Knowledge and Information blog News

How the CGSpace collaboration helps make CGIAR outputs open and accessible

In recent years, CGIAR centres and research programs have moved towards open access as part of commitments to make CGIAR information products widely accessible.

These efforts span a wide variety of activities including adoption of policies, awareness raising, using open licenses and establishing open access repositories for products as well as data.

An article by  Abenet Yabowork, Alan Orth and Peter Ballantyne in the KM4Dev Journal explains the origins, operation and uses of the CGSpace repository set up in 2009 by the International Livestock Research Institute with several partners.

Starting from an “institutional” effort, it has evolved into a collaboration among dozens of programs and entities, pooling technical efforts and generating collective public goods for the wider agricultural world.

The article covers the CGSpace and open access value proposition, technical developments and choices, content management and standards, use and update, metrics and reach, as well as lessons and promising practices for wider use.

Download the article

This article is part of a special issue of the Knowledge Management for Development Journal on ‘Open research, open data, and your development organization: best practices in information and data management for development.’

Supporting Africa RISING communities of practice ‘champions’

The Africa RISING program has embarked on a second phase since October 2016. In this new phase, the program team is putting more emphasis on collaboration and engagement across the five program countries through the use of communities of practice among other strategies.

 Communities of Practice and program collaboration and learningAccording to the umbrella document which explains the ambitions of the second phase of the program:

‘Communities of practice (CoP) are widely-used in development as mechanisms to bring scattered people—who share an interest—together. Keys to success are that a community has a clear focus that strongly attracts and interests people to contribute; that it has some deliverables; that it has some incentives or rewards; and that it is facilitated in some way.’

Five CoPs have been set up and two others have emerged spontaneously in the program in the following shared areas of interest:

  1. Socio-economic assessment of technological innovations
  2. Nutrition
  3. Private sector engagement for better linkages of farmers to input and output markers
  4. Livestock intensification and integration
  5. Translating research outputs into scaled innovations
  6. Virtual farming
  7. Integrated watershed management

Each of these CoPs is steered by a ‘champion’ from either of the participating research centres in order to both stimulate productive conversations that encourage more joined-up thinking across all countries and organizations, and to develop some products that will help the entire program.

The Communication and Knowledge Management (CKM) team of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been asked to support the work of the champions in their facilitating role.

This support involves:

  • Explaining what the job of champion entails.
  • Helping members get set up on Yammer (the program coordination team agreed to make communities of practice happen online. In addition there will be periodic live face-to-face events for CoP members to think and work together on their theme).
  • Helping the champions synthesize conversations and prepare to present what has been done in the CoP at the annual learning or science event.
  • Ensuring the champions are sharing among themselves their tips and lessons from their own practice.
  • Answering questions related to how Africa RISING CoPs are working and how they can reap benefits from their experiences.

In order to kick-start the work of these champions, ILRI CKM developed a ‘CoP support pack‘ that explains what communities of practice are, how they are set up in Africa RISING and what is expected of CoP champions and their members for CoPs to flourish.


Communities of practice (image credit: K4Health).

In the case of Africa RISING, some concerns remain whose outcome will affect the success of these budding CoPs:

  • Is it possible to reconcile bottom-up CoP development and voluntary engagement (the good practice from experience in CoPs) with a focus on delivering outputs in the Africa RISING CoPs?
  • Since different levels of engagement across CoPs are expected, will it be sustainable to keep these seven communities and how will they work? How will any ‘dormant’ ones be dealt with?
  • Is it realistic to expect that everyone will be able to use Yammer as an acceptable platform for their online conversations whereas experience from phase 1 showed that Yammer was mostly used by Ethiopia-based people?
  • In case Yammer does not work, what alternatives should be explored to make these CoPs more functional?

The next few months will show whether this investment in supporting CoPs by Africa RISING is worthwhile and what lessons have emerged. Watch this space for more.

Beamlak Tesfaye joins CKM as knowledge management and communications expert

Beamlak Tesfaye has joined the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Communication and Knowledge Management (CKM) team as knowledge management and communications expert starting April 2017.

She is a graduate in political sciences and international relations and print journalism respectively from Addis Ababa University. In addition, Tesfaye has an MSc degree in sustainable development from Uppsala University, Sweden.

Previously, she worked as knowledge management and communication expert for the ILRI-led Livestock and Irrigation Value-chains for Ethiopian Smallholders (LIVES) project and before that as development outreach and communications specialist for the United States Agency for International Development Agribusiness and Trade Expansion Program (USAID ATEP). She has also been involved with the Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) project of ACDI/VOCA in northern Ghana and an environmental NGO, Afrika Kontact based in Copenhagen.

Tesfaye is based in Addis Ababa and will be providing knowledge management and communications support to ILRI’s director general’s representative office in Ethiopia and ILRI projects including the Sustainable Rangelands Management initiative in Tanzania, International Rangelands initiative, SmaRT Ethiopia project and the Sustainable Intensification of Maize and Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) program.

The uneasy step from conflict management to collaboration

 Danie Becknell / Bruce Burris)

Conflict Management Tools (photo credit: Danie Becknell / Bruce Burris)

Many development (research) organisations are seeking to understand and harness the potential of collaboration. But collaboration is not easy. Not least because it requires trust. And an alignment of interests. And a good understanding of how power relations work and might set people against each other.

Sometimes these elements are just not there despite the initial good will. Whether from the start or as a progressive process, conflict shows up.

When it does, most people have difficulty letting go of their desire for harmony and tend to ignore the elephant in the room.

When bravely we face the truth we realise that conflict is not all that easy to understand, to recognise, to apprehend – let alone to prevent when it has degenerative qualities.

In a recent team-building retreat, the communication and knowledge management team of the International Livestock Research Institute was invited to reflect about conflict management to make it one of the themes touched upon in the retreat.

The following presentation is the result of this inquiry. It was put together on the basis of many great presentations and documents that exist on the topic.

The idea is that conflict can also be leveraged to generate the next solutions and to get to true collaboration.


Social learning opportunities for CGIAR’s new research programs

Social learning approaches take learning and behaviour change beyond the individual to communities, networks and systems. Through facilitated processes of working together, interactive dialogue, exchange, learning, action and reflection, shared ways of knowing emerge that lead to changes, and improvements, in practice.

This understanding of social learning is the fruit of several years’ work on ‘climate change and social learning’ (CCSL) sponsored by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).  Most the body of work is available publicly at

The start of the second phase of the CGIAR’s research programs (CRP) provides an opportunity to re-look at the potential of social learning for the next phase. Recent discussions around the LIVESTOCK Agri-Food Systems CRP provide some early insights into what this may look like.

The initial entry points identified are around partnerships, learning, monitoring and innovation systems – all areas where social learning offers interesting insights and practices, and also raises questions.

