CIAT’s Annual Program Review from a knowledge management perspectiveAug 15th, 2012 | By Simone Staiger | Category: Knowledge Management
Since the beginnings of the knowledge sharing projects in which the CGIAR embarked in 2005 I am frequently involved with annual meetings, their design and facilitation. Last week it was CIAT’s Annual Program Review – at some point we used to call it knowledge sharing week – and from a knowledge sharing and management perspective I would like to highlight some issues and results.
Our Director General, Ruben Echeverria, said two important things:
1. “While we have such a meeting every year, its format and venue changes every time.”
Indeed, CIAT has had small or bigger, short or longer meetings, meetings in Africa, at HQ. It seems like a sound idea to adapt space and time each year to the specific needs that we face. This year it was all about integration: Integration between CGIAR research programs (CIAT is involved in 7 of them) and CIAT research, integration between programs and regions, integration of teams. This is why we needed a bigger meeting than usual: 30 staff from Asia and Africa attended and participated in the discussions. The format of the meeting was designed to address program-related, regional, and cross-cutting issues in a total of 13 sessions. Each session had a leader and many involved a whole group of panelists. The leader was in charge of coordinating the detailed session outline with the panelists. Among our suggestions were to reduce the use of Power Point presentations, to prepare a set of key issues to be addressed, and to involve the participants actively in the discussions. Our program officer Maya Rajasekharan did a great job in identifying young scientists and new faces to be part of each session panel. Other aspects of the event design were the presentations of new and promising research each morning. Some mentioned they wanted more of those, while some other participants thought they didn’t lead to strategic discussions and should have been better focused. Finally we had some discussions on the room set-up. Our meeting room with 80 spaces might have been too small. It is always uncertain how many participants will show up and we certainly never manage to get all those we would like to participate to show up; especially participation of national staff is never as big as we would like to see.
2. “Let’s look at the points for action of recent annual meetings and what we have accomplished.”
A great idea that immediately attracted attention of the participants. We have accomplished some activities such as the strengthening of the impact assessment group, as well as the publication of the eco-efficiency book which contributes to strengthen CIAT’s brand and identity. We are on track to have very soon the Soils research strategy and a new team to work on gender analysis. However, among the issues we lag behind is strengthening our internal communications. This initial comment by the DG was then further discussed in several opportunities during the meeting and put communicators like Nathan Russell and myself on the spot. So what is it that people mean when they say “we have a problem with internal communication and knowledge management”? I think our colleagues mainly point to the uncertainties that are related to the new working arrangements under the CGIAR research programs. The matrix of 3 regions, 7 programs, combined with a new push for development outcomes that requires new partnerships is putting scientists and teams in unknown communications and collaboration territories. The challenge now is to define pathways to support those new collaborative arrangements while making clear that everybody has to make an effort to connect with new colleagues and partners. We have been starting talking already about these pathways, more to be discussed in a next post on this blog….
Evaluation results at a glance (summarized by Sophie Alvarez)
APR Participant’s evaluation of the event were overall very positive- both the content and the process were rated as very good, good or excellent by the majority. Favorite sessions were Session 7 (foresight and M&E) and session 6 (Promising CIAT research initiatives). In general, participants liked having one day for CGIAR research programs and another day on regional integration. Positive comments were linked to the fact that the meeting provided opportunities for learning and the perceived strategic importance of the topic for CIAT .
Participants would have added more sessions for strategic planning and research updates, including plenary discussions on additional CGIAR research programs, as well as sessions on topics such as communications, gender and other cross cutting issues.
Many of the attendants intend to take forward work in the areas of communications / knowledge sharing, partnerships and looking for strategic synergies, both within CIAT and across CRPs. M&E and fundraising were mentioned as topics that will now be included more conscientiously by some colleagues in their planning and activities.
Finally, the APR was considered overall very positive, with a good balance between science and discussion, and it was seen as providing a good opportunity to learn from other programs and exchanging with colleagues. For the next APR, there were requests to involve more national staff, and staff from other CIAT-based programs and CRPs, and to finish with more concrete action points that can then be followed up.
Publications on annual meetings:
- Staiger, S.; Hewlitt, A.; Horton D.; Russell N.; Toomey G. 2005. Major meetings as entry points for knowledge sharing. KM4D Journal 1(2): 47-60
- Staiger, S.; Russell, N.; Hewlitt, A. 2005. Making the most of major meetings: An entry point for knowledge sharing. ILAC Brief No. 10.
- Russell, N.; Staiger, S. 2005. Knowledge Sharing Solutions for a CGIAR without Boundaries. CIAT, Cali, Colombia. 24 p. [Case study report]