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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

GCARD made truly public

Social Reporting at the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development GCARD2010

“Social reporting makes a conference space truly public”, says David Wilcox, a journalist who came up with the term of “social reporter” as a useful label for a mix of social media tools and face-to-face activities.  That’s exactly what a team of 10+ professionals aimed at during the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development GCARD2010 that took place in Montpellier, France between 28 and 31 May, 2010 and where it was all about communicating the need for a fresh start to agricultural research for development and including many stakeholders that weren’t able to join the face-to-face event.

After having coordinated and facilitated the e-consultations of the GCARD process, I was in charge during the conference (May, 28 -31 2010) to coordinate the social media activities at http://gcardblog.wordpress.com. While I was used to a rather informal social media work where a group of volunteers gathers insights, captures video testimonials, takes pictures with amateur cameras, blogs and tweets along rather personal criteria of quality and substance, this time I found myself surrounded by a highly professional team of journalists (Burness Communications) and photographers. And I learnt what a difference this can make!

The perfect media mix, the right tone

Together we decided to summarize as many sessions as possible, and to use those summaries for the blog as well as for a daily newsletter that was printed out each morning for the conference participants. In addition we featured videos that had been taken in advance by GCARD in three countries around the globe (Uruguay, Bangladesh, and Kenya) and that represented excellent testimonials of stakeholders. We also included daily wrap-up posts where we highlighted the sessions through pictures and quotes and videos from the sessions. Finally we did some “Voices from the corridor” posts where we captured some feedback from behind the scene. The blog was directly fed with the pictures and tweets. Twitter was used to promote the blog but also to report live from the session through quotes. Vimeo was used to store the videos.

We had some discussions about the adequate tone for our blog posts foreseeing possible tensions during the conference discussions. At the end those worries were unjustified: The openness of the debates and the friendly atmosphere that all stakeholders brought to the event made it easy for us to document it in a transparent manner. The NGO statement and the statement of young researchers, as well as other critical testimonials were published. We also linked to and promoted the critical analysis that was done by the international media. Farming First and YPARD partnered on twitter and through a guest blog post.

17,657 hits in 8 days

In the 4 days of the conference a team of 10 documented the event: Together we published more than 50 blog posts, and tweeted around 150 messages. 780 pictures have been uploaded to Flickr and 46 videos have been posted on Vimeo. The GFAR Web team assured constant mirroring of the blog and the website.

In the week of the conference (including the two days that preceded and followed it) the blog received 5517 visits. From the 150 tweets that have been shared, 60 tweets have been re-tweeted. Among the re-tweeters are @agrobiodiverse, @farmingfirst, @gcard2010, @ruralinnovation, @faonews, @unicef, several CGIAR centers, and many individuals. In the conference week the number of followers on Twitter has switched from 168 to 203. The 46 videos have been seen 1724 times. The 780 photos received a total of 10416 views, which demostrates the need and success of visuals.

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6 responses to: "GCARD made truly public"

  • While a team of colleagues is preparing teh social reporting activities of teh upcoming AG Share Fair in Addis, Ethiopia, Peter Casier asked me to share some lessons from the GCARD experience. Here they are:

    In the case of GCARD a relatively formal, big and important event, it was worthwhile having a professional writer / journalist team. The team of Burness Communications managed to do quick, short and sharp summaries of the sessions. I was used to longer and more descriptive summaries whereas at GCARD we tried to concentrate on one or two key messages per post.

    · The pre-planning of who is doing what at which session was crucial to assure full coverage.

    · There was no time for doing video blips (there are video testimonials that had been done previous to the meeting with farmers and researchers in three countries over the globe. I found those of excellent quality and very useful) but we partnered up with Farming First and also linked to some science.dev posts to bring in diversity. We also had guest posts on relatively controversial topics which was great.

    · The team preferred dividing clearly the tasks and preferred to have one photographer and one person in charge of the blog. In the case of GCARD I think that was a good decision as it gave more harmony to the blog.

    · Twitter generated excitement in the team, as everybody listened actively to get the best quotes and share those via Twitter.

    · As mentioned in the blog post, I was surprised about the number of photos viewed on Flickr. It was by far the most successful media.

    · In general I would say we went for quality not quantity which was the right decision in that case, but also expensive (6 people full time from Burness …)

    Lessons from the Cali Share Fair:

    · It was great to count with the channels set up in 09 for the Rome Fair even if there are some URL issues…. It is good to feel part of a bigger wave.

    · As coordinator of the Fair I wanted to use the opportunity of the event to empower young local staff who are interested and excited about the use of social media.

    · We didn’t have lots of people involved who had experience with social reporting and those available would have needed more mentoring and assistance before and during the event to assure a better quality of the session summaries.

    · Good summary quality is crucial if you decide to use the social reporting output as proceedings of a meeting.

