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Knowledge Management / / Quick and “dirty” insights from the internal CIAT conference on ICT4D

Quick and “dirty” insights from the internal CIAT conference on ICT4D

The path to progress for ICT4D at CIAT: some insights to help shape the way forward

ict4dBefore CIAT’s KM group engages in a deeper documentation and reflection on the experiences that were shared during CIAT’s internal conference on ICT4D, I decided to write this preliminary summary of my takeaways.

The internal call for proposals resulted in the submission of 15 abstracts which were combined into 4 thematic sessions. Many thanks to Sophie Treinen, Knowledge Outreach Team leader at FAO, who gave a virtual key-note and summarized the lessons learnt of 10 years of E-agriculture- the findings of which were recently published in FAO e-agriculture report.

Find all presentations on slideshare:

10 years of E-agriculture: aligning technology with end users’ preferences

The report’s recommendations highlight 7 key areas (Content; Capacity development; Gender and diversity; Access and participation; Partnerships; Technologies; Economic, social and environmental sustainability). These are hardly a surprise, but what struck me was that the presentations made during the two day event addressed many of these lessons learnt, dos and don’ts.

ICTs and communications for development: the struggle with scaling outwards and upwards

Participatory video, Manon Koningstein

Participatory video, Manon Koningstein

Farmer extension on cassava pest and disease management in Asia. Kris Wyckhuys- CIAT’s cassava entomologist had previously used videos for farmer to farmer extension, and thus believes in this media. While we do know that the video was well received, a concrete evaluation about its usefulness is not yet available. Louis Parker and Lan Le talked about bottlenecks; one of which I recall was on language issues while others included the video being distributed and projected in different regions of different countries, and changes in accents and dialects, which are issues that not only affect the understanding but also the credibility of the information being disseminated. Read more on this blog post from the CGIAR research program on Water, Land, and Ecosystems.

Participatory video related to farmers’ perceptions of climate change in Central America. This project was moreso conceived as a research project on ICT4D. One of the main challenges of the process is scale. Participatory video is time-consuming and limited to a small number of participants. Thus, as Manon Koningstein so aptly pointed out, how can we reach other communities and farmers with a product that is, limited in its quality because it’s produced by amateurs? Read the working paper of the CGIAR research program on climate change CCAFS.

ICTs for data and information sharing among local stakeholders: easier said than done!


Tweets from conference

The four presentations in this session confirmed that stakeholder engagement in the realm of ICTs is much more difficult than expected.  The culture of consistent data collection and analysis is far from being wide spread in rural communities, where decisions are often made based on tacit knowledge. These are the results that Fanny Howland presented, and it’s not good news for Sylvain Delerce and the team who work on site-specific agriculture. The two-way information system that he showed us works best with industrial farmers and even then, the amount, quality and consistency of the data sets sometimes limit the construction of a robust decision support tool. The team si now looking into remote sensing techniques to solve the lack of consistent data capture by smallholder farmers.

Anton Eitzinger and his team who work on climate-smart agriculture follow a concept of collaborative problem solving by connecting “outside-expert” and “local-expert” knowledge, through the use of an android application which interacts with a web-based platform. Knowledge brokers then provide the human interface. Read more here.

At the almost opposite end of the spectrum, lies the online information system that Shadi Azadegan and Alejandra Mora presented; as it aims at keeping stakeholders engaged in the creation and use of project –related information. A comprehensive system was designed and developed from scratch, and still needs further development- both in terms of its applications and user training.  This then begs the question: does a home-made platform such as this have a chance of survival once the projects and programs come to an end?

Data collection using mobile devices: should we aim for the power of the collective?

Another four more presentation took us through this thematic session. Angela Hernandez guided us through a solid design and implementation process of a home-made mobile computing system for CIAT’s genebank. I retain her message about the essential step of prototyping and involvement of the end users- the field workers who had to overcome initial worries and fears. Daniel Debouk is CIAT’s genebank manager. According to him, the tool  presented “goes in line with our dream: farmers can order germplasm from a cell phone directly from their plots wherever they are on the planet, after consulting our web site with germplasm data, also from a cell phone.”

The two examples of bean projects in Africa illustrated ready-to-use solutions such as the Open Data Kit, which generated an interesting and needed discussion on what solutions to select, adopt and promote among (even CGIAR) staff for easy use.


5Q, Manon Koningstein

Meanwhile, the 5Q approach is a really fascinating example of how a simple idea expressed by DAPA’s Andy Jarvis became a winning solution. This approach helps to engage in quick feedback loops with next and end users that then allow for the making of on-the-go adjustments during the project’s execution.  The difficulty however, lies in maintaining its simplistic nature.

