25 November 2008

Facebook goes after Twitter ... and fails, for now.

I just read a very interesting article on Facebook negotiating to acquire Twitter.

The analysis of why this deal failed from a business perspective is important and informative - issues such as ad revenue, SMS fees, etc. - as these are important issues related to sustainability (which I still fret are not given enough attention in the ICT4D field). The article is also interesting in the way it discusses differences between social networking (Facebook) from microblogging (Twitter). It's always good to have one more explanation.

From my personal perspective, as a user of both services, I'm glad the two companies are not getting together just yet. I use them for different purposes, and more importantly I think Twitter has gotten better at one particular thing by being focused ... a focus that might get lost in the "bigger picture" of social networking. My hope is that Twitter becomes even better yet staying focused and independent.

29 October 2008

"Mobile Telephony in Rural Areas" 17-28 November 2008 online forum at www.e-agriculture.org

Mobile phones are the success story of bridging the rural digital divide, bringing tangible economic benefits and acting as agents of social mobilization through improved communication. But what are the real challenges that face reaching rural areas, and what are some of today’s most beneficial applications that can help these rural communities, specifically regarding agriculture development?

This Forum will examine the challenges that rural communities face in enhancing the benefits of mobile telephony, and look at some examples of interesting initiatives and good outcomes from around the globe.

Subject Matter experts include:


Charlotte Masiello-Riome, Communications Expert and e-Agriculture.org Coordinator

Michael Riggs, Information Management Specialist for the Asia-Pacific region, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Register on the e-agriculture platform, if you haven’t already done so. Go to http://www.e-agriculture.org/regform.html

13 September 2008

Thoughts on how to Make Meeting Events Interesting, Engaging and Productive

Most of us enjoy the opportunity to go to meetings and conferences where we can meet up with peers, develop our professional network, and exchange ideas. But how often does all the "good stuff" occur in the hallways outside the meeting rooms, at coffee break or a conference dinner - instead of in the actual meeting event itself?!

Reading this week's comments of my colleagues in the KS2 workshop I know this is a shared frustration. So I would like to share one concept for addressing this problem and would be very interested in learning more about the experience of others. The idea itself is not our own, but it seems to be novel in the settings we are working in (given the feedback I've gotten). While it's focused on face-to-face events, the particular example I will give also has virtual elements.

Charlotte Masiello, the dynamo behind the e-Agriculture initiative, and I started working with a new strategy in preparation for last year's e-Agricutlure panel "Continuing Dialogue to Action" at GK3 that we call the "talk show format". The key elements are as follows:
  • There is a panel of distinguished experts (4 or 5 seems ideal, more is unwieldy, less is not as dynamic).
  • No presentations are allowed! this is made very clear to the panel in advance (and it does take some convincing with some individuals).
  • There is a host/facilitator who has the personality to keep the event lively and can be pleasant but firm in keeping the conversation on track, which may involve dealing with an expert panelist who wants to monologue through the whole event (think Oprah here).
  • Before the event the panelists and host informally prepare two points:
  1. very short introductions, just sufficient to link expertise to topic at hand (it helps to reassure the panelists that their expertise is such that they are already well known and it is not necessary to present their entire CV);
  2. the host discusses with each panelist an initial question they will receive to pique the audience's interest, demonstrate some of the panelist's expertise, and get the ball rolling...
  • Concise, brief background information of some sort (e.g. a flyer) is distributed to audience as they come in to the event with information about the subject.
  • Then the host (or better yet an assistant) takes a mic out to the audience and asks not only for questions but their own thoughts/ideas ... again the key is to let the audience know that long monologs are not allowed.
  • It's the host's job then to "repackage" a set of audience interventions and direct them back to the panel, either as answers to questions or to expound upon an insightful audience comment.
We had a very good experience at GK3, with a lot of positive feedback after the event from people in the audience, some even telling us it was the best single event they attended (in what was otherwise a really excellent 4 day event).

So we have continued this tactic, most recently through my involvement in two events at eIndia 2008 and last month at IAALD-WCCA-AFITA World Congress. Each event has been an experience, and the dynamics have changed depending on the audience size and cultural make up, but each has been a success by following the steps above.

Not only do we continue to get good feedback from both the audience and panelists, but we are getting useful and actionable outputs to work on after the event.

As an example of this, there is an important issue in Asia about the role of public-private partnerships in e-Agriculture, which was identified at GK3. We decided to attack this topic though an online forum hosted on the e-Agriculture.org platform. The outcomes of that were summarized in a 2 page brief, which provided the background document for a face-to-face event, a panel discussion on the same topic at eIndia. The outputs of the eIndia panel were summarized and disseminated by e-Agrigulture and GKP. This was then briefly reviewed by one expert as one part of a larger e-Agriculture panel event at IAALD-AFITA-WCCA, and through the audience discussion that followed we have extended the key issues further. At the moment I've just revising the policy brief to improve it based on all the interventions (it's not posted yet, but I'll link it here as soon as it is).