Read a brief that reflects on this work in relation to the new CRPs: Le Borgne E. 2016. Applying social learning where ‘business-as-usual’ solutions no longer work for complex problems and programs. CCSL Learning Brief 17. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

When event support moves into strategic process support

 ILRI / A. Habtamu)

Group discussions (photo credit: ILRI / Apollo Habtamu)

The communication and knowledge management (CKM) team of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) recently supported the process leading to and facilitated a ‘national coordination and experience sharing forum (NCESF) in the area of food security and resilience building programs in Ethiopia’.

This forum, the fourth in a series that started after the La Niña emergency responses in 2010-11, was run the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as part of the European Commission-funded ‘EC-SHARE’ project. The main objective of the forum was chiefly to identify major gaps and overlaps in the coordination of resilience-building initiatives in Ethiopia. It zoomed in on four distinct issues: a) national coordination mechanisms, b) subnational coordination mechanisms, c) knowledge management and d) gender.

Initial connections, through an unexpected route

After a serendipitous December 2015 meeting over breakfast at the ILRI campus, initial conversations and interests to collaborate to support the forum materialized when ILRI’s CKM team was invited to join the process and attend the first ‘technical coordination committee’ meeting in June 2016. The idea was to draw on ILRI’s experience in knowledge management. One small result was brief ILRI presentation at the forum itself (see below). More substantially, ILRI staff were hired as the facilitation team for the event, and much of the preceding process (Ewen Le Borgne and Tsehay Gashaw).


Expanding from thematic support to event support and strategic process support

The mini-project that bound the ILRI team with FAO was much wider than the typical ‘event support’ that we often provide to ILRI projects and partners. It comprised:

  • Reviewing previous similar forums to draw in lessons and insights;
  • Providing methodological and design support to the six regional forums that led to the NCESF;
  • Supporting the parallel working groups and documentation of the technical coordination meetings;
  • Setting up communication structures to document and share information among coordination team members;
  • Providing event design (agenda) and facilitating the forum – which was hosted on 7-8 December 2016 on the ILRI Campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Preparing templates used by the regional and national forums;
  • Organising ‘process documentation’ of the entire process, since it followed a participatory and ‘utilisation focus’ as desired by project coordinator Carlos Rodriguez-Ariza;
  • Reviewing the outputs of the regional forums to identify inputs to the national forum;
  • Organizing an evaluation of the forum by the participants;
  • Developing the forum proceedings and collecting all raw documentation (captured on the ILRI events wiki)
  • Hosting a meeting with the coordination team to review the entire process leading to the forum and to help devise the next steps.

Compared with a typical event that ILRI CKM supports (see here a list of events supported), this was very intensive, time-consuming, and spanned documentation, knowledge and information management, facilitation, writing and editing, (graphic) design support and rapporteuring.

At a wider level, it was also very positive as in connected ILRI with important local actors from government and the international community. The whole process also helped build stronger relationships with organizations likely to be involved in ongoing processes to develop more integrated and coordinated CGIAR engagement with Ethiopia’s agricultural (research and development) system.

According to participant feedback, the Forum was successful (the overall value of the meeting was ranked ‘very good’; participants also enjoyed the ILRI venue, scoring 7.3/10 and the facilitation, scoring 8.1/10). The FAO team are now taking forward the longer term process to strengthen the coordination of resilience building initiatives.

CKM lessons learned

Overall, a major lesson is that time invested in such a time-intensive process with partners will also pay off in terms of positive relationship building and political engagement. More specifically:

  • Time: The entire job took longer than planned and contracted, not least because of the complexity of the process chosen by the FAO team, which required strong design and facilitation skills.
  • Sharing responsibilities: Looking back, there should have been a dedicated ‘documentation’ team from the start of the process to take notes at coordination meetings and at the Forum. A few documentation results were lost and others came very late in the process of compiling proceedings. Similarly, there could have been more attention and a team dedicated to the visibility of the event. A web presence from FAO was expected but was not realised (a page on the ILRI wiki was set up as an interim solution).
  • Sharpen the conceptual framework earlier: The conceptual framework underpinning the forum process  was developed rather late and led to many conceptual discussions among coordination team members, who questioned among others the division between the parallel groups, the (very sensitive) definition used for resilience, coordination etc. It would have greatly helped to have this conceptual framework sharpened earlier to avoid confusion, which even led to some process issues in terms of organising the groups physically at the forum.
  • Limit the (size of the) coordination team: Until quite late in the coordination process, new people were invited into the process and they kept asking what was the purpose of the forum etc. Instead, it would have been great to have a smaller coordination group that can quite easily take some decisions about various issues.
  • Dedicated resources to engagement with government: This was, from the feedback gathered in the evaluation, one of the weak points from the entire process. It would have helped to have someone in the technical coordination committee to engage specifically with the government to ensure strong representation.


Dust off your presenting and public speaking skills – our research depends on it

A research institute like the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) produces a lot of information. This means we produce also much ‘matter’ for presentations.

 ncngpao / FlickR)

Death by PowerPoint happens all too often! (photo credit: ncngpao / FlickR)

And indeed, many ILRI staff attend conferences and events where they ‘give presentations’. But this does not guarantee that the presentations given are of similar (high) quality.

Indeed there is even a big risk of “death by Powerpoint“: an uninterrupted flow of ill-designed and badly-delivered presentations following each other in a long sequence, to the horror of of the audience (who, let’s face it, are increasingly wary of perpetuating this ghastly tradition).

Time to look critically at presentations and public speaking!

Many elements are involved in giving a (good) presentation:

  • The content – this is the key, particularly for scientific presentations It includes the facts but also the narrative that brings them to life;
  • The design – that captures the attention of the audience and helps it remember the content better (or indeed not);
  • The ‘public speaking act’ – which can electrify or dampen the mood of the audience and its appetite for the journey offered by the speaker.

Often, academics giving a presentation quickly put together slides on a blank canvas in a way that mirrors their research paper. Alas, they risk annihilating the value of many months (or years!) of research because they have made the job easier on them to prepare their presentation, rather than making it easier on the audience to understand, like and ultimately use it again.

This presentation is about giving presentations. It’s about constructing, designing and delivering presentations that make a difference. It is based on latest research and information design available.

It proposes nine actions that will mean the research presented in slide decks does not feed yawns but rather seeds of ideas and eventually the mouths of people that will benefit from the application of these ideas.

Watch the presentation:



It’s time to dust off our presenting and public speaking skills, focusing on the outcomes we want . . .


Open-access Knowledge Bank tackles malnutrition

Adequate nutrition, particularly in the first 1,000 days of life, is critical to both physical and mental development and long-term health. Poor access to agricultural and health information has been recognised as a major barrier in the uptake of improved nutritional practices, particularly for women and vulnerable groups in marginalised areas. Developed through the mNutrition Initiative, the Nutrition Knowledge Bank (going live on 25 October) aims to help bridge the gap between information providers and users by providing an open-access store of both nutrition-sensitive agricultural approaches and nutrition-specific health interventions.

