Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Mini Share Fair on agricultural water management uses a (reverse) Rubik’s cube method

The Rubik’s cube is a three-dimensional puzzle that is solved by using a pivot mechanism to turn the faces independently until each one displays a solid colour (Wikipedia), thereby achieving homogeneity.

At the mini Share Fair on agricultural water management that I facilitated on 3 February 2011 on the campus of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, the Rubik’s cube became an inspirational model due to its multi-dimensional nature, but also for the reverse of its usual activity to achieve homogeneity, rather to promote diversity.

Evolution of the mini AgWater Share Fair

The idea for this mini Share Fair came out of the awareness and successes of the AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair held on the same campus in October 2010. Spearheaded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the donor of a number of the projects involved in the mini AgWater Share Fair, the event was organized by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), with support from Peter Ballantyne from ILRI ‘s KMIS unit and me, from the CGIAR ICT-KM Program.

The mini Share Fair was also planned to solve a specific problem: there are a number of different projects all working on agricultural water (agri-water) from different angles, all of which are located in Ethiopia, but with little knowledge of or collaboration with each other. So to solve this problem, we wanted to mix up the colours!

“We need a multi-dimensional framework”

One of the exercises we used to help people get to know each other was a spectrum activity. I invited all the participants to one open end of the room and gave them a series of categories with two ends of a spectrum. They were tasked with placing themselves physically somewhere along the line between the two ends of each of the spectrum topics, such as:

  • Where do you place yourself on the spectrum of water to land?
  • Are you a geek (very technical) or a fairy (social, networker)?
  • Where do you place yourself along the line from research to communication?
  • Are you located in the project/activity sites or far away from these?

After each spectrum question, I asked everyone to look at the position of their colleagues and the other participants — we can lean a lot from seeing where those we work with (or will work with) place themselves in these categories. Then I chose people at different locations on the spectrums and asked them to explain why they had placed themselves at that particular spot.

Because the questions/categories are quite broad and open, they always bring up lots of discussions, perspectives and ideas. One really interesting discussion that kept coming up focussed on the fact that the spectrums did not properly reflect the more complex and multi-faceted nature of the context and overall goals of the projects involved in the Share Fair. These projects and networks are trying to work beyond the usual boundaries of research and communication activities by involving other stakeholders and partners, linking to development actors and goals, and establishing better interlinkage between research, outreach and development.

IFAD’s Rudolph Cleveringa, who has spearheaded and is managing the grants funding many of these projects, found himself constantly outside of the various spectrums and therefore standing in another part of the room. According to him, “the idea of a linear spectrum does not fit with what we are trying to do in these projects. These spectrums only show a narrow slice of the activities of research and communication, and need to be extended to the people on the ground who need to be involved to bring about the intended changes“.

He suggested that to capture and explore this more complex and multi-dimensional situation, “this activity should more resemble a Rubik’s cube!” So maybe this could be a new addition to the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit .

How to mix up the colours

The rest of the Share Fair included a number of other activities that focused on everyone getting to know each other and the projects better, and finding ways to collaborate, such as:

  • Short presentations of each of the projects and networks involved — using a common template to enable us to compare and contrast;
  • An open ‘marketplace’ where projects could display more information and materials and participants could ask each other questions;
  • Small group discussions around a few key areas of commonality and challenges across the projects, such as data sharing, communicating our research, achieving impact and change, and using learning alliances;
  • Pledging activities that participants would carry out after the Share Fair towards continued sharing and collaboration.

More information on the mini Share Fair is provided by Peter Ballantyne in his blog post on ‘Agri-Water projects in Ethiopia seek synergies’

What I love about  Share Fairs is the more open, informal, and creative structure that is simply aimed at sharing. There doesn’t have to be some lofty expectations or some carefully set out agenda. It’s about giving people and projects space and ways to share, listen and learn. And I am always amazed at what comes out of it: a better understanding, new ideas, options for collaboration and a feeling of being part of something bigger.

Photo credit: Rubik’s cube 3- Uploaded by shadowkill at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/471131