14 November 2005

CGIAR investments in knowledge and ICTs boost research effectiveness

As part of a drive to operate more effectively and more efficiently, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is investing heavily in knowledge management as well as information and communication technologies (ICTs). In a session on accessing, documenting, and disseminating scientific information for development in the WSIS pre-conference on research in the information society, Enrica Porcari of the CGIAR explained how its ICT-KM Program is moving towards a "CGIAR without boundaries."

According to Porcari, an important objective is to "open up our knowledge assets to the outside." To realize this vision, she has put various management and coordination structures in place and launched projects on connectivity, content, and work culture (especially related to knowledge sharing). The expected benefits are encapsulated in the Program's tagline: Collaborate (a work culture of collaboration will have positive impacts at individual, programme, organisation and consortium levels); Create (out of collaboration comes the creation of content), and Communicate (content must be communicated and accessible; connectivity is necessary).

The first phase of investment (agreed in 2004) focused on ways in which the CGIAR itself does its business. The idea is that each researcher has the same information 'rights' - to access information, to contribute information; moreover, through investments in KM and ICTs, the 15 independent research centres should act, and be seen to be acting, as a 'system'.

So far, the Program has boosted connectivity - more Centres are now connected to academic research networks (internet 2), major remote sites increasingly have full internet connectivity, staff have video conferencing on their desktops, and a Consortium for Spatial Information has been established.

Steps have also been taken to better manage the content generated and held by the CGIAR - a CGIAR-wide portal or intranet has been established, virtual library services have been initiated, CGIAR-wide standards for e-publishing and content exchange have been developed, learning materials have been collated, and a Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics launched.

The team is also trying to ensure that the prevailing Work Culture is one of collaboration and knowledge sharing, both within the CGIAR and between the system and its partners. Projects have been set up to facilitate knowledge management and sharing at different locations - in research itself, at a centre level, and across a thematic programme.

Despite this progress, an electronic consultation in early 2005 suggested that the Program still needs to initiate a systematic effort to collate the many dispersed information sources to provide different 'views' on the content - according to the specific needs of any specific user at any point in time. It also needs to introduce more effective and efficient search facilities and to involve partners from developing country research institutes in the elaboration and implementation of solutions.

Porcari suggests that the focus of the second phase of the Program, from 2006, will be to "reach out to our partners." It will focus largely on science and research; content and knowledge sharing will be central; and it will be more inclusive of partners.

This is part of a series reporting on agricultural information and communication activities at the Tunis phase of the WSIS. Story by Peter Ballantyne.


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