ICTs for data management and sharing with scientists and partners: a plethora of possibilities!

We heard a captivating presentation by Daniel Cruz on a 12-year old effort to build a laboratory information management system (LIMS). The pitfalls, since the inception of the initial idea have been numerous, and the lessons learnt hard to swallow. While many obstacles have been overcome, the system is still not heavily used and its future quite uncertain.

The Pan-African Beans Alliance demonstrated the use of their database which covers information from more than 7 areas of the network’s intervention including seed systems, capacity building, and nutrition. Innocent Obilil took us through this significant effort for a network that encompasses 29 national agricultural research institutions, and over 350 partners from farmers and rural communities, NGOs, traders and the private sector.

The SOFT (Selection of Forages for the Tropics) web-based application is a pioneer effort and result of collecting tacit knowledge from forage specialists around the world.  While it is still heavily used with more than 180,000 visits a year, it needs to be updated, to not only survive changes in technology but also so that it can be available in more formats.

The cassava genomics team who closed out the session, showcased two very different efforts on data management and sharing. On the one hand, the cassava genomics hub -an online tool for geneticists, and on the other hand an internal cassava data management site where the team gathers all historic and current cassava data for future publishing.

Sustainability: how can we make ICT4D solutions last, or are they not supposed to?


Notes taken by Megan Zandstra

An emerging insight in the wake of this two-day event is that we need to distinguish the research we may wish to undertake on ICTs4D, from the use of ICTs as enablers of our research projects.

Our Decision and Policy Support research area might be well placed to lead the former. The data, information and knowledge group certainly hopes to provide assistance with the choice and implementation of ICT4D solutions. One burning question among the many posed however, is that of sustainability, together with some related questions which emerged during the discussions, such as:

  • How do we save time in choosing and implementing ICT4Ds?
  • How do we make our ICT4D investments last?
  • Make vs. buy: what ICT4D choices are best in which conditions?
  • How do we reach the biggest number of users?

A more detailed documentation will be available soon.


