Productive Strategies for Using Information Streams in Development

nullJon Thompson pointed me to a very interesting social media project at the World Food Programme, CipCip. Here is a brief bit about it.

The Life of a Project Called “Deliver”: CipCip: It is not what you do, but who you do it with
Long gone are the times where you put a knowledgeable person somewhere and she or he could do the job. Our work has become so complex, time-critical and crucial to saving lives that “collaboration” with others has become a must. Not only with external parties like donors, government counterparts and other NGOs/UN agencies but also internally within the organisation.

“Information” is a key part of the collaboration. Accessing and sharing information a must.

And data is everywhere. From corporate servers, to Access databases in field offices, to Excel spreadsheets somewhere on individual computers. There is not one bit of information that exists, which is not in a digital form, apart from the feeling of the sand between your toes on a romantic summer evening.

The data exists. But is hardly made accessible let alone shared.

With the DELIVER project we aim to make the information, essential for moving 4.7 million tons of food annually, available to all those who need it. And more.

One of the key goals of DELIVER is the collection, analysis, storage and dispatch of time critical information, generated by systems, people or by public sources.

This is a cool project and reminds me of some other efforts that are swirling around as people in NGOs/NPOs seek to understand a strategic application of social media. Look at the cool work that Tracker is doing. There is this liberating idea that no one organization or person is the central source of information. They key is capturing useful information into a flow, then use the intelligence of the associated community to pull out key stuff and connections with people who can tell more or act on the ‘stuff.’

We talk about overwhelm. It is reality now. So schemes to swim productively in the overwhelm in a strategic matter should be our focus.

What is your scheme? (Or is that the wrong word?) 😉

Digital Identity Workbook for NPO/NGO Folks

some digital identitiesMy friend and colleague, Shirley Williams, pointed me to a great resource on digital identity (DI) that she and her colleagues created for their students at Reading University in the UK.  It is called “This Is Me.”

As I saw that lovely Creative Commons license on it, I thought I’d whip up a version for folks interested in social media and the digital identity implications in the non profit and NGO sectors. I thought it would be handy in an upcoming workshop I’m facilitating for the CGIAR starting next week.

Pat Parslow and Shirley uploaded a version to a Google doc. We edited, I did some rewrites and trims, and here is the first draft. I’d love feedback!


(updated to latest version on Thursday, May 21)
(Edited September 7 – there is now a version in Arabic here via the Social Media Exchange)

(Edited August 21, 2012 – file link has been repaired and there is a new Student version coming out in September!)

Social Media in International Development Workshop

Do you work for an international development NGO? Then sign up now for the next Social Media Workshop offered by the ICT-KM Program of the CGIAR. Here are the details:

After a successful pilot online event (See blog posts about the event), the CGIAR, through its ICT-KM Program, is pleased to offer an online Social Media Workshop from May 25 to June 12 2009.

Moodle space

“Social media is using the Internet to instantly collaborate, share information, and have a conversation about ideas, and causes we care about, powered by web based tools.” – [We Media]

Social media offers a move from “push” communications towards a place where we can interact with our constituents and engage with them in ways we never could before. It enables us to network with colleagues and some stakeholders.

Objective of the workshop: Introduce researchers, communications professionals and knowledge sharing practitioners to social media tools and support their social media strategy development. As a participant, you will:

Obtain an understanding and appreciation of the role and value of social media.
Learn how to apply social media concepts and tools to both gather information and increase the dissemination of your information.
Learn how to apply social media concepts and tools for collaboration and interaction with your organization’s staff and partners.
Learn from participants of mixed professional and organizational backgrounds.

Outline of the 3-week event

Week 1 – Introductions, conversations and assessment of your communications needs and goals.
Week 2 – Social Media Tools wikis, blogs, twitter, file and photo sharing, and many more. You can join the exploration of a range of tools or start a new discussion on tools of your own choice.
Week 3 – Social Media Tools and strategies. How these tools can help you to achieve your knowledge sharing goals. Develop your strategy.

Number of participants: minimum 22,maximum 30

Language: English

Dedicated time: A minimum of one hour per day, asynchronous you decide when you go online, as well as two telephone conversations, one during Week 1 and the other during Week 3. Optional synchronous calls or chats may be offered if there is an interest.

Open to: CGIAR staff, partners, agricultural and development organizations

Platform: Moodle, Skype and/or telephone. If you choose to use a landline, you will be responsible for long-distance costs. You should have regular access to the Internet. Some tools may not be accessible for those with low bandwidths. You may need to check with your IT department, as some web-based services you wish to explore may be currently blocked in your organization and you may need to seek support to access them.

Facilitators: Nancy White (Full Circle Associates), Simone Staiger-Rivas CGIAR-CIAT, Meena Arivananthan CGIAR-WorldFish

Cost: USD 500

Please write to Simone Staiger-Rivas ( for questions and subscription by May, 15 latest.

Five for Water – Social Media for Change

When someone asks how ordinary people can use social media to make a change in the world, point them to this collaborative blog of how 5 girls and 4 dads went on a mission to help families in Ethiopia have access to clean water. Five for Water. A very simple blog to hold videos from their trip. This is my favorite quote. “Mom, say hi to mars and tell him to eat his food but not socks.” (Ah, dogs.) You can read the backstory here.

SRI and Knowledge Sharing

from Friday I had the great fortune to help facilitate a session at IFAD on SRI, or System of Rice Intensification. My botany degree, while neglected as a career path, has always kept my root interest in plants and ecosystems alive. In the course of doing a graphic recording of the presentation part of the session, a few things kept showing up for me.

First, the scholars working on SRI were insistent it was not a proscribed method of growing rice that is useful to poor, small holder farmers, but that it was a set of principles for growing rice and other crops.

A set of principles.

Can we view knowledge sharing not as a proscribed set of practices, but instead a set of principles?

While there are a range of tools and methods that we call “knowledge sharing,” they are just tools. And if we overly focus on them, we miss the point that knowledge sharing is embedded in everything we do. Therefore, to make sure we have time for KS and that we do it well and strategically, we might instead focus on the princples that support KS.

Mind map of SRI session at IFAD

So what might those principles be?

Saturday morning, on my way home from Rome at the unnatural hour of 5:15 am, I was surprised to look up in the airport to see a colleague who was at the joint Share Fair in Rome and a past participant of the online KS workshop I have facilitated for FAO and CGIAR. Justin Chisenga of FAO shared the challenges of KS in agriculture in Ghana. He said there were no precedents for sharing agricultural research, but instead a culture of individual ownership, and thus very often loss, of agricultural research knowledge. Locked up in files or personal computers, and unknowingly discarded upon retirement or death, years of knowledge had leaked away. Ownership, not public good.

  • What principles could change from lock down to flow in Ghana?
  • What principles could encourage funders to reframe their support towards openness and learning? 
  • What principles could reframe organizational and national policies to support and reward building public instead of private good in fields that ostensibly are dedicated to things like feeding one’s country, region or world?
  • What principles could allow people to share knowledge even in large, complex and necessarily political organizations?

My mind returned to what I learned about SRI. SRI focuses attention on the quality of seed, the timing and method of rice seedling transplantation, and THE HEALTH OF THE SOIL and the microorganisms that live there.

What is the soil for knowledge sharing? How do we know it is healthy? What “transplantation” practices allow us to move fragile new knowledge from one place and allow it to thrive in another, without too much loss, or too much investment in water and fertilizer? How should we “weed” to keep information overload from overwhelming us?

The analogy is intriguing me. 

Rice tending image from Wikipedia