The final act: "Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice"

So, here we are... the last day of the beginning of what promises to be a wonderful and rewarding learning and knowledge sharing journey.

I think Anton Chekhov's quote "Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice" on the CD containing all the background documentation, the presentations and other useful knowledge sharing guidelines and tools eloquently summarizes the overall feeling and experience of this unique learning and knowledge sharing experience.

Yesterday's sessions helped the network to expand its horizon to other regions and realities. The participants also had an opportunity to listen to Anne Bruntse, Regional Coordinator of BioVision, who showed how Biovision is using the good-old $100 laptop (XO) designed and developed by Prof Negroponte of MIT to impart agricultural related information to farmers.

I must admit, I got so excited to see one of these small green PCs after such a long period of silence and to see it actually put to some good use... I immediately tweeted the big news and called one of my colleagues at FAO.

Incredible - the $100 laptop is not dead!! Biovision is using it to disseminate agriculture info #olpc #agriculture

Biovision provides agriculture information to trainers, extension workers and farmers so that they can optimise their livelihoods in a safe, effective, and ecologically sound way. Below is a list of agricultural information that Biovision makes available through its website:

  • crops, fruits and vegetables
  • pets, disease and weeds
  • medicinal plants
  • fruit and vegetable processing
  • natural pest control
  • cultural practices
  • insect borne diseases
  • animal husbandry and beekeeping
  • water and soil management
  • sustainable land management
The information presented by Biovision is relevant for Africa and its inhabitants, many examples and case studies are from Kenya or other East African countries. Now, they are using XO ($100 laptop) to make this information available also off-line so that the farmers and extension workers without internet access can benefit from this wealth of information. Well done and kudos for putting XO to such good use.

OK - now back to the last day of the workshop, which was dedicated to a series of hands-on session.

Folly Akoussan and Nicolas Granier held a two hour session focusing on the FIDAfrique content management system. After which we had two parallel session with Abodu Fall from WARF holding a session on non-ICT related knowledge sharing methods and I held a session on Web2.0 knowledge sharing methods and tools.

I had about 50-60 colleagues in my sessions. Over the last 5 days, a number of participants had asked me where they could read more about chat shows, world cafe and other knowledge sharing tools. The CD they got in the morning provided some literature.

Before diving into the web2.0 tools, I shared some useful resources and links on a select number of knowledge sharing methods. And off we started our journey with the web2.0 tools.

I gave them a bit of context and background about web2.0 paradigm highlighting how the web has evolved from being a collection of static pages to becoming a collaborative space with users becoming both producers and consumers of content. I talked about how social-networking, video-sharing sites and other tools such as wikis, blogs and folksonomy have led to a democratization of content provision.

Enough of the theory, I have 120 eager eyes wanting to see these things in action, so off I started giving the audience a rundown of a select web2.0 tools, starting with video sharing tools such as and YouTube . After the video-sharing tools, we moved to blogs and proceeded the journey to the folksonomy territory and delicious. The audience was intrigued by the possibility and ability of tagging their content they way that it made sense to them, as opposed to having someone tell them how THEIR content had to be categorized.

We then moved to some photo sharing tools such as flickr and picasa. I showed them the geo-tagging on Picasa. This got our Burundi colleagues so excited as finally they had found a home to store and share their project photos.

After learning how to upload their pictures, we moved on to talk about on-line collaboration using GoogleDocs and Wikis. Initially the prospect of on-line editing and not using track-changes was a bit disconcerting, however, 3 minutes into the conversation, they got it and saw the potential and power of on-line collaboration to create and manage content. I was so proud of them, as they got it much faster than some of my other colleagues!

The next stop on the journey was slideshare where they found all the presentations delivered during the workshop and my very presentation on "knowledge sharing methods and tools". I hope our FIDAfrique colleagues will simply link to the Slideshare space created for this event as opposed to eating up their server space and copying over the presentations which are readily available on slideshare!

