Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Part 2 – My first back-to-office blog: ‘AAGW and CIARD- a match made in space!”

So in this second part of the blog about back-to-office blogs, I am actually writing a back-to-office blog about my recent trip to Nairobi, Kenya to work on the 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week (AAGW10), held on the ILRI Campus from 8th-11th June 2010.

In my blog post about re-joining the CGIAR ICT-KM program, I mentioned that I would be working mostly on the global initiative for coherence in  information for agricultural research for development (CIARD) and the complementary Triple-A framework of the CGIAR. For both of these initiatives the focus is on improving the impact of agricultural research through learning about, promoting and supporting the implementation of pathways for making research data, information and knowledge more available, accessible and applicable.

Last week (8th-11th June 2010) I was in Nairobi as part of the 2nd Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week, where I designed the agenda, facilitated the workshop sessions, and documented the workshop using social media (Twitter, bloggingphotos) during the week. But why would I be involved in this event? What has a meeting of geospatial ‘geeks’ got to do with my work on knowledge sharing in research and CIARD?

Well when I was first asked to work on the AAGW10, I thought that it was somewhat linked to my work on knowledge sharing in research through integrating people into an improved design of engagement, introducing effective facilitation skills, and exposing them to various tools and methods for sharing knowledge, such as social media. I expected that I would also get to do some networking: to make some contacts and for them to get to know me and what I am doing better.

But my experience was much richer and much more relevant to my work than initially expected- I found the AAGW and my work on CIARD to be a match made in…well, space, I guess!

Although I was involved in the 1st Africa Agriculture Geospatial Week, held in April 2009, I had not thought of it in terms of making research accessible (CIARD principles) before. But during this second AAGW, I was struck by what a key event and community this is for making research data, information and knowledge more accessible.

Here are some of my experiences and lessons from the week with regards to my work on CIARD:

Improving our own targeting

In the work of the CIARD initiative a number of key  groups have been identified and are being targeted to advocate for improved ways of sharing research information. These include (a) information professionals (b) decision-makers & managers, (c) researchers & scientists, and even (d) development agencies & donors. But while these current categories are very good to help us in tailoring our approach to learning and advocacy, even further targetting may still be possible and necessary to unlock the realities of the contexts and needs in sharing research knowledge.

What I was confronted with during the previous week at AAGW10 was a hybrid group. The geospatial community are both researchers as well as information managers. While they are the holders of much of the data of their institutes, and expected to find effective ways of storing and sharing the data, they are also carrying out interesting modifications and applications to derive information and knowledge that is applicable to various purposes and groups. What I learnt from this group was the need to understand the whole spectrum along which knowledge can be shared- from more open data storage systems to sharing relevant analysis to communicating key results and meanings to those who need such knowledge. We can see that quite a rich and complex web of pathways is necessary to cover the whole research process.

What else can we learn from this ‘hybrid group’? Are their particular pathways which are relevant for them? How do we get them on board and encourage and support them to improve their own sharing activities?

Others share the CIARD Vision and Objective

CIARD  Vision: “ To make public domain, agricultural research information  and knowledge truly accessible to all”

CIARD Objective: ” To work together to collaboratively develop common standards, share knowledge and contribute to effective and coherent institutional approaches in agricultural science and technology information”

The objective of the CGIAR-CSI community and the AAGW matches with that of CIARD.  The CGIAR CSI community was started as a way of bringing together specialists in the area of geospatial science to share experiences and approaches, consider common methods and standards, and together to show a set of coherent geospatial approaches for the CGIAR and its work. Additionally, throughout the week many examples of efforts to make agricultural spatial information that is generated more accessible were shared, and this was even more of a focus than in the previous years. The process and results of the week have been documented in a blog post on ‘Navigating the change: Mapping the role of spatial information in ARD’.

Of particular relevance to the ideas of making research more accessible and the development of a knowledge commons, as are key parts of the CIARD manifesto, was the half day workshop on the AgCommons project which focuses on communicating data to users.

