Knowledge and Information blog News

Blogging for impact – Nairobi science communicators get together in Nairobi

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Lands and Ecosystems (WLE) recently hosted a training workshop on blogging for scientists and science communicators in Nairobi. Beyond the general training, Abby Waldorf aimed to expand participation, readership and writing opportunities for WLE’s Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog.

The Agriculture and Ecosystems blog has grown into a platform for discussion and networking among development professionals, academics and researchers. In 2013, the blog received over 100,000 page views and over 50,000 visitors. Discussions on this blog and LinkedIn have generated over 1,000 comments.

The workshop attracted 51 participants from ILRI, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), International Centre for Tropical Agriculture(CIAT), African Women in Agricultural Research and Development Program(AWARD),African Center for Technology Studies(ACTS), Burness Communications, Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), Impact Africa, Futures Agricultures, Biovision, UNHCR, Somalia, Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture Association in Kenya (MESHA), the Scinnovent Center, the University of Nairobi and freelance science writers.

Abby Waldorf, Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog Coordinator, talked about how blogs can improve access to information, extend the reach of scientific publications, spark discussions and increase dialogue and feedback.  She also detailed how to write blog posts, how blogs are used in Africa and how social media can be used to promote blogs.

Paul Karaimu (ILRI) shared some experiences from ILRI scientist Jo Cadilhon whose blog post ‘How blogging about work can improve your professional influence’ shows how blogging positively influences a scientist’s professional career.

Susan Macmillan (ILRI) discussed how to design and extend great content experience while blogging. This was complemented by Tezira Lore who explained how social media can be used to promote blogs. She focused on how readers and bloggers can extend conversations by sharing their thoughts on the social media tools embedded in blog posts. As a writer you have an obligation to respond and continue conversations created by your readers, said Tezira.

Watch the combined slideshow:

The half day meeting was well-received with participants eager to learn more about using social media for impact, managing comments and how to write a blog. Participants also expressed their interest in further networking to share experiences and challenges related to scientific communication.

Resources shared during this workshop include:

All these materials are available on the ILRIcomms wiki

A similar session was also held at the ILRI campus in Addis Ababa.

Workshop on discoverability of African scholarship features ILRI communication approaches

On 10-11 March 2014, the OpenUCT Initiative and Carnegie Corporation held a workshop in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss strategies and collaborative approaches to promote the discoverability of African scholarship online.

The workshop brought together some 20 representatives from various Africa-based research agencies including the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), TrustAfrica, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), the African Leadership Centre, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the International Livestock Research Institue (ILRI).

Among the speakers was Tezira Lore, a communications specialist with ILRI’s Food Safety and Zoonoses program. In her presentation, she talked about open access approaches at CGIAR and ILRI, and shared some examples of how ILRI has integrated social media in its communication strategy towards enhancing the discoverability of research outputs.


All the presentations are published on Zenodo.

View some photos from the event.

An innovation platform writeshop: Capturing and scaling out learning

Innovation Platform

In May 2013, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) convened a ‘writeshop’ on innovation platforms in Nairobi. Twenty individuals worked together, with expert facilitation and artistic support to produce 12 ‘practice briefs‘. A contribution to the CGIAR Humidtropics research program, the briefs draw on experiences of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, several CGIAR centers and partner organizations.

The basic idea was to bring together and synthesize key learning and messages from (mainly) CGIAR experiences with innovation platforms (IPs)  in Africa. We wanted to generate focused products to help inform future CGIAR and related ‘research for development’ (R4D) investments in innovation platforms.

Innovation platforms have been used by the private sector to gather information and improve networking among key stakeholders in a particular economic sector. They caught the attention of development agencies at the end of the 1980s and they are are now increasingly common in research and development initiatives.

The group’s working definition of an innovation platform is:

An innovation platform is a space for learning and change. It is a group of individuals (who often represent organizations) with different backgrounds and interests: farmers, traders, food processors, researchers, government officials etc. The members come together to diagnose problems, identify opportunities and find ways to achieve their goals. They may design and implement activities as a platform, or coordinate activities by individual members.

The writeshop originated in several related strands. First, several participants had worked on innovation platforms as part of the Nile BDC program in Ethiopia and wanted a vehicle to help synthesize some key messages, with the help of expert partners. We wanted this learning to travel and be taken up by new programs.

Second, the new ‘Humidtropics’ program was getting started with its own ‘R4D platforms’ and was looking for good practices to build on. Third, while such platforms are widely used in different ways across CGIAR programs, there was little practical synthesized guidance that could be built upon.  Fourth,it was felt that a synthesis of lessons across different situations would help build the evidence base for better-informed opinions on the merits of innovation platforms.

Finally, a large-scale workshop on agricultural innovation systems in Africa provided a useful opportunity to bring people together.

From the outset, we looked for two types of participants:

  1. R4D IP ‘practitioners’ and enablers with strong messages to be documented
  2. IP and related specialists who can help refine and critique the products

We also sought an expert writeshop facilitator and were able to obtain the services of Paul Mundy – who has long been associated with the writeshop process and had shared some insights at a November 2012 workshop in Addis Ababa. He recommended two local artists to work with the artists on illustrations for the briefs (see some examples).

For three days, the group of experts, facilitator and artists locked themselves in an ILRI meeting room. After prioritizing topics, champions of each topic produced a simple flipchart poster explaining the basic messages of a brief. These were critiqued and were the basis for small writing teams to form.  From then on it was intense writing, critiquing, revising, engaging with artists, sharing emerging ideas, and going back to the beginning. We recognized that some important issues (such as gender and IPs) were not covered in the first series but could perhaps be covered in a second batch,

By the end of the three days we had 12 draft briefs.The basic ideas were ready to be shared and critiqued (again) with a group of participants at the international workshop meeting that same week. Finally, the drafts could be refined and polished and published later in the year.

What did we learn from the process?

  1. Writeshops do work. In just under 3 days, we produced substantive drafts of 12 briefs (we deliberately focused on short synthetic pieces. Other writeshops can last several weeks and produce whole books or journal articles).
  2. People make the difference. We were blessed that the participants all seemed to be at a similar stage of enthusiasm to get their work synthesized and out in a novel format. Energy and enthusiasm levels were high throughout the 3 days.
  3. Preparation and facilitation is critical. We got ourselves an expert in writeshops, moreover someone who knew research and innovation. The process was intense and facilitator and participants seriously engaged with and helped writers. We also prepared among the invitees, brainstorming and validating topics to cover.
  4. Illustrations help. Two artists in the room helped people translate ideas into visuals to accompany the text. Some images work better than others (as is to be expected). The artists worked from ‘concepts’ prepared by authors and this process itself seemed to be helpful in crystallizing ideas.
  5. Finishing takes time. The drafts went to the facilitator for completion. Drafts were taken to a FARA meeting where they went like ‘hot cakes.’ These were further worked on to ensure consistency of presentation and to fit our short formats.
  6. Like an innovation platform. In many ways, the process was a microcosm of an (extremely short-term) innovation platform process – shared interests, agreed products, expert facilitation, good documentation, much enthusiasm and energy!