FUNDING for Research on ICT and Society in Asia!

From my colleague Clare comes good news for anyone interested in expanding our knowledge of ICT4D issues in Asia, particularly ICT's impact on society, through rigorous academic research.

IDRC and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University SiRC (Strengthening ICT4D Research Capacity in Asia) have joined together and announced their first call for grant proposals under the new initiative SIRCA. Grants of up to SGD33,000 are available.

For information about SIRCA see www.ntu.edu.sg/sci/sirc/sirca

Clare also says that anyone interested in ICT4D in Asia can contact Clint Rogers at clint.rogers2008@gmail.com as he is trying to get together a group of people interested in submitting a joint proposal for SiRCA.

Thanks to Clare for the information. Funds for ICT4D research! What a great thing! Please let me know if you apply so I can follow your research, learn from it and share with others.

The learning never stops!

09 September 2008

Ambient Awareness - brining a small town feel back to the global village

"Ambient awareness" I just learned this term yesterday in a fascinating IHT article by Clive Thompson. Googling the term there seems to be very little out there, not even a rough new Wikipedia entry...

Ambient awareness is the product of micro-blogging with such applications as Twitter or the status bar on Facebook.

It's tiny shards of information about an individual that are often simplistic, even silly on their own. But taken over time, all those tiny bits of information about an individual add up to something much greater! They can reproduce something like the insights into an individual one gets when in close physical proximity to another.

The article points out that this is a very difficult phenomenon to understand until you have experienced it. I concur with this given my recent experimenting with Twitter. There are also potential downsides and misunderstandings, as with any new application.

My friend Edgar Tan has already blogged about this and considers how ambient awareness might be considered at the organizational level.

What's exciting to me about this is that ambient awareness can bring context and human scale back to the digital world. It gives a bit of that "small town feeling" back to the global village. It has the potential to enhance the human social linkages necessary to improve knowledge sharing and information management. And it can bring together a network that improves problem solving. That makes me smile! Something wonderful is about to happen...

Twitter Experiment at IAALD World Congress 2008 a Great Success!

Well, simply put I am now officially a Twitter fan ... is there a term for this? Am I a “Twitterite” or a “Twitteree” or something like that?

You will know if you've read a few of my blog postings from last month that I started experimenting with Twitter, which was an idea that came into my head while taking the CGIAR-FAO Knowledge Sharing workshop earlier this year. Although initially I was quite skeptical that “microblogging” could provide enough information to be truly useful.

As timing would have it (serendipity anyone?) just after I subscribed to Twitter, Nancy White went to New Zealand to attend the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) 2008 Conference and was twittering the event with the tag “DEANZ08”. Suddenly I realized I had insight into a conference that I wasn’t attending and frankly hadn’t even been on my radar. Better yet, even though I didn’t attend the conference through Nancy’s tweets I got some nuggets of interest that I followed up (Googled in fact) to learn more about on my own. Then came the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress 2008, for which the tag “aginfo8” was coined by Peter Balantyne, and one of the panels I participated in was to discuss the use of cellular telephones in the development setting, and well, I was inspired. This was my chance to run a little experiment of my own to see if Twitter really was worth my time.

I started by twittering the conference. Just putting up one or two “tweets” per session that I attended, highlighting something I thought was key or interesting. I have feedback from people following me on Twitter that this was appreciated: (an example from my Twitter)
  • gervis @mongkolroek thank you Michael for keeping us posted by a #aginfo98 report and thank youu @nancywhite for pointing to the JAALD tweets 11:12 AM August 27, 2008 from web

The third day of the conference was the plenary e-Agriculture panel. So that morning (early Japan time) I asked a question on Twitter about the use of cell phones in the ICT4D area. Guess what? I got replies and I referenced one reply (below) as an example while I was on the panel.
  • Argentina provides a good case of mobilization of farmers supported by mobiles to organize the strike against govn't in food prices crisis 07:29 AM August 27, 2008
This brought together COP, mobile telephony, and the food price crisis all in one inspired moment! I was very pleased, and I am also sold on the value of Twitter and microblogging.

Me Twittering during the panel discussion.
(Photo Credit: Shehzaad Shams

My colleague Gauri was also using Twitter at the conference. When the IAALD web 2.0 team found out about this, they interviewed us and posted the short video clip. (I think the video is a pretty awful image of me – strangely that little camera made me more uncomfortable than a room full of people! But content wise it is pretty good.)

