different social media tools, and voila! You have a global, inter-linked audience at your fingertips.

Social media can give your communication strategy a boost in the following ways:

  • It can help you tap into a large, global audience base and go where the people are these days – the Internet!
  • The way people source for information has evolved. They are more discerning, preferring to seek out recommendations and suggestions from their colleagues, peers and experts. Information overload is a major concern, so people will not waste their time visiting a website, blog, database or any other resource unless someone they trust points them in that direction.
  • The usual way we do business is slowly coming to an end. Pushing information out to your target audience does not guarantee that it will be read and used. Information is useful only when it is received by the right person, who is looking, at the right time. Use social media tools as vehicles to get your message out.

How social media can boost your communication strategy:

Increase Visibility

  • Create awareness by raising the profile of your organization on social networking sites. Cultivate long term support for your organization by creating your own network of scientists, research partners and interested individuals.
  • Use social media tools to promote your projects, events and activities. Announce time-sensitive, newsworthy items and get a head-start on others by microblogging. Microblogging involves posting short sentences (max 140 characters) that can be used to promote your journal article or a useful website, act as a reminder for an activity, or even ask questions. Tip: Ensure that your microblogging network consists of like-minded individuals who share your interests and concerns so that the information exchange is meaningful. Be prudent in selecting whom you follow.
  • Promote your name: use social media to establish your reputation in the research and development arena. Blogging is a great way for researchers to share their research ideas with others and gain feedback from a wider, online audience. A recent Blog Tips post  provides practical reasons why blog sites may surpass websites in generating traffic to increase Internet presence.Well-thought-out blogs attract people with similar thoughts and queries, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.

Engage people

  • Promote issues that resonate with people to encourage involvement and gather support for your cause. A great example of this is the Obama campaign which relied heavily on social media to garner visibility and support, resulting in victory for the Obama camp.
  • Form strategic alliances with influential people and institutions that help boost your organization’s profile.
  • Source expertise or talent, whether potential research partners, service providers or other experts.
  • In the ICT-KM Program’s Social Media Tool series, I sharedMicrosoft Clipart some thoughts on how social networking sites can help you engage with others. Reinforcing the sentiment that it is easy to find and connect with people of similar interests and even easier to set up online groups, Christian Kreutz and Giacomo Rambaldi provide interesting examples of local and global engagement. They also describe the various levels at which people engage while participating in social networks.

Share Knowledge

  • Social media transcends geographic boundaries. Test your research ideas by sharing them with your colleagues globally. Collaborate, enrich and validate your work at a fraction of the time and cost associated with face-to-face meetings. As wide-reaching as it can be, collaborative sharing sites also come with security options that allow secure knowledge sharing.
  • Create an environment where people recognize your expertise, and establish your organization as the expert in your field of research. Whether you are a researcher who is new to a field and eager to learn more, or the resident expert, share your knowledge and experiences by contributing to insightful blogs. I may be new to blogging, but already I’m learning so much from just opening up to a new community. My boss, Enrica Porcari, CGIAR Chief Information Officer, is a regular blogger and attests to its value. As she believes, and as I have been experiencing, blogs go beyond just sharing your words. The true value of blogging is in the exchange of information and knowledge, and the nurturing environment that allows differing ideas and opinions to emerge without defensiveness.  See how these successful bloggers use their expertise to share and learn:
    • Agricultural Biodiversity blogs  (by Luigi Guarino and Jeremy Cherfas, who are living their passion for all things related to biodiversity in agriculture)
    • ICT-KM Blogs (Blogs on knowledge sharing and social media in the CGIAR by 6 active bloggers and many guest bloggers)
    • Blog Tips (On blogging and social media for non-profits)
    • NEW: Rural Climate Exchange (new CGIAR blog connecting agricultural and environmental science to the climate change agenda) 
  • Share your photographs and videos online. Place useful slides online so others can learn from them. Tip: Think about the keywords/tags that you use to describe your product, such as blog, photograph, slides, videos, etc. How would you search for information online? Use that as a guide for your tags.
  • Get more mileage out of your research outputs by filtering content to fit different social media tools. Think of social media as strategic communication lines that branch outward to several different networks, which in turn branch into other networks.
  • Reach out to interested people outside your regular circle and gain valuable ideas/feedback from your pool of social networks. Practice what some call social listening.

