Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Simple ingredients for tasty recipes: how four CGIAR Centers are implementing the CIARD Web 2.0 and social media pathways

The IAALD 2010 World Congress in Montpellier was my first ‘on the road’ assignment with the ICT-KM team. After the session Antonella and I ran during the CIARD marketplace, we wanted to take the opportunity to meet colleagues and friends from the different CGIAR centers to hear first-hand the stories behind the examples we find online.  How are some Centers and programs implementing the CIARD pathways to make their information widely accessible on the Web? How are they using Web 2.0 and social media? What have they been learning in the process? Their experiences are similar and different at the same time, as well as the tools used and the processes these tools are meant to support. Nonetheless, several common elements emerged clearly, as you can see from the short video interviews I recorded.

Thumbnail photo credit: Scott Liddell

Mashing up content to spice up a website

Ben Hack, ICARDA

Ben Hack from ICARDA shared an interesting example of using blogs. Ben is in charge of knowledge sharing and online communications in the Center, and one of his first priorities has been to make the ICARDA website more dynamic and rich in content. While working on a new CMS that will provide improved functionalities, Ben needed some quick wins and intermediate solutions between the existing and the upcoming platforms. He found that using a blog based on WordPress could well match his needs. By integrating a blog in the current ICARDA publishing system, Ben and ICARDA colleagues can now publish quick news and updates on the Center’s activities and publications. Using RSS feeds, the stories populate different pages of the ICARDA site, offering users fresh and frequently updated content. Watch the video interview with Ben

Multi-author blogging for content co-creation

Paul Bordoni, PAR at Bioversity International

A rather different example comes from Paul Bordoni, based at Bioversity International in Rome. Paul is a Scientific Assistant and works on agricultural biodiversity, climate change, indigenous people and underutilized species. Paul is engaged on the scientific research side and is clearly not one of the ‘usual suspects’, the typical information and communication people we normally talk with. His profile made it a really interesting person to interview and listen to. He told us about the Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research (PAR), which “seeks to improve the maintenance and use of agrobiodiversity by synthesizing and sharing existing knowledge, identifying areas where research is needed and stimulating the development of new research partnerships”.

Agriculture is multidisciplinary and multisectorial, and the PAR initiative aims at taking into account all the different perspectives and players. To achieve these objectives on the communication front, the platform found Web2.0 tools and social media particularly simple to use, inclusive and participatory; in other words, they presented the most cost effective and efficient solutions. So much so that PAR is redesigning its website to make it even more interdisciplinary and participatory. The new site, due to launch in the next few weeks, will be based on a blogging platform with an additional community management component. This approach is expected to allow the different stakeholders engage, communicate and take initiatives around the agrobiodiversity topics they are most interested in. The site will be built around sector-specific segments: interested stakeholders can just “take care of a particular segment”, engage, participate and ‘plug in’ to the main system. Watch the video interview with Paul

Blogging for impact

Vanessa Meadu, World Agroforestry Center

I first met Vanessa Meadu from the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) in Nairobi during the ShareFair 2009 in Rome, where she told me how they were introducing social bookmarking to researchers. This time around, I was curious to hear from her about how they have been using blogs, how they embedded them in different research programs and what added value they brought.

In the ASB program – as well as in PRESA, the Pro-Poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa – blogs have been used to reach out across a well defined network of researchers, policy makers and practitioners. The main objective is to foster information sharing among these actors, not only in terms of dissemination of new publications from the Center, but also, and more importantly, in terms of exchange of experiences and lessons learned among different actors and regions. In this sense, blogs serve as the primary information channels to keep the different partners informed with news and policy development, events and new information available. At the same time, blogging also helps to ‘build the memory’ of the program, and record what they are doing, while they are doing it.

The blog alone, though, might not be enough. People (still) love emails, and like to be reminded in their mailbox when new content is available. Hence an e-newsletter to accompany the blog and alert people of newly published content is critical to increase traffic, number of downloads and comments.

For Vanessa, the success of the blogs is rooted in the process that brings them into the core of the research program: as a project begins and the communication strategy is developed, blogs are among the first element to be designed and are therefore well integrated in all the project activities.

These experiences have been fed back into the wider ICRAF community, and are taken up by the communication team who is currently redeveloping the site and putting together a blogging strategy. Moreover, researchers have been also exposed to the role and value of blogging. Last year, Vanessa conducted an internal ‘Blogging for impact‘ seminar and researchers have become aware of the potential of blogs and are interested in seeing the links between enhancing scientific research and social media. The next step, according to Vanessa, is to “create incentives for further uptake and deeper integration”. Watch the video interview with Vanessa

A full meal: ILRI2.0

Peter Ballantyne, ILRI

One of the Centers that lately has been more active in adopting and integrating Web 2.0 and social media tools is ILRI. Peter Ballantyne, Head of Knowledge and Information Services, took out few minutes in his busy schedule to tell us what they have been doing, and what results they are achieving.

A whole ‘Web 2.0 toolkit’ has been introduced at ILRI in the past few months comprising Yammer, blogs, Blip.tv, wikis, Flickr, Delicious and Google CSE. The “big change” is that the whole ILRI website is now driven by RSS feeds, which are in fact the pipes that connect the different web spaces and bring content across the whole system and out to partners and interested stakeholders.

In particular, Peter told us how the ILRI communication people are using (and loving!) Yammer, as their internal communication tool to share what’s happening, posing problems and finding solutions.

Further, several blogs are now in place, both for publishing corporate outputs as well as in research projects, to document them as they develop; scientists are really excited about the potential of blogs and the fact that when when you blog, you get immediate visibility for your work and can easily drive content to your own communities of practice.

Increasingly, scientists are also using multimedia content to communicate their research outputs, and these are made available using Flickr for photos and Blip.tv for videos. Their use is quite straightforward, but for Peter the issue here is to have good metadata, captions, tags and description so that this content can then be easily found and sourced.

But this is not all. The content on social media is incorporated in the ILRI repository, which also generates RSS feeds: this way, the ‘social’ content is mixed with the ‘academic’ content, published in full text.  The ILRI Website has been redesigned and recently launched, so as to mash up the content published on different platforms and channels. In other words, it was a genuine paradigm shift and we now talk about ILRI 2.0. Watch the video interview with Peter

These are just few of the stories that we managed to capture during the IAALD 2010 Congress, and I would like to thank the CG colleagues for sharing with us their experiences and ideas.

However, this is just a small sample of the developments that are taking place across the CG. We would like to hear more from you: what are your social media recipes to increase accessibility of research outputs? What are the ingredients you are using?