Read the full news item

The GSMA mNutrition Initiative is a DFID-funded global project developing agriculture, health and nutrition messages to address knowledge gaps and promote behaviour change. The Global content partner consortium consists of BMJ, CABI, GAIN, ILRI and Oxfam. It partner with local organisations to produce localised content, which is then directly disseminated by service providers through mobile networks.

A one-stop shop doesn’t always work: Using different communication and sharing platforms at ILRI

Colleagues at ILRI often wonder:

Why do we have a wiki and a Yammer group for our project?

What is the point of both Slideshare and CGSpace?

Do we really need Yammer? What for?

Why not use one tool or platform?

Do I need to have all those different logins!

These are legitimate concerns that this post helps to explain.

What platforms? To do what?

For ILRI projects and programs, we tend to use a set of standard channels or platforms.

When a new project or program starts, they usually select a mix drawn from:

  • A website, usually on a WordPress (blog) platform that provides key static information, links, news updates and opinion pieces, and comments.
  • An informal wiki workspace, based on Wikispaces, which helps teams plan, document and track their work without fear of having to get everything polished and formal.
  • A CGSpace collection, for all finished products and outputs. This ‘publishes’ and archives the entire formal content produced by a project team, from books to articles, briefs, videos and presentations etc. It serves open access as well as publishing objectives.
  • A Yammer social network conversation space to share ideas, questions and information with project colleagues and wider CGIAR.
  • A Slideshare space to share presentations and posters, though sometimes we simply embed them in the ILRI Slideshare account and use tags to connect to a specific project or process;
  • A Flickr space for images and pictures – sometimes just as new ‘albums’ on the ILRI account, so we can use and re-use few but high quality pictures in blogs and other publications;
  • A YouTube space or playlist to publish the formal and informal videos we produce.
  • All using RSS feeds that allow interested people to sign up and follow project news and get email alerts.

At the corporate level, we use a similar set of standard platforms:

  • The ILRI website, as well as the blogs ILRI Clippings (with general livestock information and news) and ILRI news (news from ILRI research);
  • An ILRI Twitter account re-publishes news from our blogs and CGSpace collection for the wider public
  • An ILRI LinkedIn group  has wide conversations around livestock (research) issues in general and ILRI work in particular;
  • An ILRI LinkedIn page  is ILRI’s institutional face and automatically re-publishes news from our blogs;
  • An ILRI Facebook fan page re-publishes all news automatically and an ILRI Facebook account is used mostly for personal contact between ILRI and former staff, and does not have a professional ‘slant’ to it.
  • We use standard taxonomies, tags, categories, open applications and other devices to curate and ensure the content is re-usable and can be aggregated, re-purposed and re-published in many ways.

Why all these platforms?

There are various reasons for having all these platforms:

  • Each platform has its specific niche, purpose and audience. We have found it better to combine these than try to create a single platform (that compromises on many individual functionalities).
  • Rather than creating a single ILRI ‘portal’, by publishing our content on widely-used third-party platforms we have a greater chance of reaching people on those platforms.
  • These platforms tend to reinforce open access, while in-house systems tend to be much more closed; and in some cases pose major challenges to collaboration with external partners.
  • Putting all our content in one platform means that if that (commercial) platform changes its model or goes bankrupt, all our content is jeopardized. Using various platforms means all our eggs are not in one basket and minimizes risk.
  • Using different platforms enhances the visibility of our research content because the platforms complement each other and have a higher chance of boosting search engine ranking.
  • The variety of platforms means that staff and projects can tailor their use of different platforms and content. A ‘one-stop’ (or a ‘one-shop’) shop reduces choice.

Back to our original questions

If you are still wondering about where we started…

Why do we have a wiki and Yammer group for our project?

The wiki is for people to collaborate (share, plan and document) together, while Yammer is a sort of professional Facebook to share ideas, questions, updates etc. in an informal but (if needed) private space.

What is the point of Slideshare and CGSpace?

Slideshare features all our presentations (and posters) so we can re-use them (as visual snippets) into blog articles, web pages, wiki pages etc. Slideshare content is highly indexed and visible and attracts readers.

CGSpace collects presentations and posters (and all other outputs) for referencing, reporting and posterity. It is the permanent record of all outputs.

Do we really need Yammer? What for?

We do not need Yammer. But having a social network where we can safely chat about anything is rather helpful – and even critical for an organization that wants to be agile, learning, adaptive and quick in mobilizing its collective resources.

Why not use one system?

For the reasons above. The ILRI website is a single entry point to all ILRI’s public content. A new internal system, probably Office 365 and sharepoint, will likely provide an internal single access point. ILRI’s ICT team is working on a system to align credentials (and ensure maximum use of the CGIAR-wide active directory) used across the platforms.

Why create another account in a new/different platform? I’m struggling to remember my email password as is!

For the particular issue of remembering passwords across platforms, many of these platforms use consistent CGIAR credentials. Where this is not possible, there are simple password managers such as LastPass that alleviate the hassle of generating and remembering passwords.

See who to talk to for more on the different ILRI platforms/tools in the ILRI comms wiki FAQ page.

‘Leveling’ livestock information: Knowledge management at an ICAR–ILRI communications workshop

In May this year, ILRI and ICAR held a joint workshop on communications and KM; this post covers the discussions on focus area 3: Accessing, publishing and disseminating research knowledge, information, data, products and outputs for wide accessibility and use

ILRI news


At the lobby of National Agricultural Science Centre (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the tenth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India’.
PART 10: ‘Leveling’ access to livestock information:
Knowledge management talks at an ICAR–ILRI communications workshop  

By Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

This is the third of three reports on a Mar 2016 ICAR–ILRI communications workshop
held at ICAR’s New Delhi research complex.

To share best practices and explore opportunities for collaboration, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) held a joint communications and knowledge management workshop on 4 Mar 2016 at the National Agricultural Science Centre Complex in New Delhi, India.

National Agricultural Science Centre Complex

The one-day communications workshop was held at the National Agricultural Science Centre Complex in New Delhi, India…

View original post 1,481 more words

Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies: ICAR–ILRI communications workshop

In May this year, ILRI and ICAR held a joint workshop on communications and KM; this post covers the discussions on focus area 2: Communicating evidence for wider influence by engaging with and influencing decision-makers

ILRI news

IndiaWomenAtICAR-ILRIcommsWorkshop_CroppedSome of the ICAR scientists and communications staff at an ICAR-ILRI communications workshop in New Delhi in March 2016 (ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Note: This is the ninth in a series of articles on
‘Curds and goats, lives and livelihoods—
A dozen stories from northern and eastern India‘.
Part 9: Reaching stakeholders, influencing policies:
ICAR–ILRI communications workshop

By Jules Mateo and Susan MacMillan,
of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

This is the second of three reports on a Mar 2016 ICAR–ILRI communications workshop held at ICAR’s New Delhi research complex.