As my colleague Simone Staiger-Rivas often quotes, “Social media is not about technology. It is about conversations enabled by technology.”

  • Going beyond self-promotion, we should be paying attention to conversations that are already ongoing on social media sites; conversations that we are also passionate about. Sharing is a two-way process, and we should take the time to interact with others in a similar fashion.
  • Share resources within interested communities and broaden horizons at a fraction of the time it would take to search for data or information or knowledge on your own. Social Bookmarks and Newsfeeds are great for keeping track of what’s being published on your favorite websites and blogs. Share this with others, and see the favor being returned manifold.

Consider your communication goals when you decide to incorporate social media into your strategy:

  • Decide on whether you want to increase visibility for your organization, share knowledge or engage people.
  • Choose the right social media tool(s) for your organization based on the target audience, research content and technology available.
  • Start small. Many social media tools are relatively low-cost to implement in your organization:
    • Experiment with a low-risk pilot project.
    • Use short timeframes, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
    • Evaluate your progress with pre-determined goals and measure its success. Read Antonella Pastore’s post on how to check if social media is working for you.
    • In the event a social media tool does not work for your organization, it is wise to let go and start over with a different, more suitable tool. Don’t take it too personally.

 Until you try social media out for yourself, you will never know what you’re missing. This reminds me of the days before the mobile telephone came along. Can’t imagine your life without it now, right? Similarly, the potential of social media is limitless. When you use several social media tools in tandem to inform, disseminate, share, collaborate and interact, you work within an environment of networks that grow exponentially. That’s power you can’t afford to ignore. Resistance is futile!

Till next time.

Resources: 

Social media is using the Internet to collaborate, share information, and have a conversation about ideas, and causes we care about, powered by web based tools.” – [We Media]

Background
From the learnings from the successful pilot (See blog posts about the event), and second  Social Media Online Workshop, the CGIAR through its ICT-KM Program, is pleased to offer a new online opportunity for social media explorations, this time with the specific objective to embed social media in participants’ contexts of international development work. This fully online workshop will run from September 7 to 25, 2009.

Social media offers development practitioners and organizations a move from “push” communications towards a place where we can interact with our constituents, listen and engage with them in ways we never could before. It enables us to network with colleagues and some stakeholders. If facilitates collaboration in the lab and in the field.

Social media also offers so many options that it can be overwhelming. This workshop focuses on exploration of social media from some specific development contexts. So instead of saying “there is a tool, how can we use it,” this workshop seeks to answer “we need to do this activity, how can social media support it and under what circumstances.”

If you ask yourself questions like these, you might consider joining the workshop:

  • How can I support collaboration in wide-spread teams?
  • How can I provide opportunities for open dialogue with my stakeholders?
  • How do we support communities of practice and thematic networks, online and offline?
  • How do we share our content and knowledge effectively online?
  • How can we make use of social media under low-bandwidth constraints?

This online workshop is designed for researchers, research and development communications professionals and knowledge sharing practitioners.

Objectives of the workshop
This three week online workshop will provide a collaborative, peer based learning opportunity for you, as development practitioners, to address if and how social media can help address your needs, opportunities or challenges related to collaboration, participation, or communication. By the end of the workshop you should be able to understand and analyze the opportunities that social media can offer in the view of your specific research and development context, identify some potential tools and create a plan of action.

During this workshop you will:

  • Identify possibles usages of social media through small group synchronous and full group asynchronous conversation, exploring opportunities and constraints related to your work.
  • Obtain an understanding and appreciation of the role and value of social media.
  • Explore 2-3 different social media tools which may be appropriate for your context.
  • Start to plan the implementation of one or more social media tools that fit our work environment.
  • Learn from participants of mixed professional and organizational backgrounds.

Outline of the 3-week event

  • Week 1 to 2 – Context and Application of Social Media: Introductions, and telephone conversations in small groups to assess your research for/and development context and identify opportunities for social media practices.
  • Week 2 to 3 – Testing Social Media Tools. Explore select social media tools in small groups.
  • Finalizing week 3 – Reflection for Action. Reflect on individual and group learning of the past two weeks and  create an initial plan for social media implementation.

