Saturday, December 26, 2015

Work laptop gets a facelift

My work laptop is a Toshiba Satellite C670 - a basic but sufficient 17-inch laptop with some minor drawbacks (such as the lack of HDMI & USB 3.0 ports, as well as the existence of only 2 USB 2.0 ports) which does a great jo at the office. It came with Windows 7, soon upgraded to Windows 8.1 through a Microsoft offer offering the new OS for just 20 euros (or something like that) and recently upgraded to Windows 10 - all these without a format since 2012. As it was not getting the Windows 10 November update, I considered the Christmas holidays as a great opportunity to spend some time with it and making sure it has the latest version of the OS, fix some bug and clean things up.

So I spent some time the other day preparing everything, such as:
  1. Getting rid of obsolete stuff taking up precious space of the hard disk;
  2. Getting an image of the current system, using the built in functionality of Windows 10 on my external hard disk (so that I could go back to the current state of the OS in case something went wrong);
  3. Moving stuff that I needed (such as my user folder) to my external hard disk, so that I could copy them over my fresh installation, if all went well.
  4. Preparing a bootable USB flash drive with Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (the OS that my Toshiba currently has)
After everything was prepared and done, I just started a fresh install of the OS by booting from the USB and formatting my system partition (C:). Installation was pretty fast (the specs of the laptop are not exactly bad, with a Pentium B960 with 4GB RAM and an Nvidia GPU and all hardware was correctly recognized I only had to manually update the touchpad drivers to the latest ones from Synaptic, update Windows and the Store apps to the latest versions - after a couple of reboots everything was ok.

I took some time to reinstall some favorite apps like MS Office, Google Chrome, Skype, Acrobat Reader, Dropbox etc., set up OneDrive and fine tune some settings to bring the experience closer to my needs. I also copied back some of the data that I previously had, such as photos, music and documents (so not the whole user folder, as it still contained some obsolete stuff).

Performance seems to have been slightly improved and some delays (e.g. when right-clicking on the desktop or a file) seem to be fixed. I also got rid of some of the Toshiba pre-installed apps that came with the laptop back in 2012 (including the Nero suite, that I never used during all these years). So far so good, and my work laptop is ready to face the challenges of the new year quite refreshed!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Report from the Community Workshop on the Open Science Cloud

On November 13th, 2015, a community workshop on the Open Science Cloud titled "Shaping the Open Science Cloud of the Future" took place in Bari, Italy. Agro-Know was invited as a data-powered SME in order to contribute its expertise in serving the agri-food research community - other communities were represented as well.

This provided us with excellent opportunity to present how three different user types could benefit from the envisaged Ope Science Cloud:
  1. Agri-food researchers: I have have spent 13 years in the Agricultural University of Athens; two of them for my MSc. and almost 5 for my PhD. I didn't have any kind of infrastructure suporting me as a researcher back then: I recall copying my data from the lab desktop computer - no laptops back then - using an external parallel Zip drive using 100MB disks (a painfully slow process) or an almost faulty SCSI CD recorder which frequently provided us with lemon copies of the data. When I wanted to share data with our Austrian colleagues I had to create copies of the CDs, check their integrity and then send them to Austria using regular postal service...this makes me (and researchers like me who may have access to the necessary tools and platforms but they do not know how to make use of them) a potential user of the Open Science Cloud, as
    an individual researcher.
  2. A data-powered SME: Agro-Know is working closely with agri-food researchers; we understand their needs and serve them by developing data-powered services. Our AKstem product is a fine example, as it provides a cloud-based web app that supports e.g. content providers who wish to publish their research publications through the FAO AGRIS bibliographic database; both the help desk and the metadata ingestion processes are supported by AKstem. In addition, researchers who wish to apply for funding through any of the Horizon 2020 agri-food calls can get support in terms of describing, developing and implementing the mandatory Open Access and Data Management Plan through AKstem. Such services require cloud-based hosting, storage and data services thus making Agro-Know an SME that is a potential customer/user of the Open Science Cloud offerings.
  3. A global research data hub: AK is only one of the entities behind agINFRA, which currently involves major players in agri-food research at a global level, including (but not limited to) UN FAO (Global), CGIAR (Global), CABI (UK), GODAN (Global), USDA NAL & AGRICOLA (US), OADA (US), CAAS (China) and EMBRAPA (Brasil). INFRA has evolved from an FP7 project to a global atlas of agri-food research. It embraces all types of information related to agri-food research, such as research data and publications, profiles of researchers, organizations and projects activated in specific research contexts, domain-specific standards, software tools, platforms, thematic repositories, registries and indexes and anything else. However, agINFRA does not aim to be yet another registry or catalog of services and entities: instead, it creates a semantic layer providing rich information about each one of these entities and uses vocabularies for classifying them. In this way, these resources are not only more easily retrieved by queries but related heterogeneous resources are linked and therefore presented together after related queries. agINFRA embraces all types of data providers, no matter how big or small they are - the latter usually have limited technical technical and financial capacity for publishing and sharing their data and this is where agINFRA and its dedicated help desk shines.

A large and ever growing network of agri-food data managers, the FAO AIMS community, supports researchers by openly sharing their knowledge through the AIMS platform in blog posts, webinars, discussion as well as in meetings, such as the ones of the Agricultural Data Interoperability Group of the Research Data Alliance. As a result, agINFRA can test, validate and deploy data usage scenarios that include heterogeneous data types from various data sources all over the world. You should keep in mind that agriculture is a complex science, covering thematic areas that range from traditional crop/animal/food science to food safety, food security, forestry, viticulture and wheat research etc. - all these thematic areas produce and make use of a wealth of heterogeneous data such as physical measurements, sensor data, environmental parameters, weather and soil data, soil maps, images, outcomes of DNA/RNA/protein analysis, antibodies, agricultural trials. These highlight the increased need for cloud and grid-based services for these communities to be served and this highlights the role of agINFRA as a potential customer/user of the Open Science Cloud offerings.