There are some limitations with Twitter, mainly arising from two issues, both of which the Twitter developers are very forthright in addressing on their website/blog. First, the service has gotten popular enough that the servers exceed capacity at times and one has to be a bit patient to get data. Second, there is a limitation on who can receive outgoing SMS based on the country your SIM card is registered in. In Thailand, where I live, we cannot get SMS updates. Those limitations aside, this is a great service, and in time I think (hope!) these limitations will be addressed.

Twitter on!

05 September 2008

Sharing the events of last week's IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress with the tag "aginfo8"

So many interesting things transpired at the World Congress in Japan last week that I have been struggling with what to write about next! With time slipping away as it does, I've suddenly realized the efficient issue is to make sure everyone interested is aware of the tag "aginfo8".

Just search the tag in your favorite search engine, or use it in any of the web2 applications that were used by the organizers and several participants at the event (Flickr, Feedburner, Slideshare, Delicious, etc.) and you'll find loads of great information from presenters' slides to commentary from the audiences.

For those who prefer a more direct approach, here is a list of resources kindly provided by Peter Ballantyne and the Euforic web 2 team:

My congratulations to the three organizations as well as the hosts in Japan for an excellent job in organizing this event and providing an opportunity for sharing and learning. As a final note, the next IAALD meeting will be in Montepellier, France in 2010.

26 August 2008

The Challenges of Reaching Individuals with Information

Setting the stage on day one of the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress

On the first day of the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Conference, Peter Ballantyne proposed a question to unify and focus our thoughts over the duration of this conference, “How can we make agricultural information and IT truly accessible?”

An excellent keynote presentation by Fedro Zazueta (University of Florida) reviewed the development of online education, in which he characterized new means of disseminating information and knowledge sharing as “connected, fast, smart, alien and deeply disruptive”! I found the last two adjectives the most critical and deserving of consideration, as I think it is something we IM/KM professionals tend to lose sight of. Even in developed countries, new technologies for information delivery can create stresses at both the individual and organizational level which were not present before the paradigm shifts we are experiencing in this information age. In developing countries, how much more alien and disruptive can this be?

These issues were picked up in a slightly different light in the presentation by Luz Marina Alvare on how IFPRI has recognized that different generations and disciplines both respond to and access information in very different ways. The situation poses several challenges, both from the need to reach all these generations and disciplines, as well as to managing the concerns that arise from the different dissemination and knowledge sharing methods used. In particular it is necessary to address concerns about the risk versus the value of web2.0 tools, which are still not widely appreciated or supported by positive data. As we might expect, the younger generations are more responsive to information delivered in web2.0 applications, as are certain disciplines such as journalists who like to glean information from blogs.

Prof. Mei Fangquan (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences) focused his keynote on ICT4D strategy in China and emphasized the challenges of the “first mile” of connectivity and providing locally relevant content, an issue that was echoed and developed in many of the papers presented later that day.

20 August 2008

Meeting of Minds, Sharing of Knowledge: e-Agriculture next week in Japan

e-Agriculture at the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Conference

I'm looking forward to joining the World Conference next week. It is a great opportunity that all three organizations have joined together for this conference, as I am sure it will not only bring together a large group of people from around the world dedicated to the application of ICT in development, but will also bring together a wide cross-section of experiences, knowledge and perspectives, from organizational capacity building to IT infrastructure, from metadata standards to community KS forums. It is this opportunity to interact and form new relationships, share knowledge and extend our personal networks that will be the great value at the end of the four days.

The conference takes place 24-27 August 2008 in Atsugi, Japan at the Tokyo University of Agriculture. The e-Agriculture plenary session will be on Wednesday, 27 August, from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM. I really believe in the e-Agriculture initiative and am pleased that I was asked to participate in this event.

Information from the e-Agriculture news flash sent out yesterday notes:

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will facilitate an e-Agriculture panel to deliberate issues of ICT as enablers in various critical areas of development, as well as the role of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in support of e-Agriculture.

The session will be an interactive discussion with the audience, with the panel anchored by:
- Alexander Flor, Dean, Faculty of Information and Communication Studies, UPOU;
- Manish Pandey, Deputy General Manager, Katalyst-Swisscontact;
- Michael Riggs, Information Management Specialist, FAO RAP;
- Roxanna Samii, International Fund for Agricultural Development;
and Stephen Rudgard, FAO, as the moderator.

The panelists will share knowledge and experiences, and the audience encouraged to contribute on topics such as the use of mobile telephony use in rural areas, with particular reference to ameliorate global soaring food prices, and knowledge brokering services in support of agricultural development, including Communities of Practice and approaches to building capacity.

