Knowledge and Information blog News

Extending the use of social and multimedia in Somaliland’s IGAD Sheikh Technical and Veterinary School

ISTVS logoEarlier this month, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)’s Communications and Knowledge Management (CKM) team led a five-day Communications and Knowledge Sharing training workshop with research and teaching staff at the IGAD Sheikh Technical Veterinary School and Reference Centre (ISTVS) in Somaliland.

The workshop was organized as part of a project on ‘reducing the vulnerability of Somali communities by raising the capacity of indigenous systems and enhancing market access and consumer welfare’ supported by Danida and implemented by ILRI and Terra Nuova. The project has a strong component on enhancing research methods and indigenous knowledge through collaboration with ISTVS and other partners. Read more about the project.

The training grew out of an earlier visit in late 2014 where it emerged that ISTVS needs to communicate its work and science beyond reports and journals, and in ways that reinforce the school’s own visibility. This workshop aimed to raise awareness among staff of the wider range of multimedia and other social media tools and products they can use to capture and communicate their work.

Communications and social media training

The aim of the workshop was to widen participants’ awareness, provide hands-on training on different social media and multimedia tools and produce several prototype final products combining different tools with their actual research interests.

Participants of ISTVS Communications and Knowledge Sharing workshop

Workshop participants

The 20 workshop participants were veterinarians, communication specialists, scientists, interns and tutors working for ISTVS. It was facilitated by Peter Ballantyne, Apollo Habtamu and Liya Dejene from ILRI Addis CKM team and Nicholas Ndiwa from the ILRI–ICRAF Research Methods Group (RMG) in Nairobi.

Social media, multimedia and enhanced data analysis and visualization have the potential to really enable project innovations and new techniques for knowledge sharing and advocacy. This learning opportunity enabled the participants to socialize, network, collaborate, communicate and share knowledge among themselves and for their institute.

ISTVS communications

The training began with introductions from ISTVS principal, Fred Wesonga, Peter Ballantyne and introductions from each trainee. In the ‘ice-breaker’, participants listed some of their current communications skills and listed social media tools they use.  They also reflected together on what they think the opportunities are for ISTVS in terms of communication and knowledge sharing. These could be grouped as follows:

ISTVS as a knowledge and reference centre:

  • It is a regional institution for people to come and share knowledge
  • It has knowledge, customers and means of communications
  • It has information and potential to collect that information/knowledge
  • It has enough research, it just has to be published
  • It has knowledge and skills which can be brought to the community
  • It is a repository of indigenous knowledge
  • It has a strong ‘knowledge base’ and resource centre
  • It links with different institutions, stakeholders, research centers, extension workers and ministries for collaboration.

ISTVS has connections and reach

  • It uses radio to engage pastoralists
  • It has different community platforms
  • It has good internet connection
  • It has linkage with funding institutions like EU
  • It has a lot of graduates (alumni)

ISTVS has a strong identity

  • It has a name to sell
  • It has skilled staff
  • It trains trainers
  • It offers practical experience and learning
  • It offers a multi-cultural environment
  • It has excellent facilities and research environment
Multimedia products

On day two, participants got busy with hands-on sessions working with different multimedia products –they were producing and critiquing basic pictures, videos, audios, photofilms and blogposts by the end of the day.

On the third day, a field trip to Somaliland’s largest livestock market in nearby Burao town brought opportunities for participants to interact with value chain actors to generate different communication products including photos, photofilms, video, stories and audio recordings.

Burao livestock market, Somaliland

Burao livestock market

The team split into five groups generating stories on the following topics:

  • Feed availability and accessibility
  • Indigenous knowledge on animal diseases
  • Livestock grading criteria of buyers and sellers
  • Market price information
  • Value chain actors in the marketplace

The first four linked with ongoing research by participants so ideas generated could be linked to ongoing work. The final assignment aimed to capture the full diversity of actors in photographs.

The next day, participants worked on their materials to produce different products, collecting them in a series of initial blogposts.


By the end of this short training, participants could:

  • take photos, videos (interview and documentary) and audios.
  • produce a photofilm, posters and videos based on the products they gathered.
  • customize some of their research data into graphs, tables and other formats.
  • use some social media platforms (WordPress, Slideshare and Flickr) to distribute their messages.

Some outputs from the training are online, examples include:

Visit some of ISTVS social media sites:

According to ISTVS Principal Fred Wesonga, ‘the staff found it very useful and it came at a very opportune time when ISTVS is working on its visibility plan. We already have a team to carry on and put in practice the knowledge gained during the workshop.’

ILRI’s story

In line with practical focus of the course, Apollo and Liya from ILRI also produced a short report from the training:


See also this compilation of materials from the project (click on the image):

Storify screen shot

Story by Liya Dejene, Peter Ballantyne and Apollo Habtamu

Overcoming the dangers of PowerPoint recitals

In the ILRI communications and knowledge management (CKM) team, we love supporting events. Through our support, we hope the events illustrate all that the CKM team stands for: awareness and advocacy, curation and publishing, and engagement and collaboration. As much as possible.

We have been invited to facilitate events where everything about the event had already been agreed, committed and designed. Preconceived design plans that entail more than 30 PowerPoint (PPT) presentations over two days is not ideal nor recommended for any facilitation team to step into. Facilitation is not about chairing an event, it is about helping design and plan the event’s agenda to ensure that everyone does their best thinking.

One such scenario happened recently around a conference on Policies for competitive smallholder livestock production (Gaborone, Botswana, 4-6 March). The organizers invited us to support it – which was great – but had already made all preparations for the event before engaging with us. With a line up  of 34 presentations over the two days we had an uphill task adding full value to this event.

 hikingartist / FlickR)

Death by presentation is a real, common threat (Image credit: hikingartist / FlickR)

Here is how we turned what was going to be at PowerPoint recital into a festival of powerful points.

Know the strengths and weaknesses of your tools

Firstly, PowerPoint is not the enemy. There are wonderful examples of PowerPoint presentations. But the use and abuse of PowerPoint can be a real problem.

The basic problems with having a PPT recital are:

  • PowerPoint should only be an aid but it has generally become the central element of a presentation in the minds of many. Why?  To what extent do people actually listen to the speaker when they have slide after slide to read? Where is the human storytelling dimension?
  • Not everyone is a good public speaker and reading slides word for word is not helping. Speakers need to know the content they are presenting. Practice in front a mirror if need be, preparation is paramount. A well versed presenter is memorable, a lengthy text-filled presentations is not
  • Not everyone prepares good presentations. Mixing it up with images, graphs and even video can captivate the audience. Use these as alternatives to text so that audience need to pay attention to the presenter to understand them. Text-filled slides make it difficult for the audience to read and listen at the same time
  • Once a recital starts, subconsciously people enter a ‘PPT mode’ whereby they passively consume information and easily start drifting into other thoughts. Reigniting their brains is then quite hard
  • A succession of PPTs makes it probable that each speaker goes over the set time, reducing time for interaction, and this negative spiral likely accelerates as the agenda unfolds – sometimes drastically cutting down on group discussion time
  • Bringing people together to go through a lot of presentations is a missed opportunity: presentations can be shared online. The conversation, decision-making and communion of minds, on the other hand, cannot (at least much less easily). Logorrhea is always a missed opportunity
  • Most fundamentally: no one has the capacity to absorb so 30+ presentations in two days. There is even a notion that the brain switches off after 10 minutes. Information needs to be digested slowly and with the inputs of the audience (through conversations) in order to be owned and used for change.

Now that the premises are set, what did we do to control damage in our event?

Take some precautions…

Some of it boils down to the basics of facilitation:

  • Insist that each speaker takes no longer than 7 minutes for their presentations. This may not be suitable for a scientific conference but it is hugely advisable for policy-focused events. And that’s where the powerful points emerge: everyone skips the lengthy research method details to clarify important highlights and policy implications. And if people take a bit more than 7 minutes your schedule is still rather safe.
  • Brief the speakers about your instructions beforehand. Let them know the rationale of your instructions regarding the presentation length, style etc. ahead of time so they can rehearse and feel comfortable with the presentation, given the constraints.
  • Prepare your visual aids to manage time effectively. We made use of a ‘2-minute’ and a ‘stop’ sign to visually remind speakers about the time they had and whether they should not proceed with the most important part of their presentation. This helped them get their argument right and helped us go through the program with overall a rather tight time management approach.
  • Expand the coffee breaks – people need time to refresh themselves, chat, tend to their emails etc. We expanded breaks from 15 to 30 minute.
  • Carve as much time out as possible for group interactions. After a series of presentations, when groups convene, they allow participants to a) digest the information, and b) draw on their own experience to build a collective picture that is stronger than the collection of the individual perspectives. It is at that moment that the magic can really happen in an event. We made sure we pushed the time to make this a reality. It was not always easy, and we always ended up with too little time (20 to 30 minutes). And at the end of the event, we also cushioned some time to have some more collective reflection.

