Collaborate, Create, Communicate

ICT-KM Program’s first KS workshops: still impacting participants today

I recently got in touch with some of the people who took part in the ICT-KM Program’s first two Knowledge Sharing (KS) workshops in 2008. Five people, including myself, answered the same set of questions about the workshop’s impact. It was a revelation to find out the different ways in which these people have since gone on to either incorporate KS into their work or make it the focus of their careers.

The five interviewees are: Bernhard Hack (ICARDA), Gauri Salokhe (FAO), Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Vanessa Meadu (CCAFS) and yours truly, Simon Staiger-Rivas (CIAT).

How has your career evolved since the KS workshop and are you still involved in KS? If yes, how?

Ben: Getting involved with the KS community and subsequently with the KM4Dev community of practice directly led to me taking a job at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), in Aleppo, Syria. The German Development Cooperation Agencies CIM/GTZ support a knowledge management position at the Center, which I took over from  Andrea Pape-Christiansen. It is called Knowledge Sharing and Online Communications, and I’m leading the Web and Knowledge Services Team.

Gauri: Since the KS workshop, I have been very much embedded in KS. In addition to officially changing my title to ‘Knowledge and Information Management Officer’, some of the concrete activities include working on FAO’s Knowledge Strategy, and mainstreaming KS practices and approaches in the way the organization works through various initiatives. Looking back, the KS workshop could not have come at a better time!

Nancy: I think I’d probably reframe this to say that KS is still a central part of my practice. What that means is I’m always evolving and I’m always learning. One of the most valuable things about being a facilitator or trainer is that you need to become clearer on your own practice. The KS workshops gave me a great opportunity to reflect. A great thing!

Vanessa: The KS workshop really boosted my career, not only due to the skills and strategies I learned, but also because it helped me realize how much I enjoyed KS. I continued working at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) for another 2 years after the workshop, facilitating communications on land use, climate change, and livelihoods. I also stayed very closely connected to the network of people I met through the course, thanks to yammer, twitter, and the occasional Share Fair. I’m now working as a communications consultant with the new CGIAR Program – Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). It’s exciting to be part of something completely new, and build a knowledge sharing strategy from scratch.

Since the conclusion of the ICT-KM Program’s institutional KS project, which was responsible for the KS workshop, I have become a knowledge sharing and learning officer at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and I’m now leading the Center’s Capacity Strengthening and Knowledge Management program. So, I’m putting KS into the perspective of learning and capacity.

What are some of the exciting KS activities, projects, or products that have you worked on since then?

Ben: In the last year, much of the focus has been on creating an online collaboration space, Web 2.0 tools, redeveloping ICARDA’s website using open source tools, and renegotiating information management governance at the Center. We are also working towards an Open Access Policy for all our research products. While all of these are exciting, what really gets me fired up the most is building social networking sites that offer built-in knowledge sharing incentives – like getting points for contributing something via your personal profile page. Something else I find rewarding is introducing people to social media tools. That moment when someone realizes how easy and empowering it is can be is really nice to witness.

Gauri: Since the workshop, I have worked on developing the FAO Knowledge Strategy. Within the framework of the strategy and in its efforts to build partnerships and encourage knowledge sharing, we have organized regional and thematic Knowledge Share Fairs in close collaboration with our partners (IFAD, WFP, CGIAR, Bioversity International, ILRI, CIAT, etc.). As the Share Fairs have been gaining in momentum and popularity, other organizations such as the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) and the International Alliance Against Hunger are organizing similar interactive events in affiliation with us. Enhanced inter-agency collaboration is also put into action through the expansion and updating of the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit with UNICEF joining in as the latest partner of FAO, the ICT-KM Program and the KM4Dev Community.  The Toolkit is a collaboratively created global public good with resources on knowledge sharing tools and methods in the context of development. Beyond that, activities that mainstream the FAO Knowledge Strategy are still a priority and thus we provide training to staff on knowledge sharing tools (Skype, Blogs, Wikis, etc.) and methods (participatory approaches, online and face-to-face facilitation, etc.), both at HQ and at field offices.

