Monday, 16 December 2013

That’s the way love goes: what your relationship experiences can tell you about partnership management

By Ruth Goodman

I recently attended a lunchtime learning session, Stimulating Demand for Good Partnerships: Lessons from MK4D & Beyond run by my colleagues Kate Bingley and Alan Stanley. MK4D (Mobilising Knowledge for Development) is the name of the now completed DFID grant which much of the IDS Knowledge Services department were involved in. Within MK4D there was a lot of focus on partnership work and during the session we got to talking about partnership management. How do you do it well? Is there any guidance? And for those who had yet to manage any relationships with partners then shouldn’t we really have some training on the matter?

While training could be useful, perhaps the most obvious but overlooked resource for partnership management is our own relationship experiences. Listening to the anecdotes people gave about partnerships, the parallels with other sorts of relationships were more than apparent, such as the rose tinted glasses stage. You and Organisation Wonderful are in a new relationship. Everything is exciting, you have so much in common, you share the same world view, (‘I can’t believe you want to end world poverty too. We’re just so similar!’). And, if there are any murmurings that Organisation Wonderful is anything other than perfect you don’t really tune in. 

But alas, the honeymoon period can’t last forever. You find out that your partner’s skill set isn’t quite what you thought it was. They don’t know how to use the cooker/washing machine/Hoover etc and their culinary expertise doesn't quite match up to what was promised. And what about those tensions of power where both parties want to assert their authority and you find yourself doing a lot of work with very little credit? Or, worst case scenario, communication breaks down entirely. They seemed so perfect, you were so happy but something has changed. They ignore your emails and they don’t call when they say they will and then you find out they’ve gone off with a shiny new project and you are old news.

So, if you find yourself in the position of managing a partnership, what steps can you take to try and avoid these partnership pitfalls?
  • Find out about your potential partner before you get together. What are they like to work with? Try and get the lowdown from someone who has already been there.
  • Try not to rush into things. Exert caution and avoid committing too much right at the beginning of the relationship.
  •  Make your expectations clear before signing on the dotted line. If you aren’t happy with something your partner is doing then question whether you were crystal clear in setting out what you wanted. Be specific and don’t assume your partner will know exactly what you expect if you haven’t told them.
  • Setting out roles and responsibilities from the very beginning is crucial for avoiding confusion and disappointment as the partnership progresses and if it is a case of whose name will go first on a paper or whose institution will host a given event, if this is something that really matters to you, tell the partner what you want and get it straight as early as possible.
  • Be respectful, communicate and pick your battles wisely

Ruth Goodman is Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Officer at the Institute of Development Studies

Friday, 13 December 2013

Organising or Attending an Event? How to get the most out of it...

By Hannah Corbett

I had a long wait in the cold to get into this year’s European Development Days in Brussels, a two day conference that brings together NGOs, political leaders, academics and bureaucrats from across the globe to talk international development. Essentially, the computer(s) said “no,” throwing the registration process into disarray. So I had some time on my hands to think about why people bother attending and organising events – over the years I’ve spent a lot of my time doing both.

Attending and organising events – the pitfalls

So from the glass half empty point of view, here’s some reasons why not to attend and organise events:
  • They’re expensive.
  • They’re not always the most effective way of reaching your target audience.
  • Everyone’s doing it – there’s so much going on (particularly if you work in the small world of development) it can be difficult in terms of choosing what to attend, and also organising something that people actually want to come to.
There is a risk that you can come away feeling that you’re no wiser, no better connected and frustrated at the lack of tangible progress.

But that’s enough of the negativity. There are plenty of positive reasons for attending and organising events, and they can prove invaluable in helping to achieve your communications, engagement and influencing objectives.  

How events can help you achieve your communications, engagement and influencing objectives

One of the high points of my event organising career was when one delegate, so inspired and motivated by the day’s proceedings, was moved to play the spoons on a colleague’s head. While I’m not advocating that spontaneous spoon playing becomes an indicator of success, here’s some tips (a lot of them common sense) I’ve picked up along the way to getting the most out of events – whether you’re a participant or an organiser.
  1. Fun – just because its ‘work’ it doesn't mean that you can’t interject the serious stuff (e.g. addressing global poverty) with something a little more light-hearted. Including activities such as ice breakers, speed-networking sessions or a bit of role play can pay dividends, and can also help people interact and look at things from a fresh perspective. Although I realise the words ‘role play’ or ‘networking’ can send shivers down the spine of many a conference attendee, try to put your preconceptions aside and get involved. It’s usually worth it.   
  2. Purpose - if you’re organising an event, make sure the purpose is clear. So you know what you’re trying to achieve and those attending know what they’re signing up to from the outset. Having a tangible event output such as an action plan or report can help. The same applies to attending events. Do your homework beforehand and have an idea about what you want to contribute or get out of it.
  3. Realism – achievable objectives are essential in making sure that people go away with a sense of the conversation having moved on. Building a new consensus for world peace in a day is going to be difficult but bringing relevant colleagues together to discuss how you might influence a specific governments contribution to a forthcoming international forum on peacebuilding will be much more achievable. 
  4. Interaction  - building momentum and discussion before, during and after the event is essential. Social media has made this a lot easier, and is critical in reaching out to audiences who won’t be able to attend in person. Live streaming, event hashtags, video contributions, Facebook polls and Storify are just some of the tools out there to help increase opportunities for interaction. It’s something we’re experimenting with at IDS – you can see an example of our recent Storify efforts around an event that we held with Bond at which Justine Greening spoke.
  5. Venue – boring but true, having the right venue with the right facilities, especially technical ones, is critical. This ensures people can spend more time listening and talking to each other rather wondering the corridors looking for Workshop A or staring at a blank live streaming screen.
  6. Format – getting the balance right is important, and it’s something I often grapple with in terms of putting together an event that a) communicates our latest research findings in an accessible and engaging way and b) allows enough time for the ‘so what?’ discussion. High profile key notes are always a draw (although can sometimes be a let-down in terms of hearing something new) but they need to be balanced out with more practical and interactive sessions. There’s nothing worse than being promised a day of interaction which in reality turns out to be a token 10 minute Q&A session stuck at the end of a series of complex and technical presentations. Refer back to point 1 – fun – extremely useful in trying to break things up and bring life to the notoriously difficult after lunch slot.
  7. Chair – a good chair, moderator, facilitator can make or break an event. And they need a good brief (same goes for all speakers) to help them make sure the event fulfils its aims and objectives.   
  8. Evaluation – asking people to provide feedback or taking five minutes to provide some constructive feedback (although try not to obsess about the quality of the mid-morning biscuits) is really important to enable organisers to improve the quality of their events moving forward. It also provides a valuable opportunity for participants to reflect on what they took away from the event and what they might have done differently.
  9. Opportunism – the great thing about events – whether you’re organising them or attending them – is they provide endless opportunities. Inviting people who you want to engage with to speak, putting a copy of your latest policy briefing under the nose of the relevant minister who just happens to be on a panel, signposting people to your latest work through a tweet using the conference hashtag…it’s a potential gold mine. You just need to have an open mind and an eagle eye.
But these are just some of my thoughts. Often organising events can be quite a lonely task especially if you’re the only person in your organisation or team doing it, so it would be great to hear from others about their event triumphs, nightmares, challenges, solutions, spoon playing anecdotes, and top tips for success. 

