Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Why communication and knowledge sharing in our Megaprograms?

As new  Megaprograms were being finalized, research defined, new partnerships forged for a new more impactful agriculture research agenda… as the  texture, the vital structure of the new CGIAR  was being defined it became apparent that communication and knowledge sharing related issues were “missing in action”…. but not everywhere… signs that there was a growing awareness of the value of knowledge sharing in research became apparent… the heads of communication of the various CGIAR centers started to make noise around the fact communication and knowledge sharing were being neglected… so these topics made it back to the “must be there” list in a Megaprogram.

In the new CGIAR,  Centres and Megaprograms will be operating in a complex arrangement of interlocking partners and interests, at all levels: international, regional, national and local.  At the interface of research and development we need to generate new knowledge while finding effective ways of linking that knowledge with action to produce clear impact. Much of this development work will be done with and by our partners.

Strategically targeted communications and knowledge-sharing mechanisms will be vital in delivering the kinds of sustainable, large-scale improvements in human and ecological well-being we are seeking.

To operate effectively, there will have to be very efficient mechanisms of communication established, to allow knowledge to flow freely throughout the system we are creating, in particular to meet the communications requirements of our partners and collaborators.

But how would we formulate this in our Megaprograms?

I want to share with you what  Warwick Easdown,  from AVRDC– The World Vegetable Center included in his write up about the issue of communication and knowledge sharing  as a contribution to a Megaprogram he has been  developing.

I hope Warwick’s wisdom serves as an inspiration to the many out there who are working on Megaprograms.  And if any of you out there has something to share that can indeed help others… please come forward, the platform of this blog is open to you all!

“Knowledge management is a broad term covering the social and technical processes that support communication and information management in organizations. The world is undergoing profound economic, technological and social changes, and science communication and information use is changing rapidly as more multidisciplinary teams  address more complex problems. There are several major reasons why international agricultural research centers (IARCs) urgently need to improve their knowledge management to remain relevant:

  1. The amount of agricultural information available is growing rapidly, and a wider range of organizations are creating it and using it. Old ways of archiving or information or sharing it are inadequate to deal with this situation.
  2. Information technology is changing information access and the players involved. Connectivity is rapidly improving across the world and mobile telephony is becoming universal. Cheaper faster computing equipment and global information services are making old ways of storing and accessing information obsolete, and bringing new players into agricultural development. New skills, equipment and approaches are needed to take advantage of these opportunities.
  3. Most agricultural scientists are not trained in communication or social sciences, yet many of the complex agricultural problems we face have no simple technical solutions and improved skills in social facilitation and communication are needed to work with a wider range of partners on multidimensional problems.
  4. An older generation is unfamiliar with new communication technologies. IARCs have many senior world-class scientists, but in many cases their children are far more familiar with social networking and other recent advances in internet use. There is a major need for a cultural change so that they can take advantage of these tools to enhance their networking, advocacy and other opportunities to have impact.

Knowledge Sharing in Research Process cycle

Knowledge management in agricultural research

The use of Information and communication technologies (ICTs) in combination with innovative knowledge sharing methods and tools provide new opportunities for a more effective way of doing agricultural research for development. This can change both the work of individual research teams and that of research institutions as a whole.

At the surface level the work of the international agricultural research centers involves many actors in a series of activities such as laboratory research, participatory research, action learning, mentoring, internships, group training, production of learning materials, archiving and accessing information. This work results in international public goods such as new scientific and technological knowledge, agricultural research products and services, and increased individual and organizational capacities to innovate.

At a more fundamental level there are three main processes going on in the creation and delivery of these international public goods; learning, capacity strengthening and information sharing. Making these processes more effective is the work of knowledge management and is essential to creating a high performing consortium of international agricultural research centers.  It depends on the use of innovative social processes and an effective and efficient IT infrastructure.

Knowledge management for research teams

The research process that involves research teams can be seen as involving six steps:

  1. Identification of research problems
  2. Design of research
  3. Research activities
  4. Production of research outputs
  5. Dissemination of research results
  6. Planning future research

The role of knowledge sharing in this cyclical process is shown in the diagram below:

A wide range of innovative information sharing, learning and capacity strengthening activities have been developed and trialed within the CGIAR and could help to strengthen each stage in the research process in a new consortium of IARCs and partners working on each megaprogram. Many of these have been developed by the CGIAR ICT-KM team (http://ictkm.cgiar.org/index.php) and are documented with the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (http://www.kstoolkit.org/) that contains more than 80 tools and methods to enhance face-to-face and virtual participation. These have been implemented by groups such as the Facilitating Impact Team at CIAT (http://gisweb.ciat.cgiar.org/dapablogs/dapa-impact/?page_id=29)  that encourages the use of a wide range of innovative approaches to learning and information sharing.