More on innovation platforms

Related ILRI materials on innovation systems

See all the briefs:

  1. What are innovation platforms?
  2. Innovation platforms to shape national policy
  3. Research and innovation platforms
  4. Power dynamics and representation in innovation platforms
  5. Monitoring innovation platforms
  6. Innovation platforms for agricultural value chain development
  7. Communication in innovation platforms
  8. Developing innovation capacity through innovation platforms
  9. Linking action at different levels through innovation platforms
  10. Facilitating innovation platforms
  11. Innovation platforms to support natural resource management
  12. Impact of innovation platform

Navigating monitoring and evaluation with a knowledge management compass

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) often feels as a burden that to be complied with. It is often equated with bean-counting and providing meaningless reports. Yet M&E also offers the promise of great learning – if done well. It can be a real instrument for smart adaptive management to deal with complex organizational agendas.

How do we navigate that complexity? Knowledge management (KM) has a number of tricks and ideas to design smart ways of conducting M&E.

Ewen Le Borgne recently attended a retreat of the United Nations (UN) Agency Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Working group (Ethiopia) and shared issues, insights and practices from his work in ILRI and the CGIAR:

The retreat group (11 participants from 7 UN agencies) raised the following issues:

  • The relation between logical framework and theory of change and the fact that these are just tools that need to be used smartly and dynamically;
  • Where to find and use existing and relevant ICT applications to monitor data – some of which (like the Open Data Kit) were introduced at the ‘ICT4Ag’ conference in Rwanda in November 2013;
  • The connection between adaptive management, KM (with its focus on personal and collective effectiveness) and results-based management approaches that are widely used by UN agencies in Ethiopia;
  • The difficulty managing information in M&E and why connecting with discussion groups – such as the Ethiopian network on Knowledge Management for Development – can be a stepping stone towards more effectiveness.

At the recent workshop on Knowledge Management and Communication for CGIAR Research Programs (December 2013), M&E also featured high on the agenda; while the ILRI communications team is unifying its efforts to bring together communication, KM and M&E/learning in a ‘blurred boundaries’ approach that will comprise some of the happy families of engagement.


Climate change communication and social learning for smarter agricultural research

Mapping social learning domains and actors (Photo: ILRI / Ewen Le Borgne)

Social learning helps smart organizations become smarter, and their activities to end up in smarter results. This is what a group of people working on climate change communication and social learning (CCSL) posited in June 2013 at a plan-and-writeshop.

Hypothesis A: Social learning improves institutional processes and performance/effectiveness in the context of climate change.

Hypothesis B: Social learning processes lead to improved development outcomes/results in the context of climate change.

On 19 and 20 December a largely overlapping group convened another meeting in London in order to prepare activities for 2014 – a critical year in as far as the CCSL group largely moves away from (just) documentation towards implementation and testing. Next year will thus be the year of applying social learning in practice, learning from it, meticulously documenting these experiences and adjusting ideas, approaches and tools.

Direct opportunities for this testing and ‘social learning in practice’ concern the CGIAR Research Program on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS) as well as possibly the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) as well as a myriad of planned smaller initiatives (e.g. around ILRI programs) or spontanous requests submitted via the CCSL sandbox.

What was discussed and agreed at the London meeting

During the two days of the  planning meeting in London, the participants:

  • Shared their ambitions for the meeting and for 2014
  • Took stock of progress to date, particularly around the guidelines-and-framework and the database of case studies
  • Mapped the respective domains of: CCSL, (social) learning as in the related networks and conversations, CCAFS (as one of the main instigators of CCSL work) as well as the broader institutional framework which creates opportunities and constraints for this CCSL work
  • On the basis of the above exercise, summarized three key areas of intervention for 2014:
    1. Institutional change through learning and donor support for that change (working on smart organizations)
    2. Building a strong evidence base for social learning methodologies and taking this work to scale (working on smart results through social learning)
    3. Bringing together communities of practice and advocating social learning methodologies (organizing the engagement activities to extend the interest and possible cooperation of other organizations and networks in CCSL work)
  • Planned key activities for 2014, including a tentative budget and timeline
  • Listed possible events that might be of interest for the CCSL group to plant activities in 2014
  • Summarized immediate next steps

This rich work was achieved thanks to facilitation by CCSL sandbox moderators Carl Jackson and Pete Cranston.

Important components, lessons and insights to implement social learning

After now 1.5 years of work (following the kick-off workshop on CCSL work in May 2o12), a lot of research and investigation has been carried out leading to a growing body of evidence about social learning which can now be mobilized for action. Upcoming ideas and efforts have been presented at various occasions such as the 2013 CCAFS science meeting, the Climate Change Knowledge Exchange and communication and more recently during the ICT4Ag conference.

It can appear slightly daunting to embark on social learning, and the overwhelming amount of papers, tools and approaches does not simplify this issue. This is why the CCSL team is developing a framework and set of guidelines helping anyone – social learning neophytes as well as experienced social learning practitioners – to zoom in on ideas, approaches and methodologies that might guide their work most appropriately. The framework considers an iterative cycle of activities to assess where one is at with social learning, identify what to do next, gather feedback to improve their approach, document and gather data about their approach, analyse results and derive new actions from it.

A series of case studies has also been gathered to document evidence about social learning. Most of these case studies, for now, are extracted from the previous working papers developed (see a full list of CCSL and related resources), but plans for 2014 include doubling efforts on this front, to gather first hand evidence about where/when/how and why social learning works (or not) in certain contexts.

A number of networks and organizations (e.g. Knowledge Management for Development, the knowledge brokers’ forum or the recent CG Parade group) are also interested in this body of work and working on related lines of work, albeit not always using the same vocabulary. 2014 really will have to somewhat rally or even federate these conversations, both on the sandbox and in face-to-face events. Visiting these communities will be one of the key activities next year to start taking advantage of this opportunity.

The monitoring of social learning efforts remains a thorny issue and the case studies that will be gathered throughout 2014 will be scrutinized by a group of experts to inform robust assessment of social learning plans, processes and results. This is critical to build further interest in social learning and also to understand better where it does not fit.

