Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Web 2.0 and social media for research uptake: demos at the CIARD Marketplace

Half of the ICT-KM team is in Montpellier this week for the IAALD XIII Congress. While the Congress  officially opened yesterday April 27, Monday 26 was a busy day for the CGIAR with the launch of CG Books and a side session on Web 2.0 and Social Media for research uptake to improve availability, accessibility and applicability of agricultural information.

This was part of the CIARD Marketplace, a special pre-congress event that brought together the CIARD partners and whoever is interested in opening up access and implementing coherence in agricultural information management. Watch this video for a quick introduction to the partnership and the Marketplace.

This time, I was not alone on ‘stage': good friend and currently consultant Pier Andrea Pirani of Euforic Services shared the scene and the honour. While we had planned to do a demo on how Web 2.0 and social media are used in some of the CGIAR Centers, the session turned into more of a conversation, thanks to the interesting contributions and questions from the 20 people attending.

Starting from the CIARD Pathways, we focused on a specific selection of tools: blogs, microblogs and newsfeeds, the blood of the social Web. But we didn’t just want to talk about the tools as such; instead, we wanted to showcase a number of CGIAR projects that make good use of social media to promote uptake of research outputs.

Colleagues from ICARDA, CIMMYT, CIAT, CIP and the CG Fund Office were present, and some of the projects they are involved in were being shown, so they added a real-life twist to the demos by explaining what is happening behind the scenes.

The idea of the demos started with the assumption that we couldn’t take for granted that the people we would be demonstrating for had an even level of knowledge and experience with social media. This turned out to be only partially true. Yes, some buzzwords have become really popular and familiar to many, but we noticed a different, higher level of awareness of the impact and management challenges involved. A kind of ‘second level’ questions emerged, less centered on ‘how does the tool work’ and more focussed around issues such as: ‘what do I use it for?’ ; ‘how can I use it at a strategic level?'; ‘how can I ensure adoption’?

In this sense, some of the issues and lessons that emerge comprise the following:

  • A blog is being used as part of an organisational CMS and a handy shortcut to keep publishing going during a complex web site redesign project;
  • Feeds are used to populate different areas of a web site, and to aggregate/publish thematic information;
  • Editorial strategy is central to the choice of the tool: institutional blogs sometimes are just not sexy, and it is a challenge to maintain a conversation going when information is tightly controlled at the source;
  • Organisational microblogging may easily go astray towards personal conversations and dilute the value of internal networks. But personal relationships are the fertile ground where trust is built and which enables communities to grow and information to be directed to the people who need to have it.
  • Information services built on aggregated feeds of new publications, like new releases in journals or table of contents, are losing ground. Scientists prefer to go straight to the source, if they have found the one that is really reflecting their interest, for example. Is this how people are managing their attention amidst information overload? is it a sign of maturity and better awareness of the information offer out there? is it an indicator that specialised information services are better than general ones? The debate is open.

For us, this was a great opportunity to hear first hand about different cases and common problems. As ICT-KM team, we will keep on collecting these stories, examples and lessons learned, in order to facilitate a better exchange of ideas among the Centers and Programs and cross-post experiences so that we can better learn from each other and leverage our collective efforts to use the Web to make research information accessible, available and applicable.