There will also be a reprise of the issues arising in this year’s PPP online forum and eIndia conference discussion session entitled "Making e-Agriculture Work through Public Private Partnership in Asia". Experience and lessons in Bangladesh (Katalyst) and West Africa (Tradenet) will be contributed.

Full details of the PPP online forum, and reviews of the two sessions organized by FAO, the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), OneWorld South Asia and Katalyst in the e-Agriculture track of India's largest ICT Event, eIndia 2008 in July 2008, can be found on www.e-agriculture.org.

For more information on IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Conference please see http://iaald-afita-wcca2008.org/

Launch of CIARD

There will also be a plenary session on the 27th to launch CIARD, the Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development. Earlier this year, a group of organizations from around the world got together to establish this initiative, which aims to make agricultural research information publicly available and accessible to all. Several of the founding partners will be present to help launch CIARD with all the World Congress' participants this day.

Twitter Trials entry Two

Well I've been using Twitter for several days now ... my initial impression is it is a potentially powerful knowledge sharing tool for those who can make full use of the application, i.e. those who can easily (and inexpensively) send and receive "tweets," particularly real time.

However as I've discovered in many countries, my home base Thailand being one of them, there is no way to receive SMS-based tweets on one's cellphone. It is possible using cellphone apps that take advantage of EDGE or similar data transfer protocols, but this introduces a different cost factor. After reading a bit I decided to install Twitteriffic on my iPhone, which has been easy to use and seems to be a decent application for tweeting. However, I have yet to decide I want to pay for a higher level of data transfers using my provider's EDGE service. This would be necessary if I use Twitteriffic very much.

My iPhone won't work at all from Japan next week, where I will be attending the IAALD-AFITA-WCCA World Congress. However, I will attempt to tweet from my laptop - I was inspired by Nancy White's tweets from a meeting in New Zealand this week. Just one more element of my own personal "Twitter trials".

14 August 2008

The Twitter Trials

OK who out there is using Twitter?

Although I have been aware of it and done some reading about it, I'll admit to being a lagging adopter in this case. I even brought it up in the KS course I took earlier this year to learn more about it, but still didn't join. Then today I read some blogs on Twittering by

So today I signed up for Twitter. My ID is "mongkolroek" if you are interested in following me there...

Really what I want to know is how Twitter will be useful for me and also for the communities I am working with. There is a growing interest in the use of mobile phones in the ICT4D field. The interest in, indeed the use of mobiles in the development field is not new. It seems the frequency of mobile phones coming up in discussions I've had with colleagues and partners, and posts I've seen online here and there have increasingly referenced the use of mobiles. Maybe there's now a wider acceptance of their importance, and/or the service is more widely available/affordable, and/or an expansion of functions beyond managing price data, and/or maybe something else.

If anyone can point me to some good information about the value of mobile phones in ICT4D (in practice or theoretical) that would be great.

31 July 2008

Focus on multi-stakeholder partnerships and develop tangible new ICT projects says forum

“Making e-Agriculture Work through Public Private Partnership in Asia” a panel discussion.

At eIndia yesterday, partners in the global e-Agriculture initiative came together to continue the discussion about the role of public private partnerships (PPP) in supporting e-agriculture. (Building on the March 2008 online forum on www.e-agriculture.org.)

I’m very pleased that we were successful in creating a lively audience-focused discussion, anchored by four experienced panelists. During the 90 minute period we identified the need to move from a focus on PPP to a more inclusive “multi-stakeholder partnerships” (MSP). The importance of MSP was further supported with examples of the important roles that could be played by stakeholders from government, the private sector, NGOs, farmers, intermediaries, and others.

The complexity of this form of relationship has great potential for advancing the use of ICT to support sustainable rural development. Success depends on merging the different agendas of each stakeholder in complementary ways, finding complementary competencies, and recognizing the professional integrity and incentives of all participants.

In addition to the critical issues identified in the online forum (which are summarized in a two page policy brief), the discussion added the critical role of addressing organizational issues from the beginning of the programme, in order to assure sustainability and maximizing benefits.

These are the organizational management issues that I continue to find are key to most ICT4D projects. This very issue had been emphasized earlier in the day by the presentation of Dr. Sapna Narula, Assistant Professor at the University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar.

The importance of delivering user-focused, demand driven content was re-emphasized, as well as the need to not only continue documenting successful cases of MSP supporting e-agriculture, but to develop from these cases a comprehensive set of business models for implementation.

Finally, it was recommended that the next forum should focus on in country interventions, with clear objectives of defining pilot and proof of concept projects, clearly defining the focus of part of my own work in the coming months.