The human facilitation of the guidelines and framework remains a resource-intensive business, although that is the level of efforts that would ideally help organizations and individuals apply social learning in a more appropriate manner, due to better guidance upstream and maintaining a constant learning dialogue – although the latter is partly addressed via the  Sandbox.

CCAFS has been a major player in the CCSL field until now, but it is becoming ever clearer that other actors have to step in if this initiative is to continue and gain momentum.

An exciting program of work is planned for 2014 and the new year will be the ‘make it or break it‘ test of time for the CCSL group. More than ever, social learning on social learning will be key for all smart organizations wishing to achieve smarter development results.

Read more about the London CCSL planning meeting

Read the CCSL body of evidence about social learning

Read a recent news item on ILRI news blog

Getting knowledge management and communication into CGIAR programs

In many CGIAR programs and activities, communication and knowledge management are invited too little and too late. This means that the results of their science may fall into oblivion. Much can be achieved by bringing communication and knowledge management right into the heart of CGIAR programs – to support engagement with partners, research uptake and development impact … all objectives at the centre of the CGIAR reform process.

Two workshops at ILRI Addis Ababa in December 2013 focused on these issues:

Lessons from the Challenge Program Water and Food

The first workshop brought together twelve participants from six river basins (Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta).

Over the two days, the six basins presented their work (see results from the Nile Basin Development Challenge), teased out some successes and challenges and collectively developed a series of a) specific innovations that they thought were excellent examples that might be applied elsewhere and b) lessons and principles that matter elsewhere.

The lessons were rich – the discussions even richer – and provide a few excellent reflections:

  • First, pay attention to the context – it dictates the mix of platforms, processes, and people that works;
  • Developing a strategy is not that important; but having clear purpose and principles are essential;
  • Use existing capacities, positive deviants, and be aware that roles change over time and also rely crucially on non-specialized KM and communications staff (e.g. the researchers, managers and other people  involved);
  • It is all about engagement, from the start and throughout, at all levels – and it needs thorough thinking to invite people to express themselves openly and to change (or circumvent) existing power dynamics;
  • Tools and approaches are again very much conditioned by the context – they don’t always work for everyone;
  • The best way to integrate KM and communications in CGIAR activities (and elsewhere?) is to combine its elements (e.g. information management, knowledge sharing etc.) and bind them with other related fields such as monitoring and evaluation and  capacity development around ‘blurred boundaries’ all glued together with ongoing learning.

The workshop meshed naturally with the next three days. Miguel Saravia, Basin Leader for the Andes Basin Development Challenge introduced the lessons learned from CPWF in this Prezi:

The focus of the second meeting, however, was not so much looking back as looking forward.

Actions for CGIAR Research Programs

The knowledge management and communication for CGIAR Research Programs ’kmc4CRP2′ workshop brought together nearly 40 specialists (and a couple of researchers) from around the globe. WLE and CCAFS were particularly well represented as they co-organized this workshop together with ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish.

Over the three days, participants shared their thinking and activities around KM and communications in six different CGIAR Research Programs, explored the concept and practice of impact pathways and theories of change, shared practices around some specific tools and came up with ideas to continue such dialogue after the workshop. The CCAFS and WLE groups also developed ways to embed KM and communications in their overall program’s impact pathway.

It became apparent that ideas from the CPWF workshop are really important, that KM and communications should not be seen as a support service but as an integrated component of the research process. KM and communications specialists need to be involved in the development of proposals, of impact pathways and theories of change, of overall plans and activities for these large programs and they should remain involved in the decision-making throughout the program. And they must do all they can t engage closely with researchers and other actors.

Only so much can be covered in 3 days to it was important to define ways to continue the conversations and cooperation beyond the workshop. Participants proposed the following activities (among others):

Getting a community of communicators/knowledge management specialists to share and learn together effectively is a very useful step and these workshops build nicely on the first ‘kmc4CRP’ workshop. Several people noted that it would be great, in future, to involve more researchers in these workshops (as was done last year). That is certainlya key dimension if we want to integrate KM and communications into CGIAR activities.

See the results from the CPWF Communication and KM workshop

See the results from the kmc4CRP2 workshop

Climate change communication and social learning – documenting the evidence

Since late 2011, ILRI has been working closely with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and a host of other organizations and individuals on ‘climate change, communication and social learning’ (CCSL). What started off with a meeting of minds in May 2012 has turned into a series of events, activities – particularly centred around the CCSL ‘sandbox’ – and more recently publications.

To date, nine official publications from this ‘CCSL series’ have been published and put together in a dedicated collection on CGSpace. The latest of these publications has just been released and addresses social learning in practice – and it was introduced on the CCAFS blog.

This is thus a good moment to take stock of the nine CCSL documents so far:

Working papers

  • CCAFS working paper 38 ‘Social learning in practice: A review of lessons, impacts and tools for climate change‘ aims to provide a detailed review of documented social learning processes for climate change and natural resource management as described in peer-reviewed literature. Particular focus is on identifying (1) lessons and principles, (2) tools and approaches, (3) evaluation of social learning, as well as (4) concrete examples of impacts that social learning has contributed to.

 Booklets and other print resources in the collection

Other materials

This whiteboard video was introduced at the 2013 CCAFS Science Meeting, showcases the potential for social learning in dealing with wicked problems such as climate change and chronic poverty.

Other resources mentioned on the sandbox wiki point to other CCSL outputs as well as other resources that could help anyone working on social learning in climate change, agriculture and/or food security.

This Youtube playlist brings together several interviews around the original May 2012 workshop.

ICTs, livestock research and social learning – ILRI contributes to ict4ag conference

ILRI people were active at the recent ict4ag conference in Kigali. Ewen Le Borgne was part of the overall facilitation team; on the plug and play day, Absolomon Kihara talked about the open data kit and on days two and three, ILRI organized session on livestock and ICTs and on social ICTs …

Organized by Peter Ballantyne, the day two  session drew on several on the ground experiences that illustrate different ways that ICTs are contributing to livestock sector development:

The day three session on ‘Social ICTs – engaging with the grassroots’ was organized by Peter Ballantyne with Michael Victor from the Water Lands and Ecosystems CGIAR research program. The session starting point was that using ICTs in ‘social’ engaging ways is better suited to certain kinds of rural challenges – those requiring collective, social involvement from many people.

The session mainly involved participants discussing and sharing experiences, with supplementary presentations on:

  1. Social learning, communication, engagement and ICT4ag (presentation by Peter Ballantyne)
  2. Social Learning through ICTs: Solving complex problems using multiple tools (presentation by Michael Victor)
  3. Sauti ya wakulima: using mobile phones to make the voices of rural farmers in Tanzania  heard (Presentation by Eugenio Tisselli and Hamza Suleyman)

Related blogposts:

ODK used by ILRI for livestock data collection

Data collecting is a vital part of research for development work, as the results inform good decision making.

