Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture #4 – Evelyn Katingi

Our “Growing Talents: Youth in Agriculture” series of interviews, which puts a face to the youth in agricultural research for development (ARD), hears their voices and obtains an insight into their roles, perspectives, experiences and aspirations, continues with Evelyn Katingi, a young woman with a passion for putting CGIAR agricultural research on the map. This is the second of our interviews under the “Making Agricultural Knowledge Travel” chapter. Click here to find out more about the series.

The Woman behind the map

Evelyn Katingi is a woman with Africa at her fingertips. With a click of her mouse, a map of the continent appears on her computer screen. At once you can see the breadth of CGIAR ongoing research in Africa: from Tunisia in the north all the way down to South Africa at the tip of the continent, and from the Gambia in the west to Somalia in the east.

Her eyes light up when she talks about the map.

CGIAR Ongoing Research lists almost 400 projects from the 15 CGIAR Centers, and more are being added as we speak,” this young Kenyan woman says. “Also, every day, more and more people are visiting the site.”

A collaborative effort between the ICT-KM Program and CGIAR Collective Action in Eastern and Southern Africa, the map shows CGIAR projects: who is doing what, where and with whom. It makes research information accessible to all CGIAR staff and other key stakeholders, thereby facilitating information sharing, promoting partnership opportunities and encouraging collective action.

The map’s coverage

“Initially, the map was designed to align research activities in eastern and southern Africa,” says Evelyn, “but the more we developed it and the more we continued to gather information, the more it became increasingly difficult not to include projects carried out in other parts of Africa. So the information grew and exploded, and it’s now a research map of Africa.

“Plans are also afoot to expand the map’s reach beyond Africa to other areas where the CGIAR is working.  One of my personal goals is to have a distributed but linked system with other agriculture information management systems in the world.”

CGIAR Ongoing Research (click to enlarge)

Maintaining the map

Ask anyone responsible for a map’s content, online or otherwise, and they will tell you about the challenges they encounter maintaining such a resource. Evelyn is no exception.

“I’m in charge of collecting information about the map, identifying areas of development, getting users’ feedback about what they think about the map, analyzing it to see if we’re meeting their needs, assessing how best to address some of the needs, and creating relationships with different Centers and key people in charge of updating the map,” she says, all in one breath. “Then, of course, I have to communicate the information on the map, and also maintain the Collective Action blog and contribute news and circulate the Program’s newsletter, which goes a long way to spread news about the map and was recently awarded a bronze medal by the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE) in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences in the newsletters class of the 2010 Awards.

“Some scientists update the map without me having to remind them; but others need a little nudge,” she says. “This is understandable because there is always competition for users’ time and attention. So I try to encourage them by maintaining a very simple data entry form and easy-to-follow procedures for using the map. As a result of keeping things simple and straightforward, anyone can access the information on the map with just a few clicks of their mouse.”

At the same time, Evelyn acknowledges the contribution made by the Centers.

“Without their participation, the map can’t survive,” she explains. “I’ve tried to identify focal people in the different Centers who can update all their Center’s information, making the process more participatory.

The road to the map

Three years ago, when Evelyn knew little about research maps, or blogs or e-newsletters, she began working for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya, where she was employed as an intern for three months. As a fresh graduate with a degree in statistics, she threw herself into her work developing a database of research activities carried out in eastern and southern Africa. Six months later, when a permanent position became available, she jumped at the opportunity. At that time, the Coordinator of the Program was Ravi Prabhu, a man who was instrumental in shaping this young woman’s career.

“Ravi was my supervisor,” says Evelyn, “but he didn’t just supervise my work, he also gave me advice related to my growth. He was really the one behind the map – I only became fully in charge of the map last year. Ravi helped me develop a vision for the map and guided me through my day-to-day work. He had a way of making me (and I believe others working with him) feel appreciated, gave credit where it was deserved, and acknowledged everyone who made a contribution.  I would not be where I am today without also the support of my current supervisor Bruce Scott, the director of Partnership and Communication at ILRI who oversees the Program’s activities. Despite his extremely busy schedule, he is always available to meet and offer key strategic decisions on the map.

“From both of these men, I have learned that having a supportive mentor and someone who believes in you can go a long away towards turning a mountain into a molehill. I also worked closely with the amazing ICT-KM Program team who are always up-to-date with the latest technology and provide excellent ideas and input not only on the development of the map but on how better to address map user needs and achieve greater impact. Those are the key people who have made the journey along the way much, much easier for me.”

Migrating the map

As a result of requests to reuse the information and for more interactive features on the map, the system has been reviewed and the website’s content and functionality migrated to a Content Management System (CMS) from the previous development framework.

“The new look Ongoing Research is more user friendly, informative and makes browsing and updating research project information as easy as … well, following a map,” say Evelyn.

Get your product right so that people are awed by it – Robin Sharma

A big fan of motivational speaker Robin Sharma, Evelyn applies his philosophy to the map.

“If it’s something good and it’s something useable, then people will use it, and it will become easier to sell, and work with and develop. You have to be passionate in what you’re doing, and challenge yourself to do it better every day. And don’t give up, take advantage of opportunities that arise and actively communicate and update your stakeholders.

“Every young person should strive and work hard to upgrade their skills,” says Evelyn, who is currently pursuing a masters degree in Agriculture Information Communication Management, thereby enhancing her current expertise, knowledge and skills in a field about which she feels passionately.

“It’s also important to have a vision. My vision is to enhance the efficiency of key information and knowledge resources among the CGIAR Centers and their partners to increase the impact of agricultural research.”

Looks like she’s already got that road mapped out.