After presenting the big picture, I went back to describing the work of a researcher, who apart from conducting his research, he needs to spend time looking for information on the following:
  • Guidance on publishing his research as Open Access; what are the institutional and project policies, what are the available domain-specific repositories to deposit his publications and aggregators etc.;
  • Help on where and how to store his data online using a free cloud service for sharing, managing and preserving his data;
  • Identify other researchers working on the same research area, related organiations and initiatives/projects etc.
  • Funding opportunities to support his research;
  • Other...
Searching for such information and ensuring that he always has the latest versions in his hands, consume valuable time that he could dedicate to his work.

So our vision as Agro-Know and agINFRA in terms of implementing the Open Science Framework in our case is for us to be able to support agri-food researchers in the aforementioned activities using cloud-based, customized and open services, thus saving them time that can be allocated in what they know how to do well: their research.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The European Open Science Cloud for Research & agINFRA

Some of the major EU-funded initiatives/networks, and more specifically EUDAT, LIBER, OpenAIRE, EGI and GEANT agreed to join forces and work on a common vision for the European Open Science Cloud for Research which includes eight elements of success for a concrete contribution to the Digital Single Market:
  1. Open in design, participation and use
  2. Publicly funded & governed with the 'commons approach'
  3. Research-centric with an agile co-design with researchers and research communities
  4. Comprehensive in terms of universality and inclusiveness of all disciplines
  5. Diverse & distributed empowering network effects
  6. Interoperable with common standards for resources and services 
  7. Service-oriented as well as protocol-centric 
  8. Social connecting diverse communities
(for more info, you may refer to the Position Paper at Zenodo).

By joining forces, these networks will be able to identify and address existing overlapping in terms of infrastructure and services provided to the end users and meet the requirements of research communities in terms of infrastructure and tools - but they will need to understand the actual needs of each community that will be served (including our agri-food research one).

These news are extremely important for the research community in various disciplines, as biodiversity (see LifeWatch), agriculture and food security (see agINFRA), marine and aqua (see iMarine & BlueBridge), which have been funded through various calls and have allowed researchers to move on with their research.

agINFRA, an ex-FP7 project and currently a research data hub for the agrifood community, engages some of the biggest players in the agri-food research context - at a global level:
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO)
  • CGIAR, with its fifteen (15) research centers all over the world
  • CABI (UK)
  • Wageningen UR
  • The Global Open Data for Agriculture & Nutrition (GODAN)
  • Open Agricultural Data Alliance (OADA)
  • The Agricultural Data Interoperability IG (IGAD) of the Research Data Alliance (RDA)
  • The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)
  • EMBRAPA (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecu├íria)
  • ...and many more
Through these collaborations, agINFRA is working on the following:
  1. Enhancing discoverability of agri-food research by building a global atlas / index of agricultural research;
  2. Building a semantic layer that will allow the combination, enrichment and enhancement of heterogeneous information from multiple sources;
  3. Supporting research projects and organizations that (need to) publish their outcomes through a dedicated help desk service;
  4. Engaging a very active community that consists of all agri-food data managers as well as information and knowledge managers at a global level (FAO AIMS & IRDA GAD)
  5. Developing, deploying and testing data-rich and complex agri-food research applications and systems on various thematic areas, such as food safety, agricultural trials, forestry, viticulture research etc.

What do users of a hub like agINFRA need (among others)?
  • Well informed data & knowledge managers in their institutions (e.g. universities);
    • to guide them through the process of open access publishing in the appropriate repositories, data management and hosting services, use of domain-specific standards etc.
  • Online help desk to ask more complex questions:
    • Where should I deposit my open access publication?
    • How can I be compliant with the Horizon 2020 Open Access Policy?
    • Which are the licenses that apply to my research outcomes?
    • Where can I find data management services for storing, organizing and sharing my research data?
    • Where can I find data of interest to me as a researcher?
    • What are the funding opportunities in my domain? Where can I contact researchers working on the same research context as I do?
  • Simple cloud service: A Dropbox for researchers, to store, share and find online their research data.
Let's see if and how such requirements will be met by the Open Science Cloud in the near future; the envisaged services look really promising but they will need to be fine-tuned after consultations with the research communities. Tomorrow I will have the opportunity to present the agri-food use case (of agINFRA) during the Open Science Cloud workshop that takes place in the context of the EGI Community Forum 2015 in Bari, Italy :-)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's one of these days...

...where people just disappear from the office, traveling at the same time and participating in (interesting!) events all over Europe:

...and I am packing my stuff for Bari, Italy, where I will participate in the Community Workshop on the Open Science Cloud: Shaping the Open Science Cloud of the Future on Friday 13/11.

It's been quite a long time since I last saw this happening and a long time since my last business trip (it must be more than one year, if I exclude a domestic one).

I am sure that the Agro-Know office will be fully packed again on Monday. :-)

A photo posted by Agro-Know (@agroknow) on

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

ODI Summit 2015 & Agro-Know

The ODI Summit themed "Celebrating Generation Open" takes place today, 3/11/2015 at London, UK - obviously organized by the Open Data Institute. If you ask me (and many more), it is the biggest Open Data event of the year. Globally. It provides the opportunity to a wide variety of stakeholders to gather and shares their views, updates and ongoing work on open data.

Agro-Know is there, represented by our CEO Nikos Manouselis, who was really excited after attending the Summit last year. Since then, we had the opportunity to get to know the work of ODI better and even got the chance to work with their lovely team on the GODAN Discussion Paper (see also here). On top of that, our COO Giannis Stoitsis successfully completed ODI's Train the Trainer course, becoming a certified Open Data Trainer and since then he has delivered a number of courses on the topic. Last but not least, we have been working on joint project proposals with ODI during the last months and we are really looking forward to see them accepted and start working on their implementation. :-)

I am sure that Nikos will make the most of of this event, and he will come back to the office full of ideas and new connections, among others - any memorabilia from the event will also be more than welcome!

P.S. Did I mention that Agro-Know has recently become an ODI member? :-)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Big Data apps for food safety; where are they?