Maximum Number of participants: 18

Language: English

Participant Requirement/Dedicated time: This workshop offers an in-depth exploration of social media tools adapted to your specific context with personalized support and work in small groups. To do this, we ask the following of each participant:

  • Organize your agenda to dedicate up to 1-1/2 hours per day during the three weeks. If you will be on travel and won’t have time in a particular week, save some time for “catch up.” If you will not be able to participate in more than one week, please consider taking a future workshop. It will become hard to catch up after missing significant time.
  • Participate in weekly telecons of  60-90 minutes. These are scheduled for the afternoons for those in Europe and Africa, mornings for North and South American, and evenings for Asia. We will try to accomodate all time zones as best we can.
  • Read and respond to blog posts
  • Explore at least 2 tools
  • Reflect and share your learnings on the workshop blog and wiki
  • Complete a pre- and post-workshop survey.

Open to: CGIAR staff, not for profit partners, agricultural and development organizations. Individuals, consultants and members of for profit organizations may join on a space available basis as the unsubsidized rate. (See costs below)

Platform: Blog, Skype and/or telephone, email and wiki. Our teleconference platform allows you to call for free using Skype. If you choose to use a landline for the conference calls, you will be responsible for long-distance costs. You should have regular access to the Internet. Some tools may not be accessible for those with low bandwidths. You may need to check with your IT department, as some web-based services you wish to explore may be currently blocked in your organization and you may need to seek support to access them.

Facilitators: Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Simone Staiger-Rivas (CGIAR-CIAT), Pete Shelton (IFPRI)

Cost: USD$ 850. Individuals who work for for-profits or consultants: USD$ 1050.

Contact: Please write to Simone Staiger-Rivas (s.staiger[at]cgiar.org) for questions and subscription by August, 10 at the latest.

ICTKM Newsletter BannerStories in the latest newsletter:

Enjoy and let us know what you like the most.

When we began our blog series on Social Medial Tools two months ago, we had no idea how successful it would be. Feedback from readers has been positive and encouraging, so much so that Meena Arivananthan (who has written the series with input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas) finished the tenth post on these tools a few days ago. And there’s no stopping her.

For easy reference, we have assembled the various links to these mini tutorials below, so you can now tell at a glance where to get help on newsfeeds, wikis, microblogging, and much, much more:

1. Microblogging
Looks at microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer

2. Blogging for impact
Blogging and agricultural research

3. Social Media: how do you know it’s working?
Incorporating social media into your communications strategy

4. Social Networks: friend or foe?
Using social networking sites to your advantage

5. Social Media: Are You Listening?
Practicing social media listening

6. Social Bookmarking: storm-a-brewing
Social bookmarking and the CGIAR

7. Wikis, sites, docs and pads: the many flavours of collaborative writing
Tools for collaborative writing

8. Are newsletters a dying breed?
How effective are e-newsletters today?

9. Newsfeeds: delivering the latest news to your virtual doorstep; and ways to share it!

Taking advantage of newsfeeds

10. Put it out there! Tools for photo, video and slideshow sharing

How to share photos, videos and slideshows

Sometimes I face bouts of uncertainty and wonder if the work we do in the CGIAR really reaches the people for whom it was intended. I know others feel the same way, as I’ve had conversations with people on this very topic. Since I started working with the ICT-KM Program, I’ve had the opportunity to examine this concern through a benchmarking exercise that the Program is spearheading.

Simply put, this activity allows us to measure our (the CGIAR Centers) research outputs in terms of availability, accessibility and applicability. My colleague Peter Ballantyne and I have been collecting, collating and analyzing data from various Centers to find out exactly how available and accessible their research outputs really are. But that’s a different story.

While your Center may advocate potatoes, maize, rice or tilapia to tackle the food crisis, in the longer term we all share a common goal: to reduce poverty in underprivileged communities. The science we do is practical – it has application. While classical research is also important, we do not have the luxury of time in the CGIAR. Our research has to show impact where it’s needed, and this can only be achieved if it reaches the right people in the fastest, easiest way possible.

“Now where do social media tools come in?” you may ask.

