ICT-KM of the CGIAR

Collaborate, Create, Communicate

Embracing the learning curve: reflections on a busy year

It is commonly asked, that if we all  believe that knowledge should be better shared and there are tools and methods to do it-then why aren’t people doing it? Well, in life we all need incentives and benefits to do things and we also need to overcome challenges.  I spent a large amount of my time trying to learn about how to motivate knowledge sharing in research – and what the carrots and stick are, and how each of these work. During the African Agricultural Science week held in Burkina Faso in July 2010, we ran a CIARD session on this very topic and got some very interesting results.

 

 

The last week of April 2011 marked the end of a busy and interesting year for me. A year ago, I joined the CGIAR ICT-KM program and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as a knowledge sharing in research specialist to work on advocacy for greater coherence in information for agricultural research for development. With funding from the global initiative for coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD), a partnership to which the CGIAR belongs, my position focused on exploring and promoting the benefits, challenges and pathways particular to researchers.

The last week of April 2011 marked the end of a busy and interesting year for me. A year ago, I joined the CGIAR ICT-KM program and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as a knowledge sharing in research specialist to work on advocacy for greater coherence in information for agricultural research for development. With funding from the global initiative for coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD), a partnership to which the CGIAR belongs, my position focused on exploring and promoting the benefits, challenges and pathways particular to researchers.

The last week of April 2011 marked the end of a busy and interesting year for me. A year ago, I joined the CGIAR ICT-KM program and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as a knowledge sharing in research specialist to work on advocacy for greater coherence in information for agricultural research for development. With funding from the global initiative for coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD), a partnership to which the CGIAR belongs, my position focused on exploring and promoting the benefits, challenges and pathways particular to researchers.

 

As I go forward, still working with the CGIAR on knowledge sharing in research in a somewhat different capacity, I wanted to take a moment to sit back and reflect on the past year. This blog post was a way of doing that reflection and sharing what I have done and learned. I intend to bring the many lessons learnt during this past year with me to help improve the work that I do.

And I couldn’t have done all of this without the support of the dynamic and talented ICT-KM team.

Thank you to all who I have worked with and who have helped me on my climbing up the learning curve.

Photo credit: Blog post thumbnail uploaded by srbichara at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1013123

The last week of April 2011 marked the end of a busy and interesting year for me. A year ago, I joined the CGIAR ICT-KM program and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) as a knowledge sharing in research specialist to work on advocacy for greater coherence in information for agricultural research for development. With funding from the global initiative for coherence in information for agricultural research for development (CIARD), a partnership to which the CGIAR belongs, my position focused on exploring and promoting the benefits, challenges and pathways particular to researchers.

Finding direction

My year started with an exercise in navigating the change not only for myself but for the whole community of spatial information specialists in the CGIAR during the 2nd African Agricultural Geospatial Week, held in Nairobi in May 2010. This week was an important step in finding direction for my own work on promoting the need for and ways of making data, information and knowledge available, accessible and applicable. This community is very active in finding ways to share geospatial data and are constantly innovating, something that should be rewarded. And we did! At the end of the AAGW, prizes were given out in four categories. I was particularly happy to see Steven Kibet, a young student from Eldoret, Kenya be rewarded for his innovation in looking at soil erosion; an activity motivated by his desire to help his home community. And we are still following what he is doing, as he was recently interviewed as part of the Growing Talents: Youth in agriculture series which I have been helping to organise .

It was also at this event that Lieven Claessens told his moving story about the consequences of not sharing his information, which we then made into a short film. This film has been shown at a number of events and Centres to  raise awareness and spark discussion, and gave great direction to my work.

Finding new pathways

While an extensive list of tested pathways has been developed by CIARD partners, I became aware of others being used by research projects and researchers which could still be added to the list. After a special knowledge sharing meeting of the ILRI-run IFAD-funded Fodder Adoption project I was left contemplating “Is the roundtable approach applicable?”.

New also to me was the idea of academic social networking, which was introduced to me through a seminar on Mendeley given by Katarlah Taylor of IFPRI. Offering lots of functions for interacting between different researchers, sharing citations and more, we worked closely with Mendeley to offer some webinars to CGIAR researchers.

Carrots and sticks

It is commonly asked, that if we all  believe that knowledge should be better shared and there are tools and methods to do it-then why aren’t people doing it? Well, in life we all need incentives and benefits to do things and we also need to overcome challenges.  I spent a large amount of my time trying to learn about how to motivate knowledge sharing in research – and what the carrots and stick are, and how each of these work. During the African Agricultural Science week held in Burkina Faso in July 2010, we ran a CIARD session on this very topic and got some very interesting results.

Working closely with ILRI

Being hosted at ILRI was a great experience. I not only got to sit amongst and work with an exciting and dynamic team – the Knowledge Management and Information Services unit – but I also had the opportunity to work with many innovative research projects too.

With such uncertainty in rainfall in Ethiopia, many livestock keepers lose their main form of assets in the event of drought. The Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) project of ILRI is trying to look at innovative ways of offering insurance to smallholders while keeping down transaction costs by using innovative methods for determining if weather conditions have gone below a certain threshold and therefore is a factor in livestock mortality. This innovative concept, however, requires good knowledge sharing to be able to develop into an operational mechanism. And this is where I came in. During a number of workshops, I helped to ‘insure’ (ensure) that there was effective knowledge sharing amongst project personnel, partners and stakeholders to move this innovative concept and project forward.

