Last week I blogged about the 1st Training Session at FAO and it was such a success that they repeated the training session on Wikis again yesterday for those people that didn’t get the chance to register last week.

Tania Jordan, Gauri Salokhe, Romolo Tassone

Tania Jordan, Gauri Salokhe, Romolo Tassone

Usually after the training sessions, Gauri Salokhe and Romolo Tassone from the FAO Web Knowledge Exchange and Capacity Building Division, perform an “After Action Review” to the participants to see what they liked the most or least, and use this feedback to improve future sessions.

It seems that many participants liked the ‘hands-on’ session last week where they had the opportunity to ‘play’ around with the tools, but participants requested  they should have more time …in other words: ‘less talk and more play‘…of course, nothing better than doing-it-yourself!

So considering last weeks feedback, yesterday’s 2-hour session was organized as to give more time to the participants for the ‘hands-on’ session.

Steve Katz

Steve Katz

Steve Katz, Chief of the Knowledge Exchange Facilitation Branch at FAO, introduced the session by saying:

FAO is a multi-disciplinary environment and we organize events such as the Sharefair and training sessions like these to introduce new knowledge sharing methods, tools and approaches to help us work more horizontally in the organization…the challenge is to see how these can be applied in your work…

 

Romolo continued by giving the participants an introduction about what makes a Wiki a Wiki, and he explained: 

  • inline edit/save
  • easy and open access to history, versioning/differences information and the ability to role back
  • The most recent additions/modifications of articles can be monitored actively or passively (RSS, email, summary page) – to facilitate collaborative editing
  • Discussion tab
  • User management/permissions
  • approach that focuses on trust, accountability and transparency, rather than security/authority/ownership
  • Moderation/advocacy required. Sense of community and personal involvement of content
Gauri Salokhe

Gauri Salokhe

Gauri showed the example of the Knowledge Sharing toolkit (KS Toolkit), a long-term collaborative Wiki site using Wikispaces that assembles knowledge sharing tools and methods resources as a clear example of collaboration between CGIAR ICT-KM, FAO and most recenly from the KMforDev community.

Tania Jordan

Tania Jordan

This time, I showed them an example of a private collaborative team site under our CGXchange 2.0 implementation where more than 25 people from the different continents were actively collaborating to produce 7 Enterprise Security Good Practice documents on a Google Sites Wiki.

There were interesting questions like: ‘ How do you get people to start on a Wiki?’, What if I need to work only on one document? or How do I know if I need a Wiki’… Like any website, to get people started on a Wiki, you really need someone that is constantly ‘pushing’ people to provide their input, someone (or a group of people) that as Gauri put it: acts as a ‘Wiki gardener’, that encourages people to provide their ideas and content on the site. Once people start feeling confident on the tools and see the potential of what they’re working on, the Wiki starts taking a life of its’ own!

Remember that in some cases, people don’t really need a Wiki site, sometimes a simple online document can do what you need and I explain these differences further on this post: Useful tips for collaborative writing with Google Docs and Google Sites.

Of course towards the end of the session, the moment they’ve all been waiting for…the participants were paired up on the computers and had the opportunity to get their hands-on the Wiki…indeed this is the moment where they have lots of fun!

Once again, I congratulate and thank Gauri and Romolo for organizing this wonderful session…it’s very nice to see that there are always new things to learn from each other.

Gauri also wrote a blog post about this Wiki session.

Until the next time, I look forward to your comments…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I always enjoy reminiscing about the way things were before the advent of the mobile phone or the Internet or thumb-size music machines… and I usually think to myself, in a corny fashion: Isn’t technology amazing?

Now, if you’ve been collaborating with colleagues (whether in your office or across different time zones) on reports, projects, events and meetings, you’re probably aware of the frustrations involved. One immediately springs to mind: email exchanges that involve logistics, participant lists, activities and, most annoying of all, documents that appear in various draft stages from different senders – it’s enough to confuse anyone.

On that note, I have to say that collaborative writing has evolved in ways that have left me in awe. When you need to work with several people to produce written documents, such as agendas, reports and proposals, emails are the least productive way to go.

Granted, the humble email has done a lot for collaboration between people in different locations, but there are now more effective online tools that can help you with collaborative writing in the research arena. Not only do these tools enhance your writing experience within the group, but they also reduce the ridiculous number of emails that make it hard for you to retrieve the correctly revised versions of documents from your In-box.