A communications workshop co-sponsored by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was held on 4 March 2016 in New Delhi, India.

Jointly organized by ILRI’s Communications and Knowledge Management (CKM) team and ICAR’s Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture (DKMA), the workshop’s goals were to share experiences and best practices in livestock…

View original post 1,447 more words

Towards innovation-spaces: Slowly evolving the ILRI Nairobi info-centre

@BecAHub Mark Wamalwa explains how illumina sequencer is used on the genomics platform [from twitter]

Just as scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) innovate and evolve next generation vaccines and genomic opportunities, we see significant evolution in the roles of infocentres and libraries in agricultural research. The infocentre spaces and services in ILRI are no exception.

While physical collections of books and journals were critical to research in the 1980’s and 1990’s, today’s agricultural scientists mainly rely on access to digital data, knowledge and science. More and more, librarians in research organizations are moving from roles as guardians of physical materials to curators of digital knowledge and facilitators of knowledge exchange. They no longer maintain indexes and catalogues, today they manage institutional repositories, publish services across the web and facilitate meetings.

ILRI’s infocentres in Addis Ababa and Nairobi have come a long way from their origins as reference libraries for scholars and visiting students. Over the last ten years their central purpose has gradually evolved from offering library services to a broader portfolio focused on knowledge exchange. Part of it has been an internet cafe from before the days when broadband access was widely available. The collection has moved online, researchers access critical resources like journals directly from their computers. The users of our Nairobi infocentre hardly read the books we provide, they seem to mostly look for a quiet space to work or to meet with colleagues and supervisors. Looking north, ILRI’s Addis Ababa infocentre is a hub of meetings and interaction where individuals and projects engage, plan and interact.

Info centre quiet zone

Quieter space for study, books as inspiration and reference (15 June 2016).

The evolving Nairobi infocentre

In Nairobi, we are pursuing ways to reinforce the institute’s culture of innovation. We are currently transforming the infocentre on the Nairobi campus into a multi-use co-working space. Our goal is to create a flexible collaboration hub for researchers, PhD students, fellows, staff from the regions and partners alike. It will bring together a community of users involved in agricultural research from diverse disciplines and backgrounds in an open collaboration space. It will help to bridge the spaces between people working up and down the ILRI hillside, and among those mainly in labs, office or the field.

One of our assumptions is that people who meet in such spaces will strike up conversations and these conversations will lead to new ideas and ultimately innovation. We want to help enable and ignite these casual meetings and serendipitous conversations. We also want to keep offering quieter spaces for study and individual or small group work. And we continue to provide space for traditional books and journals, especially those that are more difficult to access. We especially want to make some of our ‘archive’ special materials of ILRI archive reports, theses and other materials more accessible (they have been closed away for many years).

Info centre collaboration zone

Interim small space to collaborate and discuss (15 June 2016).

Space plans

The current ideas for the infocentre space have evolved in the past year or so. Looking for the potential multiple uses, the current  very simple design concept reflects the values of the community we want to serve: Openness, transparency, collaboration and ultimately innovation. The space is open, brightly lit with natural light and functionally furnished and features dozens of livestock-related artefacts illustrating the multiple uses of livestock and animal products in culture and lives.

We envision three zones:

Info centre floor planQuiet zone: For people looking for a private work setting. This is the part of the infocentre that will simply remain ‘library’ space, with its existing code of behaviour that is respectful towards other users’ need to focus on individual work. Cell phone use and videoconferencing is discouraged, the boundaries signal “do not disturb.” Activities supported by the space are studying, writing and thinking. The books and other materials are food for thought and exploration.

Intermediate zone: The potential ‘cafe-like zone’ encourages meetings, conversation and cross pollination. Some may choose to work here accepting disturbance (as at airports or internet hangouts). This is also the space where staff work and can mingle with visitors. It is situated so people will pass through as they enter co-working spaces. We aim to convert a closed store room into a small space where staff can join virtual meetings such as skype without disturbing the quieter area.

Active zone: This area is set up to support small groups discussing or collaborating. With its smartboard, it is perfect for small group work, team meetings, presentations, video conferencing, etc. Ideally this will be a ‘Cube’ with glass walls making the interactions visible but not audible. Next to the cube, we will re-introduce a ‘Lounge’ area as an informal space without tables and barriers. Again, this will ideally be divided from the quiet zone by glass walls, thereby maintaining an uninterrupted, visually open space while keeping the noise in.

This is all work in progress, reporting and sharing some of the changes we are doing and contemplating. As we increasingly move our knowledge resources online and open access, reducing barriers to innovation, we are exploring ways our traditional physical spaces can be made more accessible, open and pro-innovation while retaining elements of the past that still add value.

This post was written by Ben Hack and Peter Ballantyne




Could teachers or facilitators be leaders?

It is a perfect four out of four for me! Gundula Fischer goes on all fours to practically demonstrate (on a four part square marked on the meeting floor) that she achieved all her goals for attending the AR West Africa planning and review meeting 2016 (Ph

Most people, myself included, instinctively associate leadership with senior management roles. But leadership is not restricted to those with management responsibilities. Like senior managers, my role as a facilitation expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is essentially one of inspiring and guiding scientists towards a desired outcome. But I did not think seriously about the fact that I could be a leader until I participated in a facilitation skills workshop for African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) in March 2016.

At the workshop, which was organized by the Institute for People Innovation and Change in Organizations (PICO)–Eastern Africa, we heard how there are many overlapping forms of leadership. Some are formal with designated responsibilities while others emerge more informally as we interact with our peers. As facilitators, we lead groups and create engaging and collaborative environments for people to discuss and share their ideas freely; we help them improve thinking to achieve the objectives of their meetings and harness diverse thinking among group members to come up with rich decisions as well as learning.

The workshop was designed to impart facilitation and teaching skills to the participants, enabling them to make life easier and training more productive. It sought to enable the participants to successfully organize training sessions and meetings, helping us to enhance our skills of observation, analysis, conflict management and consensus building, handling conflict and time management.

The PICO-Eastern Africa facilitators employed a number of different learning and iterative approaches: plenary sessions, break-out groups and role plays. It was a learning workshop, so the topics were dynamically and flexibly co-created to reflect the needs of participants throughout. Topics were not pre-defined in a typical modular teaching framework. We, the participants, were divided up into groups reflecting the different scenarios we would have to deal with, i.e. when managing workshops and facilitative training sessions. In workshops, the facilitator deals with managing group dynamics, rather than creating knowledge, s/he helps other to do so. Whereas in managing facilitative training sessions, the trainer is actively involved in generating knowledge.