16 July 2008

Looking Towards e-Agriculture at eIndia 2008!

The next main ICT4D event in this region will be eIndia 2008, 29-31 July, in New Delhi.

In the eAgriculture track at eIndia, FAO, GKP and OneWorld South Asia have teamed up to bring some of the brightest minds in KM4D and ICT4D together at this event, people dedicated to improving rural development. The group will discuss some new topics, shine the light on some challenges, and see what innovative ideas the collective group can identify for acting on in the near future.

There will be a headline presenation on
the global e-Agriculture initiative and the growing importance of the e-agriculture.org platform in Asia-Pacific.

On Wednesday, 30 July there will be a panel discussion on "Making e-Agriculture work through public-private partnership in Asia."
Public private partnerships (PPPs) in e-Agriculture are generally found at the community level where the strengths of the public and private sectors complement each other in providing information and advisory services that address the needs of farmers and rural communities. Examples of PPP in e-Agriculture abound in Asia-Pacific, and range from establishing access points (e.g. cybercaf├ęs, telecenters) to generation and delivery of content through mobile phones (SMS) and the internet. Understanding why a PPP is required, the respective mandates and incentives of the partners, and their roles in the partnership, are fundamental to its success. This face-to-face event builds on the March 2008 online forum hosted by www.e-agriculture.org with an audience led discussion on how to further this understanding, and to identify opportunities for collaboration.
- Mr. Amit Dasgupta, IBM Global Services India
- Mr. Manish Pandey, Deputy General Manager , Katalyst-Swisscontact
- Mr. Naimur Rahman, Director, OneWorld South Asia
- Dr. (Mr) N.T. Yaduraju, NAIP/ICAR
- Dr. (Ms) Amrita Patel, Chairman, National Dairy Development Board (TBC)
Moderated by Michael Riggs, FAO

On Thursday, 31 July there will be a panel
discussion on "The role of communities of practice (COP) and networks in e-Agriculture." COP strengthen links between networks of practitioners, allow individuals to gather and gain access to policy and technical information, facilitate sharing and exchange of complementary knowledge and resources, and can organize and create knowledge in ways that are flexible. Following up the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) plan of action, the e-Agriculture Working Group conducted a global survey on "e-agriculture". The need for networks of experts and a community of practice was high on the resulting list of actions. This panel representing some of the leading COP in Asia that are active through virtual collaboration spaces, face-to-face events, and in-country interventions. The panel will interact with the audience to analyze what role COP play and what value they bring to the application of e-Agriculture and through that successful, sustainable rural development in the region.
- Dr. Gopi Ghosh, Assistant FAO Representative, and Solution Exchange India network coordinator
- Dr. Alexander Flor, Dean & Professor, Faculty of Information and Communication Studies, University of the Philippines Open Univ.
- Mr. Michael Riggs, e-Agriculture.org
- Mr. Rikin Gandhi, Assistant Researcher, Microsoft Research India; Founding Member, Digital Green
- Dr. (Ms) Prema Ramchandran, Director, Nutrition Foundation of India
Moderated by Ms. Shalini Kala, IDRC, ENRAP coordinator

And so much more!! It's a chance to listen, learn, speak, meet and network ... all key to personal knowledge sharing!
I hope to see you there. Do come up and say "hi" when you see me! ;-)

09 July 2008

Network Globally, Focus Locally - success in the age of Internet networking

The uniquely successful use of social networking by a candidate* in the upcoming American Presidential race is discussed in an online International Herald Tribune article. The article notes that by borrowing from principles that drive Facebook the highly successful social networking site (indeed they even “borrowed” one of Facebook’s founders to manage the site), this candidate’s website growth strategy is driven by the principle: keep it real and keep it local.

This is a true challenge in the facilitation of any large online community. While novelty and the excitement of newness can quickly galvanize a new community online, it remains a challenge to keep a large, geographically and culturally disperse community dynamic and working together productively in the medium-term. The e-Agriculture community, while still young and growing, recognized this challenge from the beginning and has been striving to keep it real and local, buy targeting solutions to key issues identified by the community itself, and by fostering locally-relevant events on subjects such as public private partnerships.

This political candidate’s site discussed on IHT.com also shows the power of reaching beyond the typical younger, Internet savvy crowd that flocks to social networking sites by advocating “off line” actions and more traditional modes of communication such as house parties and telephone banks. Here I think there is another parallel with the e-Agriculture community, as it focuses on three levels of action: the online Community of Experts global platform www.e-agriculture.org; face-to-face events, including GK3, and the upcoming eIndia2008 and IAALD World Congress; and in-country interventions.