    · I felt that I had to concentrate on giving 100% of myself to make the people who attended feel comfortable and assure a good atmosphere: It seems difficult to be the host and a social reporter at the same time.

  • Simone,

    Having closely followed GCARD blog and being a little aware of the general perception about the relevance of social media amongst large research based institutions, I would regard GCARD2010 reporting a major success. That was a fantastic, well planned effort which led to a comprehensive coverage of the conference. In the absence of this blog, most of the proceeds would have either got lost as a pdf file somewhere on the internet or fixed as print copies in the institutions. So, here’s a heads up to the work done by your team!

    There is another aspect which I think should now be focused upon. This aspect is of measuring the impact or in formal terms the ROI on social reporting. I have been doing similar work in India and find that it is very difficult to make the institutions realize the need for social reporting. The reality is that a majority of the institutions do not have skills internally to do this, and for any person outside the organization it becomes difficult to explain what they stand to gain from the exercise (of say, reporting a conference/workshop for them).

    The prevailing trend (in non-corporate setups) is to quantify it in terms of page hits, views, number of comments, number of tweets and retweets from the event. But what do these numbers suggest? Spread of information or degree of public engagement or something else? This is the question which I think would help clear a lot of confusion and half hearted attempts that abound.

    Someone finally is going to ask how much do I get for the money that I spend? And this in my opinion is a question which stands before the adoption of social reporting as a standard practice in scientific community.

    Laudable effort on the whole!

  • Vanessa says:

    Simone — this is really useful insight into how to manage such a massive social reporting endeavour! I agree that getting professional PR folk onboard was valuable, but do you have any tips on getting high quality content when working with a group of keen, though not professionally trained, bloggers? How can local organizations replicate something like this for their own events? (and how do we build capacity for them to do so?)

    Second, what was the process for producing the PDF newsletter? Was it simply a summary of the daily blog posts? Were they emailed to all participants or simply uploaded to the conference page? I agree that it’s a useful supplement to the blog, as most researchers are simply more comfortable with this format.

    keep up the inspiring work!

    Vanessa

  • Dear Praveena Sridhar,

    Thanks for the compliments! You questions are pertinent. Have you red Antonella Pastore’s post: http://ictkm.cgiar.org/2009/05/04/social-media-how-do-you-know-its-working/ ?
    It provides a great overview of the topic!

    I think the figures suggest both “Spread of information and degree of public engagement”. In the case of GCARD we were very much motivated to get the summaries and insights online asap because we had a series of e-consultations all over the globe previous to the event and we wanted to keep all the participants involved even if they couldn’t attend the event. While we managed to do this, unfortunately, after the event, the communications flow stopped.

    In my experience this is the biggest mistake that organizations / projects / people do when they decide to engage others into a feedback process: They miss the opportunity to create a long lasting bond. In that sense social reporting is an opportunity but also a challenge: You can make more out of it than just an event report.

    Long lasting bonds could generate enormous ROIs in our case of R4D it would mainly be new projects with new partners, uptake of research results which are tangible and can be measured but which are long term impacts.

  • Hi Simone,

    Thank You for suggesting Antonella Pastore’s post. Its informative and directs to a few other eminent bloggers in the field like Beth Kanter.

    I would agree with the thought that “…social reporting is an opportunity but also a challenge..”. This is felt every time I write from a conference or workshop. As I understand from your comment, there is a long term focus w.r.t social media and this is essential for organizations. This realization has to set in, instead of pushing for immediate results.

  • Good questions! Here are some intuitive tips:

    Diversity of contributors: I think that the Addis Share Fair crew is doing great in inviting in massive participation coordinated by an enthusiast as Peter Casier 😉 This requires a lot of planning but will certainly raise the quality.

    Mentoring: In the case of the Cali Share Fair which is another example of a smaller event (compared to GCARD) I think we would have needed a mentor to sit down with the team and prepare them, and accompany them during the event with some key guidelines. Motivate them.

    Test: We could have done some test blog posts and tweets about any seminar in CIAT, sit down and analyze what was written and how to improve it so the writers gain self confidence.

    Summarizing techniques: Another issue is the familiarity with the content of a session that we report on. During the Share Fair some had to write summaries of Intellectual Property Rights issues or value chains and they weren’t necessarily very familiar with the topic… One thing I learnt from the Burness team is that they take huge amount of notes of each session, writing up almost literally what they hear, and then they take the best bits and pieces. That makes the summary much easier to do and you don’t risk making wrong interpretations.

    On the pdf newsletter: Burness had developed a template (I ignore which software was used). One person was in charge. She decided with her team which of all the summaries were most valuable for the newsletter. In that sense the blog was much richer than the newsletter. The newsletter was uploaded to the blog and printed the next morning and distributed in the conference center. I don’t think they were emailed to all participants. We emailed them to the participants of the e-consultations that took place previous to GCARD to keep all those involved that had contributed to the process but weren’t present at the conference.

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