Besides our final products (journal articles, reports and other Center publications), we should consider making our research by-products, such as slideshow presentations, photograph collections and video clips, just as accessible. When we make our work available to a wider network; when our work is accessible in a way that it may be used, re-used and adapted for application; and when we make our PIGs fly; only then can we say we are truly “nourishing the future through scientific excellence”.

Last week, when I wrote about using newsfeeds to establish a scientist’s or professional’s credibility as an expert, the underlying idea was that when we share our research outputs with colleagues, peers, national partners and the scientific community at large, we create a credible resource into which others can tap. In the same vein, we can be the first place scientists or potential science partners go to when they need photos, videos, presentations, etc.

So if you wonder why you, the CGIAR scientist, should consider using social media tools to share your photos, videos, presentations, etc., here are two reasons:

  • Internal: social media tools minimize email clutter. Large files that would normally clog up your inbox, can now sit comfortably on the Internet, ready for you or your colleagues to access as and when required.
  • External: establish your presence as an expert. Social media tools allow you to reach many different network groups. You no longer need to stay within a tight circle of the usual suspects. You have greater outreach.

When we share our information via social media tools, we make it available and accessible in a location where everyone else is hanging out these days: the Internet. Photo, video and slideshow sharing sites often have their own search and tagging facilities that allow anyone interested to discover your information.

I’d like to stress that sharing information with social media tools does NOT mean you should give up publishing the same information on your own Website, and it most certainly does NOT replace the good practices of storing and cataloging your files in Center databases/repositories that maintain institutional memory. Imagine these tools as a variety of fishing nets that can be used to capture as many fish as possible in that huge virtual sea commonly known as the Internet.

Or as Simone Staiger-Rivas put it in her presentation on making the most out of social media, it’s about reaching out to as many users as possible. After sharing her presentation on Slideshare for just one day, five times the number of people who had seen Simone’s live presentation had seen it online – four months later, a whopping 1,839 people have viewed the presentation online.

Where to share photos, videos and slideshows

There is an overwhelming array of social media tools that can help you share photos, videos and presentations easily. Without needing any IT-related knowledge, it’s all a clichéd click away!

Photo sharing:

flickr

  • You can sign up for a free account, or a “pro” account that entails a charge for unlimited uploads.
  • Upload and share photos.
  • Categorize photos as either public or private, and attach copyright permissions ranging from reserving all rights to sharing the photos freely for others to use.
  • Photos can be organized into sets and tagged, enabling people to find specific photos and allowing publishers to point out their photos of choice.
  • Re-use Flickr images, especially those labeled ‘Creative Commons’, on web pages, slide shows and publications.
    o Consider those photos you’d like to share with others, make them accessible, and assign copyrights, watermarks or Creative Commons as appropriate. Think big! Your photos could well end up on a major website or in important blog piece!
  • Examples on Flickr:

o   IRRI Images and Photo Sets (note the number of views)

o   ICT-KM Knowledge Sharing Projects Photo Sets

o    WorldBank Photo Collection

picasa

  • Similar to Flickr.
  • Integrates well with Gmail and free server space on PicasaWeb to store photos just like Flickr.
  • Share albums via a ‘secret’ URL, so search engines won’t find your photos – only those people to whom you send the link. This is useful, for example, if you need someone to select pictures for a publication or a site.
  • Good photo editing tools.

Video sharing:
youtube

  • The biggest video sharing site at the moment.
  • Huge audience base to tap into when embarking on an event or campaign.
  • Videos need to be compelling as they will have to compete with thousands of others for attention.
  • Keywords or tags should be well thought-out.

blip tv

  • Supports a variety of video formats.
  • Hosting, distribution and advertising platform for creators of Web shows.
  • Provides content creators with free hosting.

vimeo

  • More polished than YouTube.
  • Growing audience base.

Examples:

Slide presentation sharing:

slideshare

  • PowerPoint slides can easily become huge once you’ve added pictures – and a pain to send to colleagues. This option lets you place your slides on a website.
  • Add your comments to each slide so that your audience doesn’t lose the context of your presentation.

google_logo_sm

Google Presentations:

Examples:

I’ve only highlighted a few tools for sharing photographs, videos and presentations. For others, do go to the KS Toolkit . There are more sprouting up even as I write this. There are also social media tools that allow you to share pictures, send and receive emails, and connect with friends, all in one place. Yes, I mean Facebook, which I latched onto when Yahoo! Pictures shut down a while ago.