We frequently refer to the highly important role of big data in the agri-food context, food & food safety but which are the big data-powered applications that already exist and serve real needs in this context? Agro-Know recently received a related question through a tweet:

The response is surprisingly not easy and a recent blog post by Nikos Manouselis (Agro-Know CEO) also poses the same question: Is there really a substantial purpose for using big data in this context or is this work taking place in the context of academic exercises?

I have described one of the really promising efforts in this context (the collaboration between IBM and Mars Inc.) but if we are looking for something even more publically available, then we should look for alternatives.

If you happen to be aware of any big data-powered apps for food safety, please leave a comment below! :-)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

On the concept of staleholders

The other day I had a pretty urgent task to complete: Two of our EU projects needed feedback from potential end users of their approaches and outcomes in order to help us understand if we have produced something meaningful and useful to them; one of them is looking at the existing gaps between education and actual professional needs while the other is focusing on the competences required in the same context (both of them activated in the agriculture and green contexts in general). In this context, both projects had online surveys prepared and ready to be completed by potential recipients of an email invitation.

Such projects usually aim to provide solutions to real problems of a predefined target group. In this context, they usually get the initial information and current status from desktop research, they validate these issues through initial workshops that aim at the elicitation of actual user requirements, they start building solutions based on them, they validate these solutions through trials and then, as soon as the solution seems mature enough, this goes public in the form of a public consultation.

What I had to do was to compile two lists of recipients of the corresponding email invitations (one for each case) and prepare a short invitation text for the email, customized for each case. Since I am a big enemy of spam (I receive an awful lot of them on a daily basis), the recipients of my lists were carefully selected, so that only people that might be interested in each survey were included. The invitations were sent to about 15 and 35 recipients respectively (some of them were common). I did not require a response in my email and I have not checked the responses yet. In addition, none of my emails bounced back, so they were all sent to valid email addresses. In the first couple of days, I only received one (kind) response to my email, mentioning that they will complete the survey and that they would also forward the invitation to potential stakeholders.

Have you ever contacted friends, colleagues and other contacts asking for their feedback on something that may be of interest to them but never hearing of them?

My experience from similar efforts in the past shows that the response rate is really-really low; we only get a low number of responses to similar questionnaires from people that ideally should be interested in the specific topic. Why this happens, I don't know: it might be due to lack of time for completing the survey, lack of interest in the specific topic, ignorance in general - maybe it is the way the are presented to them (dull/boring) or the fact that they already receive a lot of similar requests so they have stopped responding to them.

This is when a typo I made in a report I was preparing gave me the idea of the concept; were are referring to staleholders, meaning potential stakeholders that have stop being interested or responsive about a topic that should be of interest to them. I guess that such people should have been interested at first, but for any reason (like the aforementioned ones) they are not interested in it anymore. Stale may refer to both the status of the user as well as to the information that he/she receives. Sounds funny but true at the same time!

The point is that since such projects are working on providing solutions for these users, and they spend time and effort for this purpose, then we need to find ways to actually raise their interest and engage them. Of course this is not possible to take place at 100% but the response rate needs to be improved and since face to face meetings have obvious restrictions (number of seats, time and place limitations), an alternative approach should be identified.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, stale is defined as "not interesting or new; boring or unoriginal"

If you have any ideas about that, please let me know (through a comment) and I will be eternally grateful to you!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Upgrading my work laptop to Windows 10...

...while actually working on deliverables and other stuff. How smart is that? :-P

I tried to postpone it but I get this weird urge whenever an update is available - no matter what so I decided to move on at this very moment! For the time being I am working and upgrading at the same time... fingers crossed!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Our paper for the EDEN Open Classroom 2015 got accepted :-)

Some weeks ago, we prepared and submitted a paper titled "Environmental Education Through Enquiry and Technology: The Case of the GreeNET Poject" for the EDEN Open Classroom 2015 Conference, that will take place in Athens, Greece between 18-21/9/2015. According to the organizers, "the Conference incorporates the final event of the Digiskills project, a European project demonstrating ways to involve school communities in innovative teaching and learning practices, and empower teachers and trainers to use, share and exploit unique resource, as well as the GreeNET project that aims to address the increasing necessity to develop an integrative approach in environmental education. The timing will also make several of the conference activities the first steps in the sustainability of the Open Discovery Space projectone of the ever-largest EU co-funded educational networking initiative."

GreeNET Final Conference @ EDEN Open Classroom Conference 2015

On Friday we received a notification from the Program Committee that our paper has been accepted for presentation at the conference and inclusion in the ISBN-identified Conference Proceedings (to be published in both printed and electronic versions). :-)

The paper describes the tools developed and used by the GreeNET project, namely the GreeNET Inventory, the GreeNET Best Practice Authoring Tool and the GreeNET Moodle. I wish I could share some more details on these, but I will have to go prepare my slides for the presentation now; the presentation will take place on Sunday, September 20th Saturday, September 19th 2015 and you are invited to attend :-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Change of role - change of signature

I took some time today to revise my email signature, in order for it to reflect my new role in the team - Senior Project Manager! It feels strange to see this revision in the signature, even though I adapted in my new role pretty quickly; after all, I am no stranger to project management! I spent several years in the past supporting the management (and mostly the implementation) of several of our projects and have flown thousands of miles traveling all over Europe in order to represent Agro-Know (and not only) in project meetings, Conferences and Workshops

I also did the corresponding revisions in my Agro-Know wiki profile; I still have to revise the text on the corresponding website Team page. Small but still significant revisions.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

PubAg: Providing Open Access to agricultural research

PubAg is the National Agricultural Library's (NAL) search system for agricultural information. It provides access to quality agricultural research publications both from USDA-affiliated researchers as well as from external ones. authored and other highly relevant agricultural research. When it was launched, it started with a number of 40,000 full-text journal articles provided by USDA staff  and including about 450,000 citations to both internal and external publications. The aim of the National Agricultural Library is the enrichment of the available content on a monthly basis, by adding about 20,000 citations each month.