Hannah Corbett is Public Affairs and Policy Officer with the Institute of Development Studies.

For a related post about managing events and discussions, see: 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Grey literature, green open access: the BLDS Digital Library

By Rachel Playforth

Not all research is carried out within universities, or published in peer-reviewed journals.  ‘Grey literature’ (for example reports and working papers) is produced in large quantities throughout the world by independent research institutes, think tanks, charities, international organisations and government agencies (as well as by universities).

Although the lack of both peer review and formal publication standards must be taken into account when evaluating this kind of literature, it can be an important source of original research and up to date information.

Grey literature is increasingly available online, but there are still problems with finding and using it, including missing identifying/contextualising information such as dates, unclear copyright status, and lack of a stable URL or permanent online location. Research published in the global South can already be hard to find as it rarely appears in Northern bibliographic indexes, so Southern grey literature is at a double disadvantage.

As part of our work to raise the profile of Southern-published research and make it more accessible to a global audience, the British Library for Development Studies has been building digital collections by digitising ‘grey’ material in our physical holdings.

We initially focused on series papers from research institutes and university departments in Africa and Asia which had little existing online presence. The first step was to negotiate with the copyright holders to license their material under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (By-NC-ND). This is a license that combines liberal reproduction terms with some restrictions on types of reuse.

Once agreements with copyright holders had been signed, we scanned our print copies of their publications, using optical character recognition (OCR) to make the text fully searchable. These digital versions were then uploaded as PDFs (with full metadata) to a newly created Digital Library on our DSpace repository platform.

Digital repositories have been developed primarily as a way to store and make accessible pre-publication versions of peer reviewed articles (known as ‘green’ open access or self-archiving). However, our experience at BLDS shows that they can also be an effective way of archiving and disseminating previously offline, dispersed or hidden grey literature outputs.

Since our first partnership agreement with the University of Nairobi in 2010, we have added a total of 2220 documents to the Digital Library. These documents originate from 15 different organisations based in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are around 4000 downloads from the collection every month, and around 2000 abstract views (over 60% from the global South). The more Digital Library papers are accessed, the higher they are ranked in Google Scholar search results, and vice versa - a virtuous circle of discoverability.

The next phase of digital collection building involves inviting Southern partner organisations to contribute content directly to the Digital Library, with BLDS providing capacity support for local digitisation where needed. If you would like to know more about this project, please contact Rachel Playforth.

We are currently surveying users about our website, BLDS Digital Library and catalogue.  The information that we collect in this way will assist us in developing our work so that we can continue to offer you an excellent service.

Rachel Playforth is Repository Coordinator for the British Library for Development Studies at IDS.  

Friday, 8 November 2013

Looking for a tool to analyse and 'compare' policies? Check our our lessons from conducting a QDA

By Elise Wach

As part of our team efforts to maintain a reflective practice and share learning to others, one of our latest ‘Practice Papers in Brief’ provides some insights from conducting a Qualitative Document Analysis (QDA) on policy documents for the rural water sector.

The QDA was undertaken as part of the Triple-S (Sustainable Services at Scale) initiative, for which the Impact and Learning Team (ILT) at IDS facilitates learning. 

Qualitative Document Analysis (QDA) is a research method for systematically analysing the contents of written documents.  The approach is used in political science research to facilitate impartial and consistent analysis of written policies. 

Given that Triple-S is aiming to change policies and practices in the rural water sector, the initiative decided to undertake a QDA on policy documents at the international level in order to understand trends and progress in the sector and also to engage development partners in identifying possible changes to policies and practices to move the sector closer to achieving ‘sustainable services at scale.’  Later, we decided to expand this to ‘practice’ documents as well. 

Consistent with Triple S’s ‘theory of change’, generating discussion on these issues and catalysing change was just as much of a priority as generating reliable evidence about policy trends.

In the paper, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology, and provide some pointers that might be helpful if it is a tool you might consider using.

Overall, we found that the QDA exercise provided useful information about trends and gaps in the rural water sector, helped to refine the Triple-S engagement strategy, and served as a useful platform for engagement with partner organisations.

Some of our lessons related to issues of defining our 'themes' and scoring, inclusion criteria for documents, unclear or zero scoring, and the relationships between the research team and the organisations included in the review.

Next week, Triple-S will be kicking off another QDA for the Ghana Workstream, to analyse government rural water policies, and will incorporate many of the lessons that we’ve learned on QDA so far.  We’ll also be conducting another round of QDA at the international level next year to analyse the ways in which the rural water sector policies have shifted over the course of the Triple-S project, and to understand what to focus on moving forward.