We learned a lot of different techniques, including facilitative listening and questioning skills, recognizing and effectively managing divergence points—‘groan zones’—in meetings/processes, and other ‘difficult’ dynamics, as well as how to help participants negotiate sustainable agreements. This knowledge will certainly help us keep content, process and structure on track during workshops and meeting.

Despite being such a diverse group of participants from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, we all agreed that we had learned a lot. But for me, the most important lesson was that by putting the new facilitation skills into practice, I too can be a leader.

Strategizing communication and knowledge management for a new ILRI project: why, what and how?

A new project with the visibility and scale like the African Chicken Genetic Gains (ACGG) project deserves a strong communication approach, especially when the project team is keen on earmarking resources and attention for communication and ‘working out loud‘.

 ILRI/M. Becon)

The ACGG project – the latest opportunity for comms (photo credit: ILRI/M. Becon)

This post tracks back the development of the ACGG communication strategy/plan and some of the challenges and opportunities in the process…

Communi… what?

… or why invest in communication from the start?

A lot of research projects at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and beyond do not include (much) communication in their budget and plans. The project teams then typically wake up on the comms call only when they realize they would like to have some media coverage for their launch event, and some help at the very end of the project when the publications start piling up and editorial and publishing support is sine qua non for the success of the project.

The ACGG project was a different case. The team, led by  Tadelle Dessie and coordinated by Jasmine Bruno (ILRI) bought, from the get-go, into ‘Comms’. Perhaps because the project team is based in Addis Ababa and the campus has given opportunities to witness successful comms and KM support to various research projects (Nile Basin Development Challenge, Africa RISING, LIVES), there was willingness and interest right away [it was also budgeted in the project proposal …].

The benefits are multiple: good visibility of the research, strong engagement, more solid partnership development, more chances for research uptake etc. etc.

Add some of that glue and grease, please!

The story of comms in ACGG

So how did comms (encompassing traditional communication and public awareness with knowledge management) get funded and developed within ACGG – and play that role of ‘glue and grease’ that it does in the best of times? It took several stages.

Getting a foot in the door

During proposal development,  Tadelle Dessie (project leader) and Peter Ballantyne (Communication and Knowledge Management team – CKM)  discussed ideas and directions for comms in the upcoming project, roughly identifying areas and budgets. The CKM foot was in the ACGG door.

After project approval in November 2014, it was relatively easy to continue negotiations about the role of comms in the project. Ewen Le Borgne was asked to coordinate project communication and he and the ACGG team specified how CKM would support ACGG in detail. Based on past experience the CKM team developed a communication and knowledge management plan/strategy (rather pragmatic plans than long-term strategy).

With  a plan in place, people were mobilised from the program and the CKM side, including Tsehay Gashaw for engagement and collaboration, Meron Mulatu, Apollo Habtamu and Betty Alemu for publishing and design work, Paul Karaimu and James Stapleton for editing (and writing of e.g. briefs)… In addition, during a visit to Nairobi, the CKM team there met with the ACGG project team and identified other ways to support the project.

Currently the team is implementing the plan, including providing regular process support to the research team – through monthly gatherings to review important work that comms can support. The future looks promising.

Some lessons so far

Get your foot in the door of the proposal

The dedicated comms budget is essential. Luckily it was outlined before the project was submitted, which is more than most ILRI projects manage to do. Earlier inputs to projects rom Comms – as well as capacity development, gender, and so on -is something our ‘One Corporate System’ promises to facilitate.

Assign dedicated comms capacities from the start

The relatively large project never budgeted for full-time dedicated comms support (as is the case with e.g. Africa RISING or LIVES). This has left some gaps, especially around systematic, regular content generation and dissemination. Large and complex projects should have dedicated full time comms expertise.

Plan for and schedule content

One of the important adjustments, to fill the content production gap, has been to develop a content plan and calendar where a number of possible content items have been identified. This rolling plan should help generate regular content and align activities with content and events. In the process this ensures that all relevant ACGG work is indeed documented and disseminated.

Develop a comms plan with a wider team

The comms plan was developed mostly by Ewen Le Borgne with support from Peter Ballantyne and shared with all other CKM staff involved in ACGG. However, the Nairobi team was less involved and critical inputs around awareness and advocacy work were missed early on. These are now being included in the plans.

Get regular contact with the project team and regular meetings

A project of this nature evolves very quickly with multiple activities, events and partnerships happening in parallel. Regular meetings between comms staff and the project team (as is the case with the monthly chats organized) are a must to keep abreast of, and if possible anticipate, everything (especially without a full time dedicated comms person).

Set up standard channels and basic guidelines and principles as soon as possible

As is often the case with new projects starting, ILRI CKM uses a bouquet of standard platforms and this is helpful to have a well-oiled routine that can be rolled out, but also (e.g. using the project work space / wiki) to keep track of principles of work that can be referred to. Branding for instance needs quite immediate attention and can be organized much more quickly if a project website and wiki is already up and running and that is part of the understanding of working with CKM.

Source allies in places and countries where CKM is not present

ACGG takes place in three countries (Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania) but CKM is formally present only in two of these countries, not in Nigeria. Identifying comms allies that can do some comms work in those countries – if only for important events – is essential to ensure all countries are covered adequately. One of the lessons from the Africa RISING project was that people close to the ground were necessary to ensure representative coverage of the entire project.

Help the team document its learning and insights

Luckily the ACGG team is keen on learning and adapting along the way. Nevertheless, dedicated efforts are required to properly document major developments. Process documentation is an important building block for keeping track of all the learning. The earlier starting this the better, as early learning is quickly lost unless well-documented.

Developing ILRI’s capacity in participatory decision-making, from out in and in out

Who can argue, in development work, that they never need participatory decision-making? Being able to hold group conversations and to come to collective and participatory decision-making is arguably an essential piece to the success of complex initiatives such as international agricultural research programs.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has recognised this need and has been investing in this skill. Since 2007, ILRI has been inviting Sam Kaner and other members of his company ‘Community at work’ to train a number of ILRI staff members.

Since early 2015, these efforts have redoubled with a total of 6 training sessions provided between February 2015 and March 2016. A total of around 100 ILRI staff members have been trained in such a fashion and the demand for this training is not weakening.

What is group facilitation? (image credit: Paul O'Raw)

What is group facilitation? (image credit: Paul O’Raw)

Why is ILRI investing in group facilitation skills from outside in?

‘Group facilitation skills’ is one of the main training courses provided by Community at Work but it cannot be mistaken for ‘just’ a facilitation training course.

