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.

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!

Microblogging is a form of blogging based on short posts. A real-time communication platform, microblogs are short, tight snippets of information that tell others what you’re doing, where you’re going or even how you’re feeling at any given moment.

In a social context, you could essentially be keeping tabs on your friends’ activities and vice versa, within a private group or publicly on the Web. Several microblogging services are available: we’re featuring two popular ones in this post.

twitter Twitter is a networked web and mobile phone based shared short messaging system. It allows users to write brief text updates (max 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, MP3 or the Web (source).

You can open a free account at twitter.com.

yammer_logo_smallYammer is a similar tool for organizations, that allows quick networking and information sharing, with the added benefit of connecting easily within the common organization email domain (i.e. cgiar.org). Note: if you have a valid @cgiar.org email address, sign up to join the growing cgiar network on Yammer.

How can you use microblogging to your advantage?

Having started out as a “What are you doing now?” social communication tool, microblogging holds great potential at work. Whether you see it as an annoying distraction or powerful communication tool, it is in the hands of the user, you. 

Here’s why you should consider using microblogging at work:

  • Brevity. First, the 140 character limit on your microblog forces you to scale down your update to just the facts. Post an idea, a useful link*, ask for quick feedback all in less than a minute. This works in your favor because the responses are just as brief and to the point. (*Last week I mentioned learning about tinyurl.com. TinyURL is an excellent tool that helps you shrink a long url into a tiny one which you can then share with others via Twitter, Yammer or other instant messengers).
     
  • As an informal communication tool
    • Announcements to promote events/ activities
    • Asking for quick feedback and posting short updates create an informal structure that gets your point across without getting bogged down by more formal means of communications.
       
  • Updates from colleagues you ‘follow’. This feature is really the crux of microblogging. Whom you follow determines the type of updates you gain access to. By intelligently selecting the right people, you are now privy to their experiences, ideas and insights. You have the potential to ‘mine’ their resources as your followers ‘mine’ yours. What are the benefits?
    • You get breaking news. Real time conversations can be very revealing.
    • Networking is easier. The informal setting allows quick introductions and gets you straight onto their microblogs.
    • Connect within a community at work, increase visibility and engage with partners and colleagues.
       
  • Less email. Microblogging on Twitter or Yammer reduces the need for email exchanges, which help de-clutter your inbox. The versatility in sharing your messages through a variety of ways reduces the dependency on email access.
     
  • Real-time sharing during events (e.g. conferences, training events, meetings). It is one of the key tools for social reporting, i.e. “is where a group of participants at an event interactively and jointly contribute to some form of reporting, in text, photos, images or video. The resulting “social report” is made accessible, usually online, as soon as possible, sometimes as a half-product. This allows others to join in, to extend, to adjust or remix.” (explore the  ‘social reporting’ tag on this blog). Microblogging during events increases visibility and outreach of the knowledge that is generated at a rapid pace during face-to-face meetings, and it helps build a level of engagement and participation that goes beyond physical presence.
Why some people love Twitter

Why some people love Twitter

 

How to be a ‘savvy’ microblogger

  • Post updates that add value. This could be an idea, interesting links and shortcuts that have appeal but do not warrant a blog post.
  • Respond to microblogs when you have a contribution to make. You don’t have to interact on all posts that are shared.
  • Exercise caution when posting updates. In a more public group, you may want to hold back on personal details.
  • Choose whom you ‘follow’ wisely

Who’s been microblogging

  • Conference share and “back channel.” In the recent ShareFair in Rome, several participants twittered live and during the sessions to share insights and highlights with their twitter networks. Current example? Colleagues are now twitting live from the African Geospatial Week in Nairobi (with special postings on the Yammer cgiar network).
  • Incorporation of Twitter in CIMMYT’s blog. The ICT-KM blog (where you are now) incorporates the Twitter updates on the sidebar.
  • Media giants like BBC and The New York Times use Twitter to post headlines and story links (NYT and BBC)

Have you had any experience you’d like to share about microblogging? Perhaps you’ve identified other uses for microblogging at work. We would love to hear from you.

Till next week!

Resources 

Get these links and more from the microblogging tag at CGXchange on Del.icio.us

Blogs, twits and pics are just a few of the online collaborative tools and services that can be used to increase the visibility of an event. The more buzz, the better.