We also continue to support internal and external KS networks and communities, thereby building capacity to leverage and integrate facilitation in the organization’s work, both in-house and among FAO partners. At FAO itself, KS is put into practice through the organization’s Knowledge Café, a platform where staff create profiles and share skills, blog about knowledge sharing in-house, and learn about knowledge sharing methods and tools.  All of these efforts make a vital contribution to the broad goal of making FAO more efficient, innovative and relevant.

Nancy: This is a hard one to answer because fundamentally KS is a part of EVERYTHING I’ve been doing, even if what I’m doing is not about KS. It has been exciting to see people move beyond the awareness of KS, to integrating it into daily work. Things like social reporting and sharing out from events is no longer something rare and unusual. People are gradually opening up and risking sharing “half baked” ideas for feedback from peers and broader networks.

Vanessa: A few examples include starting up the original ASB blog in 2008, followed by a full revamp of the ASB website this year. In 2008 I also started up the website and blog for PRESA – Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa, which is still going strong. I recently launched the new blog for CCAFS and have been building our social media presence using Twitter (@cgiarclimate). On the ‘soft’ side, that first KS workshop exposed me to a range of methods for face-to-face communication, which I got to use in several workshops, even presenting a paper evaluating these approaches to the IAALD World Congress early this year. Lately, I’ve also been working with Euforic Services Ltd and UNITAR to facilitate an online training on social media for development specialists (read about my experiences here).

Simone: Well, I worked quite a lot with the ICT-KM Program on social media, conducted a couple of workshops and applied the lessons learned during the social reporting of key events, like GCARD 2010. The KS Toolkit continued to grow thanks to the active involvement of FAO. We also have a new member: UNICEF. I continue to be involved in electronic and face-to-face facilitation and enjoy designing events, workshops and consultations.

The challenge ahead?

Ben: I like to think of it as a puzzle and the challenge is fitting all the parts together: A pragmatic strategy based on proper user research, a flexible enterprise information architecture integrating various information systems and platforms, a working culture with good incentives but also some real management-endorsed enforcement sticks, and the right mix of tools & methods. But the biggest challenge is to keep it all small and concrete enough to be doable.

Gauri: Making KS part of “the way we work”. Many of the activities mentioned in my previous answer have worked towards raising the awareness of KS methods and tools, changing the culture to some extent and engaging the “grassroots”. However, for a large organization such as FAO, we also need to invest in focusing on the processes of the organization and ensuring managers are aware of the importance of and the need to ensure adequate time and importance is assigned to knowledge sharing.

Nancy: KS continues to present some fundamental challenges to traditional organizational structures. This is most compelling in research and education where the reward systems still focus on individual accomplishment. We need to move away from that that and work on not just KS, but on fundamental organizational evolution. It is not just about change. Things are always changing. The question is, how do we want to change and how will it benefit the work of development?

Vanessa: I want to continue working on refining KS approaches to meet multiple objectives. In a science setting the challenge is to link KS to research impact. CCAFS has embraced KS culture from the outset, embedding KS values into its core research priorities. That’s really exciting, and it means opportunities to try new approaches, such as using mobile phones to get the right information to farmers so they can plan for climate impacts, or using YouTube to share stories from farmers in Ghana who are already experiencing a changing climate.

Overall, the CGIAR is moving towards a new way of working and communicating, and we will have to find a way to respect the different Centres’ KS cultures and approaches while also fostering a new, more collaborative way of sharing knowledge.

Simone: Get KS and capacity strengthening to thrive at CIAT and strengthen partners in Latin America and the Caribbean; develop learning and KS components for CIAT and partners research projects; and contribute to the broader KS panorama in the new CGIAR Research Programs.

Thanks to all the interviewees for their feedback, insights and photos.