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.

Advertisements

Are you a researcher? Do you work in a research organisation, project or program? Are you looking for ways to better conduct your research for development, share knowledge, engage with stakeholders, and achieve impact?

To help answer those questions, visit Improving impact through knowledge sharing in researchthe newest context page to be recently added to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit.  The new page offers people ideas, experiences and inspiration on recommended tools and methods to share knowledge during the research project cycle.

The Knowledge Sharing toolkit has consistently provided lots of information on tools and methods for knowledge sharing. However, it has been striving to make this information more relevant and accessible to people’s needs and situations.

Picture1

To help its visitors even better find what they are looking for or figure out what they may need and could use- a ‘What is your context?’ page was also developed.

The new context page on knowledge sharing in research-‘Improving impact through knowledge sharing in research‘- takes people right into the research process with a basic diagram of the research cycle and its key stages.

KsinR context-pic

These stages are presented as ‘entry points’ through which knowledge sharing approaches can be made use of to address certain shortcomings and limitations which traditional research may experience such as:

  1. a lack of inclusion of priorities, needs and realities from the ground
  2. inadequate use of other sources of knowledge in planning research
  3. poor collaboration with stakeholders during research activities
  4. limited understanding of how research results can most effectively be made use of
  5. ineffective ways of getting knowledge to target groups
  6. limited opportunities for learning within research process

To address these, the context page invites visitors to consider which stage of research they are in- and asking a key question related to improving that stage. The page then provides a list of suggested methods- both Online tools and Methods as well as Other Knowledge sharing Tools and Methods- to try out. These tools and methods are linked to other pages within the toolkit. Tags of related topics are also provided.

Example:

Stage 1: Identifying research (questions) to undertake

Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 576

This information has come out of the resources collected, knowledge generated and experiences of the recently concluded two-year CGIAR ICT-KM Program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project (2007-2009). The framework on which this context page is based was developed and tested particularly through 6 Pilot Projects.

These Pilot Projects are all projects of CGIAR Centres or System-wide or Challenge Programs which proposed to pilot the use of various knowledge sharing approaches and principles in their activities. This included:Picture3

080507-015

  • The convening of a Farmers’ Conference to bring out the knowledge, experiences and needs of farmers to help in planning of activities of the Participatory Plant Breeding department at ICARDA005
  • The use of a learning alliance approach by the IWMI WASPA project to bring together relevant stakeholders to link research to action
  • The IRRI-lead Pilot Project worked with key stakeholders to 2009_01150033_resizeunderstand how to write and package research results from projects working on rice in the Northern uplands of Laos, and created factsheets which were uploaded into the Laos Rice Knowledge Bank (online tool)

The selection of tools for each of the stages of the research cycle is based on the results and experiences of these 6 Pilot Projects as well as other projects and other documented cases. Documentation of the Knowledge Sharing in Research project, its pilot projects and other activities  can be found on the Documentation and Outputs page of the KSinR website section.

But this is not a blue print approach and each research project needs to find what fits with its own context, needs and objectives–the tools presented in this context page are just some suggestions to help.

If you have also used knowledge sharing approaches in your research let us know what you have done and how it worked. If you try any of these suggested approaches out, also let us know how it worked. You make contributions to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit to keep it a living and dynamic resource by signing up and adding your methods, ideas and experiences.

Vietnamese Visions:

An interview with Natasja Sheriff from the WorldFish Centre about the KSinR Pilot Project – ‘Applying KS tools to impact monitoring and evaluation’

Human beings have survived through adaptation. And for centuries peopleVietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 075 have come up with ingenious ways of coping with environmental extremes. In some parts of the world there is a dry season which is followed by not only a wet season but by flooding. Where crops stood a few short weeks ago, water now rolls and laps. What can a rice farmer do with this situation? Sit by for the months while his land is covered and simply wait for the season to end when he can plant crops again?

For most, struggling to get by, this is not an option. And so they adapt- making use of the water and its resources; they turn to fishing. This is the reality of the situation in the Mekong region of southern Vietnam.

But fishing is time consuming and doesn’t always yield that much for each individual.

Recognizing this predicament, the WorldFish Center set up a project in 2005 entitled ‘Community-based fish culture in seasonal floodplains and irrigation systems’ sponsored by the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food in Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh and Mali to look at the possibility of developing appropriate fish culture activities in seasonally flooding areas through an adaptive learning approach.

