Collaborate, Create, Communicate

ICT-KM knowledge sharing: scaling up and out, up and out, up and out…

I haven’t been blogging for some time here at ICT-KM, but the recent excellent interview about our ICT-KM blog story reminded me that I really wanted to come back and talk about recent KS initiatives and interventions that are worthwhile mentioning.

We haven’t been lazy over the last months. Some of the ICT-KM originated KS action took place behind the scenes or on the platforms of partner organizations which basically means that we are currently still up- and out-scaling our KS work ;-). I have been mainly collaborating with the CGIAR Secretariat and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), and in both cases most of the support laid in technological stewardship and the very exciting and rewarding coordination / facilitation of virtual consultation processes that had to do with the CGIAR change process. Here are some insights gained so far with the different activities.

CGIAR change e-consultations

With the CGIAR Secretariat we organized two e-consultations. One was related to some key issues around the Fund Framework. Together with the Governance and Finance team, we opted for a Skype chat as an asynchronous medium that allowed the 15 or so participants worldwide to contribute over 3 days with their comments and discussions in 5 chat windows, each related to a specific issue of the Fund Framework. A daily summary was emailed to the participants to assure that everybody could receive and digest the information in different formats. The short after action review with the Secretariat staff revealed that the process was quick and efficient, and worked well for the small group. Unfortunately we heard very late from some participants who had institutional restrictions for the use of Skype. Therefore I had to paste their emailed comments in the respective chat windows. This was quite easy to do but obviously not optimal.

In a second consultation effort in October, the objective was to enroll CGIAR Members, Science Council, Center Board Chairs and Center DGs in a three-day e-consultation on the critical elements of the CGIAR Reform. It was designed as an opportunity to discuss, clarify, and get resolution on substantive issues around the implementation of the CGIAR Reform, before the Executive Committee (ExCo) meeting. This time far more participants were expected and that is why we decided to create a Google groups. The again asynchronous media allowed us to sign up the participants easily, to create the 4 required discussion topics and to upload the background documentation. 83 members participated in the 4 day consultation and contributed a total of 118 messages. Again, daily summaries were prepared and shared by email and on the Google group homepage.

Observations: I have three basic observations related to the e-consultations:

  • First of all it is a pleasure to see the openness of the CG Secretariat towards the principles of consultation processes as well as their interest in trying out low-cost and innovative solutions for virtual dialogues.
  • It seems that the ease of use, and the zero cost of both tools have been big advantages compared to the minor difficulties that we encountered. The team is now perfectly able to undertake further exercises on their own and without external support, which means that we included a capacity strengthening component into the exercise, a very rewarding element.
  • An interesting discussion arose when we were defining our mutual roles. We distinguished between content and process facilitators. While I was suggesting the medium and the respective timeline for each exercise and setting up the platforms, the Secretariat staff had to get the objectives clear and assure that the background documents were ready and available on time. They had to reply to the participant’s questions and clarify different aspects of the reform. So my role was quite easy to fulfill but I also realized that the mere fact of suggesting a platform or tool made me take the risk and responsibility for the technology which I was quite nervous about.

CGIAR change video

Another very exciting activity was the creation of a new change video. You may remember our short explanatory video from last year where we used the Common Craft approach to lay out the different elements of the change process. This time and with the communications team of the Secretariat we decided to opt for a small piece where we aimed at capturing the changes in mindsets that have been accompanying the process since its launch and as follows:

“We have success stories to share. However we need impact at scale. A revitalized CGIAR is part of the solution. And mindsets are changing; from skepticism to interest. Step by step we are embracing change. And now it’s your chance to get involved.”

The script is based on various CGIAR stakeholder quotes and the images and video excerpts are taken from center and challenge program Web sources. Both videos have been done with Caramba design, a Cali based multimedia company. Have a look and let us know what you think.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=2896241&dest=-1]

Observations: The video is just to be released and it will be interesting to see the reactions. To say the truth, before the latest ExCo meeting I was quite pessimistic about its value. The optimistic tone of the video seemed pretty much in contrast with the recent worries expressed around the different components of the change process. But after ExCo it seems that many problems have been faced and dealt with, i.e. the little consultation around the mega-programs. So I hope that our little video resonates with many CGIAR staff and induces a positive spirit.

