Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Selling a new ‘brand’ of agricultural research for development: “Use new pathways to make your knowledge travel”

So we’ve got something to ‘sell’.

But are you going to buy it? Well, I guess that depends on how and how well we ‘sell’ it to you. Right?

If you are a research manager or member of senior management in your research institute, or if you are a researcher doing exciting science and running projects, you might want to take a few minutes to read this piece as it concerns the future of your research…

Pitching our unique selling points

Well, what we are interested in selling you isn’t going to make you look younger, get those hard-to-remove stains out, or give you a healthy, low-fat food option; but it will make a big difference to your institute, your project and even yourself! We present our unique selling points…

We are interested in ‘selling’ you a new brand: a brand filled with pathways and directions for making your knowledge travel and achieve significant visibility, mileage and use. These pathways will make  your data, information and knowledge available, accessible and applicable – meaning that people will know about and be able to find what is being generated, that they can even put their hands on the products, and that these outputs are in formats that people can understand, make use of and even re-use!

Interested yet?

The products

The ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR promotes and supports the use of information and communication technology (ICT) and knowledge management (KM) to improve the effectiveness of the CGIAR System’s work on behalf of the poor in developing countries. Our work is driven by the fact that:

The world is undergoing profound economic, technological and social changes. In addition, scientific practices are becoming more and more information intensive and multi-disciplinary, requiring up-to-date communications infrastructure and knowledge sharing practices. If it is to sustain its mission, the CGIAR must continue to generate, safeguard and share knowledge in new ways.

The ICT-KM Program is, therefore, helping the CGIAR – so that includes many of you out there – to develop and sustain a culture of active information and knowledge sharing. We also joined forces with others interested in this; through a global partnership towards coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD), which is striving to make agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all by working with organizations that hold information or create new knowledge – to help them disseminate it more efficiently and make it easier to access. To achieve its vision of having all research outputs truly accessible to all, CIARD is exploring, sharing and promoting pathways to achieve this wider accessibility of research outputs.

And these pathways are worth ‘buying’. They are changing our way of doing research for development; they are having an impact. But if you don’t believe what we are saying, then take a look a number of institutes and projects which have been trying out ‘pathways’ to make their knowledge more available and accessible, with some positive results.

“Making your research stand out in the crowd”

Visibility is key for our work, it is key for our impact.  But visibility doesn’t happen on its own, we have to put our work out there; we have to show people, tell people what we are doing and producing.

People often ask why visibility is so important for research- isn’t that more of a marketing concern for commercial products? The answer is that people make decisions about different things every day and they use information available to them to make those decisions, including in agricultural development. But with such a large amount, wide range and varying credibility of information available these days, it is vital that high quality information generated from good sources be highly visible to people so they can choose and use it for their decision making.

Research needs to make its information stand out in the crowd, and our pathways can do just that!

In recent years, CGIAR Centers have begun to tackle this issue of visibility. One pathway which has been adopted to achieve this has been the use of ‘social media’ – like blogs and microblogs– to communicate about their institute, research and research products. And these are achieving great visibility and following for the Centers, programs and projects that are using them.

To be seen, you cannot expect to sit back and for people to come to you, to find you: you need to put yourself where the people are! And social media offers a number of channels with large numbers of people to do just that.

A good example of this is IFPRI’s World Hunger Blog which was launched in June 2005. The number of visitors grew from 52 visitors a month in June 2005 to 5,953 visitors a month in October 2006. Page views rose from 119 per month in June 2005 to 7,234 per month in October 2006. In recent years, IFPRI’s RSS feed has become one of its most frequently viewed pages, with monthly “hits” increasing by more than 300 percent since January 2006.

With these kind of numbers it is giving visibility not only World Hunger, a cause that IFPRI is very passionate about, but also to IFPRI itself and making it stand out as a key resource in this topic.

“Research reaching people other researchers cannot reach”

Just as the advertisement for Heineken proposes and promises that: “”Heineken reaches parts other beers cannot reach” … we can tell you that CIARD pathways  help “research reach people others cannot reach”.

Because many of the pathways make use of online tools and social media, they offer options for research-generated knowledge to be extended far beyond the usual people and places where it can travel to.