 Absolomon Kihara introduces ILRI's biorepositoryPaper based system have been used to collect data in the field and for monitoring and evaluation of projects in rural areas. However, this approach is time consuming, labour intensive, error prone that may affect productivity and accuracy and it is very expensive in the long run.

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are now being used widely with significant positive results to perform these tasks in agricultural development projects.

The recent ‘ict4ag’ conference organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and other organizations, brought experts together to share their experiences and discuss ways in which they were using ICTs, smart phones, tablets, applications and software – to collect data in the field, and to enhance agricultural developments. Several examples of the apps were also showcased in the discussion, among those:

Open Data Kit (ODK) was presented by Absolomon Kihara of the International livestock Research Institute (ILRI).ODK is a free and open-source set of tools which help organizations author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions.

ODK provides solution for users to:

  • Build a data collection form or survey
  • Collect the data on a mobile device and send it to a server; and
  • Aggregate the collected data on a server and extract it in useful formats.

Absolomon said that ILRI has been using traditional paper-based system to collect data from the field but recently started investigating ways in which data capture and analysis can be automated.

“ODK has really helped us in our data collection; it helped us to migrate from paper based to smart phone data collection, to reduce the challenges of using paper based systems.”

It provides quality data, no transcription error, complete survey, cuts the time of transcription and having data collection instantaneously. Absolomon concluded his presentation by saying, we found there is much more to gain from ODK than paper based systems.

More about ODK

Facilitating large events – Lessons from the ict4ag Rwanda conference

ILRI contributed to facilite ICT4Ag, the digital springboard for inclusive agriculture (4-8 November 2013, Kigali, Rwanda) This year’s most important event in the world of agricultural information and knowledge took place from 4 to 8 November in Kigali, Rwanda.

ict4ag brought together over 400 participants eager to share ideas, questions, and applications supporting the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agricultural development.

The event was led by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), CGIAR and various other organisations.

How does such an event get facilitated? 

A team of four overall facilitators was assembled by CTA. Ewen Le Borgne was one of them, contributed by ILRI as an ‘in-kind resource’ for the conference. The other facilitators – Nancy White, Lucie Lamoureux and Nadia Manning-Thomas (formerly of ILRI and the International Water Management Institute) – were also drawn from the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community and knew each other very well, which helped a lot for the cohesion of the facilitation group.

Prior to and throughout the event, the facilitation team worked hand in hand with CTA’s ‘Knowledge Management’ (KM) team to ensure that key insights from the sessions were captured, particularly around: what’s new (discoveries), specific case studies, lessons learned, making it happen and finally a special ‘gender lens’. Each facilitator worked with one KM team member and they covered five or six sessions from either of the three conference streams: Emerging innovations, capacity strengthening and finally enabling environment. In total, 23 sessions, with more than 100 presentations and 115 speakers were supported.

 Ewen Le Borgne / ILRI)

Facilitation basics pictured by ict4ag facilitators (Credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

Despite ambitions to be much more, for most sessions the facilitation job entailed mostly time keeping and designing as much conversation time as possible. This latter this was a big challenge given that most sessions spanned four or five presentations over 90 minutes (and in practice often closer to 75-80 minutes).

The two main rooms of the Serena hotel were divided by partition walls to enable two parallel sessions to take place at any one time. All sessions were interpreted in French/English, adding to the challenge of group conversations with respect to the languages and the volume of noise to deal with.

During the sessions, the two facilitators present in the same room for parallel sessions often consulted each other about timing to start and end the sessions, inform each other about noise levels etc.

The facilitators also discussed together a rough process to apply – as much as possible – across all sessions to encourage noisy group conversations to happen at the same time (rather than disturb the presentations taking place in the room above the partition walls).

At the end of every day, and sometimes over lunches and breaks, facilitators met to discuss how things were progressing, to adjust the program along the way (on 5 November, lunch was postponed by nearly two hours due to a tent collapse triggered by torrential rain). Those ‘after action reviews’ were really precious to make sure that the sessions ran as smoothly as possible, that speakers and audience got as much as possible out of the sessions.

A couple of ‘synthesis sessions’ were also organised, culminating – on the last day – in a plenary session to draw out ‘next steps’ around the 20 or so different issues that came up in the conference. The facilitators had much more room to experiment and design a properly ‘interactive’ dynamic for these sessions, as opposed to organising and timing presentations around specific topics.

The facilitation team was publicly and bilaterally thanked and sometimes congratulated for their efforts, so the event worked out, despite the challenges encountered.

What are some lessons?

These have also shared with the organising team (mainly CTA staff):

  • Involve the facilitators from the initial steps. In practice, a lot of the design had already been agreed at the stage that the facilitation team was pulled in. This is not ideal as facilitators have the experience of maximising the potential outputs from any event by balancing information and conversation, organisers’ and participants’ expectations, listening and interactive sessions etc.;
  • Working with the KM team was useful though it worked out better in some cases than others (e.g. leading to real conversation notes as opposed to simply tweets from the session);
  • Regular interactions with the coordination team prior to the event and throughout the event was extremely useful and prevented major problems from occurring (weather issues aside) but the lack of overall oversight/coordination was a hindrance at times. Using Google documents to coordinate activities among facilitators and KM people was good but having one overall coordinator present during the chats and using these collective notes would have been even better;
  • The facilitators’ training (see below) worked pretty well and is something that needs to happen more often to build systemic capacity for facilitation in the region – or in this case in Rwanda. In the sessions, it was very helpful for each ‘overall facilitator’ to have someone help with setting up the room, holding the microphone, organising exercises, timing presentations etc.;
  • The idea of ‘streams’ did not really resonate strongly with participants. It was useful to keep these streams at the background to capture ideas in the different sessions and the facilitation team did well to approach synthesis sessions with more flexibility, looking at individual ‘wows’ from participants and clustering them to find out what key patterns emerged;
  • Having a team of facilitators (and KM people) that know each other was really instrumental in turning tensions into creative elation;
  • Choosing a good venue which allows all participants to talk freely would have been great. In this respect, organising the event in a country where the organising team is not based was a challenging solution.

Developing ‘facilitation capacity’ in the region

In addition to the main event, the overall facilitation team was invited by CTA to organise a training of young Rwandan facilitators on Sunday 3 November. The training course was organised in the few weeks preceding the event, mostly via Skype exchange and last minute modifications.