While collaborative writing can make us more efficient and effective, several issues need to be addressed: the imbalance in contributing to content, the lack of interest, the subtle hierarchies which hinder real collaboration, and also the difficulty in relinquishing autonomy or control over the written word.

So be warned, we are now moving into a truly ‘democratic’ zone of collaboration. Ready to let go of the control panel? Read on!

Tools for collaborative writing

Wikis: the word originates from Hawaii – ‘wiki wiki’ means quick. Wikis let you create your collaboration environment online very ‘quickly’. What this means is that you can actually create your own wiki site, place your content on it and allow access to any number of people to see, add to or edit it in almost ‘real-time’. A history of revisions is maintained online, so you can check back on earlier versions.

Ideally, a team member can add to or edit an existing draft, with equal measure. The focus is on content and not the person who contributes. So your team will need to comprise people who are willing to contribute to the content subject, who enjoy the stimulus of sharing thought processes collaboratively and who also do not feel too much pressure from having their colleagues edit them. So, wikis may not suit everyone.

It would also be wise to have an editor or person-in-charge to maintain and update the site – this is called wiki gardening, for obvious reasons. Pages will need to be linked, content may need to be removed if not relevant anymore and indexes will need to be created.

When to use wikis
Wikis are worth using when you want to build a body of knowledge online, such as a handbook, a toolkit, raw data sets, even a book chapter, but with collaboration from others. The most obvious example is Wikipedia, a web-based encyclopedia that lets just about anyone with access to the Internet add or edit content. However, there are many uses for wikis. Check out the KS Toolkit page on wikis and see for yourself!

Wikis are also excellent for planning events and documenting meetings. Once you have your team members in mind, you can create a wiki site and allow access to them. Being a collaborative tool, a wiki site lets you and your team prepare agendas, activity lists, proposals and reports collaboratively. Whatever the content, new pages can be created by anyone in your team and linked, ensuring that all documents are found in one site.

How to get started with wikis: there is a wealth of wiki tools, go to wikimatrix.org to find the one for you.

Examples

Google Sites: originally based on wiki technology, Google Sites has shortcuts and improvements that include website management features.

Taking the wiki a step further, Sites lets us choose from different page types, such as a list, a file cabinet, a dashboard, announcements. Google documents, spreadsheets and presentations – as well as videos, maps, calendars and all the goodies you can build with Google Apps and services, all of which can be easily embedded into a Google Site. Collaborators can add comments and attachments. A site map is automatically created. And voilà! You have a ‘website’ for your collaborative writing.

When to use Google Sites
Google Sites is perfect for all non-techies out there who need an online collaborative environment to write, share and collect different types of information in one place, while maintaining a semblance of order.

Examples of public sites on CGXchange 2.0 (Google Apps for the CGIAR)

Google Docs: well, you’re probably wondering what took me so long to get to this, and chances are that you may already have tried this tool out.

In case you haven’t, Google Docs lets you and your team collaborate using text documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. While it is similar to wikis and Google Sites, Google Docs is used for collaboration on one specific piece of content at a time. This content can then be exported and used in blogs, reports, proposals, etc.

When to use Google Docs
Google Docs is best used when you have one document requiring input from others. You simply prepare the document and invite collaborators (anyone with a Google account). Any revisions made will be kept online, so nothing gets lost. In addition, spreadsheet documents allow real-time discussion between collaborators, thanks to a built-in chat room.

Don’t expect the formatting power of Word or PowerPoint, or the computing power of Excel. The point is … this is not the point! The formatting is so basic that Google Docs just lets you focus on what you want to write, and helps you collect and refine the collaborators’ contributions. Then, when everything has been finalized, you can export the content or copy/paste it into the final destination format.

Examples
Docs are usually not public (with exceptions). Here, on the ICT-KM Program blog, the Social Media Tools Series posts are developed in Google Docs: Meena writes, Antonella contributes, and Mary edits. When the content is final (and it is in HTML from the start, which helps a lot), it is pasted and given final formatting in WordPress. Another great example is Silvia Renn’s post on Using Google Docs for Proposal Writing.

How to get started with Google Sites and Docs: all you need is an account with Google (i.e. sign up for Gmail): these tools are available to Google account holders.  CGIAR Staff can get started  by requesting an account at CGXchange 2.0, where they will find a fully managed set of collaboration tools included in Google Apps.

etherpadEtherpad: Taking the term ‘real-time’ literally, this is probably the next step in collaborative writing. It’s a kind of wiki but easier to use and can accommodate up to 8 participants typing at the same time. While changes are updated every 15 seconds on Google Docs, Etherpad updates a document every half second, thus providing a dizzying combo of wiki and chat (see what Etherpad looks like). Isn’t technology amazing?