PubAg provides access to full-text articles relevant to the agricultural sciences, along with citations to peer-reviewed journal articles. Each resource is described with metadata, including

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • NAL terms: They are clickable, so by clicking one of them, you get a list of results tagged with the specific term.
  • Names of Authors: They are clickable, so by clicking one of them, you get a list of results from the specific author.
  • Citation
  • Link to the publisher's record (through DOI): The link can be used to access the metadata record of the publisher and hopefully the full-text article, if it is openly shared (i.e. it is not available behind a paywall).
In addition, each metadata record can be exported as CSV or printed; in the latter case, the user receives a printer-friendly version of the metadata record.

A metadata record in PubAg

On the other hand, when a user want to perform a query with specific terms, he can use a free-text search box. Words entered into the search box are automatically translated into subject terms from the NAL Thesaurus (NALT) and the corresponding documents tagged with these NALT terms are retrieved and presented to the user.

List of results after a query

As of today, PubAg provides access to about 972,000 metadata records and 42,000 full-text articles. 200,000 records reflect on research published after 2012, which makes the content really up to date.

 I was also surprised to find a few of my publications on the PubAg portal!

Who would have thought...(some of) my publications available through PubAg!
Thanks to the ongoing work related to GACS (Global Agricultural Concept Scheme), this large database of quality agricultural research outcomes will be easily interconnected with others, such as the FAO AGRIS (that Agro-Know is maintaining and expanding, boasting almost 8M records) and the CAB Abstracts (about 2M records). This is expected to greatly facilitate the work of agrifood researchers, information and knowledge managers, among others.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Agro-Know and social media: The progress in one year

One of the nice things in Agro-Know is the fact that you have the opportunity to get involved in various interesting tasks and change the focus of your work (which is good in some cases). In this context, I had the opportunity to focus on Agro-Know's marketing activities, tools and strategy; something that I have really enjoyed (at this point, I spend more time in the Project Management Department of Agro-Know, supporting its Director Nikos Marianos in various tasks).

As a Marketing & Networks Manager of Agro-Know I had the opportunity to combine my domain-specific expertise that allowed me to identify of at least the basic concepts, the main stakeholders and the identification of topics of interest, with a basic (at least) knowledge of the use of social media and marketing tools. Skills like communication, writing and copywriting/copyediting, desktop research and analysis of data, even photography and networking are also the ones that are needed for such a position and I tried to work on them; in fact, I still do as I am really interested in this kind of work - I even got invited to an interview by Agora MedSpring about the use of social media on the dissemination of information and knowledge.

What I did during this year was to focus on something that I really enjoyed; social media. Starting with our (almost inactive) Twitter account and also the fresh Facebook page of Agro-Know, I worked not only on trying to share quality content that would bring value to the company but also to identify the audience that would be interested in this content and build a community of engaged users. My aim was to create a buzz around the Agro-Know brand and share news related to the activities and outcomes of Agro-Know as well as quality content on agrifood information and knowledge management, covering topics such as open access and open data, linked open data, research outcomes, EU-funded research projects and proposals, interviews with people that work on these topics etc. At the same time, I tried to provide an insight on Agro-Know as a team, providing information on its members, activities in the office, internal culture and a more informal side of Agro-Know - just to show its human aspect.

Number of Twitter followers

At the same time, I experimented with Agro-Know's Google+ page (which is updated more or less like the Facebook one), I tried to keep the Flickr and Slideshare accounts updated and introduced a new tool, Instagram (which started as an informal experiment and now it's another tool in our social media arsenal). On top of that, I dedicated time and effort in transforming Agro-Know's LinkedIn page, which currently features 155 followers.

Number of Facebook likes
Number of followers on LinkedIn

However, the main source of content was published through the Wordpress-based Agro-Know blogwhich allows us to share news, updates, events and even personal opinions on topics of interest. Even though it is not as teamwork as I would like it to be, I believe that it has great potential as long as it is frequently updated with quality content. It can and should be used by everyone in the team (we also invite guest bloggers to contribute!) to share their work, concerns and ideas on what we are working on.

AK blog page views for the last year

The analytics of all the aforementioned tools used show that indeed the numbers are growing; likes and followers are increased, the same goes for retweets and shares, blog subscriptions are constantly growing etc. In addition, taking advantage of major events and using their special hashtags, participation in related online conversations can boost engagement and reach. But how does this affect Agro-Know (in a positive way)?

I am afraid that I do not have the answer to this question; it seems that it is really hard to identify the impact that all this time and effort put in our social media have in the progress of the company. I know that our social media presence is appreciated by several people that I /we admire and appreciate their own work but we cannot go further than that.

What I have noticed during this year is the fact that while sharing and liking seems to go pretty well (after all, it is only a matter of pressing a button in all cases), we receive no feedback on our content; only a few responses/comments have been received to our (currently) 200 blog posts (most of them within the team), our tweets very rarely get responses (not referring to retweets but to replies) and no comments appear below our Facebook posts. Some of the possible factors include

  • the lack of time for commenting and replying; in contrast to liking/retweeting and sharing, responding takes time for putting thoughts in order and expressing them in a logical way, 
  • the abundance of information constantly shared through social media and blogs, 
  • the high number of content sources that potential stakeholders need to access;
  • the lack of interest in general and 
  • (hopefully not!) the low quality of the content.

Information and knowledge sharing, especially in the agrifood sector, is a hot topic nowadays and I can see several vacancies related to this context (something that highlights the need for staff with specific skills). My experience so far shows that there is a wealth of information and knowledge to be shared and at the same time a long way to go for ensuring the optimal sharing of this content. At the same time, there are multiple platforms that share similar content and this renders the identification of quality content harder, as a content consumer needs to access multiple content sources. Aggregators like Agrifeeds partially solve the problem, by aggregating feeds from multiple sources (mostly blogs and websites) and offering user-defined RSS feeds, but still content shared through social media is not available through Agrifeeds. 

Ideally, a platform allowing users to select the feeds they want from a predefined list or to add their own sources; something like Agrifeeds or the most widely known Feedly do but with more options and a better, more user-friendly interface. Even though this solution would (partially) solve the problem of multiple content sources and lack of time, still there's not much that can be done in terms of lack of interest as well as the low quality of the content. 

In the end, the same question remains unanswered: Does it worth the effort and cost for working on the dissemination of agrifood research outcomes and other news? Does this actually pay back in any way?