Elise Wach is Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Adviser with the Impact and Learning Team at the Institute of Development Studies

Other blogs by Elise on Impact and Learning: 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The revolution will not be in open data

By Duncan Edwards

I’ve had a lingering feeling of unease that things were not quite right in the world of open development and ICT4D (Information and communication technology for development), so at September’s Open Knowledge Conference in Geneva I took advantage of the presence of some of the world’s top practitioners in these two areas to explore the question:

How does “openness” really effect change within development? 

Inspiration for the session came from a number of conversations I’ve had over the last few years.

My co-conspirator/co-organiser of the OKCon side event “Reality check: Ethics and Risk in Open Development,” Linda Raftree, had also been feeling uncomfortable with the framing of many open development projects, assumptions being made about how “openness + ICTs = development outcomes,” and a concern that risks and privacy were not being adequately considered.

We had been wondering whether the claims made by Open Development enthusiasts were substantiated by any demonstrable impact. For some reason, as soon as you introduce the words “open data” and “ICT,” good practice in development gets thrown out the window in the excitement to reach “the solution”.

A common narrative in many “open” development projects goes along the lines of “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” In essence, because of the newness of this field, we only know what we think happens, we don’t know what really happens because there is a paucity of documentation and evidence.

It’s problematic that we often use the terms data, information, and knowledge interchangeably, because:
  • Data is NOT knowledge 
  • Data is NOT information 
  • Information is NOT knowledge. 
Knowledge is what you know.

It’s the result of information you’ve consumed, your education, your culture, beliefs, religion, experience – it’s intertwined with the society within which you live.

Understanding and thinking through how we get from the “openness” of data, to how this affects how and what people think, and consequently how they might act, is critical in whether “open” actually has any additional impact.

Can applying a Theory of Change help us answer this question?

At Wednesday’s session, panellist Matthew Smith from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) talked about the commonalities across various open initiatives. Matthew argued that a larger Theory of Change (ToC) around how ‘open’ leads to change on a number of levels could allow practitioners to draw out common points. The basic theory we see in open initiatives is “put information out, get a feedback loop going, see change happen.” But open development can be sliced in many ways, and we tend to work in silos when talking about openness. We have open educational resources, open data, open government, open science, etc. We apply ideas and theories of openness in a number of domains but we are not learning across these domains.

We explored the theories of change underpinning two active programmes that incorporate a certain amount of “openness” in their logic.

Simon Colmer from the Knowledge Services department at the Institute of Development Studies outlined their theory of change of how research evidence can help support decision-making in development policy-making and practice. While Erik Nijland from HIVOS presented elements of the theory of change that underpins the Making All Voices Count programme, which looks to increase the links between citizens and governments to improve public services and deepen democracy.

Both of these ToCs assume that because data/information is accessible, people will use it within their decision-making processes. They also both assume that intermediaries play a critical role in analysis, translation, interpretation, and contextualisation of data and information to ensure that decision makers (whether citizens, policy actors, or development practitioners) are able to make use of it. Although access is theoretically open, in practice even mediated access is not equal – so how might this play out in respect to marginalised communities and individuals?

What neither ToC really does is unpack who these intermediaries are. What are their politics? What are their drivers for mediating data and information? What is the effect of this? A common assumption is that intermediaries are somehow neutral and unbiased – does this assumption really hold true? 

What many open data initiatives do not consider is what happens after people are able to access and internalise open data and information. How do people act once they know something?

As Vanessa Herringshaw from the Transparency and Accountability Initiative said in the Raising the Bar for ambition and quality in OGP session, “We know what transparency should look like but things are a lot less clear on the accountability end of things”.

There are a lot of unanswered questions. Do citizens have the agency to take action? Who holds power? What kind of action is appropriate or desirable? Who is listening? And if they are listening, do they care?

Linda finished up the panel by raising some questions around the assumptions that people make decisions based on information rather than on emotion, and that there is a homogeneous “public” or “community” that is waiting for data/information upon which to base their opinions and actions.

So as a final thought, here’s my (perhaps clumsy) 2013 update on Gil Scott Heron’s 1970 song “The Revolution will not be televised”:

“The revolution will NOT be in Open data,
It will NOT be in hackathons, data dives, and mobile apps,
It will NOT be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube,
It will NOT be live-streamed, podcast, and available on catch-up
The revolution will not be televised”

Heron’s point, which holds true today, was that “the revolution” or change, starts in the head. We need to think carefully about how we get far beyond access to data.

This blog was originally published as an Open Knowledge Foundation blog. Duncan Edwards is ICT Innovations Manager at the Institute of Development Studies. Follow Duncan on Twitter. 

Other blogs by Duncan on Impact and Learning

Friday, 25 October 2013

Open Access futures?

by Rachel Playforth

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

I’ve heard this Gandhi quote applied to open access advocacy before, and the Open Access Futures conference I attended yesterday was an interesting indicator of where we are in that process.

Is it a good sign that the open access community feels able to argue endlessly about ‘Green’ or ‘Gold’ and the fine detail of Creative Commons licenses? Have we won the war and all that remains is to quibble over the spoils? Or have the commercial journal publishers turned out to be the real winners, yet again, while we fight each other over the correct pronunciation/transcription of ‘CC By’?

By making themselves major players in the open access market and (to be fair, often constructively) engaging in the debate, publishers have cleverly deflected attention from the unpalatable fact which accelerated the OA issue into public consciousness in the first place: their grossly inflated profit margins (close to 40% in some cases[1]) and the resulting ‘serials crisis’ that threatened the ability of libraries to perform their core function of providing information.

These profit margins have not decreased, as far as I can tell, but we seem to have tacitly agreed to stop mentioning them while publishers convince us that they care about open access.

In fact, so powerful is the publishing lobby that a huge part of the open access discussion now centres around protecting these very profits (embargo periods, a free APC market, etc). Should we accept this and work to find pragmatic solutions in what we’re told is a ‘transition’ period – or is it really just a transition from one source of income for publishers to another? Has the radical potential of open access been squandered? What would real disruptive change look like?