Participants brain storming

And take some risks…

And in the type of scenarios we faced, some of it relates to gambles you take, that either fly or not. Here are some we tried:

  • Remove or adapt the role of chair(wo)men. We asked our chairs – who very graciously played the game – to only introduce the session and ensure there was a process in place to synthesize their specific theme/session. We reduced their protocol and amplified their contribution to raise awareness about the importance of each theme.
  • Step away from the tradition of plenary questions and answers (Q&A). What we do a lot these days is to have a batch of presentations for about 20-30 minutes and then put the speakers at all corners of the room to do the Q&A session in parallel. This way they have more time to answer more questions. Speakers and the audience are happy. And you can even ask the presenters to share very briefly the key points they discussed in their interaction with participants.
  • Let the speakers feedback on their Q&A time and paraphrase them. Paraphrasing (reformulating one’s points) can be a powerful way to clarify thoughts and bring everyone on the same page.
  • Invite participants to not use PowerPoint. In the AgriFood chain workshop from September 2013 (and to a lesser extent in the Dairy seminar organized in September 2014), we convinced participants to share their information in other ways. In this Botswana event, we allowed participants to choose that option and quite a few took a chance, which resulted in some really interesting and successful stories.
  • Empower and train participants to play a more active role in writing flipcharts and reporting back in plenary.

Looking back and learning forward

We spent every evening, and at the end of the event, to review what had happened (or what should happen the next day). This ‘after action review (AAR)’ ritual is an essential feature of event organization and facilitation. Here are some of our reflections about the event.

The Competitive policies could have featured more interaction for participants to have more time to learn from each other, know each other and work the network a bit – which is an essential part of any event. While each little process detail we brought did not account for much o its own, the collection of small changes led to a much more vivid overall picture.

For facilitators, this event was an opportunity to stretch our imagination in a rigid environment (to start with) and to come up with alternative ways of organizing PowerPoint-heavy conferences. We also found a few other tricks and tips to improve the process flow of the event.

For the organizers who had designed the initial steps, this was also a learning journey to think about how an event can be made even more effective. The whole event was a learning experience for both the organizers and facilitation team with more appreciation for what facilitating and supporting an event can really mean.

We thank the organizers for giving us the opportunity to learn together and generating a fresher take on the ubiquitous PowerPoint recital.

Setting up a joint CGIAR exhibition booth at ‘Celebrating FARA’ in South Africa

CGIAR at FARA@15, South Africa

ILRI’s Iddo Dror and Muthoni U Njiru at the CGIAR booth in ‘Celebrating FARA’ event in South Africa, Nov 2014 (photo credit: CIP).

These are highlights and lessons learnt from participating at an event of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) known as ‘Celebrating FARA’ which was held 26-28 November 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

At the event, CGIAR centres’ came together to develop a joint exhibition booth to showcase CGIAR’s commitment in working with partners to contribute to Africa’s agricultural research agenda. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) was represented by Jimmy Smith, the director general, Ewen LeBorge, Iddor Dror and Muthoni U Njiru.

This article concentrates on the collaborative effort of putting together a joint booth for the CGIAR at the event. You can read two informative articles about the event on the FARA website and CGIAR website.

In general, the joint developing and hosting of the CGIAR booth was successful. In terms of logistics, the generous and timely local support from Nicole Lefore and Thokozani Dhlamini of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Pretoria, ensured that all printed materials were produced, collected, cleared at customs (for materials shipped) and eventually delivered to the events premises at the Birchwood Conference Centre in Johannesburg, in time.

Additionally, CGIAR staff attending the event helped with setting up, manning and setting down of the booth during the three-day event. The process of pulling together print materials (showing CGIAR work in Africa) from the 15 CGIAR centres spread across the world, was not easy but was successfully jointly coordinated by the Consortium office and centre communications teams.

CGIAR at FARA@15, South Africa

CGIAR communications staff attended and facilitated side events to encourage engagement and collaboration with partners attending the FARA event. Communication support provided included contributing to teamwork, remotely producing publications and posters for side-event sessions and the booth, attending end-of-day briefing sessions to share day’s achievements and handing out invitations, at the booth, for different side events.

Despite the successes, we identified areas for future improvement including:

  • exploring possibility of producing a CGIAR poster template highlighting the objectives, donors, partners, outcomes and websites of CGIAR research programs,
  • giving a one-face ‘human’ image at exhibits for visual connectivity within CGIAR,
  • formulating an exhibit pack to provide a universally recognizable feel of CGIAR,
  • reducing the number of printed publications sent to exhibits, regardless of location, and instead using poster presentations, talks and short videos on specific ‘happenings’ (we received feedback on how overwhelming all the publications were),
  • double-checking lists on what is and is not covered (by the organizer) under ‘exhibit costs’ before arrival and set up,
  • organizing pre-visits with the event coordinator to finalize on all items to be supplied for an exhibition. This will improve preparedness and keep exhibit organizers from being overwhelmed at the start of events, and
  • encouraging use of ‘intentional’ promotional materials such as flash drives with information about CGIAR.

CGIAR at FARA@15, South Africa

The importance of preselecting booth space was also an important lesson in this event. The team chose the front outdoor space, which exposed some of the materials to bad weather, where indoor booths would have served us best. There is also need confirm the use of pins for pinning up posters to avoid damage charges.

Other highlights of communication support included encouraging participation and creating awareness about CGIAR, responding to participant interest in freebies such as T-shirts, flash drives, pens and organizing pre-packed media packs for the press to maximize information dissemination to journalists attending media briefings.

The coordination of the booth’s planning and organizing was led by Michael Victor from IWMI with the support of Muthoni Njiru from ILRI who organized virtual planning meetings via skype and bluejeans in the lead up to the event. Document management was supported by Google docs to enable co-creation and sharing of information.

In future, we hope to build on these lessons and other co-creating skills needed to produce interesting, informative and interactive exhibitions.

See pictures from the event.

Feel free to share other lessons from working on joint CGIAR exhibitions in the comments section below.

What ILRI’s visitors are reading and viewing in 2014

The time when research institutions only produced scientific papers and reports is long gone, though these products remain at the heart of what many CGIAR scientists produce.

Like our sister CGIAR centres, ILRI’s research publishing is now very diverse, spanning images, video, posters, podcasts, blogposts, tweets, extension leaflets and much more.

What are the most-read or viewed in the past year? We are lucky that all the channels we use provide metrics and stats of various sorts.

Our reports and publications are on CGspace; the top 20 in terms of downloads in 2014 were:

Item title File downloads Item views Sum 1. Worm control for small ruminants in tropical Asia 17,027 160 17,187 2. Towards priority actions for market development for African farmers 11,157 626 11,783 3. Writing convincing research proposals and effective scientific reports. Part A: writing a convincing proposal 7,541 749 8,290 4. The role of livestock in developing communities: Enhancing multifunctionality 7,514 493 8,007 5. Concepts and practices in agricultural extension in developing countries: a source book 6,882 849 7,731 6. Feeding dairy cattle: a manual for smallholder dairy farmers and extension workers in East Africa 6,280 2,054 8,334 7. Market access and value chain analysis of dairy industry in Ethiopia: The case of Wolaita Zone 6,115 653 6,768 8. Sustainable utilization of agro-industrial wastes through integration of bio-energy and mushroom production 5,665 205 5,870 9. Sheep and goat production and marketing systems in Ethiopia: characteristics and strategies for improvement 5,558 999 6,557 10. Smallholder dairy production and marketing systems in Ethiopia: IPMS experiences and opportunities for market-oriented development 5,495 681 6,176 11. Study of the Ethiopian live cattle and beef value chain 5,171 490 5,661 12. The dairy value chain in Kenya 4,849 343 5,192 13. Impacts of climate change on the agricultural and aquatic systems and natural resources within the CGIAR’s mandate 4,655 1,646 6,301 14. Smallholder dairy production and marketing—Opportunities and constraints 4,097 150 4,247 15. An assessment on the role of women in agriculture in Southern Nation Nationality People’s Region: The case of Halaba Special Woreda, Ethiopia 3,715 273 3,988 16. Analysis of fruit and vegetable market chains in Alamata, Southern Zone of Tigray: the case of onion, tomato and papaya 3,680 346 4,026 17. Cattle milk and meat production and marketing systems and opportunities for market-orientation in Fogera woreda, Amhara region, Ethiopia 3,673 353 4,026 18. Climate variability and climate change and their impacts on Kenya’s agricultural sector 3,650 286 3,936 19. IPMS project implementation plan, March 2005 3,491 155 3,646 20. Analysis of poultry market chain: The case of Dale and Alaba ‘Special’ Woredas of SNNPRS, Ethiopia 3,349 320 3,669