P.S. What I didn't do during this year? I did not put enough time on updating the printed marketing material of Agro-Know (after all the changes in the team and focus of our work were constant and significant so it would have been obsolete in a short time), neither on our corporate website (which surely needs a nice facelift in terms of content). As regards printed material, I believe that it shouldn't be the main marketing tool; as for the website...revisions are on their way!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Agro-Know team lineup: August 2015

After some changes in the Agro-Know team which took place during the previous months, this is our current team lineup:

As a result to these changes, there have been some changes in the internal organization and structure so I found myself supporting Nikos Marianos in the Project Management Dept. of Agro-Know; my work consists mostly on working on various deliverables for various projects that Agro-Know participates in. At the same time, I still devote some time on a daily basis for updating the social media of Agro-Know and other marketing and networking activities.

I miss my ex-colleagues, as I have been working with some of them for several years and they have been part of the family; at the same time, most of them had the chance to explore new business opportunities. It's not always easy to work with a smaller team, but it seems that is is more flexible in this way. Still I wish all the guys (and girls) the best for finding a brand new working environment, hopefully even better than the one of Agro-Know!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Working on user requirements extraction for the OpenMinTeD project

My colleague Nikos is currently presenting the work that we have done regarding the TAPipedia conceptual design (a report of more than 130 pages so far) and aims to collect feedback that will allow us to work on the final revisions of the document. This is a task that both of us have dedicated a lot of time, effort and creative thinking on, so I am really anxious to receiving the feedback collected during the TAP Experts Group meeting that he is attending these days in Rome, Italy.

In the meantime, I got involved in the preparation of the guidelines for the organization and implementation of events that aim to collect user requirements for the text- and data-mining applications for the OpenMinTeD H2020 project. The project aims to "enable the creation of an infrastructure that fosters and facilitates the use of text and data mining technologies in the scientific publications world and beyond, by both application domain users and text-mining experts". Through a dedicated set of events and using a specific methodology, the project aims to collect requirements from specific types of stakeholders that will allow it to better meet their needs through the development of tools and infrastructure. It includes a generic methodology to be adapted for each individual case (event), a number of templates (e.g. agenda, PPTs, evaluation form etc.) and tips on the successful implementation of such an event. I have some previous experience on the development of such guidelines and methodology, I have support from the rest of the team (whenever and wherever needed) and I really like working on such things, so I am working on that full speed!

The project uses a Redmine installation for various purposes, including management of tasks and documentation of activities like the aforementioned one. According to Wikipedia, "Redmine is a free and open source, web-based project management and issue tracking tool. It allows users to manage multiple projects and associated subprojects. It features per project wikis".

So far, I have been working directly on the wiki-like interface of Redmine for publishing the guidelines. It has a set of wiki features that allow the organization of text in sections and sub-sections, making it easy to create a complex document. I have to admit that I miss some of the typical wiki functionalities (like the automatically created ToC at the beginning of the page) but still I found Redmine really easy to use. Unfortunately I am only using a specific set of functionalities of the tool, which seems to be diverse and efficient in what it aims to allow users to achieve.

The guidelines are expected to be ready by the end of this month and I hope that they will be publicly available so that I can share a link to them! :-)

Monday, June 22, 2015

On providing timely wishes

Sometimes we get carried away and our wishes come a little bit out of season...or we just forget to change the title of our topic!

Apparently there was some kind of issue with the specific post; it happens to everyone. I hope that nobody will be insulted/take this seriously, as this was only intended to make (at least some of) you smile :-)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Working on the TAPipedia report

As soon as I finished working on the GODAN Discussion Paper, I found myself involved in another important deliverable; this time it was a report to be delivered to the Tropical Agriculture Platform consortium.

About TAP

In developing countries, most of the challenges facing agriculture and natural resources management can be addressed through innovation. But many developing countries don’t have sufficient resources or capacities to develop their innovation systems effectively. The “capacity gap” is worse in the tropics, where poverty is pervasive. In fact, investments in agricultural innovation in low-income tropical countries are less than 10 percent of the total global investment in agricultural R&D.

In an effort to address this problem, the G20 Agriculture Ministers requested that FAO lead the development of TAP. The G8 leadership also endorsed the development of TAP. TAP was launched at the first G20-led Meeting of Agriculture Chief Scientists (MACS) in September 2012 in Mexico. (source).

How did I get involved in this effort?

To make a long story short, there was an open call for consultation services, my colleague (and Agro-Know CEO) Nikos Manouselis applied and he was selected as an experienced researcher to work on a report describing the conceptual architecture of TAPipedia, recruited to help by the FAO Research & Extension team that hosts the TAP secretariat. TAPipedia is one of the three envisaged services of TAP, aiming to be "a global information system for innovation outputs, success stories, socioeconomic impacts, lessons learned, and analyses of impacts. TAPipedia will use virtual collaboration tools and media, and could result in the identification of demands for new areas of agricultural research". Nikos asked for some help with this deliverable and I was really glad to jump in and start working on that!

What are we actually doing in this work?

What we are actually doing in this report is to define the conceptual architecture of TAPIpedia, which is expected to be a complex, multi-functional service consisting of several different components. These components will serve different purposes, such as content management, file sharing and collaborative content creation and editing, collaboration and communication of TAP partners and stakeholders etc., so we are talking about a platform that is expected to combine a content management system, a digital document repository, a wiki, a collaboration platform, an analytics component and a service for publishing content as linked open data, among others - all of them open source and freely available.

It is a pretty challenging work that requires literature review (including previous related work from TAP partners), desktop research, exploitation of available knowledge and information from colleagues as well as detailed and organized reporting in the deliverable. We are currently in an advanced phase of the report, which at this point covers about 80 pages (without the Annexes). Despite the high volume of information that needs to be evaluated, validated and reused in the report, we are confident that we will provide a high quality outcome that will provide the basis for the actual implementation of TAPipedia at a later stage. This alone looks really promising and it seems that this specific work will have significant impact at a global level.