The conference did offer some hope that change on a grander scale is happening, mainly through the passion and energy of young academics who take the DIY approach - with a sensibility borrowed from hacker culture and open source technology. They are creating new platforms for scholarship that don’t just fill a gap for researchers priced out of the commercial OA market, but take disciplines in new directions and question the whole process of academic publishing. See eLife, Alluvium, the Open Library of Humanities.
Is grey literature the next frontier for Open Access?
Image is CC0 licensed

Other areas are also opening up outside academic institutions, with charities, independent institutes,
government agencies and NGOs not only benefiting from open access content, but creating their own. In most cases there is nothing to stop these organisations from making their publications freely available, and indeed many have been doing so through websites and self-publishing for years, but by adopting the norms and principles of open access we can share our content so much more effectively. Free from the stranglehold of commercial publishers, I believe that grey literature of all kinds is the next big unexplored area for open access.

A recent Thesis Whisperer blog post explored the frustrations of a researcher on the distance we still have to go, but by developing our institutional repository and working with international partners on exposing their own grey literature through open access, IDS is heading in the right direction.

[1] Of goats and headaches’, The Economist, 26 May 2011 

Other blogs by Rachel on Impact and Learning:

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Digital repositories – reaching the parts other websites cannot reach

By James Georgalakis

If you write a blog about what’s trending on Twitter or the latest website design fad you normally get some good engagement. If you write about Open Access to research you can normally get a debate going.

But when you start writing, or talking for that matter, about institutional repositories people’s eyes tend to glaze over. This is unfortunate because a key, perhaps essential, element of an innovative digital communications strategy that promotes Open Access to research is the use of a repository. Perhaps it is the name that puts people off or they simply assume this is the sole preserve of librarians.

Whatever the blockage is we need to get over it and fast.

Many research funders have long expected to see repositories host outputs they have funded. Universities have long been fully equipped in this area but many members of the development research community from think tanks to NGOs are simply publishing their outputs onto a traditional website.

This week, which is also Open Access Week 2013, IDS announced that it is in the process of digitising and publishing onto OpenDocs, its open access repository, its entire back catalogue of almost 2,000 research reports, working papers, practice papers, and other IDS Series Titles.

I will attempt to explain why I believe digital repositories are essential if you are serious about open access publishing and research uptake.

What is a digital repository, anyway?

Repositories are built on software that is international and interoperable, facilitating data exchange and re-use. In other words, they are highly compatible with other systems! The full text of each archived document is rapidly indexed by search engines and securely stored for the long term. In this way a repository like OpenDocs hugely increases the discoverability of IDS and our partners’ research through search engines such as Google scholar. This means more citations and hopefully more uptake and influence.

At IDS we have a good publications search area on our website which is one of our most popular pages. What you may not notice is that most of the documents you download are actually hosted on our repository. This is because OpenDocs adds value, securing additional hits from searches made from outside the IDS site as well as those done within the site. We also provide the links to all our partners’ and projects’ websites so that the research outputs they appear host all get downloaded directly from OpenDocs, which is crucial for our monitoring systems.

Many institutions use repositories to profile special collections or archives. This can result in large numbers of downloads where there are topical themes or big name academics involved. Perhaps not surprisingly, the very early days of IDS’ repository were marked with the launch of a Robert Chambers archive. Many repositories have built in analytics so that you can view downloads of specific publications or whole collections. Again, due to the wider reach of repositories, this gives you a far fuller picture of usage than the google analytics reports you may have been producing on your own website’s page views and downloads.

Of course repositories vary hugely and some can do quite different things to others. IDS uses a software package called DSpace which represents a different approach to digital collections management compared with other popular systems like Fedora.

IDS’ repository actually hosts two completely distinct collections:
  1. One is rather obviously the IDS Research Community  collection
  2. the other is the BLDS Digital Library of over 2,000 full-text publications from research organisations in Africa and Asia. 
Presently OpenDocs is mainly populated with text-only material but over time it may include datasets and multimedia content as well.

Warning: Digital repositories do not automatically meet all open access mandates

Open Access literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. Clearly repositories, with their ability to make research more widely available should form a crucial part of any open access strategy.

However, just because publications and other outputs are freely downloadable from repositories it does not mean they are free of all licensing restrictions. This means they may not meet the open access requirements of some funders. Every effort is now being made at IDS to ensure material in OpenDocs has a Creative Commons Attribution license.

So, if you are amongst those whose research and knowledge is not supported with a digital repository, you need to ask some hard questions. Does your institutional website offer the same benefits and if not what are you going to do about it? Failure to invest in this technology and promote its use across your networks may be undermining your potential reach.
Find out more about IDS' approach to open access publishing.
James Georgalakis is Head of Communications at the Institute of Development Studies. Follow James on Twitter

Previous blogs by James on Impact and Learning:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Research to Action – A different slant on capabilities

by Elise Wach, Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning Advisor

At the Evidence and Power in Development Policy event at LSE a few weeks back, we were asked to write on index cards our unanswered questions related to the event (and to save our other non-event unanswered questions for another occasion).  I walked away with a few unanswered questions and issues to ponder, which I share here.

The event began, as to be expected, with an overview of the long-standing debates around the ‘linkages’ between ‘researchers’ and ‘policy makers’.  One of the main questions of the event was, ‘when researchers and policy makers are more closely linked, can researchers really challenge the normative ideas of policies?’  This idea of challenging normative ideas was thus resonating in the back of my head as Chris Whitty (Director of Research and Evidence Division at DFID) spoke about some of the realities of policy makers.  

Echoing the calls of many policy actors, he stated that research needs to be packaged for ‘instantaneous use’ and that researchers need to avoid trying to make their studies ‘seem more complicated than they are.’  ‘Policy makers’ (and I use quotes here to indicate that the term ‘policy maker’ can be quite misleading) want high level, tangible messages that they can use to make decisions about the way that something happens.