Our posters and presentations are on slideshare; the top 20 in terms of views in 2014 were:

Poster or presentation Views 1. Quantifying Salmonella spp. in pig slaughterhouses and pork markets associated with human health in Hung Yen, Vietnam 5,517 2. Poultry production in Ethiopia: An overview 4,391 3. Livestock research for food security and poverty reduction: ILRI strategy 2013–2022 3,836 4. Introduction to agricultural value chains and supply chain management 2,264 5. ILRI in the CGIAR Research Programs 2,031 6. Innovations in agricultural extension: What can Ethiopia learn from global experiences? 1,910 7. Pig and pork zoonoses in Uganda 1,824 8. Feasibility assessment of selected sites for the pilot project on the feasibility of generating carbon credit through dairy productivity gains 1,808 9. Rabies in Bali: A chronology and experience made with an EcoHealth approach for a better control of rabies 1,807 10. Feeding the World in 2050: Trade-offs, synergies and tough choices for the livestock sector 1,803 11. Generating carbon credits from the Kenyan dairy industry: A pilot study 1,788 12. Multimedia in research: What is it? Why use it? How to use it? 1,785 13. Q fever in Africa and Asia: A systematic literature review and mapping of disease 1,781 14. Dairy hubs in East Africa: Lessons from the East Africa Dairy Development project 1,752 15. Some gender concepts 1,738 16. Technical mitigation options in dairy 1,700 17. Integrated crop livestock systems: A key to sustainable intensification in Africa 1,698 18. Microbial contaminations in milk and identification of selected pathogenic bacteria along dairy value chain in Tanga region, Tanzania 1,632 19. Agricultural research for crop and livestock value chains development: The IPMS experience 1,577 20. Climate-smart Brachiaria Grasses for Improving Livestock Production in East Africa 1,555


Our videos and films are on Youtube; the top 20 in 2014 by views were:

Title Views 1. Improving African Livestock with Reproductive Technologies and Genomics 10,367 2. Memory’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Girl in Rural Malawi 7,488 3. Pig Keeping in Northeast India 5,896 4. Improving livelihoods through goat rearing and commercialisation in Mozambique 3,696 5. Livestock Under Threat: Managing the Future of Native West African Ruminant Livestock 2,589 6. Ankole Cattle: One of Africa’s Disappearing Livestock Breeds? 2,115 7. ILRI Annual Program Meeting 2013 in pictures 1,993 Small-scale Dairying in Northeast India 1,648 8. The Muchina family: How dairy farming educates Kenya’s children 1,579 9. Introducing the ILRI campus in Ethiopia: The facilities and the people 1,543 10. Smallholder pig farming in Uganda: A day in the life of a research for development project 1,313 11. Improving livelihoods through goat rearing and commercialisation in India 1,238 12. The Story of One Woman’s Struggles in Rural Malawi 1,234 13. L’élevage dans la ceinture de tsé-tsé en Afrique de l’Ouest 1,196 14. Livestock fattening innovation in Ethiopia – the Metema story 1,130 15. Introducing the ILRI campus in Kenya The facilities and the people 1,018 16. Heat, Rain and Livestock: Impacts of Climate Change on Africa’s Livestock Herders 970 17. የመስኖ ሙዝ ልማት በመተማ ወረዳ 852 18. Ethiopian farmers use water harvesting techniques to fight climate change 761 19. Three Endangered African Livestock Breeds 635 20. No bees no honey: Apiculture value chain experiences in Ethiopia 632


Finally, we publish across several different news and project blogs; the most viewed in 2014 were:

Blog title Views 1. ILRI News 99,868 2. ILRI Clippings 46,867 3. Livestock Fish CGIAR program 44,956 4. Africa RISING Program 34,403 5. LIVES project 26,975 6. IBLI project 14,199 7. AgHealth blog 10,734 8. Nile Basin Development Challenge 8,937 9. Livestock Gender and Innovation 7,929 10. BioScience blog 7,443


Note: these numbers were compiled on 24 December 2014; so may already be a bit out of date.

Scaling social learning for climate change and food security up and out, now or never

Go for it now. The future is promised to no one (Wayne Dyer).

Two and half years ago, a group of researchers embarked on an initiative called ‘Climate Change Communication and Social Learning‘ (later dubbed ‘CCSL’). Since then, the group has grown and the initiative has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Anno 2015, social learning for agriculture and food security has to begin scaling up and out to influence real practices and policies, or wane in the department of ‘lost and found development (research) efforts’…

This is one of the main conclusions of the recent CCSL team meeting (15-17 December 2014 in Kenya). It is not the only interesting and important conclusion we came to. Over three days, team members:

  • Reviewed their vision of change by the horizon 2025 and – more realistically – by 2018;
  • Identified a series of concrete activities to undertake in order to see that vision come true;
  • Cleared a number of pending issues such as signing off an Monitoring and Evaluation framework developed after an evidence-gathering workshop by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the development of outcome stories etc.;
  • Started assembling a fund-raising strategy with concrete ideas and inputs for 2015;
  • Discussed the future of the CCSL ‘sandbox’ – a space of reflection and co-creation that has catalyzed efforts of the CCSL group in the past three years.

The CCSL group has been developed thanks to seed funding and ongoing support from the CGIAR Research Program  (CRP) on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS). It has been followed on this space, from the foundational workshop, to team meetings or other meetings, or even the key outputs developed. And it connects very well with various strands of the work done by the International Livestock Research Institute (see presentation below):

However, at the turn of 2014, CCAFS – like other CRPs – has an unclear future and funding. This was the main driver behind our re-imagining the future of this CCSL initiative.

A big, bold future, connecting energies and capacities around principles of action and learning

The vision of the group for 2025 is that: “vulnerable communities draw on collective, transformative learning capacities to respond to the wicked problem of climate change in ways that enhance their resilience and reduce their overall poverty – through the transformation of norms within the research for development community and within national policy environments“.

The vision further hopes that “actors and organizations from research, policy and practice apply learning-based strategies and adaptive management to continuously reflect and improve upon their practice, working in linked-up ways and drawing on knowledge from across scales and contexts“.

The bottom line is that social learning is only a means to a food secure, climate-smart future that transcends individuals who ever adapt and evolve through collective learning and action drawing from various knowledge sources.

The term ‘social learning’, however, may be a barrier to further progress. The brief of the team in 2015 and beyond is therefore to explore what related concepts and terms other organizations and networks are using, use their language to bridge the gap, and explore opportunities to collaborate around the ultimate goals of CCSL and these other ‘communities’. The idea of a manifesto was brushed over, with the ambition to clearly explain what the principles of social learning are, to focus on these rather than the term social learning itself.

Luckily, a number of useful resources (such as the framework and toolkit) have been developed by the CCSL team to move this work forward.

Concrete – and fast – change with concrete partners

This vision of the future for 2025 has to first apply to a number of important development actors by 2018: a couple of funding agencies, some governmental agencies, a couple of large international organizations, a handful of communities on the ground and also specifically a couple of development initiatives (although the case of ‘civic-driven initiatives’ was also questioned. Failing to effect change among these actors would mean that social learning has not delivered on its promises and may be doomed – under this CCSL avatar.

Moving social learning way beyond the original academic group - is it realistic? (Photo credit: ILRI/Z. Sewunet)

Moving social learning way beyond the original academic group – is it realistic? (Photo credit: ILRI/Z. Sewunet)

If CCSL, on the other hand, wants to play a role in bringing together the key actors of the social learning arena (and its ‘happy families’), it will have to be very active on various fronts. Some of the steps that the team specified were:

  • A thorough analysis of the actors, agendas, arenas that connect with social learning;
  • Some research on the drivers and incentives for change among a variety of actors, particularly funding agencies;
  • Continue to document, harvest and assess first-hand evidence of the adoption of social learning and its impact on the various actors;
  • Develop the capacity of critical actors around social learning;
  • Grow the capacity of the CCSL group (in quantity and qualitatively in the skill set that it offers).

Opening the space for learning and change

The main thrust of CCSL work is currently happening through the CCSL sandbox, which consists of a publicly accessible wiki and a closed Yammer network (pending on membership) for interactions among interested parties.

 same function, different platforms and scales? (Photo credit: Le Borgne / ILRI)

The CCSL sandbox in 2015: same function, different platforms and scales? (Photo credit: Le Borgne / ILRI)

The team felt that this special space has to open up and connect other actors quite quickly. The platforms currently used will be reviewed in 2015 and perhaps complemented by a more open platform with greater profiling options (such as a LinkedIn group) to engage more widely and more deeply with all the actors that could find CCSL valuable.