Blogs can help promote an event before it takes off and also be used to report on an event’s activities, as and when they unfold. And once the event is over, what better way to keep everyone informed of the outcome than with an easy-to-maintain blog that allows anyone to leave a comment.

Photos of the event can be uploaded on a service like Flickr for all to view and download, and participants can also leave comments on Twitter, a service that lets you keep in touch with people through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question.

Raising an event’s profile is now as easy as ABC. In fact, most online tools and services are so user-friendly that you’d have to be a twit not to take advantage of them.

The Knowledge ShareFair is just one recent example of an event that benefited from online collaboration and social reporting.

The participants and the facilitators created a lot of buzz about the event with a blog, a Twitter feed, by promoting a common tag and by posting pictures online.

The ICT-KM blog contributed 56 posts tagged with ‘sharefair09’.

Tried different approaches? Leave a comment below.

This is a post following up on the Knowledge Management, Education and Learning Workshop held in Maputo 4 and 5 December 2008. I did the ‘Social Reporting’ at this workshop, with help of many of you. You can read the resulting Social Report by selecting the tag KELMaputo.)

The following is a reflection on the practice of ‘Social Reporting’; what is different about it?, why is it important? It was originally written for (and published at) my own blog. This explains the more personal notes here and there, for which i apologize. I considered the ‘broader view’ beyond the workshop in Maputo important, that is why I decided to crosspost the entire post.

I recently did three social reporting jobs at face-to-face events (first links are to the official main websites of the events, last to the resulting social reports):

1. Anim@te in Lisbon. 1 day, about 100 participants in plenary. I worked with Beverly Trayner and a team consisting of participants, most of them not very familiair with social media; result (in Portuguese).
2. The KM and learning and education workshop by CGIAR and GFAR in Maputo. 1,5 day, about 40 participants in mixed settings. I worked by myself; result here.
3. “Powering a new future”, the final event after 8 years of Equal (which was the European program for social innovation) in Lisbon. 3 days, >500 participants. I assisted Beverly Trayner and David Wilcox. Result here.

In each of these cases, we used a WordPress blog as a home for publishing all media: video (YouTube, Blip.tv), photo (Flickr), text, Twitter. We worked in close cooperation with the event organisors. We had the first content up within hours after the start of the event, and a finished end product within hours after the end.

The three events each gave a different perspective on the new practice of social reporting.

Animate showed how well Social Reporting can work as a crash course in Web2.0 tools and collaborative, social way of working. When you actually SEE how photos originating from different Flickr accounts via tags and rss are instantly shown on a blog, you GET it. When the issues you were vigorously defending over coffee break at an event are videod and blogged, and you get reactions…. you no longer question the relevance of “all those trivial blogposts about nonsense”. When the colleague who could not attend gives you intelligent feedback the next day because he has been following the twitter stream or blog…. you feel the potential. Learning to master the tools is easy, once you understand what web2.0 can be used for. Another great effect was the community engaging and community building happening in our small team.

The workshop in Maputo, Mozambique was with less people and the focus was more on the content itself. I did a mix of note-taking, videos, impressions. I think the result (see the Outline of the Social Report Simone Staiger compiled, or all posts here) may be quite useful for participants, organisors and others. Compared to a formal report this is rich, easy & entertaining to look at and read, compiled by a mixture of authors/contributors, quickly available after (during) the workshop, and open for comments. It is therefor more of a start, where a formal report always has something defenite and seems like a closing.

The Equal event was huge, with 3 large auditoria and many parallel sessions in smaller spaces. It was great to work in a team of three, each of us all-rounders. I think we helped to give an informal account of the event, highlighting interesting work and people, weaving media, languages and voices. We have extensively reflected on the practice of Social Reporting at the Equal event, which David blogged about here .

Learning, community building, building & extending conversations, documenting and weaving voices… The sum of the three events really convinced me: Yes, this is important. Social Reporting is changing the way we organize events. Also, on a personal note, I much enjoyed the social reporting work! I liked having an excuse to talk to people, asking questions you might otherwise not have asked. I also enjoyed getting their stories out to the world, allowing connections to be made. And yes, -at best- there is more to social reporting than just surprising participants with their photos and video online.

During the last event I assisted Bev Trayner, who brought reporting into social learning, and David Wilcox, who brought social into reporting. Interestingly, something we reported about (Etienne Wenger’s talk on how social learning spaces are important) helped us strengthen our common understanding of social reporting. After digesting for a few days, David blogged on the insights he had, and others (see comments) are taking it from there. The way this conversation is now extended both in time and in people taking part in it, is in itself a demonstration of how social reporting works.

