Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Knowledge Share Fair for Agricultural Development and Food Security: an unqualified success

The Knowledge Share Fair for Agricultural Development and Food Security: an unqualified success
20 – 22 January 2009, FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy
From January 20 to 22, FAO was the stage for an innovative event called the Knowledge Share Fair for Agricultural Development and Food Security. This initiative was organized by FAO, in collaboration with Bioversity International, the CGIAR ICT-KM program, IFAD and WFP.

The goal of the Share Fair was to provide an interactive experience, allowing staff and the Rome-based constituents to:
  • share and learn from each others good practices;
  • experiment with tools and methodologies for knowledge sharing;
  • create linkages and networks for future collaboration between the organizations;
  • develop ideas to support and enhance knowledge sharing within and across our organizations.
The event was organized to showcase examples of good knowledge sharing practices in the field of agricultural development and food security. Specifically, it was structured to allow staff to learn from each other how knowledge sharing practices, methods and tools have enhanced their work and made their project(s) more successful and effective.

The Fair
During the Fair, 700 registered participants roamed the building, taking part in the numerous activities on offer. The participants came from organizing agencies, as well as from partner agencies such as Department for International Development (DFID), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), European Commission (EC), European Space Agency (ESA), Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), Institute of Development Studies UK (IDS), Institute of Natural Fibres, International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists (IAALD), International Development Law Organization (IDLO), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural (CTA), World Bank and World Health Organization to name a few.

The 112 planned sessions around 8 themes, as well as the many spontaneous ones organized by the participants during the three days, covered various agricultural development and food security issues but focused on the knowledge sharing aspects of the initiatives. The sessions also used innovative and interactive means of presenting the projects, focusing on the experiences and lessons learned, as well as engaging other participants in discussions. Overwhelmingly, the sessions elicited a positive response from both presenters and participants.

The Share Fair also proposed a variety of trainings on tools for sharing knowledge, such as Blogs, Skype and Wikis. The trainings were completely booked even before the Fair started, so the organizers acted quickly to add extra sessions to fill the need. There is definitely scope for organizing more of this type of training, due to the incredible enthusiasm and curiosity expressed by participants. In all over 400 people participated in the 20 or so sessions and the results of the Share Fair survey clearly show a demand for more.

The Atrium turned into the nub of the Share Fair, the place to meet people. The Bar set up for the occasion greatly contributed to creating a convivial atmosphere, conducive to starting dialogues. In the 12 booths, Fair participants found all types of informative materials but also, and perhaps most importantly, they found people eager to talk about their project experiences. Over 50 people took the "90 second challenge", explaining the value-added of knowledge sharing in a short digital video, which are available on the Share Fair website. The Tree of Knowledge stood majestic in the Atrium, each leaf representing ideas and thoughts on knowledge sharing, handwritten by the participants themselves.

A team of social reporters documented the event in a variety of tools, such as the Share Fair Blog and Twitter. Through these means, thousands of people were following the Fair at a distance, in real time. Over 1000 photos were put on a photo sharing website called FlickR. The event was also cited in the media.

After Action Review
As a follow up to the fair, the Steering Committee conducted an After Action Review to evaluate the success and the lessons learned from the Fair. The key lessons learned, based on 200+ survey results as well as the experience of all the SC, were identified as:

  • Start early, at least a year in advance if you are organizing it for the first time.
  • Create a Steering Committee. Its process and work should be managed by a project manager and clear responsibilities need to be fulfilled by each member of the Committee.
  • Create a short and “to-the-point” submission form. Preferably, it should be online so that approved submissions can automatically become part of the agenda.
  • The KS Method that will be used for presentation should be discussed and selected based on the content of the submission.
  • Ensure there is a database, made available to all at least 3-4 weeks in advance, of all submissions. It should be organized by themes, sessions, days, and any other data breakdown which may be appropriate. The submissions should be evaluated instead of selecting all submissions with a focus on making each session as cross-organizational as possible.
  • There should be more interaction between the organizers and the participants prior to the Fair (which would need more resources) in order to establish a closer rapport. This would make clearer to everyone the intended substance and format of the Fair and its purpose.
  • As part of training in knowledge sharing methods and tools during any one of the Share Fair, there should be an introductory session on methods and tools, what these are, how they work, and what purposes they are suitable for.
  • Ensure appropriate language coverage.
  • There should be a better representation from decentralized offices (where appropriate) in terms of both cases being submitted and people attending. The Share Fair should be promoted in the decentralized offices and a budget for bringing people from the decentralized offices should be allocated during the budgeting process.
  • Promotion of the Share Fair, both one-way and more interactive two-way (interviews) should begin at least a month prior to the event.
  • Don’t organize video or poster session.
Emerging Needs from the Fair
Overall, the Share Fair garnered incredibly positive feedback. Participants felt they had a better understanding of knowledge sharing, concretely saw the benefits of interaction and dialogue, established new contacts and networked, shared experiences with others and learned a few new things, all the while having fun. The following needs emerged from the Fair:
  • Connecting/Networking is essential for ideas and innovation. There is a need for “informal” spaces to discuss and share knowledge.
  • Need for staff training in tools and methods for knowledge sharing.
  • Need to know who is doing what and where and create a skills and activity inventory.
  • Need for a greater degree of collaboration and working in partnership (to be more effective) between the departments, between headquarters and the decentralized offices, with external stakeholders and between staff.
  • Demonstrating how Knowledge Sharing makes work more effective and efficient.

Next steps
The Share Fair provided an alternative way of organizing an event which is in line with partner organization’s work on cultural change and that there is definitely scope for organizing more of this type of events in collaboration with other meetings. There was overwhelmingly positive response to the interactive methods used and spaces created for communication and discussion during the far. Each of the participating organizations have started to outline follow-up activities to the Share Fair.

The Share Fair may be over, but this is just the beginning of Knowledge Sharing and not the end!

Materials from Fair
• 90 Seconds Challenge:
• All Tweets about Share Fair:
• Blog:
• Links:
• Photos:
• Session reports:
• Share Fair Twitter:
• Slide Share:
• Web site:

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