Two other critical steps in this ‘CCSL opening up’ direction that the group identified were to:

  • Open the membership to all kinds of actors that are currently not really inside the sandbox (spanning funding, policy, development implementation etc.)
  • Develop an intellectual hub around social learning to further CCSL work (perhaps through opening a journal, setting up a training course, developing program affiliation etc.)

The year 2015 appears very busy already and promises to be dramatic on the social learning front. In one year from now, as good learning practice, the time of the ‘after action review‘ will tell whether in 2016 CCSL holds or folds.

Read notes from the meeting

See pictures from the meeting

Why technology adoption is nowhere near where it should be and how social learning could help

The recent annual monitoring and evaluation (M&E) meeting of the Africa RISING program featured a very interesting presentation by David Spielman, of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) about ‘Improving evidence on the impact of agricultural research & extension – Reflections on CSISA’s experience‘. This presentation has many relations to the work currently undergoing on social learning as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

What the author stresses in this presentation is that:

  • We may have focused the past 40 years of our agricultural research on technologies, sometimes the right technology for the right context, but we still have not really managed to scale up technologies well enough and successes are still patchy and isolated. Perhaps rather than focus on (just) the technology, we should have focused on learning more about the process of getting farmers adopt technologies in the first place.
  • A lot of constraints are affecting the adoption of technologies by farmers, and some of these constraints are usually overlooked (e.g. risk preferences, present bias, aspirations etc.) as scientists tend to focus on the technology itself. These ‘tangents’ that are not considered carefully enough – typically gender and other social differentiation issues – have a very real effect on technology adoption.
  • So we need to learn much more about the merits of various adoption approaches but also be rigorous about evaluating them so we can better compare them, on a scientifically sound basis, and with good traces (publications) that other specialists can build upon later.
  • One interesting approach that the Cereals Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has been piloting is around highly targeted ‘individual interventions’. Rather than rely on a baseline survey that takes account of every possible aspect, the CSISA M&E team identifies possible areas for improvements, comes in with diagnostics, a valuation, an evaluation, some consideration for tangents and eventually a variety of ‘scale up’ scenarios.

What the author did not emphasize in the presentation, but mentioned in a personal communication, is the importance of documenting this work so it can affect other people’s work beyond the group of people directly involved – leaving traces with publications …

Learning about technology adoption (and agricultural extension) approaches is close to the work that a collective is undertaking in the Climate Change Social Learning (CCSL) initiative taking place as part of CCAFS.

Here are a few reasons why these two areas of work are similar:

The presentation by David Spielman relates to the merits of various technology adoption methods, some of which are very participatory, in the hope that this will increase the chances for the technology to get adopted. This is very close to the list of 120+ (proto-) social learning methodologies (appendix 5) that consultant Julian Gonsalves extracted from CGIAR’s experience in participatory research for the CCSL group in 2012.

Some of the work that is happening in CCSL relates among others to local decision-making around using specific technologies, for climate change adaptation and/or mitigation. But there is not enough understanding about the drivers of ‘local decision-making’, which is why CCSL is also trying to unpack this complex decision-making process.

Finally, the plea by David Spielman to assess and quantify what extension and technology adoption methodologies work echoes the current work being undertaken in assessing and monitoring social learning (this resource is currently only accessible to CCSL sandbox members but will soon be documented on the CCSL sandbox wiki).

Hopefully some of these efforts will coalesce – or complement each other as there are also some differences between what the Spielman presented and what CCSL is trying to unpack:

 IITA/Jonathan Odhong’)

David Spielman, Tsehay Gashaw and Carlo Azzari (Photo credit: IITA/Jonathan Odhong’)

  • Spielman exhorts us to assess specific adoption methodologies, not to assess specifically ‘social learning’ methodologies
  • The focus of his presentation is about ‘technology adoption’ whereas social learning could be used for many other purposes than technology
  • Arguably one of the most fundamental differences is that ‘technology adoption’ seems to emphasize the technology transfer from one group to the next, whereas social learning is all about joint exploration, co-creating, not knowing early on what e.g. the right technology will be etc.

My take home messages from Spielman for the CCSL community are a) it is important to rigorously assess and quantify approaches to better understand, in a scientifically sound way, how these approaches may help or not, and b) it is important to document this work in peer-reviewed journals, to go beyond just adding to the wealth of experiences that Julian Gonsalves introduced in a workshop in November 2012, towards actually influencing the discourse and practice of people and organizations.

The challenge is to evaluate social learning approaches in practice, face-to-face, and to document it so that this body of work can be adopted by others. With our current efforts to strengthen ways to monitor and evaluate social learning, some first steps are being taken to go beyond islands of success, to the sea of scaling up technologies!


Why publish? ILRI graduate fellows and early career researchers trained in scientific writing and publishing

Introduction to scientific writing and publishing module training

Participants in a scientific writing and publishing module training for ILRI staff on 25-26 November 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

As part of their expected deliverables PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) are expected to share knowledge gained in the process of research and to communicate with fellow scientists and wider audiences. This process involves the eventual publishing of research findings in academic and scientific journals. But many first time researchers find the process of getting their research findings published difficult because they lack the relevant skills and awareness of the rules and regulations of scientific writing and publishing.

To address this skills gap, ILRI’s Capacity Development (CapDev) Unit working in collaboration with People & Organizational Development (P&OD) Unit and the Training Centre for Communication (TCC), recently delivered an interactive and practical workshop designed to give ILRI graduate and post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers, an opportunity to understand the process of scientific writing and publishing and to develop skills that would help them maximize the output and impact of their research.

The workshops were organized and held in two sessions on 25-26 November and 2-3 December 2014 at the ILRI Nairobi campus. Key topics of the training sought to address how researchers can contribute effectively to the scientific knowledge bank through publishing their research and the processes, rules and ethical aspects of scientific writing and publishing. Thirty-seven participants including Msc and PhD fellows, postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers (research assistants and technicians) attended the workshops.

‘This training has been very helpful to me,’ said Leonard Marwa, a PhD student at ILRI, ‘I will apply the new knowledge gained in writing scientific papers of high quality that have a higher chance of being accepted for publishing in journals,’ he further commented.

Introduction to scientific writing and publishing module training

Participants in a scientific writing and publishing module training for ILRI staff on 2-3 December 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Samuel Mungai).

Hannah Nyota, a research assistant with the ILRI Policy Trade and Value Chains (PTVC) Program, noted that that interactions at the training workshop helped colleagues exchange information on the research they are doing and that fellow researchers, together with the trainers, provided useful feedback to help them improve their work. ‘We now understand better the need to publish our findings,’ she said.

The course was part of an ILRI’s CapDev/P&OD unit’s initiative to provide learning opportunities to graduate fellows and staff that include a blend of a series of ‘bite-size’ modular courses in cross-cutting skills areas, e-learning opportunities, effective mentorship support, evidence and assessments to further enrich the their learning experience at ILRI.

Through the graduate fellowship program, ILRI provides opportunities for young scientists and graduate fellows from National Agricultural Research Organizations (NARS), universities and other institutions to undertake quality research-for-development (R4D) within ILRI projects. The graduate fellows are able to access ILRI’s cutting edge research facilities, receive mentorship from ILRI scientists while at the same time make a valuable contribution to ILRI’s research agenda.

Written by Joyce Maru, capacity development officer at ILRI.

ILRI comms – engagement and collaboration team under the microscope

Four new communications and knowledge management staff recently joined the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Brian Kawuma (ILRI Uganda), Julie Mateo (ILRI East and Southeast Asia), Mark Kwemoi (ReSAKSS in Nairobi, Kenya) and Mercy Becon (ILRI Tanzania).

As part of their induction, they attended a session on the ‘Engagement and Collaboration’ elements of the new ILRI ‘communications and KM‘ team.

So, what do we mean by ‘engagement’ and ‘collaboration’ in our team?


Engagement is basically about getting people to connect with each other, talk, share and feel committed or ‘switched on’, somehow. According to some sources “no other attribute of culture has a greater impact on achieving results and performance in the workplace.” The concept of ‘discretionary effort’ mentioned is important. Globally, there’s seen to be a problem of ‘staff engagement.’In an infamous Gallup study (October 2013), 13% of the American work force feel themselves engaged at work. 13%!!! That is just one in eight persons… and certainly not enough to make the workplace a conducive and productive environment it seems.

 Dan Pontefract)

The ABC’s of collaboration (image credit: Dan Pontefract)

But engagement reaches much beyond inside ‘organizations’. It extends to specific program teams, partners, and even beneficiaries or customers of specific products and services. In that context, it is also about the discretionary effort that people (and their institutions) are ready to contribute in order to make the work work.

What drives engagement?