The project aimed to help farmers to set up collective fish culture, develop better techniques for breeding fish, find effective ways of managing fish culture and pool their resources to reduce costs. The project wanted to help them to achieve successful fish culture, so that they can be productive the whole year round.

The principle behind the project is that working together can reduce the cost of growing fish,” says Natasja Sheriff, KSinR pilot project leader for Worldfish, and leader of the Community-based fish culture project. “During the flood season, the costs of enclosing individual plots of land for fish culture would be prohibitive for a single household. By combining their land resources and culturing fish in a larger enclosed area, farmers can share the capital and labour costs of fish culture.”

But as we all know, working together is easier said than done. And fish culture activities have suffered from issues of diverging goals and actions of those who should be working together—and the system has not succeeded in many cases.

Achieving successful community-based fish culture in Vietnam therefore has proven challenging for WorldFish and national project partners at the Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.

The project recognized that in order to do achieve the goal it would be necessary for both national partners and direct beneficiaries at the community level to evaluate fish culture activities each year and modify the following year’s approach based on the results.

Early attempts at introducing monitoring and evaluation came in the form of lengthy, complex surveys undertaken by the project team-which was limited in its structure, cumbersome to process results and hardly ever filtered back to the stakeholders. Little learning was being achieved. The project then felt that a more participatory approach to impact monitoring would provide a more complete and accurate picture of the local conditions as well as project impacts, with project beneficiaries being able to both share and receive information better.

Something different was required…something that focused more on sharing of knowledge. And so with a grant from the CGIAR ICT-KM program’s Knowledge Sharing in Research project, it piloted the use of knowledge sharing (KS) tools to help.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 540

Outcome Mapping was the tool that was chosen to help with monitoring and evaluation in the project, but in a way more focused on effective knowledge sharing; and this was applied to WorldFish’s work in Vietnam.

When the partners in Vietnam suggested Outcome Mapping, I had actually not heard about it before,” admits Natasja. “Outcome Mapping is a process that can be used to monitor change. It can  also influence change by getting people together to talk about what it is they want to achieve and then developing markers or indicators to track progress. They say ‘how do we need to change in order to reach that goal?’ . A series of markers can be set up showing how we are all progressing towards achieving that goal.”

Natasja felt that Outcome Mapping could provide them with, not only a means of tracking their progression with the fish culture activities, but could additionally encourage them to look at what they themselves need to do to achieve their visions and commit to those activities by setting up regular monitoring towards achievable targets.Vietnam_Vist to WorldFish Pilot_09-08 574

We spoke to the farmers in Vietnam and we asked them to imagine a vision of the future, asking them to ‘Imagine you wake up at the end of the project, how have things changed?’ The vision they had was of  more income: they were able to send their children to school, they have electricity in the village, they work together better, there is increased solidarity. That is what they hope to achieve with the project, and it is fairly ambitious. That identifies for them as a group their aspirations, their hopes and dreams which should be realised from their efforts. But these changes do not happen on their own”.

What outcome mapping does is to help groups like this to then share with each other, what needs to happen, who needs to be doing what—for those aspirations, hopes and dreams to be realized.

The impact of the fish culture project in Vietnam will not be known until the fish are harvested. It’s success will depend on factors such as whether poaching has  been dealt with and what the community itself has decided to do with the money they have earned.

But it is not too early to begin to assess the impact of applying knowledge sharing tools.

Knowledge sharing in itself, I think, is really useful,” concludes Natasja.  “It is a way of getting together and sharing ideas, being more participatory in the way that we do research, and the way in which we work together with beneficiaries.  I think it is a worthwhile investment to apply these approaches as tools for monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment. I think if you prioritize such tools at the beginning of any project they can lead to improved relationships with both project partners and beneficiaries, more effective monitoring and ultimately greater impact. As scientists, we need to spend more time actually talking with the people we are trying to help.”

Knowledge sharing can help to better understand and hopefully realize some of these Vietnamese visions.

For more information and outputs from thsi project- see the WorldFish KSinR pilot project page

As mentioned in earlier posts, the Institutional KS Project supported WorldFish in their exploration of videos as a way to convey short and sharp messages about research that shows impact on the ground. The “storymercial” experience has recently been presented at the Share Fair by two colleaugues, Florine Lim and Silvia Renn from the WorldFish Center.