What training participants come away from the course with include:

  • A distinction of different types of meetings and objectives that has a clear impact on the necessity and role of facilitation;
  • A number of hands-on practice sessions with a variety of ‘listening skills’ that actually help anyone, at work and in personal life, be a more supportive person;
  • A deep recognition of the value of conflict and of using the frustration of people to lead to the birth of genuinely novel ideas;
  • A clear picture of what a decision is and what it means to arrive at one, for a group;
  • A much better understanding of what is at the heart of group dynamics and difficult behaviours in that dynamics;
  • What it means to rethink a meeting or event structure (design) from the standpoint of group energy;
  • Why and when it is possible to lead and facilitate at the same time, and how;
  • How to reach closure that leads to sustainable agreements;

And so this course is actually not really meant just for people who end up designing and/or facilitating meetings and large events, but also any leader that has to understand participatory decision-making, as well as any other worker that needs to work with other people from different backgrounds.


Nelli Noakes and Sam Kaner (Community at Work) with Ruth Nyaga and Tadios Tekalign (ILRI) (photo credit: ILRI)

In the complex world of agricultural research for development that ILRI operates in, it is no wonder that this training course is indeed recognised as a ‘game changer’ by a large number of participants.

This is one of two training courses that transformed me and really contributed to my growth (Flavio Sacchini, ILRI)

And retrospectively it is no surprise that ILRI is investing in this set of skills and understandings in order to obtain the work it aspires to achieve.

But the series of group facilitation training courses is only one aspect of ILRI’s commitment to group facilitation.

How is ILRI investing in group facilitation skills for the future, from inside out?

In addition to the six training courses that have taken place since early 2015, ILRI and Community at Work initiated a process of ‘training the trainer’ whereby one of the ILRI facilitators from the communication and knowledge management (CKM) unit is being trained to become the in-house trainer on group facilitation skills ‘a la Community at Work’.

This initiative is not only economic in the longer run, but also ensures that the community of group facilitation skills trainees remains close to one another and cultivates the skills that have been acquired across three days of training.

A virtual network -aspiring to become a genuine community of practice- was set up in November 2015 for all past trainees. This network has its dedicated resource page and is hosting bimonthly virtual chats to answer anyone’s question or aspiration regarding putting their skills to use. In the future, face-to-face sessions are also expected to take place.

2016 may see other groups of trainees join this group and strengthen the collective practice of ILRI with group facilitation. It remains difficult to show exactly how this training course has been put to use to improve ILRI staff work, but the feedback on this course has been uniformly positive.


ILRI’s Muthoni U Njiru facilitating a session during the ResUp Meet Up Exchange in Nairobi (photo credit: ILRI)

Are you hosting an online conference? Here’s how to make the people online REALLY feel part of your conversation

ILRI staff are increasingly organising virtual meetings to run day-to-day business. But these are not easy meetings. Sometimes they even look as dramatically comical as this:

Most of us at ILRI are probably involved in such meetings on a daily, weekly or at least monthly basis. But nearly none of us seem to apply good practices to create an environment where the people ‘skyped in’ or ‘webexed’ feel included in the conversation that is taking place face-to-face with the largest group.

I recently took part to one of these meetings and I was one of two people not based in Nairobi but invited to the conversation. And more often than not I felt like the face-to-face group did not really care whether I was there or not. And at some point, although the internet connectivity was fine, I kind of gave up on the meeting altogether, even if I had valuable contributions to make…

Here are some ideas for avoiding such scenarios:

  • Provide very clear instructions for online participants about the system used to get connected, ahead of time. And make sure the online participants feel they are connected and understand the system a few hours/ a day before the meeting. The ICT team can provide excellent support in this;
  • Make sure a web camera is set up in both/all locations so the groups can see each other. This creates a more human/e dynamic and engaging space – and it also reminds the people sitting physically together that there are other people;
  • Encourage virtual participants, if they can, to gather physically (e.g. an Addis group invited to join a large Nairobi group) rather than from multiple locations – this also encourages everyone to remember that there is another set of (online) participants;
  • Put the online conferencing device in the centre of the physical meeting room. If the meeting involves many people (e.g. over 8) multiple devices should be set up so that everyone’s voice can be heard by the online participants;
  • Ensure that someone is there in the room to attend to the needs of the virtual participant(s)/group(s) – sometimes they need to just set one thing up and the rest of the group should probably not be held hostage when that happens. A dedicated attendant can see to this;
  • Remind everyone to talk loudly and/or sit next to the online conferencing devices;
  • Remind everyone to talk one at a time – it is notoriously difficult to make anything out of virtual meetings when all physical participants are talking together;
  • In the physical room, regularly check that everyone online is hearing what is going on;
  • If the connectivity is not good enough or for some reason communication is difficult, ensure that there is another way for online participants to follow the conversation. In a lot of online meetings I organise, I also take notes on a MeetingWords pad, it’s super simple to set up and works with low bandwidth. Someone has to dedicate themselves to taking notes throughout the online meeting, however.
  • Remind everyone at the beginning of the meeting about some of these good practices;
  • Try to keep the meeting to about one hour maximum, as it is very difficult to keep an online group engaged for sustained periods of time.


Facilitating CGIAR country collaboration and site integration with the ‘power of comms’

The development of new CGIAR research program (CRPs) proposals for a second to start in 2017 is currently looking into developing country collaboration and site integration processes that guarantee all CGIAR centres are collaborating among themselves and with other critical national partners as much as possible in 20 focus countries. Communication and engagement are critical to such processes and a communication team is well placed to help there.

In Ethiopia – one of the six priority site integration countries in that list of 20 – the ILRI Communication and Knowledge Management (CKM) team has been strongly involved in this process.

Before site integration even became an issue for the second wave of CRPs, the CGIAR system in Ethiopia organised, under the leadership of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a meeting with the national agricultural research system in December 2014. This initial consultation, facilitated by a CKM staff, helped identify a number of areas of cooperation.

When country collaboration (initially titled ‘site integration’) became an objective as part of the submission of CRP proposals, the CGIAR centres could resume this process, on the way to a national consultation process that was to be echoed in the 20 countries.

Group work CKM staff contributed to designing the first and largest national consultation meeting for Ethiopia in December 2015 and helped turn this challenging event into a useful exercise in aligning around national priorities and fostering a spirit of collaboration across the board.

CKM support also included the coordination of a marketplace helping all CGIAR centres highlight their work in Ethiopia. Meeting notes and the official meeting report were recorded by CKM staff and colleagues.

Following that first consultation meeting, a few other meetings took place. They were organised by individual CRPs (such as the Livestock CRP) or as follow-up meeting among CGIAR centres based in Ethiopia. Both of these meetings were  designed and facilitated by CKM staff in Ethiopa. CKM process design and facilitation support also extended to Kenya where a livestock CRP consultation mirrored the Ethiopia consultation meeting. Beyond these face to face meetings, an online space was set up to pose specific questions on the development of a Livestock CRP proposal.

In 2016, more of these meetings and consultations are likely to take place and ILRI’s CKM team is well-placed to support the overall engagement process. Such processes demonstrate the value of bringing in CKM; ideally they form the start of longer-term and sustained inputs from ‘comms and KM’, as illustrated by positive experiences of the Africa RISING project.