GODAN during IODC 2015: The Storify case

I was not there, but thanks to numerous tweets I managed to get an image of what was happening during the International Open Data Conference 2015 (#IODC15). However, this Storify slideshow provides a great structured overview of the GODAN activities.

Bonus: Two Agro-Know tweets are included in the slides ;-)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

GODAN Twitter network during the International Open Data Conference 2015

The GODAN Secretariat shared a visualization of the GODAN twitter network activity  (focusing on retweets) during the International Open Data Conference 2015 (#IODC15).
#GODAN retweet network @ IODC15
Click for full size

It is obvious that there has been a lot of activity, involving major GODAN actors like CABI, ODI and USDA, among others (such as individuals active on Twitter). Agro-Know did not participate to the event but still managed to get into this interesting visualization; can you spot the Agro-Know node?


Not bad for a Greek SME, remotely attending the event :-)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On the Open Culture of the Open Data Institute

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with the ODI team in the context of the GODAN Discussion Paper. I am a curious person by nature and since we had a distant collaboration, I wanted to learn more about the people that I was working with (and I couldn't actually meet). Open data is about transparency and I would like to check out how transparent the ODI activities would be - and I was really surprised by the results!

First stop was the ODI team page; a fresh page with information about the ODI team members. Then the corporate Twitter account, which is really frequently updated and used for several purposes - a really alive communication tool! But this brought me to something much more interesting, funny and cozy: the #LifeAtTheODI hashtag! An ever-growing number of tweets by several (and I mean a lot) ODI team members who share moments from their life at the ODI workplace :-)

Some of the things I realized after checking out all these interesting tweets and photos are listed right below:
  • The ODI team members (at least most of them) are active Twitter users; their accounts show that they have a relatively high number of followers, they are following a lot of other accounts/people and they tweet. A lot.
  • They use Twitter for internal communication and chatting; even though they apparently have the opportunity to discuss face to face - this means that they openly share their discussions and they like it! It is obvious that they are not afraid to be exposed, as this is part of their culture.
  • They use Twitter even for internal or local events related to ODI; check out the #ODLmeetup hashtag for the Open Data London Meetupthis allows everyone to peek at what they are doing as a team/company.

  • They have a great time in the office and they share it with everyone; just check the #LifeAtTheODI hashtag for more! They are working as a team, they create opportunities for team bonding activities, they have ideas for having fun at the office, they even go out together :-)

  • At the same time, they have a really active blog, that I am really jealous of: Frequently updated but the most important fact is that everyone contributes (more or less); it is not a one-man show (like the Agro-Know one) as everyone contributes with topics on their expertise. These guys (and girls) like to expose their work; and they are doing a pretty nice job both at implementing and at promoting it!
What they achieve in this way is a great exposure of the ODI work and culture, in a really natural way; there is no need to define their values, as they are obvious through their tweets and posts. They communicate so well informally that they do not have to make official statements about their culture and values.

In Agro-Know things are rather different: We have our culture, values and a nice working environment, but these stay inside the office. Most of our team members are not active Twitter users (many of them do not even have a Twitter account; others do but they rarely use it), they use Facebook for personal purposes only and in several cases, they don't feel comfortable being photographed. In addition, most of our people do not blog. As a result, the Agro-Know blog is sometimes referred to as "Vassilis's blog" (while in fact I have two personal blogs and a Tumblr one that I maintain myself)! This might be due to several reasons (as well as a combination of them), including (but not limited to) lack of time, lack of interest and lack of knowledge on using social media.

Don't get me wrong; we are talking about a bunch of great guys and girls, with excellent skills and experience in their field, delivering high quality work for research projects and in the context of contracts, meeting strict deadlines and working overtime in order to meet the requirements of the work. They are just not fond of social media.

But this makes me wonder: Is it only a matter of (lack of) time, a lack of interest or just such a huge difference in culture between the ODI and the Agro-Know teams? Would it make sense if e.g. I spent some time coaching our team members on using their personal social media accounts (e.g. focusing on Twitter) for sharing bits and pieces about their work? Should I repeat a training on using the Agro-Know blog as a mean for promoting our work, both at a corporate and at a personal level? What if I defined a strategy on the coordinated use of social media (both corporate and personal), hoping that it would make things easier for those of them who are interested in supporting me promote the Agro-Know work and outcomes to a wider audience through social media? Would this bring some value back to the company or would it be a waste of (precious) time and effort? Does a company like Agro-Know need to "dive" deeper into social media?

Agro-Know COO Giannis Stoitsis will be visiting ODI for a week-long training on open data and he will have the opportunity to have this ODI culture experience at first hand. I hope that he will be able to bring back some ideas and a bit of this good aura, maybe helping push things in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How can we improve agriculture, food and nutrition with open data?

At the same time that the GODAN Discussion Paper was presented during the International Open Data Conference 2015 (IODC15) , GODAN made a call for contributions on the theme of the Paper: "How can we improve agriculture, food and nutrition with open data?". The point is simple: What has been depicted in the report was the status of open data in agriculture and nutrition at a specific time, as seen by a limited number of people (the GODAN Secretariat, the ODI team and some more people, among others).

Due to the tight deadline, it was not possible to contact as many people as we would like to and have their opinions expressed in the report; on top of that, there was a clear limitation in the total size of the report (regarding the number of pages), as a typical, long report would not be as usable and efficient as we would like it to be - and we wanted the report to be easy to use!

However, it is quite important to include the opinions, views and feedback of as many stakeholders as possible, something that became obvious during the Conference as well. In this context, the GODAN Secretariat is now calling all stakeholders of Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition to express their views on a single question:

How can we improve agriculture, food and nutrition with open data?

If you are interested in sharing your views with the rest of us, you can respond to this single question by completing a dead-simple online form, which is available here.