  • Trust – knowing each other and each others’ frames of mind, but also knowing that we can open ourselves to one another without fearing a backlash;
  • Perceived value / An appeal to higher standards, outcomes and perhaps personal benefits – along the lines of Daniel Pink’s Drive factors. In other words a value proposition that makes us go the extra mile;
  • Critically, involvement from the start of a process, so that trust and value can be built early on rather than ‘plugged into a process’ much further down the line. Co-creation (of ideas, strategies, approaches etc.), is one of the most powerful approaches to drive engagement.

What makes these ‘drives’ work? Facilitated processes that help people align their vision and learn. So, engagement has much to do with creating the conditions for people to come together and bring the best out of themselves.


Compared with engagement, collaboration takes engagement one step further, towards joint efforts to work towards common goals and plans and deliverables.

Because it relates to these deliverables, typically, collaboration happens in a more controlled environment (e.g. a project, a team, an organization) but it relies on the same dynamics as engagement, as well as on some accountability mechanisms.

Yet, even with the relative safety of managed collaboration, there are many different facets that contribute to making collaboration successful (or not). And working on all these aspects requires a certain expertise and much, consistent, attention.

In some contexts, cooperation trumps collaboration, particularly in the case of networks (see below), where members join of theit own volition and usually cannot be held accountable for delivering certain outputs. But even cooperation is somewhere at the junction between engagement and collaboration…

 Harold Jarche)

In networks, cooperation trumps collaboration (image credit: Harold Jarche)

What we plan to do

In our ‘ILRI Comms’ team, engagement and collaboration covers the above, but it also aims to facilitate learning, sharing, picking people’s brains to get more insights, get more effective, develop relationships and enable partnership. It is about developing expertise in process facilitation / documentation, to better understand how people can connect, share, learn, co-create, innovate and improve themselves and their work over time – and in the context of ILRI’s research, how different people can get involved in research processes that reach real impact.

The presentation below introduces some early ideas about how ILRI and other research institutes can invite others to engage with the research ideas, process and outcomes…

What the team does

Some of the products and services we provide include:

  • Events
    • Design, facilitation and documentation of events and conversations
    • Informal ‘social reporting’ of events on social media (e.g. coverage on Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, CG Space, Slideshare, FlickR, YouTube)
  • Consultation and engagement processes
    • Design and run consultation processes
    • Design and run processes to engage staff and partners around specific activities, events, projects
    • Set up and run communities of practice
  • Collaboration processes
    • Assess the state of collaboration in a given team or project
    • Organize collaboration workflows


Open access; open facilitation: One week, two good ideas

This week is ‘Open Access Week‘ with lots of activities happening worldwide. A good week to celebrate the freedom of information to circulate.

This week is also ‘International Facilitation Week‘; also a good opportunity to wonder how open facilitation helps knowledge circulate just as openly…

 Martin Gilbraith / IAF)

The International Facilitation Week hosts various chat events (credit: Martin Gilbraith / IAF)

Open access – let information circulate

In a scientific organization such as ILRI, information is key. As it is the cornerstone of evidence that is generated by sound scientific research, and it is hopefully used to inform discourses, behaviours, policies, and further research.

Open (Access) is part and parcel of the communication and knowledge management work done by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), from providing access to open journals (and more recently welcoming the Knowledge Management for Development Journal back into Open Access), publishing open journal articles to moving research outputs away from scientific silos to open repositories and to using open source softwares and off-the-shelf solutions for our information infrastructure (using existing platforms such as WordPress, FlickR, Wikispaces etc.).

But the story does not end here.

Open certainly does not end with information. As much as Open Access liberates information, facilitation helps people filter that information more adequately through the knowledge flowing in good, focused, conversations.

Facilitation – let knowledge flow and learning follow

If information matters, knowledge is equally important, and perhaps even more so, as it brings people and conversations together, and helps us explore the boundaries of our current understanding and of the relations that help us cross unknown territories. Facilitation can be one powerful way to unlock conversations, relations and learning all at the same time.

In essence, facilitation aims at:

  • Interacting – Getting people more involved and committed as they share knowledge, co-create the agenda, conversations and sessions, and the results thereof;
  • Learning – Bringing participants to learn more, as opposed to passively consuming information delivered conventionally in endless Powerpoint presentations.
  • Delivering – Ensuring that the objectives set (or whatever else that appears to be more important in the course of the event) are delivered, in time;
  • Innovating – Stimulating and using participants’ creativity to unlock unexpected solutions;
  • Connecting – Developing trust and bonding relationships among participants…

Facilitation: bringing creativity and order to generate meaningful, co-created results (Photo credit: WebbedFeat)

The basics of facilitation are also well-known: paying attention to the participants, the space (venue), the type of conversations, the energy and politics among the people concerned. Read this post to revisit the key issues to consider when facilitating. These ingredients are used to liberate knowledge flows.

But that is just how basic facilitation works…

What might open facilitation look like?

And what makes the combination with open access irresistible?

In addition to the above, Open Facilitation:

  • Develops capacity for facilitation: Involving people in facilitating sessions themselves (to chair, to minute, to keep the time, to host, to co-facilitate), and also developing the capacity of dedicated facilitators, to openly expand the movement;
  • Is being more open and explicit about using facilitation: both by promoting it among management to get more buy-in and a conscious effort to bring in facilitation, but also by talking more openly about facilitation in events themselves, introducing facilitation rules, mentioning specific knowledge sharing and facilitation methods to progressively sharpen the collective inclusion and engagement quotient (IEQ);
  • Documents events and conversations more openly, publicly and purposefully, both the results of the events themselves and the process of facilitating these events, so as to keep track of insights and re-use them…

Open Facilitation more effective when combined with Open Access because: information that is openly accessible is then used selectively – facilitation acts as a filter to avoid information overload – or rather ‘filter failure‘ – as with orchestrated death by Powerpoint. And also because the information that is generated through facilitated and documented events comes back to the public domain and contributes to the growing Open Access information base.

Open Facilitation at ILRI and in CGIAR, now and in the future

ILRI and CGIAR have been making intensive use of facilitation over time (as testified by the Google Search on ‘CGIAR facilitation’. Within ILRI, Open Facilitation has not been rolled out explicitly labelled as suchs, but a lot of the principles mentioned above are actually put in practice:

  • In more and more events ILRI is making use of facilitators working as pairs to develop each other’s capacity – but we have also developed the capacity of various ILRI and other CGIAR centres’ staff in running effective events and conversations through our Komms Klinics;
  • The process of designing and running events is often totally open to anyone, with invitations to join ‘after action reviews’ for any participants that wish it;
  • All events supported by the ILRI Comms team are effectively documented online for future reference – as evidenced by this list of supported events;
  • And many of these events have their process documented also, from the early 2010 ‘ICTs in agriculture’ exhibition to the recent African Dairy Seminar (September 2014).



And ILRI is investing ever more in its own facilitation capacity, by bringing social media and Open Access specialists into facilitation…

Some open facilitation trends on the horizon?

Perhaps there will be fewer and fewer meetings, because many people are experiencing that the sacrosanct workshop needs to be reinvented?

Perhaps more and more conversations and events happen online so that online facilitation becomes a much more commonplace trend, labelled perhaps as ‘massive open online facilitation’ – MOOF?

Perhaps people realize that facilitation is not just about improving the quality of collective conversations, but also about facilitating one’s own personal knowledge mastery?

Various people within CGIAR are currently exploring these questions, and more. In fact, the May 2015 issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal will be dedicated to facilitation and will feature an article tracking back 10 to 15 years of facilitation history, current and upcoming trends within CGIAR. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, with open information, open knowledge, open learning, perhaps we have all it takes here to do ‘Open Knowledge Management‘ – OKM? Where will the open movement take us next? And where will facilitation go? All the more reasons to join events on both fronts of this excellent OKM week!


Find out more about the ‘Open Access Week‘ 

Find out more about the ‘International Facilitation Week

Creative (graphic) facilitation to support a dairy value chain seminar

What does it take to engage (large) private sector operators, smallholder farmers, knowledge centre specialists and researchers, civil servants and representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) meaningfully in conversations around dairy value chains in Africa? Quite simply: good content and questions, a good mix of participants, and useful (graphic) facilitation – with all that this encompasses …

From 21 to 24 September, such dairy ‘value chain actors’ came together to attend the African Dairy Value Chain Seminar.

 Matter Group)

African dairy value chain seminar graphic recording: Knowledge wall (Photo credit: Matter Group)

The seminar was organized  by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) – with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets and the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish. It brought together over 80 participants from 18 different countries and was organized back-to-back with the annual event of the East and Southern African Dairy Association (ESADA).

A different event?