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  • Michelle Laurie: Wow-the iPhone template lives. Looks great and yes practice is so helpful! Wonderful to see your work, thanks for sharing the experience!
  • Quick and “dirty” insights from the internal CIAT conference on ICT4D | Knowledge ManagementKnowledge Management: […] internal call for proposals resulted in the submission of 15 abstracts which were combined into 3 thematic sessions. Many thanks to Sophie Treinen, Knowledge Outreach Team leader at FAO, who gave a virtual key-note […]
  • CIAT offers an in-house facilitation training in Nairobi | Knowledge ManagementKnowledge Management: […] and Juliet Braslow will offer a day and a half course that has been given already several times at HQ in Spanish and has generated a lot of interest among Colombian […]
  • Wailers, whiners, waiters and winners… Mind your attitude for the knowledge ecosystem! | Agile KM for me… and you?: […] makes or breaks initiatives and feeds the knowledge tree and ecosystem (see graph below and related post) or […]
  • What’s new in DAPA’s crop and climate modeling team | DAPA: […] following Prezi presentation shown CIAT’s Annual Program Review recently, includes research questions and preliminary results from some of the following ongoing […]
  • Catherine Fisher: Great stuff - I think it is really useful to break down the different purposes of communication and knowledge sharing in this way. Also helps to see that different strategies, tools and skill sets might be required for each. Which may help the default position of seeing "communication" and/or "knowledge sharing" as something you can add to one team member's responsibilities as an afterthought! To build on Robin's point, I wondered where the communication that takes place in the process of actually undertaking research and associated ideas around co-construction fit. It might be under point 4 if the partnerships you mention are around the process of knowledge generation. Thanks again for sharing!
  • Arwen Bailey: Looks great! Much needed. I hope to hear more about it.
  • simone staiger: Hi Neil / HIFA CGIAR has adopted an open access policy whoich goes into this direction, and we need to be fully compliant by 21017. Some of CGIAR centers set budgets aside for buying the license when really needed. What helps most is the donor pressure i.e. Gates and USAID. See a post I wrote on this 2 weeks ago:
  • simone staiger: Dear Robin, some great ideas here that I will include in our discussion with the draft team this week. I do not yet feel satisfied with the activities we mention under data and infromation. I like your suggestions!
  • neilpw: I would be interested in the group's reflections about open access publishing of research. On the Dgroup HIFA (Healthcare Information For All: many of us have argued that we should be moving towards a world where all research is published open-access, with the publication process funded by a budget line in the original research proposal. Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator
  • Robin v Kippersluis: Thanks for sharing. I particularly like how you integrated some dimensions of scaling up (policy, program, ideas, technology) in clear sub-categories of communication and knowledge sharing. Another angle that may be worth considering is where the nature of the research really changes through different ways of learning and interacting, e.g. through organizing feedback online during instead of after the research has been completed, or through collectively working on available data. Best, Robin
  • simone staiger: Dear Bonnie, thanks for the good question (BTW I enjoy to read you on Twitter) What we did do is to carve out each domain to provide examples of activities. For example "Communicating about the programme, the science and results throughout the CRP lifecycle", we included Branding & identity to strategically position the CRP; Public awareness and media engagement; Telling compelling evidence-based stories about science process, progress and achievements; Linking results to the strategy & results framework across the CG system; Communicating for donor relations and fundraising We now want to consolidate feedback and develop for each domain a theory of change with some indicators that will hopefully help the writing teams in giving more details on the "what" and also on the required budget. I think you are right that the "how" should be explicitly addressed. We have a community of practice of comms and KM colleagues who share best practices and learn about new methods, approaches and tools. This would be a good place to work more on the "how" together.
  • BonnieKoenig: Simone - This looks like it was a great workshop - thank you for sharing. The conceptual framework and domains seem strong and hopefully will help communication & knowledge sharing to take the place it deserves in the CGIAR guidelines. I wonder how much you discussed the specifics of how this communication might take place? Were there any recommendations made for ensuring (or at least maximizing the chances) that the envisioned communication happens? (For example, sample organizational and network communication flow charts).
  • Eduardo Graterol: Excelente reportaje María Fernanda, estoy sorprendido positivamente del alcance del reportaje social de la XII Conferencia Internacional del Arroz. Esta es una demostración de varias cosas, primero, del poder de las redes sociales para comunicar, segundo, que efectivamente la ciencia y la tecnología se pueden comunicar muy bien en 140 caracteres y hasta menos y tercero, del trabajo en equipo, porque esto fue posible por la capacitación que ustedes nos dieron, por la motivación de los “twitteros” y por el alcance que tenemos a través de nuestras redes de usuarios o “followers”, para hablar en lenguaje “twitter”. Pienso que no necesitamos hacer esto solo en los grandes eventos como la Conferencia Internacional del Arroz que se realiza cada cuatro años, sino que también en el día a día hacemos cosas grandiosas que puede interesar a muchas otras personas y las redes sociales pueden ayudarnos a darlas a conocer e intercambiar información. Gracias a todos por la experiencia y ojalá este sea un ejemplo a seguir por nosotros mismos y por otros grupos.
  • Continuing My Ecocycle Experimentation | Full Circle Associates: […] Staiger, of CIAT, wrote about the experience on her Knowledge Management blog during the meeting. The tweet was apparently provocative. A few days after Simone tweeted the […]
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  • Change to strengthen Science: CIAT’s new strategy as a framework for organizational change | Knowledge ManagementKnowledge Management: […] Access: Maya Rajasekharan Head, Program Coordination highlights that Open access (see previous post) to our intellectual assets will increase visibility and impact as well as opening possibility of […]