The quick-win projects presented all showcased efforts to bring spatial information to the last 10Km where farmers and those that serve them can make use of it to improve decision making towards enhanced livelihoods. These included:

  • The Africa Trial Sites project showed how it has been addressing the efficiency gap in interaction among farmers, national program agronomists, and crop improvement researchers by creating a pilot network of testing sites that link cultivar developers, local-level researchers, agronomists and the farmers in Africa
  • The value of very high resolution imagery to help scale up a few quick-win productivity enhancement technologies in 10 smallholder communities across Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Niger was demonstrated by the ‘Seeing is Believing West Africa’ (SBWA) project.
  • The ‘Crop disease surveillance’ project developed an early-warning crop disease application to provide timely advice on treatments to farmers and to help research institutions prioritize their crop disease interventions. The application will rely on training a distributed network of rural intermediaries, called Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs), to use mobile phones for tracking the spread of crop diseases in two districts in Uganda.
  • In the ‘Nodes of growth’ project the aim was to improve the efficiency of input systems in legume systems in Sub-Saharan Africa by stimulating bean seed demands, and identifying strategies to market bean seedsthrugh (a) A map of existing seed (and other inputs) dealers, (b)Spatial analysis leading to decision on location of new outlets and (c) Communication of these maps, updated at monthly/seasonal intervals on varieties available.

The launch of the AgCommons platform also marked a further effort to coordinate data, information and knowledge to make it more available, accessible and applicable to those who can make use of it.

Validation of CIARD Values

To increase the public benefits from investments in agricultural research and innovation for development, the partners in the CIARD initiative agreed to make research outputs truly accessible, based on a common set of values (bolded and underlined below). What was interesting for me, was how these values were consistently echoed in the presentations and discussions of the AAGW10.

  • The participants of the AAGW10 also advocated for effective investments in geospatial approaches and tools which would allow them to not only share data and information better between CGIAR Centres and specialists but also with NARS, other National partners, Universities, extension agents, and even farmers. Through the AgCommons project, examples of such investments have been tested out to be able to show the kind of ‘quick-wins’ that improved technologies and approaches , such as mobile phones for data collection, can afford in terms of impact on the ground.
  • One of the key reasons for the formation of the CGIAR Consortium for Spatial information (CSI) was to establish coherent systems and services for spatial analysis and information amongst the CGIAR centres. This was a further impetus for broadening the annual CSI meeting into the AAGW format, so that further coherence could be achieved with other organisations working in spatial information in agriculture outside of the CGIAR also.
  • One participant at the AAGW10 commented that one of the key services of geospatial science that could be offered to ARD and the new CGIAR megaprograms was providing good and innovative ways to communicate content.
  • The role of the geospatial community in developing and strengthening capacity was brought up as a key service that it could provide in being able to share knowledge and experience with others who would then be able to carry out this type of work.

The spatial information community has lots of ‘pathways’ to share

The CIARD  initiative has been working through its key partners to explore, learn about, document, share and promote key ‘pathways’ for increasing the availability, accessibility and applicability of research outputs. But this list is just the beginning. Many of these pathways are relevant for information managers and personell, and it is part of my task to identify pathways being used or that could be used by researchers or in research projects–and I got lots of ideas from the presentations and discussions at AAGw10. This week showed me that there are lots of innovative things going on in terms of sharing research information, and we need to cast our net wider to understand, capture and share these.

Just a few examples:

  • Development of e-Atlases from a number of key data layers that can be made freely available online
  • By registering data on the ARCGIS server, they can be made more accessible to others who can make use of them
  • Taking high resolution imagery to the farmers in formats that are applicable to their situation and needs, and which allow them to gain information and make decisions, as done in the ‘Seeing is Believing West Africa’ (SIBWA) project

What can CIARD offer?

But what also became apparent was some of the needs and demands that such a community and its individuals have in terms of sharing their vast and valuable set of data, information and knowledge.  It was often commented by participants that they would like to make their work more accessible but they don’t know how. They expressed the need for ideas, tools and guidance to improve their sharing.

Benefits that agricultural research institutions and staff can derive from CIARD are:

  • increased visibility and use of the outputs of their research and innovation
  • increased exchange of information content with other systems
  • increased awareness of other outputs of research and innovation
  • access to expertise on information sharing and solutions used by others

So what next?

I plan to include this community as a key target group for the CIARD initiative and look for ways to interact with them more to advocate the principles, learn and develop important pathways, and encourage them to adopt more pathways.

I would like to encourage the CSI and wider agricultural geospatial community to get involved in CIARD and work together to find ways to make geospatial agricultural information more accessible and useful to all.