Examples that research teams may use include the following:

1. Identification of research problem, and 2. Design of research

Participatory research planning approaches can be used for identifying research problems as well as designing research. Many agricultural problems are increasingly complex and the research questions cannot not be clearly defined, let alone the research approaches. They require a more exploratory and iterative approach to research problem identification and research design. Appropriate tools may include Participatory Impact Pathways analysis (PIPA), Outcome Mapping, Social Network Analysis or Learning Alliances.

3. Research activities

In addition to well known research approaches those to facilitate communication. learning and information sharing within the research team and its collaborators can also include online collaboration tools like wikis; social media like blogs, twitter; participatory video, facilitated e-consultations and structured mentoring.

4. Production of research outputs

Beyond the production of traditional research papers there are many more effective ways of reaching partners and stakeholders. These may involve approaches such as online publishing, online collaborative documentation or social media.

5. Dissemination of research results

Many innovative ways of extending research results have been developed by agricultural extension services over the last century. In addition to traditional face to face field days, farmer field schools or radio newer approaches involve more diverse media such participatory video, mobile phones and more indirect means of communicating innovations such as storytelling, impact narratives or innovation histories.

6. Planning future research

Many of the approaches used in the identification of research problems may also be used in brainstorming, investigative consultations or datamining to plan future research.

Not all of these approaches may be socially acceptable due to their unfamiliarity to all parties or technically feasible due to a lack of connectivity between participants

Knowledge management for research organizations

Research organizations do many of the same things as smaller research teams, but they also conduct learning, capacity strengthening and information sharing at a broader level, and over a longer period than individual research projects. These broader supportive activities include:

  • Partnership and networking
  • Institutional strengthening and capacity building
  • Information and technology exchange
  • Awareness and advocacy

Innovative knowledge management processes can also support research at this broader institutional level. Many of the tools that are useful to research teams can also be applied at the institutional level, but there are also some unique approaches that can be used:

Partnership and networking

Research into partnering can help to inform the best ways to manage partnerships. Past work by CIP for example has found that organizational partnerships tend to be dynamic and often evolve from less to more formal arrangements. Successful partnerships tend to share a common vision and purpose, with realistically defined goals and are open about resource distribution, sharing responsibilities to help build trust. Shared websites, online collaboration tools like blogs, social media and wikis can help to build such networks and strengthen partnerships.

Institutional strengthening and capacity building

Knowledge management depends on a good technical IT infrastructure and staff who are familiar with innovative uses of it. One of the major institutional strengthening roles of research institutions can therefore be to ensure that there is adequate investment in ICTs.  Internet broadband connectivity must be available along with the necessary hardware and staff need to be trained in the use of application to integrate and manage online content. This can also involve facilitating changes in organizational priorities and culture.

Capacity building is not just having a training program but helping the organization or its partners to see their role differently and to be able to respond to challenges more innovatively and on a more equal footing. Capacity building is a continuous two-way process between partners. It can require improved social skills to maintain including better facilitation of strategic exercises; team building and teamwork exercises, mentoring in information sharing and learning, as well as Web based courses, and face to face training as well as the use of diverse media in training and workshops.

Information, knowledge, technology exchange

As the quantity of information grows it becomes more important to integrate information collections and provide more effective means of publishing it quickly, reducing overlaps and helping users to find the information they need quickly. The CIARD initiative (Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development) is an attempt to integrate information collections to make it easier for users to find what they need. The Open Access initiative provides alternative options for publishing scientific work that will preserve quality, but be more generally accessible than expensive journals. The AAA initiative aims to improve the Availability, Accessibility and Applicability of CGIAR research outputs. Information is a key international good produced by the IARCs and improving access to it and its effective use is key measure of the centers’ performance.

Awareness & Advocacy

Useful agricultural products and information and skilled social processes are of no value if no-one uses them. IARCs need to promote what they do and what they can provide as there are now many more development priorities and organizations competing for the attention of donors and partners. Greater use of innovative web tools is needed to promote the cause of agricultural development to donors. Improved internet access is also allowing innovative ways of connecting rural communities with development partners around the world. More diverse ways of connecting to partners and clients who will apply the innovations discovered are also needed, including radio, video, television, print media and the internet. Extension systems are often weak in the countries in which IARCs work, but increasingly donors want to see impact and this requires much greater attention to improving awareness and advocacy activities in conjunction with end users.”

Note: In this case I used Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing interchangeably.

Thank you Warwick for allowing the use of your text!