GCARD e-consultation process

The consultation process of the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) has been in full swing for the last 3 months. I am involved in the process as a coordinator of the 6 regional e-consultations. In addition I have been facilitating the Asia Pacific e-consultation.

The GCARD process consists in a step-by-step stakeholder involvement approach in 6 regions coordinated each by one of the 6 regional fora through which the stakeholders are represented within the  Global Forum of Agricultural Research GFAR. The overall objective is to meet the knowledge and technological needs of resource poor, small holder farmers so as to have development impact through a refinement of regional and global agricultural research priorities, as identified by different stakeholder groups and representatives in each region and in an inclusive way. The GCARD process is an integral part of the new CGIAR and serves as its stakeholder platform. It is very interesting and valuable in its attempt to be broad and inclusive, while also recognizing some obstacles like the still soemwhat week connections of the regional fora a with civil society organizations. All in all some 3000 research and development workers are currently directly involved in the GCARD consultation process.

My coordination task consisted in supporting the regional teams –composed in general by a facilitator, the consultant who provided the regional reviews and a person providing technical support– with timelines, tips, and tools related to the facilitation of the virtual events. I used a wiki to share with all the regional teams emails drafts for facilitators which were adapted, and translated by most regional fora. The wiki site is available to all so please feel free to use the resources that are certainly useful for anyone who has to facilitate virtual consultations. In addition I spend time in feeding the GCARD blog with summaries, stories and updates from the different e-consultations. An interesting exercise was to pick up so many significant quotes from participants and use Twitter as an extra channel to convey the voices we could hear in the listserv-based dicsussions. More on the GCARD process in a podcast interview that Nancy White did with me.

Good news come from the e-consultation evaluation survey with 231 replies showing that 86% of the respondents feel that they have increased their understanding of AR4D issues in their regions. 86% also rate the e-consultation as excellent (29%) or good (57%). Lively discussions on the regional reviews have indeed helped to confirm and enrich the identified key issues while coming up loud and clear with preferences on how research should be done. “The enthusiasm created around the e-consultation is evident. 500 members from 65 countries signed up for the event” says FARA’s Myra Wopereis-Pura “Up to the moment, the GCARD-Africa group is still very active. We don’t know how to stop people!”, she says.

The regional face-to-face meetings have now been finalized and as the GFAR Steering Committee meeting has been held last week we can expect interesting first statements on the process, the content of this prioritization exercise as well as the next steps that lead to GCARD 2010 conference in Montpellier in March 2010.

Observations: I had the opportunity to summarize some perceptions around the issues of broad participation, trust and transparency related to the GCARD e-consultations in the recent issue of Collective Action News. The point I am trying to make in this article is that obtaining broad representation and trust ultimately depends on the capacity of the research community to listen actively to those it is ambitious to engage. Active listening is a key skill and challenge. It means that we are really willing to take the participant’s wisdom into account, beyond our usual too narrow economic evidence-based science approach .

Finally: Some remaining ‘delicious” bits and pieces from the KS project

While the project “Institutional KS” is formally closed for a while now, we are still working on some documentation bits and pieces.

KS workshop article in international peer-reviewed journal: More than a year ago 8 participants and facilitators of the first Knowledge Sharing workshop embarked in an effort  to write an article about our workshop experience including examples of the principles and tools that we have been implementing in our centers and organizations as a consequence of the workshop. We did some collaborative writing on a private wiki supported by a professional writer and found a publisher: The International Journal of Web-based communities. While the whole process was finalized a month ago we are now waiting for the issue to be released. I guess we all agreed that this was an interesting experience but that in times of urgency this peer-reviewed process has the inconvenient of delaying the release of information and knowledge which might be outdated once published.

ILAC brief: Similar to the point above, we are waiting for the release of an ILAC brief (Institutional Learning and Change) where Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Petr Kosina (CIMMYT), Peter Shelton (IFPRI) and I try to summarize the benefits of three social media tools (wikis, blogs and social bookmarking) for the research community.

Social media workshop: We have been holding a third social media online workshop with a small group of participants and it was Nancy White who was the facilitator of this event. You will shortly hear more from it as we will do an extra interview with her on social media, the CGIAR and issues related to online collaboration. Stay tuned…