The e-Agriculture community developed for everyone trying to improve sustainable rural development through the use of ICT. Join the community, voice your concerns and opinions, and use the online platform to sound out issues important to your local community as we did with the public private partnerships forum. Success is there waiting for us!

* While many of you have probably guessed who this candidate is, I have intentionally left out a name so as not to distract from the ICT issues at hand, and leave the debate on national politics to other blogs ;-)

21 May 2008

ICT and the Generations

I found a very interesting article "Ten Reasons Gen Xers are Unhappy at Work" (It comes from the author's larger group of online discussions on Gen X and Y management issues. The site is a new find for me, and as I find it quite interesting I am sharing.)

By the way, I guess I should divulge that I am part of Gen X.

We will get to ICT, but first let me say it is very interesting to read analysis about managing different generations. If one generalizes about my workplace, my superiors are mostly Boomers, my peers are Gen X, and the newer staff are Gen Y. Quite a conundrum!

Recently I was told that Gen Y has proclaimed itself renamed the "Millennium Generation." Hmm ... I mean they were hardly even old enough to worry about their Windows files exploding on the "doom" date of 01/01/00!

Getting back to the issue at hand, there are some very useful tidbits - points 5, 6 & 8 - in this article about how the different generations relate to new technologies and also how they communicate. Both of these issues are critical to successful application of ICT for development (or in any context really). It may be possible to argue this is written from a the perspective of a western manger, and while I agree adamantly that awareness and understanding of cultural context is critical, I still find the considerations and sensitivities made apparent by this author's writings applicable here in Asia.

We must be aware of how different groups of people relate to each other and to technology. Generalizations are useful tools in developing models to handle such situations (and as such I disagree with some of the detractors of this article). We have to start somewhere, and an informed generalization combined with experience and skill (wisdom?!) can lead to the successful adaption of good ICT4D models in our day-to-day, real world projects and programs.

07 May 2008

Human Capacity Building Efforts of FAO and Others Brought to a New Focus Online

The role of capacity building is essential to knowledge management and sharing, and of crucial importance in the development field. Without an understanding of both the information that is available to us as well as the tools and methodologies to organize and make use of this information, it cannot have a positive impact and we get nowhere.

FAO says c
apacity building is at the heart of its mandate, a fact reinforced by the recent IEE report (PDF file). To further this role, FAO has just published the Capacity Building Portal, contributing to the organization’s “vision to strengthen the national capacities of its member states to achieve their goals in food security and agricultural development.”

The portal highlights:
  • Learning Resources, both corporate and specialized collections
  • Learning Services, searchable by keyword and topic and providing access to FAO's Fellowships/Funding Sources database
  • Featured Sites highlighting specific initiatives in capacity building

There are links to FAO's own featured capacity building sites, to other initiatives in the UN, and to the broader international development community’s efforts. I encourage the ICT4D community to try this site in order to identify new capacity building resources and tools.

18 April 2008

Learning never stops!

Some spontaneous thoughts on PLN ... Nancy White's bookmarks on del.icio.us just showed up with something about "PLN"and somehow it occurred to me that I needed to know what this meant. Timely really, as I read this article on David Warlick's blog, because I am just wrapping up a four week online course on knowledge sharing, which I now realize is a clear example of my PLN, my "Personal Learning Network."

Learning is next to godliness ... somehow my PLN of my early years managed to sink that value deep into me. Although caught up in the day-to-day demands of large organizations and professional "carrots and sticks," I think it becomes possible to lose track of this. PLN play a vital role not only for one self, but also for others as:
  • part of our own "continuing education" for professional and personal development
  • something to be instilled in others; key role in mentoring and managing
Each of these points is an essay in itself. Does anyone know of good information supporting these ideas?

My mind has already got me thinking of how the Web2.0 technologies will impact our PLN. The article talks about Twitter.

Personally I'm fascinated thinking of the cultural and organizational impact of technology such as Twitter ... an enclosed classroom or meeting room, or a delimited group of individuals, is suddenly opened up to the Global Village. Of course opening up can be good or bad, depending on one's perspective. Not all would be comfortable with, welcome, or find value in this level of exposure. I doubt there will be Twittering in my office's meetings anytime soon!

It would seem there is the potential for too much of a good thing here, although Twitter's website does say it is the "modern antidote to information overload." There certainly is a need for limiting or filtering, and this is why the role of an established, defined networks is so very important.

But the potential for valuable input is phenomenal.

16 April 2008

Knowledge Societies and Governance in Asia

I was recently invited to speak at a conference that considered the development of knowledge societies in Asia, and how this development has an impact on economies and in particular governance. It was a very interesting (and for me very unusual) gathering of individuals from academia, government, the private sector and development organizations.

