Collaborate, Create, Communicate

'Do blogs lead to increased dissemination of research papers?'ask WorldBank researchers

Everyone knows that agricultural research is vital if we are to overcome the current threats to food security, natural resources and the environment. Right? Everyone knows what the CGIAR is doing to mitigate these threats. Right? Everyone knows where they can access CGIAR research outputs. Right?

Wrong. Not everyone knows. But two articles I read recently  have inspired me to write this.

Getting everyone onboard

For years, we have  been advocating the use of social media to inform as broad an audience as possible of our research and also to get our research outputs into the hands of people who can make them travel even further across their own communication networks and/or apply them to their own work. Nonetheless, not everyone understands the value of social media.

Although it’s heartening to see researchers the length and breadth of the CGIAR using social media to expand the reach of their research, communicate with colleagues in remote offices, and collaborate with scientists in other organizations, there is still much to be done. There are still staff who are a little wary of using social media, citing reasons like loss of privacy, lack of time and abuse of intellectual property rights. Some will tell you that social media is just another one of those things that add to the “noise” already on the Internet.

It usually takes time for all great inventions and innovations to become mainstream. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone took a while to catch on, as did cell phones and email. I wonder how we could possibly cope now without email or mobile communication devices. As such, I believe it will just be a matter of time before everyone realizes that social media has an important role to play in research.

A social media impact story

Recently I was heartened to read a post at blogs.worldbank.org (a blog maintained by four researchers from the Development Research Group of the World Bank with the aim of covering all things related to impact evaluations and evaluative research) that asks the question: “Do blogs lead to increased dissemination of research papers?”

Their conclusion?

Blogging about a paper causes a large increase in the number of abstract views and downloads in the same month […] These increases are massive compared to the typical abstract views and downloads these papers get – one blog post in Freakonomics is equivalent to 3 years of abstract views!”

These results confirm my belief that a blog is a powerful tool that can raise awareness of and support for research.

At about the same time, I also came across a Scidev.Net article (How scientists can reach out with social media) that gives tips on how researchers can use social media to engage new audiences. I found myself nodding my head in agreement as the author extolled the virtues of the different tools available and how they can be used in a scientific context to increase collaboration and communicate the results of research.

Walking the talk

Many in the CGIAR   use social media tools in our own work, talk constantly to others about their benefits, and have given hands-on lessons to both CGIAR and partner staff. Over the years,  my group has  published a popular blog series on social media tools that provides tips on how and when to use blogs, microblogging, social networking sites, newsletters, news feeds, video, etc; worked with the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development (CIARD) initiative to help organizations disseminate their agriculture information more efficiently and make it more accessible;  incorporated social media into many CGIAR events; used social media to advertise, facilitate and report on ShareFairs; and conducted several social media online workshops, to name a few.

Social media and the new CGIAR

In 2008, the CGIAR established its first blog to support the sharing and documentation of the organizational change process that it was undergoing, a tool that did much to allay the concerns and answer the questions that many staff had at the time.

More recently, during the CGIAR Heads of Communications meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, it was agreed that social media would be a necessary component of the CGIAR Communications Strategy currently being developed.

So there you have it. In the CGIAR of the future, social media WILL be an integral part of our research endeavors.

Come join us onboard! I’m sure it will be a thrilling ride.