While I do agree that researchers could stand to improve their ability to communicate their ideas and research to others (which may require development of both social skills (!) and communications in some cases) I also think that there are a few larger systemic issues here that are normally assumed to be unchangeable.

We focus a lot on communication of research and on ensuring that policy makers have access to research and evidence, but should we also focus on the capabilities of policy makers to engage in research?  

To me, the capabilities of policy makers to meaningfully engage with research would include: the time that they have to do so, the ability to bridge the research and policy domains, and the capability to make sense of multiple sources of information and evidence (and here we are talking about evidence with a small ‘e’).

Time availability.  
With the reduction in staff numbers at donor agencies such as DFID, are these types of decision makers less able to engage with evidence in a meaningful way?   What information gets left out in a two page policy brief or in a 30 minute presentation?   Researchers don’t always make things ‘more complicated’ than they are.  Often times the issues are very complicated…or even complex!  For complex issues such as conflict mitigation or even food security, simple headlines are not enough. 

Bridging the divides.  
We talk a lot about how researchers need to be able to use less jargon and tailor their language and messaging to the needs and realities of policy makers.  Again, there is a lot that researchers could (and should) improve upon here.

Source: Ahamer et al 2010
But there are also other ways in which this gap may be bridged. 
People who have had experience in a variety of settings (research, policy, practice, different sectors, etc.) can play a key role in ‘translating’ information from researchers to policy actors and vice versa.  In network theory, such individuals are called ‘bridges’.

Encouraging diversity of career experiences, rather than promoting single track, ‘focused’ careers (even if it is just a short stint away from their long-term job) could help to improve the linkages between research, policy and practice.  Increased empathy may also help here (see this fun RSA animate on empathy and ‘outrospection’).

Perceiving and managing complexity.  
Many have argued that the type of thinking that has resulted in the types of problems that we have today (e.g. disparity, climate change, undernutrition, crime, etc.) is likely not well-suited to adequately solving them.

Dialectical thinking, identifying and examining our assumptions and perspectives and recognizing complexity might be able to help ensure that solutions to complex problems are valid in the long-term and beyond the scope of the specific problems which they seek to address.  

In some Adult Development theories, increasing skills or knowledge in a specific area is considered to be growing ‘horizontally’.    This is what we normally focus on when we talk about capacity development.  But we can also develop in our capabilities for ‘meaning making’ (vertical growth).  An article by Susanne Cook-Greuter explains this in more detail.

Catalysts of change.
Much work has been done on identifying and developing capabilities in leaders (see Snowden and Boone or Barrett Brown for accessible examples of this).  But it isn’t just the ‘top leaders’ that could benefit from increasing their capabilities in this area.   Civil servants, researchers, programme managers, etc. could also benefit from developing more ‘vertically’.  

One of the ILT’s latest papers is about ‘champions of change’.  In the paper, Sara Wolcott and I offer some musings about the capabilities and attributes of individuals who are able to make sense of and manage information in order to catalyse policy changes, based on a piece of research undertaken as part of the Transform Nutrition research initiative.  

There’s much more to say in this area, and I hope to share more on this topic in future posts.  In the meantime, we welcome your comments and feedback on this post and on the ‘champions’ paper.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The 4 c's of Google Adwords – content, context, clicks and conversions

By Alan Stanley

I manage Eldis – an online platform providing free access to international development research and policy documents. We’re a global service with roughly 45% of our users in developing countries and a strong emphasis on highlighting research produced by the smaller research organisations and networks based in the so-called global “South”. We get about half a million visitors per year.

Like most other online knowledge platforms Eldis relies heavily on Google as a source of traffic to our website (61% last year). And to do this we rely on getting our links into the listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to users search terms (referred to as natural or organic search).

Recently though, with the support of a small amount of funding from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, we’ve been exploring the use of Google Adwords (pay-per-click adverts appearing prominently on Google results pages) to help us achieve some of our marketing and promotion objectives. This short article highlights some of what we learned from this process and links to a longer draft learning paper we’ve produced which describes the process we went through in more detail. We’re not experts - we started from pretty much zero knowledge and still have many unanswered questions. So my hope is that this short article might prompt others to share their experience from which we can all learn.

Jargon alert

Working in both international development and knowledge brokering requires a certain natural tolerance (even a slight fondness) for jargon but the world of pay-per-click advertising takes this to a whole new level. Working across a small team of three to five people we discovered that it took a few weeks of meeting fairly regularly before we could even have a fairly straightforward conversation with each other about what we’d been doing! In the end we put together a basic glossary of terms to help us (see the learning paper for the full list).

Matching content to context is key

We experimented with Adwords campaigns promoting three different Eldis services:
We ran similar campaigns in 18 different countries. What clearly generated the most clicks in the most cost effective way was marketing our country specific content (e.g. Bangladesh Country Profile) to audiences in that country (Bangladesh).

This might seem obvious – Google users in Bangladesh interested in climate change are most likely to be interested in information about climate change in Bangladesh – but something called “quality score” also comes in to play. In determining how prominently your ads will be displayed, and what you pay for that position, Google looks at how closely the text on the web page you are promoting matches search terms you have chosen to target and the text of the ad that will be displayed in the search results. A strong match gives a higher quality score which will boost the prominence / reduce the cost of your ad. Our country profiles content clearly performed better in this regard.   

Concentrate on conversions and not clicks

We began our Adwords campaigns with two broad objectives – firstly to boost traffic to our site (overall but also specifically from our priority countries) and secondly to increase the number of regular users (return visitors) using our services.

We soon found that generating large numbers of clicks was relatively straightforward and, with some tweaking of keywords, budget and how much we were willing to pay for each ad, it was possible to steadily reduce the cost-per-click and improve the cost efficiency of the campaigns.

