Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Observations from the Opening Ceremony

I think a number of us are "social reporting" today - since I'm facilitating or running trainings, this is one of my few opportunities to listen, report and reflect. It is a bit of a cognitive challenge to have an opening ceremony about the vibrant, often messy and very human processes of knowledge sharing being "presented" in the highly formal Plenary room of the FAO. It is an apt metaphor for the challenge we face in trying to weave together living processes with the slower moving structures of large, international organizations. And it is indeed this challenge that I think will be at the core of the next three days. How do we find the mix of processes, tools and underlying values to enable complex, diverse networks to achieve the lofty goals of making sure everyone in the world has safe and sufficient food to eat.

The various organizational representatives are talking about "Why share knowledge -- what are the practical applications" in their organizations. They mention the challenge of large staffs, many of whom are in the field. Diverse national partners in every corner of the world. The representative from WFP (I apologize, but I can't hear well at the back of the room and have not caught all the naems - I'll come back later and fill in names.) is mostly in the field - can you imagine how you keep the knowledge flowing when people are out working on emergency food relief? The complexities of cross sector work. Knowledge sharing is crucial. And complex.

For example, how do we support "bottom up" and horizontal work in traditionally hierarchical organizations. It involves everyone, top, bottom and in between. It requires a culture to sustain and support KS. At Bioversity, there is a planning week to bring distributed staff together and it includes "Speed Dating" - bilateral interactions between every department and group. There is no excuse not to connect with others. It has created energy, buzz and has been very successfull. KS has also been crucial to setting up the organizational research priorities. Finally, engaging with other organizations and networks to connect beyond the organization.

At CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) - a network of research centers around the world with 8000 staff focused on finding agricultural solutions to real problems. While the CG operates more on the knowledge generation side, they have recognized that knowledge generation alone is incomplete - knowledge needs an application. One of the most important comments Enrica Porcari made was the resistence people have to KS based on "I am too busy." She noted that when we share knowledge, we can actually work better.

IFAD's representative said KS is a requirement, not a "value add" -- essential for applying IFADs knowledge and leveraging the rural partners who deliver development processes. He went on to give some examples in agricultural finance policy and referenced the work being shared in the Fair booths.

Anton Mangstel from FAO talked about the need to provide FAO staff with an enabling environment for staff for networking and knowledge sharing. They started this initiative with a web space and the development of thematic knowledge networks.

As an "outsider" I notice a question that comes up for me - what are the partners and stakeholders of these organizations experiencing? How do we make their voices on KS visible here? One answer is some of the 160 people who are presenting at the Fair. But the challenge is significant. Knowledge sharing is never one way. But organizational power dynamics, the difficulties of distance and fractureded communications infrastructure (i.e Internet access, electricity, cost) will always ask us to do more, to keep trying to think outside of our own organizational realities. Again, looking at the room, with fixed chairs, all facing a podium at the front, we are reminded of the tension between structure and flow, between institutions and networks. We have a large and ongoing challenge/opportunity in front of us!

1 comment:

  1. WFP representative was Paul Larsen, Director External Relations.