I was also very happy to be invited by the Biosciences eastern and central AfricaInternational Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub to give a mini-seminar on knowledge sharing during a training they were offering on technical research paper writing. I wanted to show the participants that in addition to good papers they could write on their research, there were other ways to share their knowledge, experiences and ideas. The seminar- ‘Over the rainbow: Beyond the scientific article-making your research social‘ has apparently inspired a number of people to take up some social media tools for communicating their research.

But while helping the ILRI-ASARECA Napier grass project discuss and plan how to share its outcomes, I realised that it is necessary to consider the context of the people which you are trying to communicate and work with. After spending ages explaining what an actual fish bowl was in order to use the fish bowl knowledge sharing method with the participants, I was given the good advice that it would have been better to use a more culturally, and work-relevant concept, such as a cattle corral. Thanks to Jean Hanson, who I also celebrated as a great supporter of knowledge sharing in her work through a blog post in honour of her retirement!

(Ag)knowledging my efforts

AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair

A major event for my work, and me personally, was the AgKnowledge Africa Share Fair, held on ILRI Campus in Addis Ababa in October 2010. Charged with organising the Day 0 of the event-I quickly re-named it to ‘Day Oh now I know how to…’. With practical sessions on a wide range of tools and methods, participants were exposed to and given hands-on opportunities to try different tools out. The feedback for this day was overwhelming both during the event where we received continuous requests for more sessions, as well as in the great number of responses to the Survey Monkey feedback form that I designed and sent around. I also surveyed the trainers from Day 0 to see what their experiences were like-with Gladson Makowa’s testimonial standing out.

I also ran a hard-talk style session on making agricultural knowledge travel, which had large attendance and heated participation. A lot was learned from this session by me… and hopefully others.

At the end of the Share Fair, we utilised a ‘new’ mash-up of an approach for the reflection and evaluation. Developed by myself, Peter Ballantyne and Tsehay Gashaw while sitting at the ILRI Zebu Club over a cup of coffee, the ‘twitter-like approach to after action review‘ was made use of at the Fair, with some very nice results.

Working closely with Centres and Programs

I have also been fortunate during this past year to work closely with a number of Programs and projects across the CGIAR. Interestingly enough, many of them have been focused on water and food, which took me back to a strong passion of mine from my previous work at IWMI.

Two that come to mind first are the Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) and its Nile Basin Development Challenge Program, run by ILRI and IWMI from Addis Ababa. I have been working closely with the NBDC as part of work activities being done by ILRI KMIS to support the communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing goals of this program. I have been helping to design and facilitate stakeholder engagement events and also support the use of tools such as Yammer and a wiki. Earlier this year I was also invited to attend the Basin Leaders meeting of the CPWF which was held in Laos to find ways to improve the coordination and change work of the Basin programs. It was also at this event that we launched an exciting venture called the Learning2Innovate topic working group.

With so many projects focused on water and food being carried out in Ethiopia, IFAD, a donor to many of them, and the International Water Management Institute decided to hold an Agri-Water Mini Share Fair to bring those projects together and find ways to work together. I facilitated this mini share fair using some innovative techniques (and got some ideas for more too!), and tried something a little different with the reporting from it.

During this year I was also tasked with visiting a number of CGIAR Centres to do advocacy and training activities. Along with Enrica Porcari and Peter Casier, we ran successful sessions at ICRISAT during its Annual Research Meeting. And I was warmly hosted by Africa Rice staff where I gave some seminars and held discussions with staff about ‘finding the right pathways to make rice advice available, accessible and applicable’… and again learnt a lot!

Learning curve

During this year I have learned a lot. I hope that this theme has shown through in this blog post!

At times, it was a matter of self-teaching like my experimentation with graphic facilitation or in general with trying to improve my own blogging. Other times, I learnedfrom colleagues, like the work of my ILRI KMIS colleagues who are making use of DSpace for their open repositories of knowledge products. I have also been exposed to new topics such as data sharing, which I have learnt about from colleagues from CCAFS, ILRI, ICRAF and IFPRI. From being the only non-specialist at a CCAFS data sharing workshop to helping to capture the story of opening access to data in the CGIAR through the EU OpenAIRE project, I am now highly passionate about this subject.

With everything that I had learned over the year, I wanted to also try to convince you all that knowledge sharing is the way to go. One of my most recent blog posts tries to sell you a new brand of Agricultural Research for Development, by buying into and using new approaches and tools. And I followed this up with some easy steps to follow to achieve this too.

ICT-KM team retreat, November 2010

As I go forward, still working with the CGIAR on knowledge sharing in research in a somewhat different capacity, I wanted to take a moment to sit back and reflect on the past year. This blog post was a way of doing that reflection and sharing what I have done and learned. I intend to bring the many lessons learnt during this past year with me to help improve the work that I do.

And I couldn’t have done all of this without the support of the dynamic and talented ICT-KM team.

Thank you to all who I have worked with and who have helped me on my climbing up the learning curve.

Photo credit: Blog post thumbnail uploaded by srbichara at http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1013123