Success! Well, no because as we did this, we were also looking at the behaviour of our new users when they arrived at our site and found that the vast majority left again almost immediately and, worse, didn’t appear to ever come back. So in other words we were paying to bring new users to our site and then disappoint them – hardly good value for money!

This led us to rethink our strategy. Firstly we refocused our campaigns to emphasise quality over quantity - to try to make sure the people that clicked on our ads were likely to be interested in what we were offering rather than just focusing on getting as many as possible within the limits of our budget. Secondly we focused on what we wanted the users to do on our site once they arrived – and re-worked the wording and presentation of our pages to reflect this.

We’re sure we still have a long way to go with this. For example one of our targets is to get new visitors to subscribe to our email newsletter (in the jargon this is known as a goal conversion). By adjusting our keywords and re-writing and re-organising our subscribe page we’ve managed to double the conversion rate. Success! Well, yes but we’re still only getting 6% of new visitors to subscribe (up from 3%!).

Google Adwords - useful but complex and time-consuming

We’ve found Google Adwords to be a useful tool but complex and time-consuming to use effectively. It’s particularly helped us to reach new audiences in countries where, without active partners or contacts, we would have struggled to use more conventional marketing approaches. It isn’t cheap – either in the cost of advertising or the level of staff time required – but we have found it to be broadly cost-effective compared to other approaches we might use. Adwords is highly geared towards the commercial world where success is measured in sales so for a non-profit operation just engaging with it has challenged us to think very differently about our whole approach to producing web-based services – from content to target audiences. That thinking in itself has been valuable and I’m pretty sure we run a better service now as a result.

* Read more about this experiencing in the draft IDS Knowledge Services learning paper “Learning from Google AdWords Marketing” by Viivi Erkkil√§, Fatema Rajabali and Alan Stanley. This blog was originally published on the Knowledge Brokers Forum.

Alan Stanley is a Senior Thematic Convenor at the Institute of Development Studies, and manages the Eldis programme and services. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

# Hashtags, likes, and maintaining followers and friends: what we have learnt using social media tools

By Fatema Rajabali

Social media has multiple recognised benefits: it not only enables the quick dissemination of information to a wide global audience, but it also encourages immediate feedback and engagement with other users. Many development-related institutions are present on these platforms and use them actively.

The Eldis Climate Change Resource Guide (CCRG) has been experimenting with social media tools in 2013, with the support of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). Viivi Erkkila captured our learning in a paper that we would like to share with the wider development community. Although the guide already has a wide global audience, social media presence is considered a valuable addition in broadening CCRG’s global outreach and directly engaging with its users. Our social media work focused on:

•    Twitter (@EldisClimate)
•    Facebook
•    LinkedIn 

We had two primary objectives in experimenting with these social media tools:

1.    Increase the outreach of Eldis content to new audiences
2.    Engage directly with Eldis users to become more demand driven

So what did we learn from this pilot project?

Define your target audiences and research how and why they use social media

Even when using social media, it is important to define your target audiences: Who and where are they? How do they prefer to receive information? Which social media tools do they use or do they use them at all? This does require a little of knowledge of how your user base seek and access knowledge.

Social media platforms are not all alike and people use them for different purposes: make sure you adjust your updates according to each medium used. For example, we found that facebook users respond more to visual content so interesting images with posts are important.

It is important to have adequate resources so that sufficient levels of activity take place within the social mediums being used – especially, if you want to build a profile and following which generally requires a reliable number of updates daily.

Define metrics for success

Define specific metrics for success: What does a certain number of followers or likes mean for you? Are you reaching you target audience? These metrics should not only include numbers of followers and likes, but also look at audience behaviour – for e.g. do they comment or share posted content?

If one of your aims is to bring social media users/followers to your website, it is worth looking at how much time users spend on your website vs. other users who may be directed to your content in other ways. Is social media contributing to an increase of return visits to your website?

Make sure you have a clear editorial policy

Define a clear editorial policy to ensure quality and consistency across platforms. If multiple people are using the accounts, make sure everyone knows these boundaries. Much of social media content is opinions and it is important to state disclaimers, if personal opinions are shared using an institutional social media accounts

Social media is a two way process: participating in discussions is more effective than simply disseminating your own material. Remember that your audience may be on different time zones.

Monitor activity and engagement

Monitor content posted by others and respond to comments in a  timely manner, because failure to reply may result in unfollows and/or unlikes.

Monitor current events and news to be able to offer relevant, engaging and well timed contributions
Set up M&E measures in the beginning and make sure you know how to use them. There are many online tools for tracking your posts and ‘influence’.

Positive impact

We’re continuing to use and explore these mediums – the impacts to-date on the Eldis Climate Resource Guide has been positive. Since April 2013, we have had over 600 unique page views to various climate change resource guide resources via Twitter, Facebook and linkedIn – and we are hoping this number will keep growing as we interact and engage with new and current users via social media.

Fatema Rajabali is the Climate Change Convenor at the Institute of Development Studies. This is an adapted version of a blog originally published on Eldis Communities.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Has Twitter killed the media star? (or How I stopped worrying and learned to love social media)

By James Georgalakis

Credit: Stefano Corso/Pensiero
Back at the end of the last millennium my biggest preoccupation at work was how to secure more column inches for my employer.

As a press officer it was my job to feed carefully crafted press releases into the fax machine and get on the phone to pitch in the story. My success or failure to engage bored sounding interns manning the phones of busy news desks with a new report or announcement determined my organisation’s ability to set the news agenda, engage the attention of policymakers and raise profile.

Ten years on, social media has firmly established itself as a channel through which you could tell your stories and engage key opinion formers. But this was a slow transition and an organisations’ ability to pitch stories into traditional media outlets remained of paramount importance.

However, last June, the balance seemed to tip.

Perhaps in other sectors and in other contexts this has occurred many times before but at least here at the Institute of Development Studies it felt like a significant moment.