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  • Un breve recorrido alrededor de la comunicación interna | Knowledge ManagementKnowledge Management: […] El año pasado iniciamos en el CIAT una serie de acciones y reflexiones acerca de la comunicación interna, ya que ésta constituye un desafío permanente para una entidad que requiere fortalecer continuamente su aprendizaje organizacional en un contexto multicultural y pluridisciplinario en el que es fundamental generar conocimiento colectivo. Lo siguiente hace parte de ese proceso de estudio que dio como resultado el planteamiento de la estrategia de comunicación interna del CIAT: […]
  • CIAT’s new core values: How to make it a powerful tool to influence shared practice and guide decisions | Knowledge ManagementKnowledge Management: […] work on CIAT’s core values is part of our internal communications strategy, where one of our 6 expected results is for research and administrative staff to share the […]
  • Blurred boundaries between KM and Capacity: A KM4Dev community thread. | Knowledge ManagementKnowledge Management: […] KM at CIAT:… […]
  • robin van kippersluis: Great to hear - good luck! Will there be a clear link with (existing) quality assurance processes fro research? KIndly, Robin
  • Raul Lopez: Un resumen atrevido! Nos hace reflexionar sobre la visión del trabajo que esperamos ir enriqueciendo. El M&E y como vincularlo directamente con nuestro aprendizaje institucional para retroalimentar el paradigma de las operaciones en campo. (CRS, CARE, UICN) Gracias por incidir en nuestra reflexión.
  • Social Artistry… A new idea? « Jenny Connected: [...] of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and [...]
  • Jeremy: Speaking as a private consumer of some CG outputs, I agree that a single entry page might not make much sense, even if it is only excerpts that feed elsewhere. To me, it would seem a lot like what I currently loathe about people and organizations who do use social media more to broadcast than to engage, which is the endless repetition of the same thing both within a single channel and across channels, often by "virtue" of automated sync systems. It is easy enough to plough through and ignore them, but it irks me having to do so. I would far rather see people tailor their broadcast messages to the channels through which they are broadcasting. As Peter says, re blogging, it takes more time that way, but the end product is better for it. Thanks for the post and discussion.
  • Sophie Alvarez: I like Peter B.'s analogy of sticking and jumping :) and i agree wholeheartedly that in our blogs and sites we have to concentrate not only on how to keep people reading us, but show them where to go for more good stuff... From the Peter C.'s sessions that i attended, i liked the real- life examples, the very practical tips and his friendliness delivering them. I now hope we can find ways to go more in depth into issues for the people who can potentially write blogposts in one of the already established blogs we have in CIAT, but who, as Peter C. says in comment here, underestimate how interesting what they have to say is. While not everyone needs to learn to run a blog, i think everybody, and i mean everybody! in our center has something interesting to say about their work and should be encouraged to share.
  • Peter Casier: Peter, I fully agree with you, and something I am similarly passionate about. Maybe the sentence "CIAT needs one large, active and dynamic entry point” needed some more explanation. Once upon a time, I worked for a large humanitarian organisation. Some projects (one of which was mine) started their own blog. In a minimum of time, we built an active community around the blog. It was playful, entertaining, informative, highly active and... soon became a thorn in the eye of the "corporate" media team. The blog was forcefully folded into the "corporate" website, buried in hundreds of other pages. We lost our identity, our community, and lost our eagerness to blog. What once was a blog, became a set of corporate web site "pages". That is not the way to go... The right approach, in my view, is the approach ILRI took, which is also the approach CIAT is taking: let the blogs bloom. Let each social network bloom. But also have one place where all those outlets are aggregated, as a single place where all content (preferably in "excerpts") can be found. This way the social networks can spill over from one social network to the other, and grow mutually. Otherwise, all individual blogs, remain individual efforts, isolated from one another... So we're on the same page!
  • Simone Staiger: Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. Don't get angry;-) the way we discussed at CIAT was the exact way you express it, but highlighting that we would like the homepage to be able to feed in whatever we decide to showcase, form the mutliple sources. Perhaps our unpatience to use aggregators easily on the web site made us insist on the "entry point".
  • Peter Ballantyne: Dear Simone... thanks for sharing this excellent write-up of the continuing (never-ending?) communications and knowledge sharing story at CIAT! Congrats to all the comms/capacity/info/knowledge teams! One point I worry about : "CIAT needs one large, active and dynamic entry point" .. I fully agree with the need for integration and paying attention to overall 'architecture' of knowledge, information communications. In the context of social media, I don't see the value of "one, large" entry point for the type of work we do. It seems totally contradictory. The massive opportunity - and challenge - that I see with social media is that there are so many entry points! It is no longer possible for ILRI or CIAT - or anyone else probably - to even think about having 'a' single comprehensive space for all people, for all uses ... The 'social' web is about people building their own 'entry points' to knowledge,it is not about organizations like us building entry points 'for' them: We can certainly help in these processes however - as Google - a very large entry point - for example is helping us. The biggest change I see is that we each need to create our own personal, group, team, and other social comms environments ... which is perhaps the ultimate challenge, getting each of our colleagues and ourselves to manage our personal spaces in a smart way (beyond email and beyond web site 'visiting'). As corporate people we need to make sure that 'we' (all the organization) can easily and effectively 'be' in, and be engaging and interacting in, as many of those other people's spaces. As good citizens and neighbours, we can help and guide people by creating some order and structure to what we ourselves do and produce, and even support some spaces for us and others to use - but let's not delude ourselves that we are providing 'the' entry point! People are diverse, thankfully, and our web strategies need to be diverse. Our centers used to have (still have?) 