So as always, keep an open mind and try these tools out! There is no “ONE” perfect tool for sharing your work. We’d love to hear about your experiences using these tools, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Till next time …

My thanks to Antonella Pastore and Tania Jordan for their technical input.

Here’s a test: Take a look at the bookmarks of your favorite websites and blog sites, and tell me how often you browse them? If your answer is not often enough, allow me to let you in on a little secret – it’s called “RSS” in geekspeak, and “newsfeeds” in English.

If you’d like to have the information you want or need at your fingertips, you no longer have to go looking for it. Instead, you can have it delivered to you via what is known as a ‘newsfeed reader’ or ‘feed aggregator’. A newsfeed reader is like an email inbox or website that holds all the newsfeeds to which you subscribe. And before you say, “Information overload! Not another Internet thingy”, let me share with you the power of the newsfeed reader.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re browsing the Internet and come across an excellent article on a research and development website. The website appears to be authored by an expert on issues that are of interest to you. You bookmark the site on delicious.com and plan to return to it in two weeks. However, other priorities soon relegate all such plans to the backburner. While the bookmark on delicious.com lets you share useful sites with colleagues and partners, how can you keep track of new articles and updates without having to visit the individual sites?

The technology that underlies newsfeeds, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), lets you subscribe to web content. Once you’re subscribed to a feed, a reader, also called aggregator, looks for new content at intervals and retrieves updates. So, instead of having information ‘pushed’ to you by email or other media, you decide the websites from which you’d like to receive updates.

All you need to do is:

  • sign up for a free reader from Google, Bloglines or Newsgator (there are many more, and some can be customized to suit different tastes),
  • go to a website or blog site you like and subscribe by clicking on the RSS icon (if available),
  • enjoy reading the updates at your leisure.

Looking for an  introduction to RSS and how it can help your work? Here’s a simple slideshow on Syndication of online content created by our colleagues at Bioversity International

What are the benefits to you as a scientist?

  • Your choice: you pick the newsfeeds you want to receive, thereby controlling the flow of information coming your way. In effect, you build your own little online newspaper.
  • Flexibility: you are the master of your newsfeed reader. So you can scan the headlines for interesting news items; view several content streams from various sites; and add or remove feeds as you like.
  • De-clutter your email inbox. Yay!

In a nutshell, newsfeed readers allow you to manage your collection of favorite information sources and, ultimately, your attention.

So, why are we focusing on newsfeeds as social media? Here comes the sharing part …
 

Using feeds for sharing

Newsfeeds can be shared with like-minded individuals so they, in turn, can use and share them with others.

The research and development work carried out in the CGIAR does not progress in isolation. It involves communications among colleagues, peers, experts, national partners and students. We cannot deny that we are unofficial communicators and, sometimes, experts whom people rely on.

As communicators, content to which you subscribe can be used to populate other communications media such as your newsletters, Twitter account, and basically any other social media tool that you’re linked to. If you’re a closet techie and need to know how it works, RSS liberates Web-based content from format by packaging it in such a way that it can be shared and republished on other websites and newsreader services.

As experts, the newsfeeds to which you subscribe could be of immense value to your colleagues, partners and anyone else looking for some guidance.

Newsfeeds are probably the easiest and fastest way to facilitate the exchange of information. The format can travel very far. If you include a newsfeed subscription option on your website, it will make it easier for people to follow you and build loyalty over time. Many CGIAR Center websites already have this, which is great, but how about including the newsfeeds to which you subscribe on your website?

Why put newsfeeds from other sources on your website?