To my understanding and from my own point of view, what is urgently needed is a set of coordinated actions that will allow the reuse of what currently exists with what is further needed in order to enhance the adoption of open data in agriculture and nutrition and at the same time ensure the availability of the data needed for making an impact to various types of stakeholders, ranging from small farmers with limited access to information to policy makers and governments. In this context, I have tried to compile my ideas into a set of major interconnected activities, as shown below:

  1. Collection of requirements from actual open data "consumers", such as smallholders but also researchers, open data journalists - all types of stakeholders to see what their actual needs are, in terms of open data; 
  2. A mapping of all (if possible) open agri-food and nutrition data sources worldwide & the standards used by them, which should be mapped to existing standards used worldwide. There is still wealth of data and opportunities that we are not aware of;
  3. The development of a tool/framework (or an adaptation of an existing one) for the evaluation of the quality and status of data in terms of openness;
  4. Mapping of needs identified in (1) with existing data sources (2), so that we can identify the gaps and work on them;
  5. Engage experts (open data, researchers, policy makers, data journalists) in working on solutions needed in (4), applying the standards agreed in (2). Funding needs to be secured for the engagement of experts; such work cannot be based on a voluntarily/part-time basis;
  6. Disseminate the work and try to engage as many organizations and other bodies in GODAN as possible. Create material (and even courses?) to educate data producers/managers about the benefits of opening up their data and providing the tools and methodologies for helping them do so. Webinars, leaflets, blog posts, anything should be used for this purpose. Explore opportunities for collaboration (e.g. RDA Working Groups, existing Open Data initiatives and agri-food open access ones can contribute to this cause)

My impression is that a project consisting of the aforementioned Work Packages (rough ideas at this point) could provide substantial results in a relatively short time. The data and standards exist out there, the experts are already working on that (but in a not harmonized/organized way); we need to formulate the mean through which they will turn into useful information that will create impact to its end users.

If you have your own ideas, feel free to share them through the online form; your feedback is really appreciated!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"AgKnowledge Innovation" Process Share Fair: Social Reporting session

Some days ago, I had the opportunity (and pleasure) to participate in the Social Reporting to support innovation processes session organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and facilitated by Pierandrea Pirani and Pete Cranston from Euforic Services. It was a part of the "AgKnowledge Innovation" Process Share Fair, a two-days which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (ILRI premises) between 25-26 May 2015

The whole event consisted of both face to face and online sessions covering a wide variety of topics; however, the concept of the specific one draw my attention due to the fact that I find myself often reporting back from events (e.g. RDA meetings, project meetings, workshops & conferences that I attend etc.), so I wanted to make sure that what I am doing is the right way to do it and of course to get to learn more on how to report even better. Despite my packed schedule during these days, I managed to ensure that I will have a free 1.30-hour slot for this so I made an online reservation (thanks to Peter Ballantyne himself responding to my email; a person I really admire for the work that he has done and keeps doing in terms of agricultural information/knowledge management and communication) and joined the rest of the team!

Using the Adobe Connect software for participating to the workshop

The specific session took place using using Adobe Connect software (the tool proved to be fully appropriate for the specific purpose) on 25/5/2015, between 13.45-15.15. It consisted of a combination of plenary sessions with both online participants and workshop ones (the Addis Ababa participants), with breakout sessions of 3-4 persons in both virtual rooms and workshop location, reporting back using both mics and chat text; they even made use of a virtual whiteboard for sharing the feedback collected! It was quick, it was fun and it was educating! We started by trying to find a good definition of social reporting (e.g. see here) and shared it with the rest of the participants through Twitter (you can check out the #sfaddis #agprocess in Twitter for related discussions). We shared our previous experiences from social reporting and got to learn some interesting tips and new approaches for improving our work - all these in just 1,5 hour and through a blended session! There were cameras allowing us to see what was happening in Addis and people there could also see us and hear us so this made things really interactive.

The discussions were facilitated by Pierandrea Pirani (co-director of Euforic Services), who acted as the link between the online and face 2 face participants, coordinating discussions from Italy. If you ask me, it was a hard task but he did a great job ensuring that everyone would be included in the discussions and breakout sessions. At the same time Pete Cranston was in Addis, facilitating the workshop with the participants there. Great work from both and big thanks! In the end of the workshop, they even had prepared an online form for the participants to indicate what they like, what they didn't and what could be improved (which shows that the experience of the participants is valued ;-) )

Voice, text, video conferencing and even a virtual whiteboard; everything that a remote participant would need!

As a good use case, the Euphoric Services team has already reported back from the event through their blog, on which you can find additional information about the event and the formatting.

I was aware of the interesting events organized by ILRI's Communications and Knowledge Management team but it was just the first time that I managed to attend one of them (even remotely) and I was amazed. I would like to thank Peter and the rest of the team for the excellent organization, both before (amazing documentation, preparations and even registration forms) and during the event, as well as the Euphoric Services team for facilitating the event in such a professional way ;-)

Friday, May 29, 2015

GODAN Discussion Paper presented at IODC 2015

Things are not always like this; I usually get involved in typical tasks that have impact within a research project or a community.

However, this time things were different: With some help from the Agro-Know team (that provided me with the time needed for working on that), a great collaboration with many people in a short time (about 20 days!) and really hard work we managed to deliver a decent GODAN Discussion (ex-White) Paper that was presented yesterday at the Open Data Conference 2015.

This morning I checked out what has happened during the 1st day of the Conference, mostly browsing through tweets. This one draw my attention - the first slide of the presentation about the GODAN Discussion Paper, presented by Liz Carolan from the Open Data Institute.

This was more than I expected: Seeing my name in a slide presented to the participants (which btw are really important stakeholders of a global community) of an International Conference like this one was a great honor: I have presented papers and concepts myself in similar cases, but seeing my name as one of the authors of the GODAN Discussion Paper was something much more than that - priceless I would say! :-)

That's it; I am sold!

Big thanks to everyone at the lovely ODI team but mostly to Fiona Smith for the excellent management & organization of the work that needed to be delivered in such a short time & Liz Carolan for believing in me. Big thanks also to Martin Parr (CABI) for his help whenever needed and the rest of the GODAN Secretariat (Ben and Ana), as well as to everyone who responded to my requests for input to the report. I know that there are things that could have been different in the paper (I already have some points in mind) but taking into consideration the tight deadline this was what could be delivered in this short time...

