Reflecting on Agknowledge Africa Knowledge Share Fair #sfaddis

I am still all jazzed up and energized by the great Addis Share Fair experience. So, what was so special about this event?

An African event for Africans
Well, for one thing, it was an African event, organized primarily by African for Africans. I do not have the list of participants handy, but I think I am correct to say that 90% of the participants came from Africa! We did a spectogram in the water pathway - where we organized ourselves between North and South pole. It was amazing to see that only 3 people were from the North and the rest came from the South!!

Fully immersed in Ethiopian culture
In true spirit of knowledge sharing, the organizers - the incredible ILRI team - did a remarkable job of weaving in the local culture in almost every aspect of the Share Fair. Starting with the wonderful Bunna ladies serving us coffee, to the Ethiopian horn blower - our official time keeper - to creating an Ethiopian market place where participants spent an entire afternoon learning and sharing with each other and last but not least the exquisite Ethiopian food.

Share Fair footprint
Often as KM practitioners we are asked to show the impact of our work. The Addis Share Fair provided numerous opportunities to see the impact and footprint of our collective knowledge management and knowledge sharing efforts.

For example, no matter which session you attended, be it a pathway or a focus group, we saw quite a number of highly engaged and passionate African colleagues facilitating the different sessions using different knowledge sharing methods. We also had a relatively big and vibrant social reporting team. What was wonderful was how participants immediately embraced and put to practice what they learnt on day zero.

We started off with almost no audio coverage. Thanks to Day Zero "I know how day", we ended up having a great podcasting site on Podomatic, a flourishing video section, an equally flourishing blog, many participants contributed to the photo gallery, we had an extraordinary buzz on Twitter.

Inspiring keynote address
Unlike other events that have a rigid and stiff opening session - with lots of rhetoric and formal speeches - the opening session for Addis Share Fair ended up being pretty informal and genuine. All those who took the floor talked about how their respective organizations are engaged with and have embedded knowledge sharing in their core business.

Owen Barder - a charismatic and compelling speaker - delivered an inspiring speech on the importance of knowledge for development. Listening to him talk about importance of concentrating on making knowledge in development more evolutionary and the fact that perhaps we do not really need authoritative answers but rather diversity in answers and as he said "We need diversity, engagement and feedback process", made me realize that if had more people like Owen who can so eloquently offer different perspectives, people who think and conceptualize out of the box, people who bring something new to the table, perhaps we would make huge leaps in achieving both our development and knowledge goals.

Owen is perhaps one of the kind, but at least his refreshing and unconventional talk inspired many of us to the point that we are still talking about it and sharing the gems with colleagues. So who knows, maybe as a result of his talk, we will start a change process within our respective organizations and a year from now, we can claim that this too is a result and footprint of the Agknowledge Africa Share Fair!

Learning pathways and focus groups
In retrospect, the idea of the learning pathways was quite a happenstance. In June, Peter was passing through Rome and our PROCASUR colleague Ariel also happened to be in town. In our conversations with Peter, we suggested that he meet Ariel and pick his brain... and so the idea of "learning pathways" was born from this short but intense brainstorming session.

On the last day of the fair, we heard a short summary of the learning and sharing that happened in the various learning pathways. While all the participants seemed to have enjoyed the experience and learnt from each other, perhaps we could have got more mileage from this new learning and sharing paradigm by providing a space for the pathways to intersect. For example, we could have organized a joint session between the land, water and livestock pathways. This would have allowed participants to exchange and cross fertilize ideas and would have provided the space to get to know more about each others' work, aspirations and challenges - and who knows perhaps we would have achieved different outcomes!

Another innovation in this share fair where the numerous focus groups which provided an opportunity to discuss and share experiences on a wide variety of topics - ranging from reporting on agriculture, to use of mobile telephony, the future of telecentres, process of write shops, how to make sure content travels, challenges and opportunities of working with researchers, and the hot topic of how to engage with young people and what is that we need to do to make living in rural areas enticing!

I think we should definitely replicate the focus groups at future share fairs and if we have hot topics such as youth, we should try and see how to have repeat sessions or even better, how we can have multiple sessions building on each other.

Lessons learnt
Talking of lessons learnt, at the penultimate session of the Share Fair, we finally had the pleasure of hearing the voices of farmers - the very people that we serve. The farmers were indeed the "missing link"  in the Share Fair. Perhaps the biggest lesson learnt for future share fairs is to make sure that we have adequate representation from all the people who we work with and serve - this means smallholder farmers, producers but also decision makers.

When we talk about decision makers, I do not necessarily mean exclusively policy makers - that is ministers of agriculture or finance - but also our organizational decision makers. I believe senior colleagues would have benefited from experiencing the buzz and energy of the Share Fair. They undoubtedly would have learnt from the participants and it goes without saying that they would have had a lot to offer. So perhaps for next time, collectively we should make sure that these events make it to their busy agendas and they take the time to participate in similar events.

As mentioned above, it was really great to see our African colleagues facilitating the various sessions. What we need to do now, is to make a concerted effort to train and build the skills of a new cadre of African facilitators, so that at the next share fair we see new African colleagues taking the lead in training participants and facilitating many more sessions.

Building on this extraordinary experience, we should try and organize more regional events organized by the region for the region and involve much more stakeholders both at grassroots and decision making levels.

What next?
Almost a week after the share fair, I am still living off its energy - and believe me this is really extraordinary! I think I can safely say that as a result of this event, we all managed to expand and extend our networks. We met new colleagues and for sure we'll be calling on each other as and when needed.

So when will be coming back together in another Share Fair? We're all working towards orchestrating a global knowledge share fair late 2011. In the meantime, hopefully there will be more  regional and why not more focused thematic share fairs.

Last but not least, I hope that the #sfaddis blogposts have managed to transmit the spirit of learning and sharing, openness, fun and satisfaction of building colleagues capacity to take on new roles and become agents of change.