Here is the story of the  “storymercial”:

 “Story telling is the oldest form of sharing information. Videos appeal to the senses. We hope the storymercial encourages greater interest in our work.”
Helen Leitch, WorldFish

As its name implies, the “storymercial” tells a story (http://www.worldfishcenter.org/v2/rehabilitate%20livelihoods.html), in this case centering on an Indonesian community’s efforts to cope with the devastating tsunami of December 2004. In explaining how WorldFish works with partners to rehabilitate livelihoods following natural disasters, it promotes an idea about people-centered development. In just two minutes, it makes that message quite clear: research can help communities diversify their livelihood options, with a view to making local economies more resilient.

A few lines accompanying the video provide context: “Half the world’s poor live in coastal areas. These areas are often already under threat due to poorly planned development but challenges are made worse with natural disasters and climate change causing more floods and extreme weather events such as hurricanes.” And for those interested in further details of WorldFish’s work with partners to rehabilitate livelihoods following natural disasters, a four-page PDF brief titled Waves of change can be downloaded..

When you click on the video button on the WorldFish website, you are presented with a YouTube screen. “Fish for life: rehabilitating lives after disasters” begins with scenes of crashing waves and trees being hammered by high winds in the Aceh region of Sumatra. Ibrahim Makam, the chief of a small fishing village, cuts to the chase: “The wave was over 20 meters high. My 200 palm trees over there were all gone.”

The video is a mix of village scenes, translated interviews, voice-over narration, local singing, dance, and rhythmical handclapping and percussion. These are punctuated by just a few written titles to introduce key options for diversifying livelihoods: crab harvesting, lobster farming, mangrove rehabilitation, and aquaculture.

“WorldFish has widened our perspectives and helped to stabilize our economy,” Makam says in the concluding scene of the video. “But success also depends on our own efforts.”

Between early September and late October, the YouTube site had counted over 370 viewings of the video (which doesn’t include hits by visitors to the WorldFish website). Helen Leitch, WorldFish Center’s Director of Business Development and Communications, headed the KS pilot project. Why did she opt to communicate the WorldFish message via a video? “Story telling is the oldest form of sharing information,” she says. “Videos appeal to the senses. We hope the storymercial encourages greater interest in our work.” 

Leitch notes that most of WorldFish’s public awareness materials have traditionally been text-based, but that in an era of information overload, other communication channels are needed. Besides the two-minute version, WorldFish has also produced a 90-second clip which will be made available to television stations and other outlets in the region. Meanwhile, Leitch and colleagues are carrying out a survey of partners and donors to obtain feedback on the video. Among those surveyed are the organizations that funded the video: the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Caritas Internationalis, Force of Nature Aid Foundation, Ford Foundation, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States Agency for International Development, and the CGIAR.

Practical advice

WorldFish has recorded its experience in producing “Fish for Life” as a set of guidelines in the KS toolkit (http://www.kstoolkit.org/How_to_Produce_a_Storymercial).
The guidelines are organized in step-by-step fashion under six headings: Is your project newsworthy?; introduction to making a storymercial; guide script; pre-production; production; and post-production.

Here are a few examples of the advice given for making an effective storymercial:

  •  “Using one example instead of five will keep the video from being monotonous and boring. Show critical aspects of your project that are most visually pleasing and convey the overall philosophy of your organization.”
  • “Using a professional film producer maximizes the chance that the film will be picked up by CNN, BBC or incorporated into a documentary for TV.”
  • “A video is not a report; it must connect with people, be relatable and entice the audience to keep watching…. Include the most dynamic and knowledgeable staff and the most visually compelling settings.”
  • “A short video (1 to 3 minutes) can take from 1 to 3 days to film, depending on location and weather. Shooting must be planned for the most effective use of time and lighting in the day.”

This booklet summarizes the project achievements of the Institutional Knowledge Sharing project of the ICT-KM Program in the areas of:

  • Capacitiy builing, M&E and learning;
  • Strategies and change management;
  • Problem solving and good practices.

The booklet also tells the story of the three pilto projects that have been supported at CIFOR, IRRI, and WorldFish:

  • Transforming IRRI’s  research data into global public goods
  • The storymercial: Fishing for donor support and partnerships
  • Strategic planning at CIFOR

Download the booklet (850 kb)

The Institutional KS Project will exhibit the below poster at the Annual General Meeting (AGM08) of the CGIAR in Maputo early next month. The poster represents the project framework and examples of interventions and activities from the last two years. 

 

As announced in a previous blog post, WorldFish delivered it’s storymercial, a short and punchy video that aims at attracting investors, partners and media to support research and apply its outputs.

WorldFish now shares this innovative KS approach through a “how to” guide.