The new CGIAR and knowledge management: What are the trendy words?

The new CGIAR and knowledge management: What are the trendy words?

While getting involved with some CGIAR Research Program (CRP) proposals and reading through a couple of them, I suddenly thought about a little piece of research we did in 2008 when the ICT-KM Program was conducting an evaluation study of its Institutional Knowledge Sharing (KS) project.

The study assessed the results of the four pilot activities, illustrated the systemic impact of the project, and presented lessons distilled from the combined experience of KS professionals in six CGIAR Centers. The evaluation study used semi-structured, open-ended telephone interviews to gather feedback from 14 KS practitioners directly involved in the first phase of the KS project. This anecdotal feedback was then organized and analyzed so as to shed light on the benefits and challenges of the KS project. The interview questions were designed to probe for different kinds of benefits associated with the projects’ overall objectives that practitioners might find in their KS work. The final report was published in May 2009.

As I thought about this, I remembered a discussion I had with the consultant hired to carry out the evaluation (Ben Hack, now at ICARDA), who mentioned that he tried to see if the term “knowledge sharing” had made its way into the CGIAR mid-term plans (MTPs). He thought that its presence might be an indicator of KS being mainstreamed in the CGIAR. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing; an insignificant number of MTPs mentioned the term “knowledge sharing”.

Three years later, I thought it would be interesting to repeat the exercise by looking at the CRP proposals. So, my colleague Katherine Tehelen and I carried out a similar, quick scan of terms related to knowledge sharing and the frequency with which they are mentioned in the proposals (updates versions available at: http://consortium.cgxchange.org/home/strategy-and-results-framework/list-of-crp-proposals).

Some results

We looked at the following terms (total number of mentions in all CRPs in brackets):

  1. Information (1076)
  2. Knowledge (994)
    • Knowledge Management (49)
    • Knowledge Sharing (120)
  3. Communication(s) (544)
  4. Capacity (not included in our study)
    • Capacity Building (237)
    • Capacity Strengthening (69)
    • Capacity Development (118)

The slide show below, shows the various terms related to “knowledge sharing” that appear in the CRP proposals, and the frequency with which they appear.

CRP3.4 “Roots, Tubers and Bananas” is the proposal with the biggest number of mentions (348) of all the above terms, followed by CRP4 “Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health” (326); and CRP7 “Climate Change” (279). Among the proposals with the fewest mentions of the above terms are CRP5 “Durable Solutions for Water Scarcity and Land Degradation” (102) and CRP3.1 “Wheat” (118).CRP5, for example, does not include the terms “knowledge management”, “knowledge sharing”, “capacity strengthening” or “capacity development”.

CRP7 “Climate Change” is by far the biggest user of the word “information” (140 mentions), whereas CRP4 “Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health” is the top user of the word “communication” with 82 mentions. “Knowledge” is the word that CRP3.4 “Roots, Tubers and Bananas” uses the most (113 times). “Knowledge management” has been used mostly by CRP3.2 “Maize” with 11 mentions; “Knowledge sharing” is popular in CRP1.3 “Aquatic Agricultural Systems”. If we consider capacity strengthening/building/development as the same concept, CRP3.3 “GRiSP” is the biggest user with 37 mentions (capacity development).

When we look at the Strategy and Results Framework (SRF) document, and compare it to the CRP results, we can see that the document frequently uses the word “communication(s)” (62 mentions), makes moderate use of terms related to “knowledge”; and makes little use of the word “information” (only 13 mentions). The SRF privileges the term “capacity strengthening” over capacity development or capacity building.

Those findings certainly depend on many factors, such as the nature of the CRPs, the organizational culture of the Center and / or the people who wrote and edited the proposals or simply the length of the proposal.

Perhaps it is also interesting to compare these findings with the use of other key words. Let’s look at CRP7 “Climate Change” and CRP3.4 “Roots, Tubers and Bananas”, where we can see that terms related to knowledge management have relevance.

Comparing key words

Questions for you

  • Does this exercise make sense to you?
  • Have we left out some key words?
  • Are you surprised by the results?

Taking a closer look

Now that these terms have made it into the CRPs and the SRF, it would be interesting to have a closer look at the exact plans for knowledge sharing, capacity building, communications, etc., as expressed in the CRPs.  And then, of course, we would need to monitor and evaluate over time to see if and how the original plans related to communications, capacity building and knowledge sharing are implemented and with what results.

Look out for our next post on this subject, after we hear from some of the contributors to the CRPs!

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CRP proposals

Find the links to latest and/or approved proposals, Center websites and stakeholder consultations at the list of CRP proposals on the Consortium website.

  1. CRP1.1 Integrated agricultural production systems for dry areas
  2. CRP1.2 Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics
  3. CRP1.3 Harnessing the development potential of aquatic agricultural systems for the poor and vulnerable
  4. CRP2 Policies, institutions, and markets to strengthen assets and agricultural incomes for the poor
  5. CRP3.1 WHEAT-Global Alliance for Improving Food Security and the Livelihoods of the Resource-poor in the Developing World
  6. CRP3.2 MAIZE – Global Alliance for Improving Food Security and the Livelihoods of the Resource-poor in the Developing World
  7. CRP3.3 GRiSP – A Global Rice Science Partnership
  8. CRP3.4 Roots, tubers and bananas for Food Security and Income
  9. CRP3.5 Grain Legumes: enhanced food and feed security, nutritional balance, economic growth and soil health for smallholder farmers
  10. CRP3.6 Dryland cereals: Food Security and Growth for the World’s Most Vulnerable Poor
  11. CRP3.7 Sustainable staple food productivity increase for global food security: Livestock and Fish
  12. CRP4 Agriculture for Improved Nutrition and Health
  13. CRP5 Durable Solutions for Water Scarcity and Land Degradation
  14. CRP6 Forests and Trees: livelihoods, landscapes and governance
  15. CRP7 Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security


3 Comments to “The new CGIAR and knowledge management: What are the trendy words?”

  1. Vanessa says:

    Hi Simone,

    I think this is really useful way to “spot check” whether things are on the right track… at least on paper. I’ll make sure that the CRP7 (Climate Change) team is aware of this analysis. As you say, however, the actual substance of the knowledge sharing plans is what matters.

    It will be interesting to do a future assessment of whether those programs that made the most mentions were in fact the most successful at sharing knowledge.

  2. Simone, the findings are indeed very useful and a good way for monitoring the trend in this area. It would be interesting to also see the major differences between the study carried out by Ben Hack and these findings but none the less it is encouraging to see how the CRP’s have incorporated issues of information and knowledge management in their work. I hope the various teams involved in knowledge management for the various CRP’s will have some common grounds for working together.

  3. Ric Coe says:

    Interesting… but dangerous!

    My conclusion from the data in the last table is that CRP7 is crisp and to the point when discussing knowledge sharing. On the other hand CRP3.4 is repetitive, often a sign that the writer does not have a clear idea of what they are trying to say. Is that your conclusion?

    The point is that, as in any other research, quantitative data is only useful when it is grounded in a solid understanding of the context, and you know what your indicators are indicating.

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