Updated: The next generation in collaborative writing is close at hand. As early as end of 2009, we may be able to collaborate in absolute ‘real-time’ as Google Wave promises today with ‘live’ transmission collaboration. 

Examples
Check the Use Cases on the Etherpad site. One of the sessions in the Real Time Virtual Collaboration (RTVC) experiment, held last May 9, was run on Etherpad: check the RTVC mindmap also for other examples of real-time collaboration tools.

So there you have it! Some tools to help you get started with collaborative writing. In a nutshell, these tools can benefit you by:

  • bridging geographical distances, allowing people across continents to collaborate with regard to event/project development, information gathering and knowledge management;
  • uncluttering your email box along with the email boxes of your collaborators. While some may be content to use email for their communications, many people are looking for ways to reduce their email load. Whether working on project proposals or creating a knowledge base, these tools eliminate countless email transfers and, along with them, bits of information scattered in several different messages. These tools also house content at one location online, with researchers being able to access and collaborate on a living document.

Nonetheless, the process of writing within a team is challenging on its own, and the tools only provide a conducive environment. Getting past the hierarchies and the defensiveness requires tactful handling.

It would be a good idea to establish rules for collaborative writing, nothing set in stone, just simple guidelines on what is expected of the team, the purpose of the collaboration, and respectful editing practices that help the team to negotiate during discussions between collaborators when changes are needed.

Engaging collaborators at the very beginning, clarifying the objectives of the collaboration, suggesting a set of rules and encouraging them to add to it, may foster a sense of ownership and accountability. After all, technology can only go so far!

Till next time…

P.S. My thanks to Antonella Pastore, whose collaborative input made this blog post possible.

Technology continues to change; the way we collaborate with others has changed; and the way the CGIAR conducts its business is currently undergoing radical change. With the present air of change that is permeating the entire System, it was inevitable that CGXchange would, sooner or later, have to answer the call for a portal that meets current needs. As such, CGXchange’s intranet concept has been exchanged, so to speak, for a dual-concept application that satisfies both the need for public content and the need for ‘private’ collaboration spaces.

Past and present in the CGXchange 2.0 logo

Last month, we introduced the new, improved CGXchange 2.0, a platform based on Google Apps that satisfies our current needs by facilitating online collaboration and exchange both inside and outside the CGIAR.

Why Google Apps?” you might ask.

Well, with a highly decentralized set up like that of the CGIAR, over 8,000 staff in 120 offices, mostly in countries where connectivity is a challenge, and with a dire need to collaborate with colleagues and partners, we are always on the look out for solutions that simplify our work. So last year, we tried out Google Apps as a suite of collaboration tools and were suitably impressed. You can read the results of our experiments in the CGIAR Google Apps report.

A few months later, during the first half of March 2009, a selected group of testers evaluated a beta version of the site. The summary report of the test results is just out on CGX 2.0: tried, tested and passed with flying colors! We have included our replies to the comments and questions from the test participants.

So what’s so new with CGX 2.0?, you might as well ask. In a nutshell:

  • Public content: the tutorials, guides, links to useful resources, outcomes of our tests are open to anyone who wants to learn how non-profit institutions such as the CGIAR are taking advantage of online tools for improving communication, sharing and collaboration.
  • Openness is our main driving principle: while CGIAR staff benefits from the availability of the Google Apps collaboration tools, then anyone with a Google account can be invited to collaborate and view the information CGIAR staff will create with Google Apps.
  • Freedom of choice is our other driving principle: we aim to inform you and show you the possibilities that the Web offers to share knowledge and collaborate more efficiently online. The available tools can be safely used for closed and/or geographically distributed groups. We can guide you through the tools available, but you will make the final decision as to what is best for you.
  • We walk the talk and share the lessons by doing our best to test the tools in our context and share the circumstances in which they proved to be suitable and useful and referring to more than two years’ experience with the ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing projects.

What do I do now?, you might, again, ask.