IDS was busy launching the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI).  The index provided scores for donor countries on their commitment to reducing hunger and undernutrition in terms of their aid spending, policies and endorsement of international agreements. Our strategy had been to coincide with the high profile UK-hosted Nutrition for Growth summit to maximise media interest.

Results were mixed. Despite around twenty pieces of media coverage, many of the most highly valued outlets we had hoped would cover it ignored us. Save the Children and the big NGOs, who were busy promoting their own stories for the hunger summit, with their enormous resources and access to media-friendly human interest stories and celebrities had the likes of the BBC pretty much sown up.
The tipping point: Social media versus traditional media 

But all was not lost. Our social media strategy was having a real and immediate impact in terms of engaging policymakers with the index.

We had carefully targeted key influencers on Twitter and key bloggers. Some of these were project partners, others were organisations we had identified through our stakeholder mapping as having a shared advocacy or research agenda.  We shared with these networks advance links to our assets including an infographic, a website and a short animated film. We met with them, briefed them in nutrition network meetings or simply fired off an email a few days ahead of the launch asking them if they could help. Once the launch was underway we also tweeted messages to some of our key followers.

The result of this strategy was that even if HANCI failed to make the grade in the news-room it was an instant hit on Twitter and in the blogosphere.Within hours of HANCI going live a shout went up from our Digital Communications Officer:

“Canada’s just tweeted HANCI!”

Sure enough, Julian Fantino, Canada’s Minister of International Cooperation tweeted Canada’s HANCI score.

This was followed-up by the Canadian government’s Nutrition Coordinator contacting IDS directly to get the full data. “The Dutch just tweeted” went another shout. Head of Food Security and Financial Sector at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Dutch Government Marcel Beukeboom tweeted: “disappointing 16th place for Netherlands. We are more ambitious than that. Interested in indicators to learn how to improve.”  By the following day the Index received an official response from Irish Aid, with a press release quoting Ireland’s Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello welcoming the index.

In none of these cases could we find any obvious link to traditional media. There had been no Canadian press release, Dutch or Irish media coverage.

Duncan Green’s influential blog and retweets from key development and nutrition influencers like DFID, Oxfam, ONE, Concern, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children and the IF campaign really stirred things up. The top five tweets and re-tweets alone received more than 134,000 potential impressions. The most popular content was the infographic swiftly followed by our animation which was watched a thousand times in just a few days.

Weeks later, the reverberations continue. Just in, the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition have tweeted about the HANCI animation: “This video gave me goose bumps.

Targeted social media = real engagement

Am I heralding the death of traditional media and its usurpation by Twitter, Facebook and Google+?

Absolutely not, but this is still a watershed moment for me because it has provided such a blatant example of the primacy of social media in engaging relatively niche audiences with our research.

In this case Twitter was providing us with direct responses to HANCI from our target policymakers. This is exactly what we had set out to achieve. We want HANCI to be taken seriously by governments, and used in the advocacy of those that seek to hold them to account.

The news-room intern and the Today Programme night editor are no longer the only means of getting government ministers and NGOs to respond to our research. This is more than just the blurring of boundaries between traditional media and social media.If we can be innovative enough we can bypass traditional media altogether.

Of course, we are still reliant on intermediaries, in the form of Twitter followers and bloggers and occasionally the media itself. Traditional media coverage can still be enormously impactful especially in relation to more mainstream or topical political issues. But much as marginalised citizens around the world have been able to harness social media to make their voices heard, research organisations can use non-traditional media to engage key audiences around their research without having to rely upon the overstretched editor or broadcaster.

IDS already has a digital communications strategy that places social media at its core. But this recent experience provides reassurance that we are moving in the right direction.  I will always look back fondly on those days of the busy press office and the excitement of a story really taking off but I am glad that social media provides another dimension to engaging key decision makers and influencers around our work. Social media may not have killed the media star yet but it has certainly dimmed it a little.

This blog was originally published on WonkComms - what is the future for think tank and research communications? James Georgalakis is Head of Communications at the Institute of Development Studies. 

Other blogs by James Georgalakis on Impact and Learning: 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Open data and increasing the impact of research? It's a piece of cake!

By Duncan Edwards

I talk to a lot of friends and colleagues who work in research, knowledge intermediary, and development organisations about some of the open data work I’ve been doing in relation research communications. Their usual response is “so it’s about technology?” or “open data is about governance and transparency, right?”. Well no, it’s not just about technology and it’s broader than governance and transparency.

I believe that there is real potential for open data approaches in increasing the impact of research knowledge for poverty reduction and social justice. In this post I outline how I see Open Data fitting within a theory of change of how research knowledge can influence development.

Every year thousands of datasets, reports and articles are generated about development issues. Yet much of this knowledge is kept in ‘information silos’ and remains unreachable and underused by broader development actors. Material is either not available or difficult to find online. There can be upfront fees, concerns regarding intellectual property rights, fears that institutions/practitioners don’t have the knowhow, means or time to share, or political issues within an organisation that can mean this material is not used.

What is “Open data”? What is “Linked Open Data”? 

The Open Knowledge Foundation says “a piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.”

The Wikipedia entry for Linked Data describes it as“a method of publishing structured data so that it can be interlinked and become more useful. It builds upon standard Web technologies such as HTTP and URIs, but rather than using them to serve web pages for human readers, it extends them to share information in a way that can be read automatically by computers. This enables data from different sources to be connected and queried…. the idea is very old and is closely related to concepts including database network models, citations between scholarly articles, and controlled headings in library catalogs.

So Linked Open Data can be described as Open Data which is published in a way that can be interlinked with other datasets. Think about two data sets with country categorisation – if you publish these as linked data, you can then make the link between related content between different datasets for any given country.

For more definitions and discussion on data see Tim Davies post "Untangling the data debate: definitions and implications".

Why should Open Data be of interest to research producers? 

The way in which the Internet and technology has evolved means that instead of simply producing a website from which people can consume your content, you can open up your content so that others can make use of, and link it in new and exciting ways.