There were some fascinating presentations on the impact of cultural diversity on knowledge sharing, efforts to quantify the impact of ICT on development and economic growth, projects to alleviate poverty and food insecurity with ICT, successes and failures in large scale knowledge management practices, national case studies, and many other topics. It was both a good opportunity to network with colleagues, and also a chance to learn both theory and practice from some leading thinkers in the knowledge management field.

This all took place under the banner of the Fourth International Research Conference on Asian Business - Knowledge Architectures for Development: Challenges Ahead for Business and Governance and was held at Singapore Management University, 24-25 March 2008.

Further information is available on the conference website.

04 April 2008

The Medium and the Message

Aaarg! I fear another one of these "chicken and egg" issues...

Vanessa, a member of my KS workshop asked this critical question:
What is the relationship between knowing your audience and communicating to them? If we want to communicate results to policymakers, the private sector and donors... do we take a different approach for each stakeholder? do we change the medium or just the message?
The message has to be tailored to the audience, this I believe just from my own professional experience. FAO’s technical publications on climate change are not suited to children studying climate change in grade school. Research journals on climate change may not necessarily give policy makers information in a form they can use for decision making. The impact of climate change is different from the perspective of a local NGO versus an international organization.

Personally I have been frustrated for years now by the question "WHO?" is responsible for tailoring all the information that is already readily available to those who need it. I’ve come to the conclusion it is something of a rhetorical questions resulting from varying levels of understanding of KM/KS principles amongst users, unequal allocation of KS resources, and a history of an “if we build it they will come” attitude about information management, amongst other things. Does anyone have a different take on this?

As for methods, this also needs to be "appropriate" as was noted in our workshop’s conference call this morning when someone raised the issue of how a choice of tools could actually bias the outcome of an exercise. (The example was mapping software in which it is intrinsically easier to create hub-and-spoke type relationships over other forms of networks.)

Personally I find that working on a computer is not conducive to group work. I'm not being a Luddite here! I just observe that for some reason when a group is around a computer most people tend to sit back and observe while the one or two people with their hands on the mouse do most of the actual thinking. Whereas working on a big sheet of paper with post-its is something that everyone can interact with simultaneously and thus there is more collaborative thinking. The computer-based tools are more useful for iterative work.

First hand experiencing with these is what we really need to start making informed choices. Thank goodness for workshops like this one that I’m in. Networks of practitioners were also pointed out as good ways to get experience with some of the methods. For example:

This is a very complicate subject, and something I need to look into and learn more about with the help of my colleagues and friends.

03 April 2008

The Individual or the Organization: Which Matters for Effective Knowledge Sharing?

In the KS workshop we had an exercise to map a network (see the image of my work below). I chose to map a network in the e-Agriculture community that I am working with, based on an online forum/discussion group. It may go down in the history books as "easier said than done"!

One of the major challenges was deciding whether to map individuals, organizations, or some combination of both. In the end I have a combination, a combination that changed as I progressed through the assignment. Ultimately I chose to go with more organizational groups and fewer individuals mainly to make mapping different lines of communication a simpler process. But then this led to questions, and more questions by a colleague and facilitator.

1) What about the individuals & related communication flows we know exist, but cannot "see" and thus cannot map?
2) What are the pros, cons of mapping individuals versus mapping organizations/groups?
3) What happens to the lines in a map when an individual moves in/out of a particular position within an organization?

I think the answer to question 1 is that these can be elucidated by different means, so part of the exercise is determining if it is necessary/worthwhile to make the effort.

Points 2 and 3 are interlinked. But I'm having a hard time rationalizing the individual/organization relationship. I think (but need some help on this) that it's the individual that is responsible for the communication/KS so that the individual is key. And that individuals moving from position to position (inter- or intra-organizationally) move their communication lines with them, but by necessity evolve those lines based on their new environment. Thus the organization is the environment ... enabling or otherwise. Hmm....

31 March 2008

Sharing Knowledge with me and others (a course!)

I am currently a participant in a workshop on knowledge sharing (KS) techniques supported by CGIAR and facilitated by four great individuals. A professional development opportunity!! Wonderful.

For this workshop I personally have two goals: to develop my understanding of good KS and my ability to apply KS tools; and, to expand my network of professionals working in the KS/KM field. I want to improve myself and be able to do a better job at my work, but I also know that I can never do it all nor do I work in a vacuum. (But it does get lonely out here some times!) The network of professional friends is what really brings it all together in the end.

The success of this could be judged through my application of the things we learn in my work and hopefully through the identification of some common interests (maybe even specific projects?) with others who are taking the course with me.