The intention of the organizers, from the start, was to organize a ‘different kind of event’, realizing that a lot of workshops are run in a rather standard kind of way (read some recent observations about reinventing the workshop by Amanda Harding and Terry Clayton) without achieving the engagement and results expected.

The elements of this ‘different event’ included:

  • A very carefully selected group of participants, spanning various groups of users, particularly private sector operators who are often missing or under-represented. This attention also extended to bring representatives from Southern and West Africa, anglophones and francophones, to have a genuine ‘African’ feeling, despite the (numerically) dominating group of Kenyans.
  • A field visit organized on the first day (incidentally a Sunday) to develop stronger bonds across participants and to illustrate challenges and opportunities and find interesting ways to farmers into the seminar;
  • A couple of graphic facilitators that ‘live scribed’ (visually captured) all the plenary sessions, and kept a ‘knowledge wall’ up throughout the event, to update it with insights from the various group conversations;
  • A Powerpoint-free zone, not because Powerpoint is not a good tool, but because it is the standard mode of presentation and makes everyone complacent about developing ‘fresh’ types of presentations. However, one Prezi included all keynote speeches and another one summarized the take-home messages from the seminar for the ESADA conference.
  • An ‘interactive’ and flexible agenda where participants were given ample time to share their own experiences, digest presentations, help each other (using the peer assist method), share posters about tools and methods, and dive deeper into key questions around the three red threads of the seminar (inclusion of smallholder farmers, investment by private operators and gender).
  • A participatory approach giving responsibilities to nearly all the participants at some point (to champion topics, take notes, report, help organize etc.); also giving time to individual reflection, as opposed to group reflections.
  • The event was conducted in French and English, with all organizers able to speak both languages, and with simultaneous translation for plenary sessions and personal assistance for break-out work.
  • A dedicated photo-video team was hired to take pictures during the field trip and the seminar sessions, to interview participants and produce two short films with perspectives from the event organizers and from the participants.
Results and reflections

Even though the evaluation of the seminar (Excel Spreadsheet) was overwhelmingly positive, it does not mean to say that some useful lessons cannot be drawn to help tease out potential areas of improvement.

First of all, what was not done, but which could have enhanced the event, was to prepare a much stronger social media presence. However a Twitter handle was created for the event: #AfricanDairy. And thanks to a few very active tweeters, a lot of messages were shared, not least in French.

The dual languages used throughout the event – with naturally more space given to English – did not impact the good conduct of the seminar and participants were very happy with this. The small number of ‘purely’ Francophone participants did help, as they could always be supported by simultaneous translators, but that would not have been the case if their number had exceeded 10 people.

This had major implications on the logistical set up: At all times, microphones and headsets were on the tables, with cables covering the table and making use of these tables for interactive exercises like a world café more delicate (flipchart stands were used instead of the tables). However, the interpreters did their best to ensure that in other exercises not using tables (e.g. Open Space Technology) the Francophone participants could follow instructions and join conversations. One situation where the microphone set up actually hampered the good progress of the sessions was during the last session on Monday – a Samoan Circle conversation – where all participants stayed at their seats because it was not possible to move all the participants’ chairs around a central circle. That session simply did not work because of the set up. Good lesson for the future.

Another implication of the dual languages was the necessary use of microphones, which detaches speakers from the audience, but again this didn’t seem to affect the crowd and the conversations too much. The room, at the Intercontinental Hotel, was large enough that the translation booths did not use all the space left.

One of the major issues for improvement was the use of music, which one of the graphic facilitators pointed out was missing. Particularly to drive people in and around the room, to keep them energized during the sessions etc. music can be a great ingredient of success, and one that we will try in future events.

The other element that could have been improved was the composition of participants. Quite a few people mentioned that they missed additional participation by governmental agency representatives and also by private sector actors. This event was better than others in this respect, but still not good enough.

The final issue is that this seminar actually required a lot of work from everyone and particularly from the main organizer Jo Cadilhon. One wonders whether such an effort each year can be sustained on top of everything else.

Read notes from the meeting

Read a blog post about this event:

Read the Twitter Storify overview of all tweets about this event:

Discover pictures related to this event:

See the evaluation of the dairy seminar.

Sharing ILRI’s research with open access

This week, I was asked by ICRISAT to share some experiences on ‘Open access repositories: Sharing research to the global community’ at a workshop as part of a ‘Capacity Development Program on Appropriate Technologies and Innovative Approaches for Agriculture Knowledge Sharing.’

My main points:

  • open access has been on the CGIAR agenda for several years; it has additional impetus today through a high level policy commitment.
  • open access is not a research ‘add on'; it needs to be part of, and draw on, wider efforts to make research and science processes, platforms and engagement more open.
  • while much open access typically focuses on journal articles and similar products, research organizations produce many types of products that can be made open access (posters, presentations, video, photos and images ..). Open licensing and publishing of all of an institute’s own products is a massive positive step often overlooked in the focus on articles published by third parties.
  • simple data on views of our various web services and platforms shows a massive increase in all views in recent years, especially views of content that we want to make more open. This doesn’t tell us much about impact but suggests that more content being open leads to more views. Research needed!
  • one of the tougher institutional issues is around metrics. We can use the journal ‘impact factors‘ to tell us something about the use of articles in academic journals; but we don’t have any similar factor to measure the impacts of other types of products; and we certainly have some challenges to show that choosing open helps lead to some of the  development outcomes that CGIAR centers seek.

See a related story; other stories on this blog

In the coming few months, ILRI, like other CGIAR centers, will produce an open access and research data management plan setting out how it will implement the CGIAR policy. We ahve much to build on; much to still put in place.

See the presentation:



Assessing social learning? Four monitoring specialists provide some answers

Last month, the Climate Change Communication and Social Learning (CCSL) project organized an evidence-gathering workshop to better unpack what social learning is, and particularly how to assess and monitor it.

Here, four monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialists who particiapted in the meeting reflect on some of the issues around social learning assessment and the M&E framework in the evidence-gathering workshop background paper.

  • Barbara van Mierlo is associate professor at the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University.
  • Claire Hutchings is head of evaluation at Oxfam GB.
  • Dr. Georgina Cundill is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science at Rhodes University in South Africa.
  • Richard Taylor is asenior researcher at Stockholm Environment Institute in Oxford. He is part of the M&E team at SEI and he is also editor of the adaptation decision-making initiative on weADAPT.

They agreed to share some of their experiences and insights . . .


What is your interest in social learning and what brings you to this workshop?

(Barbara van Mierlo)

I was suggested to attend by a colleague of mine Marc Schut, who had to be elsewhere and then was invited by Liz Carlile. The CCSL initiative seemed a bold one and I was curious to see what the people were up to and if my experience could be of any help.

Personally, I am specifically interested in the role of interactive learning in transformative change and ways to support such learning.

The line of my research revolves around bounded initiatives of groups who aim for system innovation. This means that consumption and production practices, social relations, norms, values, regulation and policy change together with a change of technological artefacts and physical infrastructures that have emerged with earlier unsustainable practices. An example would be a change from the current Dutch energy sector to a sustainable one in which renewable energy is produced by households, local citizen groups and local governments. Or, the sought for fundamental change of researchers’ roles in the CGIAR.

While acknowledging the limited contribution of single initiatives, the aim of my work is to study as well as enhance their significance and role in transformative change towards sustainability.
Specific topics are: the characteristics of learning processes that are relevant for system innovation; the role of communication in such learning, and the ability of bounded initiatives to contribute to transformative change and their interaction with the existing systems.

(Claire Hutchings)

I am the head of evaluation in Oxfam GB, and in particular, provide thought leadership on the evaluation of ‘hard to measure benefits’ including empowerment, advocacy, resilience etc.  I was asked to participate in the workshop by Oxfam’s Global Advisor – Climate Change Adaptation, Resilience, who oversees Oxfam’s work on the ASSAR project, as he felt that my experience supporting the measurement of similar projects may be relevant.  For me, social learning is most akin to Participatory Action Research, done well, and I have always been interested in this approach and in particular in the often unintended benefits it offers in terms of building the capacity of communities and individuals to analyse their situation and collectively problem solve, often not limited to the specific issue that the project may be focused on.

(Georgina Cundill)

I have been interested in the potential contribution of social learning theory to participatory research and collaborative management since about 2005. Between 2005 and 2010 I went through the rather disorientating experience of trying to monitor social learning in communities using the existing literature. Frustrations with the varied interpretations of what social learning was lead myself and colleagues to call for greater conceptual and practical clarity, and for empirical evidence from the field. This CCSL initiative is aimed at doing just that, and this is why I wanted to support your efforts. It is crucially important work.

