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 ;-)