You have a few options (and NOT necessarily in this sequence):

  1. Visit CGXchange 2.0
  2. Take a quick tour of the collaboration tools
  3. Request access to the Apps for yourself and your colleagues (if you’re CGIAR staff)
  4. Browse around the CGX 2.0 Newsfeeds Aggregator to experience keeping up-to-date with RSS feeds
  5. Sing along

Eight participants, and two facilitators of the first KS Workshop are joining efforts to write a joint article about their multiple perspectives around knowledge sharing in the context of our workshop experience. I am talking about Alessandra Galié (ICARDA), Ben Hack (consultant), Alexandra Jorge (ILRI / Bioversity), Florencia Tateossian (CGIAR Secretariat), Andrea Pape-Christiansen (ICARDA), Vanessa Meadu (World Agroforestry Centre), Michael Riggs (FAO), Gauri Salokhe (FAO), Nancy White (consultant) and myself.

What are we trying to do?
We want to share and document a snapshot of our professional lives, at the moment when the KS workshop took place. Clearly, our backgrounds, current responsibilities, and applications of tools and methods learned in the KS workshop are diverse and we hope that we can provide readers with multiple perspectives on, and examples of, the contributions of “modern” KS approaches to our development work. Overall we will look at the value or significance of KS approaches (and the KS workshop itself) to us as international development professionals?

How are we getting this done?
In order to get such a joint article done, we benefit from the help of Gerry Toomey, a science writer who will coordinate our efforts and edit the different pieces as a whole. Gerry had short interviews with each of us and just sent us some guidelines so we can work on our individual contributions. For this enterprise we use a wiki set up as a private space. Each of us has a personal page where we can compose or paste in our texts. While we will not be editing anyone else’s text, we are all encouraged to leave comments, questions, suggestions, or words of encouragement on each other’s pages. Gerry will then work with each of us individually on our drafts.

We are all looking forward to it and hope to come back to you soon with a useful piece. Happy writing to all!

The tools and methods discussions are still ongoing on our workshop moodle platform. Here is a summary of some of the tools discussions that participants and facilitators initiated:

Peer Assist

Tags / Tagging

Michael gives a really nice introduction to the topic:

  • A tag is a keyword or term that is given to a bit of information (a bookmark, an image, a blog entry, etc.) in order to help find it later and also to associate it with other, similar or related bits of information.
  • Many of the web2.0 tools we are discussing in our workshop make use of tags. Indeed it is because of these tools that tagging has become popular and widely used.
  • Tags are chosen by the individual at the time they are put into use. They are more flexible than the formal metadata and can sometimes be used as leading indicators of new concepts. However, they can also be somewhat inconsistent and lack the relationship specification of defined taxonomies.
  • When many users have tagged many items within an application or around a set of items, this collection of tags becomes what is called a folksonomy (i.e. an informal taxonomy generated by the people or “by the folks”).
  • Explanatory video in relation to Social Bookmarking at: http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=x66lV7GOcNU&feature=user by Common Craft 

Social Reporting

  • Social Reporting is the practice of capturing and sharing the learning that happen at F2F events online for the group and possibly others not at the F2F. Nancy launched this topic as a way to suggest some practice in this area during the f2f meeting in Rome.
  • Here are some tools used for social reporting: wikis to take life notes from sessions and document them; online photo galleries like Flickr to upload each day visuals of the event; Live blogging to capture impressions or results of a session; video interviews to give a voice to participants and tell their own story and perspectives on the event, a topic or a session. 
  • Resources: http://partnerships.typepad.com/civic/2006/10/social_media_so.html; http://socialreporter.com/ ; http://www.eudaimonia.pt/btsite/content/view/115/32/

Discussion Groups

  • Jo launched this thread with the question: Can anybody share stories about success and frustration on different discussion group interfaces? Which interface and provider to choose from for best result for all participants having and “equal position” in the group and possibility to manage email to customize involvement?
  • Jo took the lead to explore some of the suggested options: Yahoo groups, Google groups, Dgroups, Ning, Drupal. And it seems he really liked our Ning community that we set up in order to allow us exploration and perhaps the creation of a longer lasting bond between various workshop editions. http://ksworkshop.ning.com/
  • Some of Jo’s findings: The interface is centered on the members; its a free public discussion group interface, and we get topic-related advertisements in the right-hand column of the site through Google ads; Ning group members can customize their own page to make it look different from the rest; When you ask to become “friends” with another member, you get faster access to their personal pages and blogs
  • Cristina mentioned her experience with Dgroups and her move to a restricted blog on her new Drupal site, because of the complaints by her team and stakholders about the Dgroup email overload. Her challenge now: “stimulating people to visit the website and comment on the issues raised.”

