Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Session Report: FAO Knowledge Forum - What should it provide?

Session: World Café on FAO Knowledge Forum - What should it provide?
Room: Facilitation Room
Time: 21 January, 10:45 - 12:00
Facilitator: Lucie Lamoureux
Reporter: Gauri Salokhe

Background on the Knowledge Forum

The FAO Knowledge Forum provides a direct gateway to the organisations vast expertise and wealth of knowledge through a series of interactive services, namely, Ask FAO, Best Practices and Thematic Knowledge Networks. It is also an opportunity to learn from and give a voice to the agricultural community regarding a wide range of issues affecting Food Security and Agricultural Production today.

It has three components (pillars):
  • Ask FAO responds to the critical role that direct dialogue plays in fighting hunger. Users can interact directly with technical experts in particular fields of interest, and obtain answers to their questions.
  • Best Practices provides a series of summaries that introduce some best practices in FAO's areas of expertise. It also provides links to further resources with supporting technical information.
  • Thematic Knowledge Networks are virtual communities of professional staff and collaborating centres with common interests and objectives related to sustainable agriculture and food security built around twelve priority areas.
It has been agreed among those who work on and are responsible for the Knowledge Forum that it should be revamped for the following reasons:
  • some of the content is confusing, for example, Knowledge Networks comprise 1) distribution lists, 2) database information systems and (again) 3) knowledge networks.
  • there are no clear relationships between the three pillars of the knowledge forum, despite the clear need for those to more closely relate to and align with each other.
  • some of the pillars of the knowledge forum may be redundant, or need to fall under the cap of others.
  • the Knowledge Forum, as it is, lacks strategic direction and seems to be an initiative for the sake of these being an initiative; for this reason, it is does not stand well from the point of view of convincing stakeholders in that FAO is a knowledge organisation.
The key challenges have been:
  • to put together content that is convincing, compelling and thus useful to the work of those who would use the Knowledge Forum.
  • the appropriate and successful marketing of the knowledge forum, not as a tool, but rather as a knowledge sharing gateway allowing people and groups in distributed locations to connect with each other and share and learn together when they need.
  • the effective use of good practices, following on the realisation that they may not be entirely relevant and replicable unless seen within the context in which they were achieved (like a group, a network) which presents a serious challenge for a correct re-application.

For this session, we used the World Café Method for this session. Lucie started the session by explaining what a World Café is and its objectives. The World Café is a simple but effective way to discuss common issues of importance in a comfortable, café-like atmosphere.

(image credits: http://www.theworldcafe.com/)

We had three tables in our cafe with "table cloth" made of flip chart paper. There were three rounds of each approximately 20 minutes. For each table, there is a reporter who stays back while the others move to other tables after each round.

The questions for each round were as follows:
  • Round 1: In your group, talk about existing gateways to food security and agricultural production expertise and knowledge (including the FAO Knowledge Forum), or other related interactive gateways: What works in these gateways? What makes them good, useful, etc.?
  • Round 2:What elements/tools/services stand out in these gateways, and why?
  • Round 3: What could/should the FAO Knowledge Forum provide in the future? Come up with its IDEAL format or design (please include elements, tools, etc.)
At the end of the session, we were asked to point out some of the highlights or common points that came out on all three tables.

Common suggestions for the FAO Knowledge Forum to work with:
  • Use RSS to show "continuous" activity on the forum
  • Deinstitutionalise and give credit where it’s due, for example, to the person who answers questions on AskFAO or provides a Best Practice!
  • Give power to the user and make it more interactive rather than just one way.
  • Let users personalise the view of the forum. Let them decide what they want to see and how they want to see it!
  • Reuse tools and content in different ways to keep the activities on the forum alive and continuous.
Debrief on the world café method:

At the end of the session, we also debriefed the method, world café, for brainstorming. Here are some of the key points that came out:
  • Lack a "formal" reporting method was deemed an issue
  • The method allows cross-fertilisation of ideas because people mix and regroup after each round.
  • The small group setting allows people to be open and share their ideas freely.
    For the same reason, the method was deemed more democratic and less threatening.
  • The time for the session was thought a bit short, although the facilitator reminded us that it too much more time will not provide many more innovative ideas. In most cases, three rounds are appropriate to flush out the main points.
All in all, this was a productive session. The "table clothes" have now become "wall papers" and line up the walls of our office floor. We have also had one discussion as a follow-up activity on planning updates of the Forum.

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