We made a pit-stop to one of the more professional social networking spaces: Linkedin. I am not particularly a Facebook fan, as I find it too intrusive, so very selfishly I skipped it!

I was pleasantly surprised that over 50% of the audience was already a skype user and they knew how to use skype both for teleconferencing and also to hold a multi-user chat. Once again they proved to be more advanced and knowledgeable than some of my other colleagues!

We were approaching the end of our journey... and had kept the best for last... Twitter. I shared with the audience the fact that recently I'd joined the prestigious ranks of tweets and showed them my tweet which said: "Will be conducting a web2.0 awareness session with 50 colleagues from Africa" and the reply I got from my FAO colleague, Gauri: "@rsamii hey Rox, let us know how it goes. Especially issues regarding low-bandwidth solutions."

Our own Helene, who for the last 5 days was busily working at the back of the room and assisting everyone, sent me a tweet: "Great job Roxy!". This was an unrehearsed and wonderful tag play!!! So together with the rest of participants we collectively replied to Helene's tweet: "@helenecon thank you. You are great!!!"

At the end of the presentation, I had 60 excited and also overwhelmed colleagues and I had only shown them the tip of the iceberg. They were excited because they saw a whole new world opening to them. They were overwhelmed because of the choice and variety of the tools. They also warned me that they would be following me on Twitter and to watch out for them!!!

After the presentation, I shared the experience of the presentation with the following two tweets:
  • Web2.0 session was a success. colleagues were intrigued by wealth of tools. Loved Twitter. Are using Skype. Little knowledge of wiki
  • @gaurisalokhe colleagues weren't too concerned about connectivity. Overwhelmed by no of tools & I showed a few!

After 5 days of intense knowledge sharing, we had all made new connections, new friends and as a result the network was strengthened. Not to be complacent, we had identified the following challenges which need to be addressed in the short to medium term:
  • inclusion of KM activities in project's programme of work and budget
  • availability of content in multiple languages
  • tension between KM at country-level vs KM at project level
  • participatory KM: ensuring involvement and participation of beneficiary groups in KM related activities
  • capacity building for (a) identify and segmenting audiences, (b) knowledge harvesting, (c) writing, synthesizing, packaging and sharing knowledge and learning emerging from rural development projects and programmes
  • linking knowledge management to policy and using knowledge generated to influence policy
  • face-to-face meetings vs virtual meetings
  • forging strategic partnerships
  • include KM activities during supervision and implementation support
  • include KM activities and KM component at project design
  • include KM as part of the project coordinator terms of reference
  • ensure network members stay in touch and put in place a peer coaching and mentoring scheme
  • continuously and systematically share experiences (both successes and failures!)
Helen, Mary and Coumba closed the workshop by thanking everyone for their active participation. Mary Nandazi, Secretary-General of AFRACA underscored the fact that a network is a network when you make friends. And indeed we had all made lots of new friends.

Mary also said that "knowledge sharing is essential to overcome the poverty of the mind". And she is right. Only when we admit that we do not know, can we learn. Only when we listen to others and absorb and digest what they have to say, can we make progress and do things better. Only when we embrace new ideas, can we innovate and change for better.

Some years ago when I embarked on the KM journey, I came across a quote by Kahlil Gibran which I think summarizes very well the gist of KM: "A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle".

The workshop participants had shared and learnt a lot from each other. As they were packing their bags and getting ready to head back home, they had a much better appreciation and understanding of knowledge sharing and knowledge management.

The transformation that had happened over the last 5 days reminded me of this quote by Bernard Shaw: "If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence."

Together we had managed to demystify knowledge management and to get the participants excited. They are now embarking on this adventure having a better idea of the value of knowledge sharing. The onus is now on the network as a whole to keep the momentum going and to keep in touch, engage and interact with all the network members. So long live FIDAfrique-IFADAfrica - another feather in the IFAD KM hat - and good luck with your future endeavours.