I hope that this will be the first step to something even bigger, as I saw some really promising requirements coming out of the related discussions during these days :-)

P.S. The Discussion Paper is now publicly available for download through the ODI website. Feel free to download, study and comment.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The GODAN White Paper is (almost) ready to go public

It has been more than one month since I started working as an external consultant/researcher for the GODAN White Paper, after my application for the corresponding GODAN/Open Data Institute call was accepted - this work is now over.

Since then, there has been a lot of work (and I mean a lot!) in the context of this report: I identified more than 30 use cases making use of open agri-food and nutrition data (less than half of them made it in the final version of the paper - I admit that some of them were weaker than the others), drafted additional parts of the paper, collected more than 40 related references (including publications, articles, blog posts, reports, presentations etc.), interviewed several people looking for substantial feedback in terms of insights and quotes for the potential and current issues of open agricultural data, compiled lists of open agri-food datasets, data sources and other types of resources (like repository software, data management software and other tools), collected quotes and other bits from the preliminary GODAN survey results  - this was a time-consuming analysis that was reported in about 35 pages, including text, lists and tables (also some images and screenshots at some point). Use cases were elaborated, revised & re-written, additional drafting of text was required in some instances, details were needed for vague use cases, formatting of text and so on.

What I really appreciated throughout this process was the fact that I had the opportunity to get close to some really important people working with open data, such as Dr. Daniel Jimenez from CIAT (The leader of the winning team of the United Nation's 2014 Big Data Climate Challenge), Dr. Glenn Hyman & Andrew Farrow from AgTrials, Gerber Roerink from (the last three through the precious introduction and help from SemaGrow partner Dr. Sander Janssen), Graham Mullier (Head Data Sciences, R&D IS at Syngenta), Christopher Brewster (an old friend from Aston University, with experience in open food data) as well as Dr. Shaun Hobbs, the Director of CABI's Plantwise Knowledge Bank (I hope I am not forgetting anyone here!). All of them have made a significant impact in their fields so I felt honored to have the opportunity to get in touch with them.

I also felt really glad to have the opportunity to work with the ODI team on the development of this report; Liz Carolan had the overview of the work and was the person connecting the team working on the report with both the GODAN Secretariat (CABI) and the ODI Execs, Fiona Smith was my project manager, ensuring that my contributions would always be according to the (tight) schedule and acting as my contact with the rest of team (and the GODAN partners several cases); on top of that, ensuring that all bits and pieces would nicely fit in the report, Anna Scott did her magic with copy editing - transforming typical text into high-quality, catchy and easy to read one, Ellen Broad contributing her open data policy parts and experience and there were even more involved! As you understand, this was a great collaborative work, which also included previous input from Tim Davies, and help from Ben Schaap and Ana Brandusescu (WUR/GODAN Secretariat through CABI). Big thanks to everyone for their contributions and help!

All work took place through a GDoc where everyone from the team was invited to work by drafting text, editing, suggesting and commenting; I found this to be a really efficient way of developing a document. Additional (and frequent) communication took place through emails and Skype calls; this allowed to stay connected with the rest of the team and ongoing work, despite the fact that I was remotely working (I didn't manage to visit the ODI headquarters, even though I'd love to).
The White Paper (which has now been renamed to Discussion Paper) is currently open for comments to the GODAN partners (sorry, not publicly available yet!) and is almost ready to go into printing; it will be publicly announced and presented during the Open Data Conference 2015, in Ottawa, Canada in less than one week (28-29/5/2015)!

If you ask me, it was a great experience that allowed to me to get in touch with some really nice and interesting people and contribute to a report that will have significant impact at a global level; what more could I ask for? :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A discussion about CABI's Plantwise

Plantwise is a global programme, launched back in 2011, working to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses. Plantwise is led by CABI, an organization with over 100 years of experience in agricultural research. The Plantwise team is working closely with national agricultural advisory services and establishes and supports sustainable networks of "plant clinics", run by trained plant doctors, where farmers can find practical plant health advice. The whole approach is innovative and seems to have a significant impact so far.
At the core of Plantwise there is the The Plantwise Knowledge Bank: a huge database containing a wealth of knowledge related to plant pests (mostly in the form of factsheets), which provides country- or region-specific plant health information. What is interesting is that this knowledge is constantly updated; not only from the CABI side, which adds new resources related to plant pest infections, but also from the plant doctors who actually create new factsheets on a regular basis based on the incidences that they meet and address as part of their work

About one week ago I had the pleasure to get engaged in a really interesting discussion with Martin Parr, a man with many hats: he is the 
Operations Director for the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition Secretariat (GODAN), he also works in CABI’s Knowledge Services for International Development and last but not least, he is the Head of Open Data at CABI. Martin is a long time acquaintance (we first met during the RDA 3rd Plenary Meeting in Dublin, Ireland in March 2014, and then again one month later, during the CIARD/GODAN Joint Consultation in April 2014). Martin was kind enough to bring me in contact with Dr. Shaun Hobbs, Director of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank. The reason for this discussion was for me to get some information about the data sources of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, the transformation of this data into Factsheets and then the sharing of the data with the plant doctors and farmers, that I could use for the research I was conducting in the context of the GODAN White Paper.

Plantwise + IPPC side event at CPM9 in Rome- April 2, 2014 from CABIslides

During the discussion I had the opportunity to get a lot of information on the sources and the use of data, the licenses, the agreements with governments for the use of governmental data and the combination of publicly available data with private ones, a fact that raised some issues for sharing the processed information. I was also guided through the process including the development of the Factsheets, their use by plant doctors in the plant clinics, the role of the tablets in the process (replacing paper and computers at the same time), the collection of data produced by the pant doctors and how they are used for keeping the Knowledge Bank updated and many other interesting things.
However, what impressed me most about this discussion was how passionate both of them were about their work and Plantwise in general and how knowledgeable they were, explaining every little detail to me, adding pieces every now and then, going into even more details and being excited about sharing their work with me. I felt really glad to be able to meet both Martin and Shaun and to be engaged in this interesting discussion.

If you want to learn more about Plantwise, you can check out the Plantwise website, Plantwise blog and social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) - you can also check out the Plantwise Android app as well as a recent report on the use of digital technologies in the processes.