Evidence of this can be found in the story of Simone Staiger-Rivas, head of the Capacity Strengthening and Knowledge Sharing Unit at CIAT, who one day was going to be making a presentation on ‘making the most out of social media’. She decided to post it on SlideShare before the talk.

While a decent number of peple attended her talk within CIAT, 5 times more people saw it in one day online than the number of people who attended the seminar. And four months later, a whopping 1,839 people had viewed the presentation online. And now, 2 years later, 5,332 pople have viewed the presentation. She also received a number of comments on the presentation on SlideShare and Facebook. If you don’t believe it, you can ask Simone herself through the blog post she wrote about it or check out the number of views of the presentation on SlideShare itself!

Now maybe those numbers don’t sound that amazing to you–but when do you ever get more than 5,000 people viewing a presentation made by you or one of the researchers in your institute?

People, including researchers, spend a lot of time on their presentations and they are jam-packed with good information and insight. What a  great resource this would be to share, and tools like SlideShare can get it out to people you never would reach normally.

“Putting it in their hands”

Creating a global network of truly accessible outputs of research and innovation greatly increases the chance that they can be put to use, locally, nationally and globally.

From some initial benchmarking work supported by the ICT-KM Program designed to understand the status of a number of CGIAR Centers with regard to making their outputs available and accessible, some interesting results emerged. We found that while output titles and citations could be easily found in library catalogues, publications catalogues and Center websites, full content of most outputs was hardly accessible from popular avenues such as Google, international databases and open online repositories.

The Independent Review of the CGIAR (2008) encouraged Centers  “to make their research available and useful for development” – as well as for international science. But how can people from policy, extension, development or even science put them into use if they cannot find them, and especially if they cannot access them?

At the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), they have adopted open online tools to make their research outputs more accessible. They are using DSpace to create an online open repository systemwhich they call ‘Mahider‘, and this contains a range of actual outputs and metedata and links to products such as journal articles (that are allowed), grey literature, presentations, photos, videos and more.

To make sure that these are visible and gain mileage they also use social media… and all of this has led to increased traffic to ILRI outputs (see graph in photo) which can translate into putting more knowledge in the right hands that can do something with it.

More examples

Other examples of the use of Web 2.0 pathways in the CGIAR include:

  • The ICT-KM Program runs several blogs as vehicles to distribute news and updates.
  • The Bioversity news service is produced on a blogging platform; the IRRI, IFPRI and Bioversity libraries have blogs highlighting developments.
  • IRRI has loaded thousands of its photos to Flickr – the free photo-sharing space.
  • Almost all Centers have introduced RSS feeds on their web sites that allow readers to subscribe to automatic updates on news of each Center.
  • AfricaRice, IRRI and other Centers share more popular – and more applicable – introductions to some of their research work as video’s on You Tube.
  • Several Centers have descriptive pages on Wikipedia.
  • The IRRI-CIMMYT ‘good practices in research data management’ project uses a wiki.
  • …and much more!

Not just for institutes–researchers can do it too!

A number of research projects and programs themselves are also making use of pathways for sharing knowledge and seeing good results.

At both ILRI and CIP some research projects are making use of structured face-to-face methods to bring together multiple stakeholders and share with them results of their research, as well as to learn from them too. The ILRI Fodder Adoption project is using the roundtable approach, while at CIP one researcher, after learning about the tragedies of not sharing data and information, is now using multi-stakeholder workshops in his climate change modelling project to share valuable information.

Time for you to join the club

So what is your institute or project doing? If you are not adopting some of these pathways above, you are missing out on some real visibility, outreach and use of your research. It’s as simple as that.

So are you going to ‘buy’ it? You should, it’s worth it!


Photo credits: Post thumbnail uploaded by Ambrozjo at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1226377. Photo of graph by Nadia Manning-Thomas

Content credits: Thank you to Enrica Porcari and Antonella Pastore  for help on putting together this blog. Thank you to Peter Ballantyne for some great USP ideas. Thank you to Stephen Rudgard and CIARD for support on pathways and ideas. Thank you to the CGIAR Centres and program for the great evidence which I hope encourages us all to do better.