Read results from the first national consultation process from December 2015 – including the official report.

Read results from the CGIAR-Ethiopian agricultural research system meeting from December 2014

Read more about the national consultation process in Ethiopia (on the GCARD website)


Social learning – is there any other kind?


Herding village livestock to pasture at dawn, Muchamba Village, Tete Province, Mozambique (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Meeting and talking where livestock trails intersect has energised learning and the development of a shared culture since people began herding animals thousands of years ago, which is pretty much as early as it gets.

Nobody at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) needs to be reminded that social learning is at the heart of human development. So why are we still researching and talking about how to ensure social learning is at the centre of our work in Development? It’s partly to do with language: it’s rare to find two people who’d agree immediately on a definition of social learning. And it’s a domain that’s become further complicated by the use of the term social media to describe the explosion of new digital networks and platforms that people use to communicate and connect. It’s also about power. Identifying how social learning can be energised and built upon to achieve change is difficult, given that social processes play out within formal or informal power structures. While social learning can contribute to the coming together and collaboration of people to increase their influence it’s often hard to link transient and usually un-recorded social processes with the actual change processes. And creating programmes that maximise the opportunities for that kind of social dynamic is even harder in the complex environments in which projects happen.

We’ve been exploring social learning in climate change for three years in the Climate Change and Social Learning (CCSL) project. That specific ILRI-funded activity has stopped, although the activity and research continues within the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and other related programs. The issue highlighted above, in particular, social learning and power, is an area CCAFS continues exploring. As CCSL had a strong communication component we thought it useful to review how social and other digital media intersects with what we call social learning, touch on what is being said about Return on Investment (RoI) and the impact from Social Learning, and consider what that might mean for future efforts to integrate social dynamics into development programs.

Social media and social learning

“We are, above all, social animals. Throughout the history of digital communication ordinary people have used or subverted digital technology to communicate and make connections, and will only adopt them when they meet such primary needs”. We wrote that in a review of social media for HIV/Aids communicators[1] in 2008, which also happened to be a great year for Internet start-ups, including Github, AirBnb, Yammer, Groupon and Pinterest! Even then it was clear that the rise of social media was both going to change the way that people connected and was itself a constantly evolving set of products and tools shaped by people’s hunger to deepen bonds and make new connections.

Jane Hart, a speaker and writer on modern approaches to workplace learning, brings the perspective of a learning professional seeking to integrate social media into learning. As she says in this summary presentation, while ‘social learning can make learning a more powerful experience’, ‘social learning doesn’t require the use of social media’ and ‘use of social media tools doesn’t mean social learning takes place’.


Hart’s view pretty much represents mainstream thinking in 2016 among communication, knowledge and learning professionals. Organisations like ILRI are extending the impact of social media across the enterprise. Julian Stodd has also done a lot of work from the learning perspective, developing a practical framework for integrating social learning into more conventional learning, exemplified in his work on a ‘social learning scaffold’

Hart later takes the conversation further, contrasting social learning and social collaboration, which he defines as, “the sub-set of social learning that is focused around the learning that takes place from working together”. Hart stresses the potential importance of the latter – which has particular relevance for the CCSL agenda of mapping and energising the link between social learning and social change.

Harold Jarche, a commentator on the intersection of social spaces and learning, has written a lot in the same vein, focusing especially on linking social learning, social collaboration and the notion that we live now in the ‘network era’, Jarche maintains that, ‘social learning is how work gets done in the network era’.

ROI and Impact

A key issue has always been a lot to do with being able to identify, name and monitor the impact of social learning. Stodd opens up the issues in his blog, ‘How do you measure the return on investment (ROI) for social learning?’

The Social Learning Evaluation framework developed within the CCSL project is one of its most practical and potentially impactful products. Etienne Wenger and Bev Trayner have also been working on a strategic evaluation of network activities’ which provides a rich, evaluative framework.


Using the social learning framework of Wenger-Trayner to visioning and planning (image credit: Wenger/Trayner)

They continue to develop their ideas and have been recording progress in their blog. This video introduces their work (and has a great soundtrack!)


Social Learning – back to its roots.

Given its centrality to human interaction and learning it’s hardly surprising that the basics of social learning keep cropping up, at the most grassroots levels through to elevated policy fora. This 2006 paper from Siebenhuner describes social learning processes at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example. While we all constantly engage in social learning, how can we isolate good practice in a way that others can learn from to improve their social learning initiatives? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, at its core, it’s a reflective process on the part of individuals and groups, being aware of what is happening, noting when and where learning takes place, recording it, reflecting on it, and then sharing individual and collective insights and reflections with other groups and individuals. In essence, it’s networked social learning.

In 2016, engaging with social and other digital media is part of the answer, including blogging, sharing presentations on slideshare; sharing ideas and asking questions in email groups and social networks like Twitter and Yammer; sharing photos on Instagram or Flickr to trigger conversations. Such ‘working out loud’ is encouraged in many organisations seeking to embed networked social learning into their processes and practice, as in UNDP’s recent revision of its’ KM strategy, for example.

But to go back to where we started, and connect with people working in agriculture to achieve food security, who also face the on-the-ground impact of climate change, it’s about noticing when and where people meet and talk – whether on cattle trails or at agricultural markets, for example. Then, as is evidenced another blog from eMkambo about their fascinating work on learning in agricultural markets in Zimbabwe, it’s about listening, learning and encouraging activity that increases equitable collaboration between farmers, researchers, and policy makers in co-creating knowledge on climate smart agriculture, and thus potentially increasing people’s access to and influence on power.

[1] Future Connect: A Review of Social Networking Today, Tomorrow and Beyond, and Challenges for AIDS Communicators


Social learning at the AgKnowledge innovation process ShareFair

Social Learning is, almost by definition, a form of Slow Learning ( Yet post-event evaluations generally happen immediately or soon after completion. And, generally speaking again, evaluations tend to be positive, unless the event has been a disaster – it does happen!

People have enjoyed meeting others, having fun, escaping everyday work and being stimulated with new ideas. And above all, people are full of good intentions – to do things differently, follow up on contacts and change how they work. So we thought it would be interesting to follow up the May 2015 Innovation Process ShareFair some time later, to investigate the longer-term outcomes. What were people saying some months later, when they were back to the grindstone?

As a reminder, the Sharefair happened at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) campus in Addis Ababa, and the event wiki ( has more details about the collaborating organisations, agenda, reports and photos.

Here’s a summary of the event objectives:
“We are constantly seeking process improvements that help us.