  • Establish your expertise. Offering selected newsfeeds from external sources via your website will only add to its popularity as the website of choice when someone needs a selection of trustworthy sources on specific topics. As an expert in your field, what you know is influenced by your networks and contacts. Your circle establishes your credibility. As a content selector, you offer your audience (networks) content that is relevant and quality-controlled.
  • Enable value-added information services. Newsfeeds can be shared extensively. Your selected content can be aggregated by other people to read, re-use and store on multiple devices. People can take the content and create valuable information out of it. And if you’re concerned about intellectual property rights, your newsfeeds will attribute the source of all content.
  • Create a participatory, collaborative Web presence. When a group of partners who already have their own websites come together for a joint initiative, feeds from existing sources can be selected and aggregated to create a space for a truly shared voice on the Web.

End-user, communicator, expert, maven, whichever hat you’re wearing, it appears newsfeeds may solve many communication challenges. Whether you want to keep updated on website content, populate other communication channels or establish your role as an expert, newsfeeds make content really simple to syndicate.

Till next time…

Thanks to Antonella Pastore for the valuable discussions over coffee on the use of newsfeeds and for giving up ‘deejay’ in favour of ‘maven’.

Examples:

Resources:

Social media workshop evaluation

We, the workshop facilitators invited participants to review the activities through comments on the workshop platform, as well as through an online survey. We have set up surveys for all the workshops in the past. We did our own facilitator debrief as well. Here are some conclusions and ideas that emerge from the synthesis of the three types of reviews:

  • If we compare the results below with those from the evaluation of the first social media workshop, we can say that they are very similar and overall very positive. Respondents rated the workshop as excellent or good. However the group in the first workshop was smaller and more homogeneous, and the feeling of the participants was of better interaction. It seems that we should consider to limit the number of participants, perhaps to a maximum of 20.
  • Among the useful learnings, participants mention the importance of a needs and use analysis before setting up an application; The well shared resources, typology and context of tools; The useful discussion around social media practices for low-bandwidth issues; The reflections about social media strategies and the integration of tools. Some were happy to get into the use of specific tools like slide share, social reporting, delicious, twitter, wikis, the clock method for teleconference calls; The idea behind: sharing knowledge
  • In a next opportunity the workshop facilitators would like to make it more conversational, less focused on questions and replies. We would like to design a third social media workshop with a shift of focus from tools to contextual challenges i.e. :  Low bandwidth, networking / community development / stakeholder involvement, communication of research results, collaborative research / teamwork, online meetings, etc. This could make the workshop more conversational, bring in different audiences and weave in tools as they arise.

Results from the Survey:

17 participants replied  and 6 rated it as excellent (38%), and 9 (56%) as good, 1 as average.

15 respondents (88%) consider having increased their understanding of Social Media principles and tools.

In a range of 44 to 59%, participants found the different activities (introductions, tools explorations, teleconferences etc) very useful, the tools exploration getting the highest rates.

The tools that participants are already using are Photo-, Video-, and Slide sharing sites (56%), as well as Social networking sites (50%) and blogs (36%). Among the tools that respondents are most interested in exploring are: E-newsletters that incorporate social media (73%), RSS feeds (69%), social bookmarking (67%) and wikis (62%). Half of the respondents say that they don’t have plans to explore social media listening.

The moodle platform was considered as good with some 3 participants rating it as average or poor.

88% rated the effectiveness of the facilitators in supporting the learning experience as excellent

The size of the group was considered as just right for 69%.

The interaction with other participants was scored as average (47%) or poor (13%)

Among the suggestions of improvements are: more teleconference calls; hands-on sessions, make the workshop longer, work on smaller groups

Workshop facilitator’s debrief

  • This time we had some very active participants and a large lurker group. It is good to know that participants took time to read and browse through the site even if they didn’t actively contribute with comments or questions.
  • Next time we should try to give more focus in the introductory session and we need to create opportunities for more active interaction among participants. The purpose and needs of each participants could be crystallized more in this session.
  • The Tools explorations were animated and served to exchange lots of additional resources.  Most of those have been included in the KS Toolkit by the facilitators.
  • Time commitment is a real issue in on-line workshops
  • We felt that as facilitators we have been always was responsive and present; Nancy was present continuously, Jo gave valuable technical input and links to tool alternatives, Simone did lost of behind the scenes and administrative work in addition to some contributions on the site; Meena was less visible online but very active in observing and learning which was great; Antonella contributed with some great specific posts. Meena, Nancy, and Simone were continuously skype chat connected and coordinated interventions and tasks.