 Ewen Le Borgne / ILRI)

Nancy White training young facilitators prior to ICT4Ag (Credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

On the day, about  15 young Rwandans turned up, most with some facilitation experience but some with hardly any. Of these, four were selected by CTA to support the facilitation of the main event. Each of the young ICT4Ag facilitators worked with one of the overall facilitators to try and learn how to time events, take group notes, introduce sessions and group exercises, invite participants for reflections etc. But the training day was for all participants.

During the training day, the overall facilitators led the participants through a series of exercises to demonstrate how to facilitate, touching upon items such as ‘what is facilitation?’, ‘what is the ideal profile of a facilitator?’, ‘how to deal with challenges in group facilitation?’ etc. using a variety of methods such as Open Space, World Café, Fish bowl, Metacard sorting, Peer assist and other techniques that can be found on e.g. the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit and the Liberating Structures website.

At the end of the week, the full facilitation team agreed to set up a Facebook group (closed) to keep in touch, share resources and support each other in the course of learning how to facilitate events.

There is very scarce facilitation capacity in the region and such events were a good attempt to reduce some of this gap. It is an issue that we at ILRI frequently face and we are keen to explore and support ways to structurally develop capacity for occasional and regular facilitators – in agriculture, in Africa and beyond.

ILRI hosts DSpace Ethiopia user meeting and CGSpace training

Participants of the Dspace technical training From 28 October to 1 November 2013, International Livestock Research Institute knowledge management team in Addis Ababa held an informal first Ethiopia DSpace Interest Group Meeting and a DSpace Technical Training for staff and other DSpace users.

On the first day, about 25 people came to ILRI from various organizations in Ethiopia and abroad to meet, discuss and share knowledge with people interested to know about DSpace and those already running DSpace.

Participants from CGIAR centres, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), the African Union (AU), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), University of Nairobi (UoN), Addis Ababa University (AAU), Mekele University, Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority and the Ethiopian Development Bank were among those present.

Sven De Labey from Atmire, a privately held enterprise and leading DSpace support and development group, gave a presentation about the state of the art and coming developments on DSpace. Peter Ballantyne and Abenet Yabowork reported on using DSpace at ILRI while Alan Orth and Sisay Webshet explained what it takes, technically, to run CGSpace. Irene Onyancha shared lessons from the UNECA institutional repository on Dspace.

During the various sessions, participants learned a lot and raised the challenges they face running DSpace at their organizations. The discussions and presentations resulted in a strong interest to have another such meet-up early next year, also encouraging others that do not use a DSpace repository to set-up and run one for their own organizations.

For the following three days, Sven gave an intensive technical training for 7 CGSpace administrators representing the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), CTA and ILRI as well as staff from the University of Nairobi, EIAR, UNECA, and the AU. Topics covered including DSpace Administration, Customization, Users Management, Installation, Configuration and Metadata Harvesting.

As part of the technical training, we had a session on DSpace-Drupal integration with Fabio Fidanza (Macaroni Brothers) who talked about ways the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) republished DSpace content on its website.

In the final day, we held various side meetings to discuss and solve pending technical issues on CGSpace customization. We also looked at more content management issues with colleagues from CGIAR centers. The main action points from this day were:

  • We need to identify some standard content formats that all CGSpace users employ;
  • Proposing a concept for some standard ‘core’ CGSpace metadata fields for reporting purposes;
  • Harvesting content to and from CGSpace.

The meetings were excellent opportunities for ILRI, CGIAR colleagues and parters from Ethiopia and Kenya to engage and learn from each other. It was also wonderful to spend considerable amount of time together to discuss and solve some advanced technical developments around DSpace.

See all related presentations

Story by Abenet Yabowork and Peter Ballantyne

ILRI knowledge sharing tools update and refresher sessions held in Nairobi

From 17 to 20 September 2013, the Knowledge Management and Information Services (KMIS) team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) ran several knowledge sharing tools update and refresher sessions for staff in Nairobi. The main objectives of the sessions were to:

  • Inform new staff on ILRI knowledge management and communications tools and approaches and support
  • Provide team-focused support and hands-on sessions on selected tools based on their needs
  • Refresh communications staff on the tools and systems we use to capture and disseminate ILRI’s knowledge

The sessions had three components. In the first component , we trained about 30 staff on what and where to find ILRI knowledge. It included awareness and refresher sessions for new staff through an introduction to ILRI’s ‘big five’ knowledge sharing and communication tools.

The second component focused on teams. In this session, we trained 15 staff from directorate, human resources and finance on the respective tools they use in their units.

Following the training, we had several communications team discussions to learn, share, and discuss the challenges and opportunities and to plan future work. The communications team also took refresher training on the various communication tools we use at ILRI.

Notes on the wiki 


Story by Abenet Yabowork, Tsehay Gashaw, Daniel Hailemichael and Peter Ballantyne

Storytelling experiences from the AgrifoodChain workshop


ILRI events are often designed to explore alternative methods of engagement that maximize sharing and learning. The recent AgriFood Chain Toolkit Conference – Livestock and Fish Value Chains in East Africa was one of these events.

The conference was sponsored by two CGIAR Research Programs (or CRPs) - ‘Livestock and fish’, and ‘Policies, Institutions and Markets’. Its purpose was to bring together value chain researchers and practitioners to discuss value chain analysis issues and tap practitioners’ experiences with quantitative assessment of value chains. The underlying agenda was to popularise the AgriFood chain toolkit developed by the two sponsoring CRPs and to tease out ideas to enrich it and make it more useful for practitioners. This was a rather ambitious objective considering the relative lack of contact and communication between value chain practitioners and researchers in general.

Storytelling at the heart of the exchange

To address these objectives, the event organisers wanted to focus on personal experiences from both practitioners and researchers. The red thread of the conference thus became storytelling. All participants – some of them responding to the call for interest on the Linking smallholder farmers to dynamic markets discussion group - were invited to propose different contributions, eventually leading to:

  • Fourteen stories
  • Thirteen posters
  • Eight learning events which focused on tools and approaches (from the toolkit or otherwise) to discuss how to apply these tools and approaches – much like the posters
  • Four peer assist cases (two on aquaculture, one on the pig value chain and one on extension services in the dairy value chain)

To make sure these contributions were effective, online coaching was provided prior to the event.

In various ‘storytelling circles’ the participants shared their value chain experiences and two of them performed in plenary. The learning events and poster session helped participants swap stories of tools and approaches, and finally the peer-assists (sessions where a storyteller receives structured feedback and advice to tackle a concrete problem) provided useful tips to all participants based on the participants’ personal experiences.