(Richard Taylor)

My interest developed through working on M&E. Previously, colleagues of mine had projects using social learning and – though they were very enthusiastic about the approach – to an outsider I still felt it was a tricky area because there is so much literature on the subject, and it seems you have to be very immersed in your study to use social learning! Yet, the main drawback seemed to me to be the difficulty to observe and measure social learning. Then in 2010 two things happened that made my mind up for me – firstly my institute started using the Outcome Mapping (OM) approach for project planning and monitoring and I became a supporting ‘node’ for that, and secondly I started working on an FP7 project using social learning as one of the methods/approaches. Since then, we found social learning concepts increasingly useful for reflecting on the work of our group. An exampleis an article on ‘learning across locales’ describing the lessons drawn from  our work on weADAPT website.

In your (recent) personal experience and work, what has been useful to monitor or  assess social learning (tools, ideas, areas to focus on etc.)?


In the past nine years, we have developed the Reflexive Monitoring in Action (RMA) methodology in close cooperation with practitioners. It aims to contribute to the emergence of new social practices and rules, by stimulating reflection and learning. It helps to monitor and evaluate progress ex durante. The guide can be found on:

RMA has a wide international uptake in among other areas, agriculture, natural resource management and health.

Some specific RMA tools are helpful to monitor learning, like the Dynamic Learning Agenda (see the guide) and a tool we are currently developing to define moments of learning in the regular meetings of innovation initiatives, rather than specificly-organized learning meetings.

The concept of system learning has shown to be helpful to assess learning relevant for system innovation. It goes beyond system thinking and stresses the importance of redefining barriers into opportunities and taking systemic actions.


As I noted at the workshop, I think that the group needs to get clarity on whether they interested in social learning as a process by which they can more effectively, perhaps more sustainably, realise particular outcomes – in this case related to Climate Change – or whether they are interested in social learning as a means by which individuals and communities can gain new skills that will enable them to analyze their situation and collectively problem solve.  If the former, then the focus will be on identifying indicators around some common interim and final outcomes around Climate Change that will enable you to check that these are materialising – monitoring the social learning process becomes about monitoring implementation.  If the latter, then the focus will be on identifying characteristics of community cohesion, capacity etc. that are explicitly about social learning outcomes, with the work on Climate Change simply a catalyst for building these.


I have experimented with monitoring both the ‘background conditions’ that might support social learning, and the evidence that social learning is actually happening (based on Reed et al’s 2010′s definition). I have found the former useful for reflexive process monitoring that supports social learning, and the latter useful for improving our understanding of the opportunities and limits of social learning as a normative goal in participatory practice.


Before we started using OM I didn’t fully realise that we had approaches that could in fact measure social learning and make it more tangible through focusing attention to changes in behaviour. That is when it got interesting!  My institute went a step further to develop a custom-built web-based OM system called PMEC (Planning Monitoring Evaluation and Communication); read about it here.  So in 2010 I had a steep learning curve – both the OM concept and getting used to the computer system and helping with feedback to improve it.

One thing that happened is that some projects that were not set up with behaviour change in mind started to look a bit more like social learning processes because of the M&E planning (using OM), and this sometimes also generated new ideas for the research.

What is the next frontier for you in this domain? What are you interested in finding out more about?


A major challenge is to explore further ways to translate new insights from action research into practical tools that are simple, yet effective in stimulating innovation initiatives to embark on innovative pathways.

A conceptual challenge is to disentangle the relations between reflection, learning and institutional change, rather than presume a positive, uni-linear relation between them.


I would be more interested in supporting some thinking about social learning outcomes, irrespective of thematic focus.


We need a much stronger understanding of the implications of social learning theory for participatory practice. Not only for how we implement projects and engage people, but also for what kinds of outcomes we should expect when we go this route. I’d like to see us applying a more empirical lens to understanding these opportunities and limits through experience on the ground.


For me there is still much to learn about social learning (for example we had an interesting conversation about triple loop learning) and also how people are applying it in climate adaptation projects is even more interesting.  Institutionally, we are now starting to see the results of the hard work that went into PMEC. For example, the ability to generate reports from our data. To use visualisation software to map who is working on what across the institute. But there are new things to consider. For example, a challenge is linking our internal system to external communications to improve efficiency in getting information out of the system (and avoid replication of work!), so I would also like to know how others plan to communicate the lessons of social learning.

Read workshop notes and related materials

Discover some additional materials mentioned by these specialists:

Social learning for adaptation: A handbook for practitioners and action researchers:

Documentary on our use of theater for transformation in a social learning process

Social learning publications:

Cundill, G., Lotz-Sisitka., H., Mukute, M., Belay, B., Shackleton, S., Kulundu, I. 2014. A reflection on the use of case studies as a methodology for social learning research in sub Saharan Africa. NJAS. 69: 39-47 URL:

Cundill, G. and Rodela, R. 2012. A review of assertions about the processes and outcomes of social learning in natural resource management. Journal of Environmental Management. 113: 7- 14. URL:

Rodela, R., Cundill, G. and Wals, A. 2012. Methodological underpinnings of social learning research in natural resource management: a review. Ecological Economics 77: 16-26. URL:

Cundill, G., Cumming, G., Biggs, D. and Fabricius, C. 2012. Soft systems thinking and social learning for adaptive management. Conservation Biology. 26(1): 13-20. URL:

Cundill, G. 2010. Monitoring social learning processes in adaptive comanagement: three case studies from South Africa. Ecology and Society 15(3): 28. [online] URL:

Reed, M. S., A. C. Evely, G. Cundill, I. Fazey, J. Glass, A. Laing, J. Newig, B. Parrish, C. Prell, C. Raymond, and L. C. Stringer. 2010. What is social learning? Ecology and Society 15(4): r1. [online] URL:

Cundill, G. and Fabricius, C. 2009. Monitoring in adaptive co-management: Towards a learning based approach. Journal of Environmental Management, 90: 3205-3211. URL:

Shackleton, C.M., G. Cundill and A.T. Knight. 2009. Beyond just research: experiences from southern Africa in developing social learning partnerships. Biotropica, 41(5): 563-570. URL:

Taking our communications to the next level? – Reflections from the Farming First and IFPRI workshop

I recently attended a one-day workshop for communicators organized by Farming First and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) prior to IFPRI’s 2020 conference on “Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security” in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The training was given by senior communicators with expertise in communications planning, media pitching, content development, social media management and online advocacy the workshop enabled participants’ capacity to communicate on topics related to food security, sustainable agriculture and resilience.

The workshop brought together more than 30 young communicators working in the agriculture, sustainability and resilience areas from different parts of the world—Africa, the Pacific, Europe and Asia.

Farming First and IFPRI Training Workshop for Communicators

Here are a few things I learned from this workshop:

  1. How to build communication strategy: We need to be clear what our organization strategy is and focus on the reasons we do it. We should always start with our policy objectives. Measuring, both quantitatively and qualitatively, is also important in assessing communications strategies. The trainers shared an eight-step process:
      • Identify the purpose of your communication
      • Identify your audience
      • Plan and design your message
      • Consider your resources
      • Plan for obstacles and emergencies
      • Strategize how you’ll connect with the media and others who can help you spread your message
      • Create an action plan
      • Decide how you’ll evaluate your plan and adjust it, based on the results of carrying it out
  1. Social media: This is all about building relationships, and it’s important to cultivate a strong base of fans and followers who engage with our organization and want to share how much they love it! We need to know the value of social media and what the added value is to our organization. The trainers suggested that when developing a social media strategy we need to:
      • Identify our best content
      • Identify some key partners
      • Work with other communications team members and partner organizations
      • Look to research briefs, press releases and news
      • Ask for videos, PowerPoints (drill down to simple contents)
      • Talk to relevant researchers and ask them what’s most exciting/interesting about their work
  1. Live-tweeting: This is to engage on Twitter for a continuous period of time – anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours – with a sequence of focused Tweets. We’ve learned that live-tweeting (done right) is a great way to boost our visibility and develop relationships with others. But, live tweeting can also annoy our Twitter followers if we make common mistakes. Some best practices shared by our trainers:
      • Look for “aha” moments
      • Tweet about what we know
      • Use pictures
      • Leave room for retweets
      • Draft a few tweets ahead of time
      • Do not overly tweet @ one speaker/organization
      • Have a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plan
Comms tree


In general we learned how to communicate more effectively, how to use media and social media to disseminate our messages more effectively and widely and how to be more creative and strategic in producing top-quality content.

The workshop was incredibly useful with terrific facilitators Michael Hoevel, Deputy Director of Agriculture for Impact and Pete Shelton, Social Media Coordinator, IFPRI and a wonderful group of people attending the workshop.

There were some good examples and exercises for participants to handle some of the social media tools. It was also interesting to hear from some of the participants about their communication strategies—not just tools but processes that they have been doing to reach out to farmers as well as policy makers. In terms of ways to improve a workshop like this, it would be useful to scope what the participants wanted to learn in advance.