The course is run in a space on the net created with Moodle. This in itself is a learning experience for me, as I know about this application from our IMARK team, but have not actually experienced it first hand! The learning space is choc (hey, that’s a Nancy White term isn’t it?!) FULL of stuff and we’re just though our first week. It’s fascinating and a bit overwhelming at the same time. All the things I don’t know laid out in front of me … and then there’s trying to balance this opportunity to learn new things with the day-to-day demands of my regular work. I will mange :-D

LEARNING! Never stop learning.

(This is the first of several posts that I will be making during the online KS workshop.)

12 March 2008

Collaboration and Advocacy Techniques Course Online

Never stop learning! Opportunties to learn at our own pace and for free, to upgrade our own skills and knowledge are increasing. This is one excellent opportunity for people working in development, especially related to food security.

"Collaboration and Advocacy Techniques," a new e-learning course including resources for trainers and practical guides, has been released by the EC-FAOFood Security Programme in collaboration with the Overseas DevelopmentInstitute's (ODI) Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) Programme andWomen Thrive Worldwide.

This course illustrates a wide range of tools and techniques that can be usedto improve collaboration and knowledge sharing, and provides guidance onconducting collaborative food security assessments. The course alsointroduces the concept of advocacy and the various advocacy techniquesrequired to influence different audiences.

The course is available free of charge on-line and on CD-Rom.

How to Access the Course and Related Materials

To access the e-learning course on-line, go to:
To download the resources for trainers, go to:
To access the practical guides, go to:

If you have problems with on-line access, order a CD-Rom at:

05 March 2008

e-Agriculture and Public-Private Partnerships Forum

I’ve been lucky enough to meet quite a few dynamic, intelligent, dedicated people in my life. There were a whole lot of people with these qualities at the GKP Event on the Future, Third Global Knowledge Conference (GK3) last December in KL. Through events like the special panel on “e-Agriculture: Continuing Dialogue to Action” there were many ideas that began to form and one is now ready to be launched!

e-Agriculture.org is hosting an online forum "Making e-Agriculture Work through Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Asia" 10-28 March 2008. It is open to everyone and I encourage you to join, participate, voice your thoughts, share your experiences, and take in the ideas and experiences of others dedicated to ICT4D in the region.

The forum has a super team of experts and moderators including Dr. M. Asaduzzaman from BIDS, Bangladesh; Amit Dasgupta, General Manager of IBM Global Services India; Philip DesAutels, Academic Evangelist at Microsoft; Naimur Rahman, Director of OneWorld South Asia; Sunit Shrestha, Director of TNR Institute; Manish Pandey of Katalyst; and Charlotte Masiello-Riome, WSIS focal point for e-agriculture. Oh, and me too! A little bit of self-promotion is ok isn't it? ;-)

For more information and sign-up go to http://www.e-agriculture.org/

26 February 2008

ICT and the Climate Crisis

I just saw a presentation by Stuart Scott (who was trained by Al Gore) on "the Climate Crisis". This is the second time in two days I have been involved in a discussion on this important topic and it has me thinking about ways that ICT4D can have positive impact on this. Mr Scott has a website at http://www.climatecorps.org/, that alone is indication that ICT plays some role in moderating, if not abating, the climate crisis!

Agriculture has a key role in climate change, no question there. ICT on the other hand is not yet in the forefront on this subject. From what little I have read on the subject, ITC industries have a relatively low greenhouse gas emission levels. That's good (if it's correct). Still more interesting (at least to me and maybe to the broader community?) is ICT's potential as a potent mitigator of climate change. At first glance it would seem there are several levels on which this can occur: reducing the need for travel, fascilitating dissemination of appropriate knowledge in a timely manner, monitoring change/impact, providing ability to analyze at multiple levels (from local to global).

There's also the question of how do we improve livelihoods without further negatively impacting the climate? The culture of change and changing cultures. Let's think on this one.

29 January 2008

Design and Development - Sharing Ideas

At the World Economic Forum discussions encompass many topics, including the design field. A panel of four prominent thought leaders in the design field spoke on their expectations for the future, and I find some of these ideas not only interesting but applicable to the development field.

Rarely do I hear design and development spoken of at the same time, but I think there is something each field can learn from the other. After all, what are we all looking for but solutions to a problem?

In particular I found the comments by John Maeda, President of RISD, relevant. He indicated there needs to be an increased transparency in design (in fact noting the processes of developing open-source software as a model that had applications in the design field), simplicity and the goal of simplification, and finally the importance of finding beauty (or something good) in every day things. To me all three of these concepts are directly relevant to improving information management projects for development.

An article about this event can be found online in the International Herald Tribute article by Alice Rawsthorn at http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/25/arts/design28.php