Unstructured storytelling also featured in the field visits on the second day and stories from the chains were fed back to the workshop analysis.

ILRI communication roles in the event

ILRI communication and KM staff played prominent roles in the event. It was designed and facilitated by Ewen Le Borgne (KMIS team) and Muthoni Njiru (public awareness team) interviewed participants, took photos and collected all the posters. The team also documented discussions and stories on the wiki page.

Using this alternative workshop design and bringing communication and storytelling to the heart of the event was strongly supported and encouraged by event’s main organizer: Jo Cadilhon. He wanted the emphasis to be on active knowledge exchange rather than a more passive consumption of information.

Results and lessons

The evaluations by almost all participants showed that storytelling was a very welcome approach. Most participants mentioned the storytelling circles and peer assists as the high points of the workshop.

The approach also created a space for dialogue between value chain users and researchers who do not normally meet and reflect together. This proved very positive.

The event also surfaced a number of challenges (and related opportunities):

  • The focus on practitioners’ quantitative analysis of value chains was challenging as the stories showed that many of the practitioners tend to follow their gut feeling and ‘streetwise’ common sense rather than systematic tools. The storytelling approach did help to highlight their complex experiences and the need to build a rapport between actors before looking at possible tools and approaches.
  • Storytelling is great but it does not necessarily come naturally – not everyone is a great storyteller. The coaching is essential. Online coaching worked to some extent but really started two weeks prior to the event and could have started earlier. The coaching on the final morning was welcome, yet some storytellers needed more guidance.
  • Similarly, peer assists require strong coaching to ensure the case presenters focus on a concrete, personal and rather well-defined (narrow enough) case that other participants can reflect upon.
  • While powerpoint has its problems, we need to avoid falling into a storytelling ‘trap’; if stories become the default mode of presentation we may miss opportunities to surprise the audience. And, storytellers may also seize their moment to monopolise the space.
  • Some researchers said it was against their nature to engage with fragments of information (stories, peer assist cases etc.) which are not backed up with facts and hard evidence. Combining more ‘scientific’ ways to share information with more ‘free-format’ approaches such as stories could yield better results for a mix of actors.
  • The posters were more technical and require dedicated time to be absorbed and visited by most participants. Some suggested going round every poster one by one.
  • The field visits were initially not well synthesized by the visitors – despite instructions. A session at the dawn of the last day helped everyone sharpen their insights.
  • The toolkit itself requires much more emphasis – and presentation of its many components – if it is to be seriously assessed by practitioners.

The lessons are extremely useful for upcoming events. And many participants – surveyed about concrete next steps they intend to take after this workshop – already confessed their plans to use storytelling and peer assists in their own activities.

Find full minutes of the event

See pictures of the event

Discover the posters featured at the conference

Photofilm training to better document and communicate research in Ethiopia

Reblogged from Africa RISING:

Click to visit the original post
  • Click to visit the original post

A key part of the Africa RISING communication strategy is to really engage with and document the knowledge and experiences of the communities where it works.

Alongside more classical research communication, the project is therefore exploring multimedia formats like video, photographs and ultimately radio and mobile phones as tools to enrich multi-way communication.

Africa RISING in the Ethiopian highlands recently organised a photofilm (digital stories) training for selected staff from the ILRI Addis Ababa campus to advance their skills.

Read more… 261 more words

Using CIARD RING to publish ILRI information services and tools

Inter-connecting agricultural research information systems and tools is one activity of the ‘Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development’ (CIARD) movement.

It has set up an online ‘RING‘ as a registry of information services provided by various organizations working in this area. The RING draws on information submitted by organizations like the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) to facilitate greater use and visibility of the various services.

As the number of ILRI-affiliated web services and platforms has grown, we entered basic information on each service in the RING. This information is being used by CIARD partners and other organizations to discover ILRI’s work.

Earlier this year, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) – which manages the RING – linked up with ILRI to explore how this information could be re-published on ILRI’s web site. After some experimentation, ILRI content from the RING is now accessible directly on the ILRI web site.

This activity was part of a wider collaboration aiming to develop cross-publishing technical pathways between CIARD tools and ILRI (and documenting these for others to replicate). The other main activity looked at integration of metadata from our dspace and wordpress platforms with drupal – the system we use to manage the ILRI web site.

With Valeria Pesce of GFAR, we will document all of this in more technical detail.

Knowledge management and climate change: The KM4D Journal reborn open access

Eight years ago the first issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal (KM4D Journal) was published. It emerged from November 2004 discussions in a small attic room at IICD in The Hague; the initial discussants were motivated by, among other things, the desire to create and publish an open journal to report and recognize the growing body of knowledge around knowledge management (KM) in development. Six months later “like a duck to water” the journal was born – part of a global KM4Dev community of practice.

The first 3 volumes were self-published using the open journals system (OJS), now used to power some 15,000 journals.

It came at a time then open knowledge and open access were gaining ground as alternative accessible ways to share knowledge globally. It matched our philosophical approaches and our use of the open source Dgroups platform (; many of us were also experimenting with and promoting open standards to exchange development data and information. It was the era of AIDA, AJOL, APC, Bellanet, the Development Gateway (as it then was), ELDIS, Euforic, the Global Knowledge Partnership, IICD, ITrainOnline, OneWorld, open knowledge network,, WSIS and many more working to harness digital opportunities for development.

In 2009, with funding from the IKM Emergent project, our journal moved to a commercial ‘paid access’ platform (see

In 2013, the journal returns to its original model – providing open access to all, peer review and the possibility to achieve academic impact factors. The first ‘re-opened’ issue is on ‘knowledge management and climate change.’

This is a very welcome development. In the years since our journal became closed access, the rest of the development world has woken up to openness as a fundamental dimension of development activities.

This interest in open access is reflected in recent open access requirements for development research (DFID), scientific research (EU) as well as the longer-established requirements in medicine (Wellcome Foundation, National Institutes of Health).

In agriculture, CIARD has moved the international community to more available and accessible research. The International Aid Transparency Initiative uses open information and data standards to make aid more effective, organizations like the World Bank, USAIDFAO and CGIAR are moving to open, while the Open Knowledge Foundation  is a “global movement to open up knowledge around the world and see it used and useful.”

More generally, and increasingly important as an agenda-setter for knowledge managers and sharers, notions like open development and open engagement are gaining ground as vehicles to transform the way development itself is designed and delivered – through empowered individuals and collective action. Opening the ways development is done is getting to be more important than just making the products of development open. More and more, our knowledge sharing and management approaches have to help deliver on these intentions.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is an example of this: We strive to make our research outputs and processes more open and accessible.