'central' comms and knowledge teams to manage all of this, the trend I see is for many (all?) staff to ultimately be explicitly communicating in whichever spaces best suit them and their messages. I want lots of people sharing and communicating. I don't want to control all of this and channel it though 'an' entry point. I can try to influence which tools they might use and where they might choose to interact, but ultimately, and especially as colleagues get more smart and savvy communicators, all I will be able to do is try to cleverly 'harvest' their efforts and hope they use the open tools, principles and standards that I advocate and which I think will make my, and their, lives much more easy. A long time ago I argued to the KM4Dev community that websites (in the development sector) need to be 'jumpy' - not 'sticky'. Our business is totally unlike a private company - which wants us 'stuck' in their web sites while they empty our wallets and plant cookies. I still think that helping people 'jump' off our sites and services - to better places - is something we need to do; and for which social media can help. Trying to get everything - and everyone - into one entry point, I think, is to miss the point completely!
  • Peter Casier: In retrospect, I might add "one thing", to Simone's "one thing-list": "What is your biggest surprise related to social media"... Then my answer would be two fold: It always surprises me how many people are interested in the "stories" we have to tell. And we always underestimate our own work, and the amount of people who are interested in our work. Every story is worth telling. Even if it is our daily work, which we often see as "booooring": another day in the lab, another day of field work, another day of sampling seeds,.... People *are* interested... And on the other hand, I am always surprised how many people we can reach with our social media networks, how fast it can spread and how far it can reach. - - Of course we all know about the funny YouTube videos that spread virally. Sharing our daily work, can spread just as far. Maybe not reaching millions of people, but certainly going much further than any other media... Good luck to you all, and thanks again to Simone and Nathan for the support! Peter
  • Nathan Russell: In addition to the other lessons and insights mentioned in Simone's interview with Peter Casier, I got from his visit a glimmer of the hard work involved in using social media to build networks of people who can help make the connection between useful content and ever-widening audiences.
  • Guy Henry: lesson 1: introduce dynamics in static research websites... lesson 2: get the most out of twitter, facebook etc challenge: formulate a strategy based on cost-efficiency and maximizing impact
  • Communities of Practice Clinic at the Rome Share Fair | The CIAT Capacity Blog: [...] also Simone Staiger’s blog on Etienne Wenger’s key note at the Share Fair Share and [...]
  • Tina Farmer: Very useful session -- helped us focus; gave us new perspectives to think about; provided great suggestions and provocative imagery. Now looking into practical ways forward - including checking out new tools with colleagues. Peer assist is a great way to brainstorm on a specific issue.
  • Simone Staiger: Comment from Mark Lundy, CIAT, Agroenterprise and Learning Alliances Simone, thanks for the updates from the Share Fair. I think that the three points that you highlight from Etienne's talk are valid. My own limited experience in facilitating multi-stakeholder learning networks aligns well with these success factors. For example, at the end of the first phase of the Central American Learning Alliance we had a wealth of social artists -- at least one from each participating agency -- fully committed to the idea of collective learning. Over time this wealth eroded as people were given promotions (the vast majority), different responsibilities or left the organization. One point of current discussion among learning alliance partners is how to develop a second and third line of social artists through participation and mentoring to step in when personal or organizational change takes its normal toll. Training people is difficult but perhaps a process of self-selection and mentoring is useful? Tensions between noble mission and bureaucracy. I could not agree more with this. Engagement with partners is often seen as an afterthought since it is difficult to report on and mostly invisible in internal reporting / assessment forms. Perhaps we need space / structures to channel the passion of R4D practitioners and then a linked set of people who are good at the transversal side of things? Not everyone can or should do both. Finally, CoPs as a strategic piece of work. This is something the CGIAR continues to struggle with. Are partnerships and CoPs strategic research or merely delivery mechanisms for upstream scientific outputs. Currently from my small perspective is seems that the later still dominates. Much of the difficulty in seeing CoPs as strategic lies in the tensions identified in Factor 2. How can you be accountable when you don't know what your (general) outputs will be at the outset of a CoP? Not knowing is anathema to a bureaucracy that wants to measure everything a priori. As a result it is difficult to sell CoPs as anything but marginal activities even when evidence exists showing their strategic nature and results. This kind of discussion should be taking place -- and in all fairness probably is -- in spaces within the CGIAR like ILAC and others. Despite this, it has not yet permeated the thinking at the level of CRPs.
  • Maarten: Hi Simone, a good post which in my view captures the most important elements of what we hear this morning from Ettienne. I will surely use your post to share it all with others.
  • Enrica Porcari: Dear Simone and all   Good things are worth waiting for! This is excellent! Thank you again for all for making this possible!   And this publication is released just before we launch the next global sharefair . Showing real continuity and commitment!   Best, Enrica CGIAR Consortium Office
  • Edith Hesse: Felicitades por esta publicación muy util. Las ferias del conocimiento se siguen organizando en muchas partes del mundo y por lo tanto la documentación en este formato es altamente relevante. Gracias por este esfuerzo muy especial y apreciado!