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Building a social media strategy one block at a time

28 June 2011

A twitter block here and a yammer block there... Photo: flicks-of-micks/flickr

Coming up with a social media strategy for your work can be scary. “Where do I start, and what tools do I use?” are two good questions to start with. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and set up a Facebook page and twitter account, and quickly get lost in the details of retweets, “likes”, and followers. But what about the big picture? Is this helping you reach your goals? And how do you convince your boss that managing social media is time well spent? Read more…

How it all began: a journey in knowledge sharing

10 February 2011
Learning to share knowledge

Learning to share knowledge. Photo by P. Kosina

One of my most memorable and formative professional experiences was a 2008 Knowledge Sharing Workshop, sponsored by the CGIAR ICT-KM program (the Knowledge Management support unit of the network of International Agricultural Research centers I still work with).

In early 2008, I had just embarked on a new project to help build and support an online community of practice for Payments for Environmental Services in Africa, and the workshop could not have come at a better time. The workshop included training in different tools (e.g., blogging, social bookmarking, RSS feeds) and methods for workshop facilitation, social network mapping, and more . It also gave us an opportunity to develop a project with ongoing peer feedback and expert guidance from our facilitators.

Both the online and face to face components were excellent, and really helped me move my project along (it’s still going strong!). It also kick-started my career in this field, helping me realized how much I enjoy this kind of work, and linking me with a network that I’m still in touch with today.

Three years later, one of the workshop facilitators, Simone Staiger, has interviewed five of the original participants (including myself) about the impact of that workshop.

You can read more about the workshop including descriptions of the processes used, content summaries, and evaluations at the ICT-KM site. We even published a paper about the workshop: Learning to share knowledge for global agricultural progress.

Generating an Edinbuzz

3 February 2011

Social media expertise collided with passionate community members a few nights ago, producing some fresh ideas and approaches on how tools like Facebook and Twitter could help get more people actively involved in their communities.


Community members get excited about social media

I took part in my first Social Media Surgery, which was organized by Edinbuzz and met at the Oxgangs library. (In the UK ‘surgery’ refers not only to medical operations but also to consultations… Members of Parliament regularly have surgeries with their constituents). Here was a chance for social media experts to have one-on-one consultations with local community members, to help them discover how social media could help them engage with their networks.

Hot topics were how to set up a Facebook Group, issues of privacy and security (one gentleman was keen to explain to us how very dangerous it all was… but was still very curious!) and how Twitter works. Seeing how the event came together was a good example of social media at its best.

We had some general questions about social media:

  • Why is it useful?
  • How will it help me reach out to my community?
  • What can I do with it?
  • Should I sign up for all the different sites I know about?
  • What’s the difference between Twitter and email?

Everyone was really positive and enthusiastic about trying out these tools to share information with their communities and to engage them in planning processes, community events and consultations.

The surgeon and the patients

The surgeon and the patients

Achievements included…

  • Getting “like this” and “tweet this” set up for the Firrhill Community Council website as well as establishing a new Firhill Community Council Facebook page.
  • Introducing someone to Google Analytics and showing him how it could help him understand social media fits into his group’s main website.
  • Introducing someone to using Facebook to connect to friends and pages.
  • People agreed that social media was key to getting young people more engaged in their communities
  • Agreeing that social media isn’t going away anytime soon so the best approach is to embrace it!

The Edinbuzz surgeries have a unique approach to learning. Very loosely organized, no set agenda, and very much driven by what people want to learn. For me it’s been a great opportunity to meet people in my city and in my community, and work together with them to deploy social media to reach out and engage with others.

To get involved, or to learn more, check out the Edinbuzz Facebook page.

Thanks to fellow surgeons Nicola OsborneTom Allan, Jane Griffin and Al Guinness for their contributions to this post. Photos from Tom Allan’s Flickr.

The teacher gets schooled in social media for development

19 October 2010
Social media for whom?

Social media for whom? photo by meaduva

One of the best things about being in a training or facilitation role is the learning experience. In addition to learning new things about the subject at hand, I always learn unexpected things, for example about how people interact with technology.

For the last four weeks I’ve been facilitating for Euforic Services Ltd the UNITAR/FAO Innovative Collaboration for Development course, an online training programme which introduces social media concepts and tools to development professionals. The course is very hands-on, and challenges participants to use tools in a way that’s appropriate to their context. I find that selecting the right tool for any context to be the trickiest part of using social media, and can really make or break a communications strategy. Many organisations are responding to this with resources to help guide people through the minefield of tools and approaches; one example is the very helpful Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (a wiki produced by various Agricultural and Development agencies).

The challenge of helping people choose the right tool is compounded by the fact that participants come from a range of contexts and backgrounds. Most of the participants in my section come from Africa: from Jos, Nigeria and Maseru, Lesotho to  El Fasher, Sudan and Creve Cœur, Mauritius (just for example). Cultural differences have not posed a challenge, but rather been the source of interesting insights. The main barrier to overcome in our group’s context is the availability of high speed internet varies, and access to a computers with a reliable connection.

A recent study (click for powerpoint file) recently found that Ghana is the only country in Africa with strong enough broadband internet to meet the needs of today’s applications, i.e. social networking, video streaming, chatting.

Read more…

What does it take to make change?

29 July 2010

up up upWhat does it take to make change? This question fascinates me, and never fails to get people talking. Some people believe that change — for a better world — comes from the powerful. Things need to be changed from inside the system. These change leaders often go into politics, or law, or into the corporate world, to shape the policies and practices that ultimately shape society. Others believe change comes from the outside, and see themselves as activists for the greater good, bringing truth to power, putting pressure on the system, and rallying society to also push for change. Others feel that change comes from knowledge. Only by seeking the truth, the scientific truth, can you achieve understanding, and only through understanding our world, can we begin to change it. In reality, all these beliefs are correct. Change comes from everywhere and everyone. But the world can get a bit chaotic when everyone has something to say. People speak different languages (KiSwahili, French…scientific, political…global, local), and have very different value systems. What’s often missing is a bridge, to help bring together these different knowledges and values, and eventually produce some kind of new knowledge that’s more widely valid and understood. That’s where communication can play a big role, especially strategic  communication that reduces these gaps by working at the boundaries.

For some related scholarly articles on linking knowledge to action (or K2A), visit Harvard’s Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development programme.

Learning to communicate like a chameleon

27 July 2010

Communicating with colour

Contrary to what we always believed, chameleons don’t change colour simply to hide. It turns out that chameleons primarily evolved their ability to change the colours and patterns of their skin to communicate visually with one another (ref). This bit of reptilian knowledge makes me happy for several reasons. I was lucky to come across many chameleons while living in East Africa (this little guy was spotted in the West Usambara Mountains near Lushoto, Tanzania.) Sometimes one would cross my path outside my office. Each time, I was fascinated and charmed by their calculated calmness, and incredible anatomy, especially the swiveling eyes and their dexterous toes. Learning that these charismatic creatures don’t change colour just to hide, but also to share is pretty remarkable. They have evolved to be social communicators, and send quick and colourful messages to other chameleons. Let’s get inspired by the chameleon and find ways to share quickly, colourfully, and meaningfully!