Closer to the knowledge management and climate change focus of this issue of the journal, the move towards ‘open’ is reflected in the ‘climate change and social learning’ initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. This recognizes that research to support climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to adopt more innovative participatory social models of engagement and communication that connect researchers and communities in more open interaction and co-learning.

Open, transparent, participatory, accessible, engaging! These terms and behaviours are becoming part of the default aspirations of more and more development organizations. They are also getting into mainstream organizational cultures, with a renewed emphasis on open tools and processes for learning, reflection, communication and knowledge sharing and management.

Getting this ‘journal’ component of our KM4Dev community’s knowledge open again is thus a welcome chance to re-connect our core enabling competencies with some core drivers of the development sector.

I commend the editorial team for this decision, and urge community member to support it by publishing open in the KM4D Journal!

Note: Together with Sarah Cummings, Julie Ferguson, Lucie Lamoureux, Chris Addison, Hugo Besemer, Allison Hewlitt and Katherine Morrow, I was one of the founding group who met in the IICD attic.

Presenting ILRI work using Prezi

Conferences, workshops and events of all sorts are at the  heart of ILRI work. ILRI staff travel to many places to present some of the work the organisation does. A long piece of meticulous research work gets synthesised in one presentation that can really glorify or ruin the awareness, attention, dissemination and ultimately the uptake of that work by other actors in the livestock sector.

Public speaking, presenting with confidence, being able to influence others and letting them understand the value and unique opportunities of good research work are critical skills for ILRI staff.

The default presentation tool for such presentations is Microsoft Powerpoint. It is indeed a powerful tool, but if not handled well, this simple presentation tool can induce ‘death by Powerpoint‘. Another problem with Powerpoint is that most people are used to it and more often than not, in conferences, they automatically switch to ‘Powerpoint mode’: a rather active absorption of the presentation, without paying too much attention to the speaker.

An alternative has emerged in the past few years (it first appeared in late 2009): Prezi.

Prezi is a dynamic presentation tool that works in a very different logic to Powerpoint: the latter is essentially a series of linearly connected slides that tell a story. Prezi is a physical canvas – like a drawing board – where all elements are plotted and you navigate around that canvas, zooming in on elements of it and out to other elements to tell the story.

Both tools enable embedding various media: audio, video, graphs and pictures, though Prezi even allows embedding Powerpoint presentations.

Since ILRI’s recent annual program meeting, we tried using Prezi, here’s the presentation by Alexandra Jorge on Napier Grass:

More ILRI presentations on Prezi

Why bother using Prezi?

Perhaps one of the following reasons might want to make you try Prezi?

  • Prezi gives a very dynamic slant to your presentations, which is more likely to keep your audience awake than a series of Powerpoint slides.
  • Prezi forces you to put less text in a ‘slide’, which means people can read the text easily and listen to you carefully at the same time.
  • As you have less ‘support text’, you can more easily talk around the text on the screen. It strengthens your narrative, your sense of telling stories, and perhaps forces you to rehearse a bit more, which is a very good precondition for success in public speaking.
  • Prezi allows you to move around your canvas so you can go anywhere in your presentation without having to clumsily move back on the  menu of your slides.
  • Your audience may not know about Prezi yet, and you may capture their imagination like you never have.
  • It’s a new tool, and every new tool requires you to think slightly differently about your work, stimulating your creativity and parallel thinking skills.

Mind that Prezi, like Powerpoint, can also be used in really bad ways and create a nauseating experience induced by motion sickness. On the other hand, mastered well, Prezi can display great creativity that strengthens the narrative behind the presentation, and give a sense of confidence to scientific speakers, and a good reason to believe that their work might be listened to and perhaps used more as a result.

Prezi may work for you or not, but trying it will be useful to think about your work and learn from your own practice. Many people condemn tools for what they do, though usually the practice of the tool is what causes bad experiences, not the tool itself, but until you try it and see successful examples, you can’t really tell, so when it comes to Prezi, you might as well…

For more information about Prezi, its advantages and disadvantages you can see: 

Climate Change Knowledge Exchange: Great conversations, good learning, but one step missing for transformation and action?

The Institute for Development Studies (IDS) hosted a ‘Climate Change Knowledge Exchange‘ on 5-6 March 2013. The exchange which was designed with the intention of being ‘an antidote to death by Powerpoint‘, was co-created on the Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) sandbox - which was set up by ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in 2012, as recently explained on this space.

Social learning featured highly on the agenda of this event from the start, thanks to the inputs of various sandbox members including the sandbox facilitation team – which was invited to co-facilitate the Knowledge Exchange – including Ewen le Borgne from ILRI’s Knowledge Management and Information Services.

A group of about 70 participants engaged in the event with the intention to learn, share, reflect and act, in various plenary sessions and working group slots around the four main strands of the event:

Two loops of learning

With intellectual and financial sponsorship of the CCSL initiative, the idea of the organizing team was to turn this Exchange into an exciting opportunity to undertake an experience through three learning loops. The table below – adapted from CCSL sandbox work – served as a basis to explain some of the differences between the three loops of learning.


First loop

Double loop

Triple loop

Nature Instrumental Communicative Transformative Use of knowledge Acquiring new knowledge Understanding / reinterpreting knowledge Examining assumptions behind (particularly dominant) knowledge Focus (also temporal) Efficiency (now) Effectiveness (next) Dynamic relevance (over time) / adaptive capacity Key questions What are we doing now and how can we improve this?
WHAT IS What could we do to improve the pursuit of our aims?
WHAT COULD BE What should we do to improve the way we think about improving our approach?
WHAT SHOULD BE Approach followed Static, unilateral information flows e.g. dissemination of case studies etc. Participatory communication, bilateral knowledge flows Dynamic experience building, multilateral knowledge flows

Each of the conversation strands explored what is currently going on (experiences and results), what could be (ideas to bring people together and solve issues) and what should be (through a transformative process). The Exchange indeed allowed participants to develop rich pictures of the current state of work around intermediaries and knowledge brokers, learning from evaluation, disaster risk reduction and the issues of power that affect climate change initiatives (in the ‘Whose knowledge counts’ strand).

The second group’s work was also very rich and unraveled many good ideas, possible ideals to go forward, based on strong discussions, a thorough exchange of ideas and a joint formulation of possible solutions.

The intermediaries’ group explored the central question of whether knowledge brokers and intermediaries are indeed a role (embodied in a position) or a function, i.e. a set of tasks and responsibilities that can be spread across people and time.