  • 2007-09-04-team-buildingTackle tough issues through collective actions
  • Collaborate across teams
  • Forge and sustain partnerships for impact
  • Take interventions to scale
  • Engage effectively with local expertise
  • Empower different actors
  • Develop capacities for innovation and learning
  • Facilitate dialogue and conversations

… using these ideas as guiding threads, the share fair will use innovative design, process facilitation, and the active involvement of expert practitioners (and learners), to:

  1. Showcase, test and assess a set of the most promising ‘process improvements’ known to make (agricultural) research and development activities, programs, and institutes more effective.
  2. Energize, catalyze and capacitate a wider generation of ‘transformers’ able to take these approaches to scale.
  3. Help participants develop strong engagement and participatory approaches for problem-solving and foresight.
  4. Help participants assess progress on the challenges they encounter, individually or collectively.

We built a survey round those aims and received 21 responses. And the responses were gratifyingly positive, as shown below

First we asked about networks: “have participants followed up any of the people or conversations that took place at the Fair and has it led to any concrete activity?”, a question that addressed particularly the second aim above


Follow up? Concrete Activity?  Process SFair Graph 2  Process SFair Graph 1


And there was an interesting range of follow up actions, including:

  • Working on building/developing a book on research for development concepts
  • Collaboration on the communication and KM briefs to inform the new CGIAR Research Programmes (CRP).
  • “I was able to connect with fellow communicators as well as key scientists and together we continue to share key research outputs collaboratively – I learnt a lot on pitching to policy makers and what strategies not to use. Subsequently, our engagement has somewhat improved”
  • 1) Proposal draft for a sourcebook development. 2) Interacted again with a new contact that I have met. 3) tried out some of the liberating structures methodologies.
  • Communications Task Force for CGIAR Research Programs
  • Developing materials about online and blended meetings
  • Working on a digital story for CYMMIT with xx
  • Began work with xxxx, yyyyy and others on a book on Institutions for Innovation.

Second, we asked about learning: “is there anything that you learnt, or heard about, or thought about for the first time at the ShareFair that you have since passed onto other people, or tried out in your own work, or means you have or will change something that you do?”, which addressed aim one above.

Process SFair Graph 2

Again, the responses was strongly positive, with a similarly wide range in the examples respondents provided of learning they remembered and already implemented or planned:

  • Different ways of facilitating. How wrong the CG gets research-for-development.
  • Looking at developing a new project using participatory radio.
  • Lots of support for Liberating Structures methodologies
    • Facilitation skills. I used a ‘liberating structure’ facilitation technique for a communications team meeting. It worked and my colleagues enjoyed it.
    • Liberating structures M&E for communications and knowledge management
    • Have used some liberating structures techniques in meetings
  • “I am comfortable with new facilitation techniques which I’ve applied to my work.”
  • Facilitating online meetings – plan a lot more carefully and in detail. Improvisation is fun and easy in f2f meetings, less so online
  • I’ve connected with others about Participatory Video, submitted 2 proposals around it, with one likely to be funded.
  • Better engagement with policy makers for instance by ensuring I pitch key research to the media and organise forums for engaging policy makers
  • The way we operate in groups and facilitate was a new learning that involves participatory processes
  • I have applied a lot of what I learned in other workshops I have facilitated

So, at the simplest level, the organisers can collectively pat themselves on the back. A lot of people have come away from the ShareFair with new ideas, new facilitation methods, concrete proposals and were motivated enough to follow up. And at the level of social learning it’s interesting to note how many of the examples relate to working together with existing and new groups of people.

“What do we know about the long-term legacy of aid programs? Very little, so why not go and find out?”

What this survey couldn’t explore is different levels of learning, whether and how people have engaged with issues more deeply as a result of the ShareFair. We are particularly interested in whether they got to the deepest levels of reflection and questioning that is often called third loop learning – when people consider the conceptual frameworks that govern our work, and the governance processes themselves, in the context of our overall aims. But that would require both more in-depth investigation, probably some interviews, and the tracking of changes over time. That’s an expensive process, and there has been surprisingly little focus on such long-term tracking in Aid or Development.

As we described in a blog about Social Learning and ‘Africa RISING’, it’s very valuable, in terms of seeing sustained impacts, unintended outcomes and systemic effects, to keep track and learn from ideas, networks and people that move through the succession of programs in any particular locality. Programs that may appear unrelated or only loosely connected are in fact more closely linked once a location lens is applied.

Organisations like ILRI and other CGIAR centres that have worked in themes and geographies over a long period represent an especially rich treasury of possible study and learning. Duncan Green opened up the issue in his May 2015 blog post about the long-term legacy of aid programs, a post that is very much worth reading for the large number of ideas and examples in the comments that followed the blog post.

Do you have any examples of long-term studies tracking social learning over timescales of up to a decade or more?

Post by Pete Cranston, Euforic Services

ILRI emerging career researchers learn to use ‘paperless’ data collection techniques

Story by Joyce Maru

Emerging career researchers (ECRs) at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) were recently trained to better collect, organize and manage the data they generate during their day-to-day research activities, starting from data collection in the lab or field through to publishing of research results and archiving.

One of the tools introduced in the training was the Open Data Kit (ODK) which is an open-source suite of tools that helps organizations to author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions. ILRI’s research activities are moving from paper-based data-collection methods to mobile-based options like ODK; therefore there’s a need to ensure that the emerging researchers who support ILRI scientists in the field are up-to-date with these new methodologies.
Using the Open Data Kit at ILRI Ethiopia

The combination of affordable, powerful, mobile devices (e.g. phones, tablets) and easy-to-use readily-available (open-source) software has significantly lowered the barriers to electronic-based data-collection. ODK tools are fairly easy to develop & use and help to speed up the processing for getting data ready for analysis. Furthermore these tools have the potential to decrease research costs, particularly in the long run, by using standard tools and databases and reduced cleaning time if pre-validation quality assurance has been included in the tool design.

This is the stuff that takes data collection to a new level, aids in collecting and accessing data, thus moves the cleaning work faster.
Jesse Owino, PhD fellow

The ECRs were also introduced to ILRI’s biorepository popularly known as Azizi which is a Swahili word meaning ‘precious’. ILRI biorepository is a research service unit at ILRI tasked with ensuring safe, secure and efficient storage of biological materials and their related data. The aim is to develop a collaborative network of partners who share their samples and data, by encouraging the use of common protocols and systems, creating a virtual, distributed resource for probing the diversity of African livestock. The unit currently preserves a wide range of biological materials and has over 84,000 materials which are open source and can be widely used by the research community.

Thanks to CapDev and RMG for closing the tech gap between social and physical science through this training. I feel very equipped and ready to develop my first ODK data tool!
Violet Barasa, research assistant

The training was conducted by ILRI’s Research Methods Group (RMG) working closely with ILRI’s Capacity Development Unit (CapDev) and the People and Organizational Development Unit (POD) units. Twenty two participants, including PhD and MSc fellows and early career researchers (research assistants and technicians) attended the workshop.

The course was part of an 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 assessment to further enrich the their learning experience at ILRI.