Blogs and Blogging

I started a discussion on blogs:

  • Nancy points to examples of blogs in development work with her delicious tag, devblogs
  • Different uses of blogs. Chronological ordered and News based website for project reporting and communication (important to use tags to distinguish different aspects of the project or authors)
  • When do blogs work well. Nancy shared a post from Pete Cranston to the KM4Dev community: be personal, less obviously institutional, update regularly, acknolwedeg that spending time on communicating your perspectives is valuable,  have a group of bloggers for organizational blogs, be open, don’t control. “Blogs work when they are constructed and maintained so that they become part of the blogosphere, get linked to – and link to others – and generally have access to audience.  Blogs designed for a bounded audience have a much harder time.” Blogs are also a welcome alternative to progress or back-to-office reports, or for specialist groupings that focus around meetings, or issues.
  • Blogs versus discussion groups: Blogs are not tools for team communication. They can’t really replace email.

Wikis
A wiki is a web site that allows users to add, remove, and otherwise edit and change content. At its core, a wiki is a simple online database in which each page is easily edited by any user with a Web browser

  • Wikis are really rather flexible … not just as a shared document writing/editing tool, but they can be used as an entire website platform (with pages open for editing or not), as a growing knowledge base, like Wikipedia and the KS Toolkit, or even as a simple intranet. There are commercial wiki packages now that are pitched that way.
  • Obstacles to broad wiki use: All members can overwrite; no track changes directly visible. Publishing of “unfinished material” => cultural shift. Needs accountability, rewarding and facilitation.
  • Kay compares a wiki with her actual sharpoint application and finds it friendlier, easier, quicker
  • Public / private: When do I need to make that choice? Options: open to all for viewing and editing (be aware of spam problems if you use this option); open for all to view but membership request for editing (ex: our KS Toolkit); membership request for viewing and editing (if you need a confidential space for groupwork, i.e. before publishing)
  • Nancy shares some lessons learnt while doing wiki training session: Use any training opportunity to also build relationships; make sure there is hands on practice/use – don’t just talk about it; create a short “how to” document to send in advance with screen shots  – but keep it simple; don’t over describe all the features the first time.

Intranets

  • Should we use a platform “one package solution” or should we integrate bits and pieces?
  • Pete thinks that “there is no all-in-one package out there and even if such a platform existed to meet our staff needs today, this certainly is no guarantee that it will meet all of our needs tomorrow.” I think this is an important lesson for working with Open Source software as well as within the context of Web 2.0. At the end of the day, it’s all about interoperability and integration of services. If you have a system that can produce RSS and uses tags, then that content can be easily shared on other pages within your intranet. “Sharability” is a key feature.
  • There is a group of intranet curios participants of this thread who meets a group of skeptical ones: No one really has an example of a successful intranet site; I am asking; How much information is there really besides financial and project management information that need to be closed and internally only? Or: “I’m also cynical enough to believe that some prefer to keep information on the intranet because there it is not likely to be questioned or challenged by “outsiders”.

Other KS methods and tools that have been suggested / discussed:
• Online collaboration
• Language translation technologies
• Participatory Impact Pathways
• River of Life % samoan Circle
• PhWeet
• Icebreakers
• Twitter. Many set up an account and we are nor following each other 😉
• Joomla- a CMS tool for Websites

The Institutional Knowledge Sharing project is supporting three pilot activities in three CGIAR centers in order to contribute to institutional innovation, and learn about the effectiveness of KS approaches. Two of the pilots have now made available their products.
 
“Recovering from natural disasters” A ‘Storymercial’ by WorldFish
“The storymercial is e a combination of video, audio and images.  At the heart of the storymercial is the story; the oldest most proven way humans learn and remember information.” says Helen Leitch, Project Leader. “Despite a huge investment in communications, awareness of the CGIAR Centers’ work and contribution to development is often low. Since knowledge products with more mass appeal are needed, this project examined the role storymercials can play to attract our donors and partners to knowledge, thus increasing the uptake of research outputs”.  Have a look at: http://www.worldfishcenter.org/v2/rehabilitate%20livelihoods.html

Best Practices in Research data Management (IRRI)
“There is still little experience in using wiki technology within CGIAR. The openness and visibility of a wiki is often seen as a risk, rather than an opportunity for increased participation and collaboration in communities of practice.” states Thomas Metz, Project Leader. This project developed, collected, recorded, and applied good practices in research data management, and initiated a communities of practice for research data managers.  It is enabling scientists to produce better quality research and release their primary data as global public goods that will be available and usable for future secondary use. See the wiki at: http://cropwiki.irri.org/everest/

More to come soon…