The learning & evaluation group worked around three different topics: how to communicate evaluations in more effective and compelling ways, how to possibly influence policy and policy-making through the results of evaluation and finally how to develop some space for theory-based approaches to evaluation (approaches that explicitly address assumptions and look at a broader context than just one intervention).

The ‘Whose knowledge counts’ and the ‘disaster risk reduction’ groups developed a series of steps to undertake to progressively achieve the ideal vision that they developed after the first session’s back-casting exercise (visioning exercise and working out steps from there to now).

Locally owned knowledge in policy – a future #climatelearn…

— petecranston (@petecranston) March 5, 2013

There was a lot of good learning in this case, but was that really enough to transform participants and lead them to action?

Transformation and action?

In his opening address and in a supporting blog post, Lawrence Haddad, Director of IDS, reminded all participants that it is notoriously hard to learn and act upon that learning. This Exchange was alas no exception. Perhaps the ambitions to bring participants to reflect in totally novel ways were too high, due to the short duration of the event, to the nature of the participants’ group which -not diverse enough- and to the very limited opportunities to combine the two in a joint working experience that could seriously and deeply challenge everyone’s assumptions.

Not much triple-loop learning happened, therefore, although some participant mentioned that it sometimes takes months or even years to realize the effects of being exposed to a conversation – as though learning would go dormant and wake up at a future moment when its fruits are ripe for harvest.

As for action, the ‘marketplace of actions, ideas and commitments‘ suggests that some action will come out of this Exchange. It is certainly the intention of the organizers to review these actions in a few months’ time. However one of the (learning and evaluation) group was also ‘shockingly honest’ in admitting that the ideal picture sketched about influencing policy is fundamentally flawed and doomed.

Shocking honesty #climatelearn ideal evaluation process will never happen. Huge barriers – Political context, donor incentives + many more.

— Tan Copsey (@tancopsey) March 6, 2013

Learning, transformation, action… we might want to think about the transitions between these rather than focus on each of them.

Frances Seballos of IDS reflected on learning about learning. Her blog post should follow shortly and might give additional impressions on the challenges of a complex social process around an event for an even more complex agenda – climate change.

Read notes about the event

Read more about the Climate Change and Social Learning sandbox

Nile BDC planning and consultation meetings: Where communication becomes central

Between November 2012 and February 2013, the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) ran two major events to help steer its efforts in this last year of the Challenge. On 15 and 16 November, a largely internal planning workshop gathered 25 participants representing the four NBDC  projects. On 20-21 February 2013, about 70 people – project staff, partners and other related parties – gathered at the ILRI Addis campus to attend the fourth meeting of the National Platform on land and water management and to reflect on past achievements, current questions and insights, and future plans for the NBDC.

Communication has been central to the program (2009-2013) through various interventions. After a rather intensive and successful first period in the new phase of the NBDC vis-à-vis its communication, the management of the NBDC have officially requested additional support from the ILRI communication team to assist with the regular organization and documentation of monthly team meetings, in addition to ongoing tasks (publishing, sharing stories, facilitation and documentation of special events).

 ILRI/Le Borgne)

Planning NBDC activities for researchers (photo credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

The communication team supported this planning workshop through co-designing the event, facilitating it and documenting it on a wiki. This type of support is quite typical of the services rendered by the team for other projects as well (see the list of events).

The priorities of communication work in the program had already been reviewed a few months ago. With this planning workshop and National Platform stakeholder consultation, these priorities are likely to be updated, with added emphasis on repackaging existing information for specific audiences (farmers, researchers, planners, policy-makers and the NBDC team) and to engage them in the last phase, progressively preparing the embedding of the program’s legacy in the institutional context of the Ethiopian land and water management sector.

As the NBDC is increasingly becoming one integrated program – rather than several projects, and as the partners and other Ethiopian institutional actors are expected to play an increasing role, the need for more coordination, cooperation and indeed more communication has never been as strong.

Read notes from the February National Platform meeting

Discover pictures from the February National Platform meeting

Read notes from the November planning meeting

Discover pictures from the November planning meeting

Social learning, climate change and food security: The CCSL sandbox

In late 2011, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) issued a call for proposals to help develop a CCAFS ‘strategy on communication and social learning’.  This was the start of a collaboration between CCAFS and ILRI’s Knowledge Management and Information Services (KMIS) team on Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL)

In May 2012, CCAFS organized a workshop on communication and social learning in climate change to examine how social learning and communication could further CCAFS objectives to generally support better local decision making on climate change in agriculture and food security. The event brought together participants from CGIAR centres but also non-governmental organizations and donor agencies. Out of the workshop, the CCAFS teamset up a series of followup activities.

Social learning is a fuzzy concept which was debated at length in May and led CCAFS social learning work to focus on five promising themes: endogenous social learning, documentation of social learning, time scales, social differentiation and social learning in CCAFS. Several projects were undertaken to unpack the concept and existing experiences.

In particular, a CCSL ‘sandbox‘ was set up as a space to source ideas and discuss these issues. The sandbox is also intended to help seed joint initiatives that could lead to social learning ventures supporting CCAFS’s objective to improve local decision-making about climate change adaptation. Essentially, the sandbox consists of a wiki and a Yammer network.

Boru Douthwaite (WorldFish) discussing what social learning means
CCAFS also funded a stock-taking exercise of social learning and related initiatives across CGIAR – looking for expertise and experiences to build on.

These were discussed in a November 2012 workshop to review the lessons and insights gathered through the years. In addition, this workshop planned some additional activities around priority areas for CCAFS (and possibly other CGIAR research programs).

Through the three days of the event, participants have thus heard about the stocktaking project they organized a ‘show-and-tell’ marketplace featuring some of these experiences in more detail; they pictured what social learning in climate change could look like (see here and here).

To better make sense of the rich CGIAR social learning experience – as represented by the 128 social learning cases compiled by consultant Julian Gonsalves, participants agreed to develop a narrative to explain the rationale of social learning (in climate change and food security and beyond, as there is value for all other CGIAR research programs), and to try and pin down a framework that explains how the different social learning initiatives fit today’s research for development challenges. The workshop paved the way for additional work on these two tracks and on a number of other ‘next steps‘.

Over the course of 2012, the KMIS team has worked closely with CCAFS – on the event design and facilitation, establishing the sandbox, helping connect the various project partners (IDS, IIED, Euforic services, and others), and generally moving the process forward.

In March 2013, CCSL moves to the UK and the USA with a series of events planned to bring these ideas into other forums. From the sandbox, social learning is stepping into the wild – but the unknown is where social learning thrives…

Read notes and see products from the November meeting.

See a selection of pictures from the November workshop.

Find out more about the climate change social learning sandbox.