Yes we ARE all networked learners!, and like David, this “theory” helps me understand the attraction of the web and how it all hangs together. It also shows the important roles of the future: Let us continue to create the social learning spaces, keep them open, connect people, and continue to enable access for those of us who -for whatever reason- are new. Weaving online and Real Life in smart ways -such as by Social Reporting- will stretch the possibilities for learning across boundaries.

Of course we are not the only ones “discovering” the genre. Many blogs work in the same way. Dave Briggs seems to work at events in much the same ways. Rober Buzink (freelance journalist) reports in detail (but in Dutch) on the well read journalism blog “De Nieuwe Reporter” about an experiment using real time textmessages (using coveritlive) to cover an event. It is very exciting to think what will happen if on-site and digital get more interwoven, with on-site screens showing the digital conversations, and more people connecting.

Finally, a few alineas from the forthcoming publication on Social Reporting, meant for event organisors, by Beverly Trayner and David Wilcox and sponsored by Equal:

The aim of social reporting is to create an informal narrative to the event, which could complement the formal results or conclusions of that event. The idea of social reporting has been growing in response to two important changes in the organisation of today’s types of events. The first is the explosion of new and free online tools that opens up communication and the publishing of information of different types (such as text, photographs and video recordings) in different ways and to different types of people.

Equally important as the new ways of publishing is the growing recognition that many insights and learning that happens at face-to-face events takes place during informal conversations and not necessarily in the formal presentations or sessions. Social reporting aims to try and stimulate and capture some of these improvisational coversations as a way of bringing more voices to the table and of surfacing some of the stories that help give context to the event.

While mainstream reporting is usually about capturing surprise, conflict, crisis, and entertainment, and in projecting or broadcasting stories to audiences, social reporters aim to work collaboratively with other people, producing words, pictures and movies together. They may challenge and even provoke, but they are sensitive to the resources and parameters of the group, community or organisation they reporting for. They are insiders rather than outsiders. It is about using skills in story-telling to help the conversation along in ways that may help people work better together; treating everyone with respect; and ideally making it all a fun and rewarding experience. It’s more about conversation, collaboration and celebration than conflict, crisis and celebrity (although these should not be overlooked!). It should – like the best journalism – be about promoting some transparency, accountability and openness, but not about thinking that only journalists can do that. It should be sociable, and for social benefit.

I remain thinking of how to broaden Social Reporting beyond events. Reporting on change processes, development, collective action. Reporting about/with social artists… about the changes web2.0 brings to collective action….
Much like David is doing with his entire blog, i guess. Clay Shirky, who wrote a book about web2.0 and collective action, is suggesting to report on what is happening.

So this is one of the things I intend to do in 2009. I will focus on rural areas. What does web2.0 and increasing connectedness mean for rural areas? What are the implications, the new opportunities, new organisational and business models for agriculture and rural areas? What does networked learning mean for agricultural extension, for versatile countrysides?

traditional boat in Maputo (by Petr Kosina)

Petr Kosina

For the Knowledge Sharing, Education and Learning workshop we will try to do some Social Reporting as we go. Social reporting is where a group of participants at an event interactively and jointly contribute to some form of reporting, in text, photos, images or video. The resulting “social report” is made accessible, usually online, as soon as possible, sometimes as a half-product. This allows others to join in, to extend, to adjust or remix.

Sue Parrott did live blogging for the Annual General Meeting: joint live blogging would be an example of social reporting. The objective of Social Reporting is to create a “shared memory”, but not only. It is meant to add quality to dialogues. These are some of the characteristics of Social Reporting (from Bev Trayner):

  • Keeping a shared memory of “what happened” through more than one people doing it, often in quite random ways, and brought together by tags;
  • Using different types of media for reporting, each media type being accessible to different types of people with different purposes for “reading” the (social) report;
  • Extending the conversation beyond any one mode (such as face-to-face mode, telephone conference mode, lecture mode) making sure you include people who were not “there”;
  • Putting reporting in the hands of more and different types of people with access to different tools, technologies and approaches;
  • Modeling different ways of helping people to make sense of an occassion;
  • Shining a spotlight on periphery voices by looking out for and recording what they say;
  • Advocacy – raising awareness, highlighting good practice, having an impact in ways that incorporate a wider type of audience than just those who will plough their way through traditional written text.