Overall the resilience communication workshop was lively, challenging, informative and more insightful than any other workshop I have attended. Now I have to figure ways to keep working on what I have been through and to develop my skills in this regard.

Doing, documenting and assessing social learning with the CCSL framework and toolkit

 Harold Jarche)

Social learning, the work form of the network era (image credit: Harold Jarche)

There has been much talk about social learning in CGIAR over the past decade. In recent years we have seen additional actions driven by a small team of CGIAR staff and  partners.

So why do many people roll their eyes when they hear about ‘social learning’? Why do others open them full with curiosity or surprise? Why do others frown, trying to understand what social learning is?

Something simple and practical is needed to help everyone do, document and assess social learning.

That is now becoming a reality with the climate change communication and social learning framework and toolkit.

Through the ‘climate change communication and social learning’ (CCSL) initiative, practical information is finally available about social learning: what it is, why it matters, how to do it, how to understand and assess it, and how to connect with others working on social learning initiatives.

The CCSL framework and toolkit is structured around six major blocks that relate to some questions that the users might be asking themselves:

  • Where am I? How do I know if social learning is a useful for me?
  • What can I do? Where can I get  guidance and inspiration on social learning?
  • How do I get it moving? What tools and approaches can I use to implement a social learning initiative?
  • How do I gather evidence? What tells me that social learning is working?
  • What can I do with that evidence? How do I use data, insights and lessons to inform better decisions and help catalyze change?
  • How do I share my social learning? Where can I share lessons and help others draw on my social learning experiences.
One of the six blocks

One of the six blocks

Each block introduces a toolkit, some case studies and zooms iin on specific questions and answers.

The framework and toolkit was developed using a social learning approach, crowdsourcing various iterations with a broad group from the CCSL sandbox and eventually refined by a smaller team of CCSL partners.

One objective of the framework and toolkit is to be a useful starting (ongoing) and ending point for people wanting to implement, document and analyze social learning in their climate change, agriculture and food security projects. It is a social learning and capacity development space for people and organisations  interested in further exploring this field.

In the upcoming workshop on evidence gathering – based on the CCSL project ‘Social learning and transformative change: building the evidence together‘, this framework and toolkit will be front and centre, and used to collect insights and information from the meeting. Hopefully this will happen with a very strong social learning approach at the core…

Using ILRI wikis to communicate, collaborate and co-evolve

I love this. ILRI use a wiki to show their people how to use various tools for learning and sharing. Great idea!

— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) May 29, 2014

There are many social media out there – as the social media guide that we developed in 2012 shows. Each plays a specific role.

And among social media, wikis play a very special role. Because they might just be the most important tools to collaborate online. But that is something that we already knew, at least since this video was released in 2007.

Wikis are indeed great tools for teams to:

  • Connect;
  • Collect resources;
  • Develop ideas and documents together;

At ILRI, we have been using wikis since at least 2009 and they have been used extensively in projects such as the Nile Basin Development Challenge, Africa RISING, and the Livestock and Fish research program.

They are used as semi-internal communication and collaboration support tools for projects (the content is normally open to view). Staff share all sorts of interim documents and the wiki helps track people and activities and events. Especially for events, we use them for planning and agenda setting massively reducing email traffic. We also have a wiki for each ILRI main campus, containing basic information useful for visitors that can be sent in advance of a meeting.

Though they have some basic project nformation, our project wikis are not normally ‘the’ web site for a project, though they usually cross-link (example). Though they contain documents and other products, they are also not intended to be the final document repositories for a project (we use CGSpace for this purpose).

We also develop wikis to coordinate activities and document conversations related to specific events such as: The Africa Innovations Systems in Africa event and the two knowledge management and communications for CGIAR research programs workshops etc. (see also the list of events here).

Behind the scenes, we also use the same wikis, but restricted access, to support some of our management and governance teams.

A place for ‘everything comms’

But we have also developed a special wiki: the ILRI Comms wiki.

This is used by all ILRI communications and KM staff as a way to document our practice, to share ‘frequently asked questions‘ about various things we do (and who does them); link to standard logos and templates; keep track of standard tags and categories; list all our websites, blogs, wikis; document our practices in using various social media (e.g. Slideshare, podcasts) or planning events

Over time the ILRI comms wiki has become a great place to plan and document our events, also to document our plans and priorities for the year, ways to improve internal communication etc.

So, wikis can actually be great ways to do much more than was originally thought, as they help you:

  • Connect;
  • Collect and curate resources;
  • Develop ideas and documents together;
  • Document and keep track of important team activities and results;
  • Document and reflect on our practices;
  • Plan, organize and document important events;
  • Link to all other information repositories;
  • work ‘out loud across teams and more widely;
  • Co-evolve around the signals and opportunities we perceive.

The next challenges?

For our ILRI comms team, the main challenge is to keep all our key pages up-to-date in a time of fast and regular change. This is especially tru of the ‘reference’ pages of our own wikis; and encouraging and mobilizing research colleagues do to the same for their pages.  Many wikis, for a specific event for instance, are now static and serve as an archive or repository.

For general use of wikis within ILRI, we need to continually raise awareness on their use (we include them in our face to face ‘komms clinics’, staff induction events, and informal training and coaching). We also need to find dedicated processes (and people) to keep them useful, up-to-date and used.

In practice, some wikis are more used than others, it largely depends on the different dynamics in teams and of individuals. When a project leader or event manager decides to really use a wiki, we see higher uptake rates than when communications people ‘push’ them.

But the fact that wikis are now part of a typical ‘project communications package’ (example) is a good sign …

Livestock and Fish program gives communication skills training to Tanzania Dairy Development Forum partners

Communications and knowledge sharing skills development training for the Livestock and Fish Tanzania dairy value chain

A communications and knowledge sharing skills training for CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish partners in Tanzania was held in May 2014 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

As a contribution to the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), recently held a three-day training workshop for communication staff working with the Dairy Development Forum in Tanzania.

The workshop, held 12-14 May 2014, at ILRI in Nairobi, was designed and facilitated by ILRI’s Capacity Development and Knowledge Management and Information Services teams to strengthen the knowledge management and communication skills of staff representing the Tanzania Dairy Board, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, and Agri-ProFocus.

In the workshop, participants shared their experiences in supporting communication and knowledge sharing activities with Tanzanian Livestock and Fish Program partners. They were trained in the use of various tools, products, approaches and platforms that are relevant to their work and which could help improve the outreach and collaborative strategies of the Dairy Development Forum. The training also emphasized opportunities for better collaboration between the Tanzania Dairy Board and Agri-ProFocus.

Training sessions focused on how to best interact with the public through the Tanzania Dairy Board website, the SNV and Agri-Pro-Focus Ning platforms, use of MailChimp for e-newsletters, SurveyMonkey, and other social media tools. Participants will use the new tools learnt and skills gained in planning and organizing Tanzania Dairy Development Forum events, documentation processes, and to increase engagement with the public and potential partners in the dairy industry.

A mapping exercise was also conducted to identify the different Dairy Development Forum audiences, their needs and demands and to prioritize relevant communication and knowledge sharing products, services, platforms and opportunities. The mapping exercise will ultimately inform the Tanzania Dairy Board’s communication and knowledge management strategy which will be completed later in the year.

Apart from advancing my communication skills, I have also learned a lot of tips and tricks in network facilitation – Katarina Mungure SNV Tanzania

After the workshop, a 12-month action plan was developed, which includes a set of key milestones to improve communication and knowledge sharing in the Dairy Development Forum.

The Dairy Development Forum was launched 2013 to bring together dairy actors from across Tanzania in a bid to explore a coordinated approach to collaborative development of the Tanzanian dairy industry. Nested under the authority of the Tanzania Dairy Board,whose role is to strategically plan and the coordinate diary sector development in the country, the DDF offers a platform where dairy sector initiatives can be conceived and acted on, where evidence of what works and what does not can be shared and discussed, and where action-based alliances between like-minded actors can be formed. It aims to fill gaps in dairy technology and agribusiness skills, craft strategies for expanding the national dairy herd and seek business solutions for year round availability of quality feeds.

For more information and resources visit:

This article was written by Joyce Maru, a capacity development officer at ILRI.

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.

Knowledge management and communications as a ‘strategic function’

In January this year, I joined Michael Victor in an Agrilinks interview held in the margins of the 2014 Feed the Future Global Learning and Evidence Exchange (GLEE) on Scaling Agricultural Technologies, held in Bangkok, Thailand.

We were asked to reflect on ways KM and communications contribute to our institutions, and particularly any ideas around scaling up (see this subsequent AskAg twitter chat on this subject) …

Watch the video:

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