Knowledge and Information blog News

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.

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

Navigating monitoring and evaluation with a knowledge management compass

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

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

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

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

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

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


Climate change communication and social learning for smarter agricultural research

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was discussed and agreed at the London meeting

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

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

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

Important components, lessons and insights to implement social learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about the London CCSL planning meeting

Read the CCSL body of evidence about social learning

Read a recent news item on ILRI news blog

Getting knowledge management and communication into CGIAR programs

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

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

Lessons from the Challenge Program Water and Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actions for CGIAR Research Programs

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

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

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

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

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

See the results from the CPWF Communication and KM workshop

See the results from the kmc4CRP2 workshop

Climate change communication and social learning – documenting the evidence

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

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

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

Working papers

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

 Booklets and other print resources in the collection

Other materials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related blogposts:

ODK used by ILRI for livestock data collection

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

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

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

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

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

ODK provides solution for users to:

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

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

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

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

More about ODK

Facilitating large events – Lessons from the ict4ag Rwanda conference

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

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

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

How does such an event get facilitated? 

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

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

 Ewen Le Borgne / ILRI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some lessons?

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

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

Developing ‘facilitation capacity’ in the region

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

 Ewen Le Borgne / ILRI)

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

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

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

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

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