Communication and knowledge management (KM) are among the pillars of the ‘Research for Development’ (R4D) approach of the Nile Basin Development Challenge and the wider Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF), as the recently published NBDC institutional history stressed.

On 2 and 3 December 2013,  the CPWF organized a workshop on communication and knowledge management to review the results of CPWF in these areas.

The workshop involved twelve participants from the six basins involved in CPWF (Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta), mostly communication/KM specialists but also the basin leaders for the Andes and Limpopo basins and an external consultant. Over the two days, they presented their communication and KM work and teased out some stories that illustrated the successes and challenges of each Basin’s experience. Finally, the group collectively developed a series of a) specific innovations that they thought were excellent examples that might be applied elsewhere and b) lessons and principles that matter for CKM to be performing better in wider programs.

The NBDC case was presented by Ewen Le Borgne:

Following this workshop, Michael Victor, the communication and knowledge management coordinator for CPWF was interviewed by Ewen Le Borgne to reflect back on the objectives and results of CPWF and NBDC. 

Ewen Le Borgne (ELB): What did CPWF set out to do with communication and knowledge management?

Michael Victor (MV):

When I arrived as a ‘comms guy’ I wanted to show that communication is not just about stories, but in CGIAR there was a lot of segmentation and silos. Boru Douthwaite (then head of CPWF Innovation and Impact) was very visionary about the integration of KM, comms, information management, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), so we had this great idea about integrating all these domains, wondering how to work together with people working in these related domains. And we struggled with that. We had a breakthrough meeting in 2012 where we started to see that learning was in the middle. The tools used in M&E (e.g. Outcome Mapping, Social Network Analysis) are not exclusive to it, they can be used for a whole series of purposes. There was recognition that we were bringing different expertise around similar tools. What we set out to do was to develop this overall approach, recognizing that we were moving towards programmatic approach to KM. this meant that different aspects of KM (M&E, Comms and Info) were seen as a strategic function helping research get to outcomes, rather than as administrative or support functions.

Michael Victor, leading communication work in the Challenge Program for Water and Food (Photo credit: CPWF)

Michael Victor, leading communication work in the Challenge Program for Water and Food (Photo credit: CPWF)

(ELB): What worked and what didn’t, generally?

(MV):  By the end, what worked well was this blurred boundaries approach. Everyone recognizes the role of KM in R4D, it’s very clear. That worked really well. Our whole decentralized approach worked really well, having this range of KM approaches across different basins, and how it came together was very valuable.

What didn’t work very well was moving communication activities beyond products and making sure they are seen as part of a wider change process.  We also did not evaluate and monitor our KM activities that well. The ‘learning’ or research on these aspects were weak and therefore has been difficult to show the benefits of this approach.

Perhaps also the comms side came off too strong, while other people (e.g. some basin leaders) wanted to understand the KM process behind this work.

(ELB): Specifically about the NBDC?

(MV):  When I started, I wanted to build upon the initial basins that were already developing their systems. Peter Ballantyne had this great approach of using NBDC as an experiment. I realized he had a vision and had the tools to do it. So I piggybacked what Peter did e.g. with CGSpace, rolling out wikis. NBDC were the first basin to roll out with the Mekong (and Andes).

One of the great things for NBDC was testing out all these tools and seeing it as an experiment for when CRPs were to be rolled out more widely

From the Mekong we also took ideas related to branding and identify (where the basin logos came from).

No other basin was developing anything replicable. NBDC was trying things in their institutional context, linking with innovation platforms, embedding comms and KM in the basin etc.

(ELB): How do we capitalize on the NBDC and CPWF work on communication and knowledge management?

(MV):  What we did last week (i.e. with the kmc4CRP workshop): Working with CGIAR Research Programs and focusing on one-on-one, face-to-face interactions, making sure that we have the stories readily accessible. We should try to get – whenever we can – other people to use existing websites, wikis etc. disseminating strategically.

See the results from the CPWF Communication and KM workshop