There are many theories of change which look to articulate how research evidence can affect development policy and practice. The Knowledge Services department at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) works with a theory of change which views access to, and demand for, research knowledge, along with the capacity to engage effectively with it, as critical elements to research evidence uptake and use in relation to decision-making within development. Open Data has significant potential in relation to the ‘access to’ element of this theory of change.

Contextualisation and new spaces 

When we think about access to research knowledge – we should go beyond simply having access to a research document. Instead we must look at whether research knowledge is available in a suitable format and language, and whether it has been contextualised in a way which makes sense to an audience within a given environment.

I like to use a Data cake metaphor developed by Mark Johnstone to illustrate this - if we consider research outputs to be the data/ingredients for the cake, then we organise, summarise and catalogue this (i.e. add meta-data) to ‘bake’ into our information cake. We then present this information in a way in which we feel is most useful and “palatable” to our intended audiences with the intention they will consume it and be able to make use of new knowledge. It’s in this area that Open Data approaches can really increase the potential uptake of research – if you make your information/ content open it creates the possibility that other intermediaries can easily make use of this content to contextualise and present it to their own users in a way that is more likely to be consumed.

Essentially by opening up datasets of research materials you can reduce duplication, allow people to reuse, repurpose, remix this content in many more spaces thereby increasing the potential for research findings to be taken up and influencing change in the world.

While I see significant benefits in researchers making their outputs available and accessible in an open manner we must redress the dominance of knowledge generated in the global North. We need to continue to invest in the strengthening of intermediaries at local, national, and international levels to make use of research material and Open Data to influence positive change.

Duncan Edwards is the ICT Innovations Manager at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) - you can follow him on Twitter: @duncan_ids

NOTE: an admission on Open Access - The original article this post is based on, “Davies, T. and Edwards, D. (2012) 'Emerging Implications of Open and Linked Data for Knowledge Sharing in Development', IDS Bulletin 43 (5) 117-127”, published in the IDS Bulletin: “New Roles for Communication in Development?”. Ironically, considering it’s subject matter, is only partially open access (two free articles per issue). But you can access this article as green open access in Open Docs -

Monday, 25 February 2013

Research does not automatically generate knowledge - rethinking product and process

By Catherine Fisher

The overwhelming conclusion I have drawn from my involvement as a contributor to the IDS Bulletin, New Roles for Communication in Development?, is the need for research communication to place a greater focus on process rather than product. I draw this insight from both the process (what I've learned from being involved) and the product itself (what I've learned from some of the great articles in the Bulletin). I'm not arguing that there is no role for product, far from it, but that there is value in re-examining the relationship between the two.
Product v Process? Baking Czech bread
Image credit: Chmee2 (Own work) CC-BY 3.0

Overall I would argue that articles in the Bulletin collectively encouraged us to challenge our assumptions around three related areas:
  • What is research? 
  • What is knowledge?
  • How does change happen?  

And to explore  links between these areas: how does research generate knowledge, whose knowledge produces the research, how does research or even knowledge lead to change?  All speak to a greater focus on process. I explore a couple of examples below.

Research changes those involved 

Patta Scott Villier's article, This research does not influence policy, explores how participation in a research process brought change for both the researchers and the ‘researchees’,  even if the resulting output didn't shape high level policy processes  So the process generated more change than the product. But maybe the product (or its story as described in Patta's article) will inspire someone somewhere else to undergo a similar process, that might itself generate change...

Research doesn’t necessarily build knowledge

In our article, Kirsty, Louise and I explore the factors that shape whether actors engage with research and are willing and able to draw on research.  In doing so, we challenge ideas that research, even if it is shared at the right time and packaged in the right way, will somehow automatically generate “knowledge” in target audiences.  Research does not automatically generate knowledge. This happens through a process of sense-making in which the “knower” is an active participant not a passive recipient, who may deliberately or inadvertently choose to reject the intended message of the product. As Penelope Beynon’s et al's article illustrated, even carefully constructed outputs such as a policy brief, often seen as the silver bullet of research communication, can lead to the creation of different knowledge than was intended.

Growing importance of “process architects”

One implication of this greater focus on process is a greater role for intermediaries, knowledge brokers or innovation brokers within the broad spectrum of research communication. The focus on process over product helps us to see a greater role for these actors which is not just about turning research outputs into attractive products but about seeing research  and research-based products as part of the processes of knowledge creation and change, and supporting the design of these processes. These processes will often draw on products from multiple sources, current or historical, local or from far away. Often these processes themselves produce products which then go on to inform other processes. This speaks to some of the points I make in the Introduction, Is Development Research Communication Coming of Age? (PDF).  

The value and opportunity for exposing the process behind the product

One final reflection is that I doubt anyone will learn as much from the papers that appear in the journal  as I have learned from writing them. The process of writing a paper with a colleague forced us both to reexamine our assumptions and beliefs. An early version of our paper included a box outlining the differences in position about research and knowledge, and how it contributes to change that attempted to share some of the discussions we had  Yet journal articles require a compelling single narrative, an authoritative position and do not allow for divergence and discussion. They also have a strict word count. So this was dropped. While journal articles play an important role in communicating ideas and indeed validating the rigour of those ideas, particularly those from more formal research processes, perhaps there is also space – particularly in the social sciences for us to be more open in our workings, less authoritative in our positions. New media such as blogs like this, or even tweets enable “work in progress/emerging thinking” type products to be shared more widely that can  trigger thinking and knowledge generation processes for others. 

I hope that both this blog series and the Bulletin itself has prompted you to think and re-examine your ideas as it has done for me.

Catherine Fisher contributed to the Introduction in the IDS Bulletin, entitled Is Development Research Coming of Age? (PDF) and to the Bulletin article entitled Stimulating Demand for Research Evidence: what role for capacity building?. Catherine is International Capacity Building Co-ordinator at Amnesty International. She was formally Capacity Support Coordinator with the Impact and Learning Team at IDS  

More blogs on the IDS Bulletin New Roles for Communication in Development?