The fifth get-together of the group took place on 14 December at the ILRI info centre and brought together 13 participants from ten different organisations. Four new members attended this meeting. 

The gathering started late and therefore could not feature the 'marketplace' that was proposed at the fourth get-together to feature interesting work and conversations as an informal way to introduce each other. The gathering started with 10 people so we decided not to hold parallel sessions and not to have each session planned.

Minutes hereby:

A) Peer assist on setting up a publication tracking system

A peer assist is a structured social learning/support system where one person introduces a problem case and picks the brain of a group to find more solutions to go forward with their problem. More information about what peer assists are, how and one specific experience of virtual peer assists here.

In this peer assist, Addis Tigabu presented his case.


I have a lot of publications that come to my office from Washington Headquarters and other IFPRI offices e.g. CTA sends us their monthly newsletters. I want to have a structured system for tracking where publications are, who has them etc.

Have you experienced this before and if so what solutions did you come up with? Is there a system that we can use to track publications? 

Clarification questions:

  • Q: What do you mean by tracking system?
  • A: There was a guy in Addis Ababa University who launched a portal so that every time they have a new publication they register it to find out where it is, if the publication is available or not etc. My boss comes for this type of publications etc. and I spend time looking for publications…
  • Q: Publications: are they hard copies, soft copies?
  • A: Different types e.g. ICT Update by CTA, IFPRI books (e.g. book launched a month ago: we have had a lot of demand and they got exhausted), synopsis from conferences etc. They are hard copies mostly.
  • Q: Is it a personal problem or an institutional problem?
  • A: It’s a personal problem.
  • Q: Do you have a personal system to organize this?
  • A: No
  • Q: Do you lend publications?
  • A: We have a store for publications here and would only lend publications if we didn’t have many. Usually people come and take publications.
  • Q: Didn’t you have such a system before publications? Do you have to ask the superior about target groups to distribute books?
  • A: I don’t know. HQ always sends us publications. The only problem we have is the amount we have e.g. we send 15 publications and we have 15 publications left. We deal with various target groups. We send them whatever publications are coming out.
  • Q: We do have a library / store to put such publications. Why don’t you try to arrange a real library?
  • A: We have a kind of library etc. but besides that what I want is to have a system that comes up with remarks about ‘where is that book’ etc. There is a kind of library at IFPRI.
  • Q: What is your responsibility: to serve as library or dissemination centre?
  • A: A little bit of both. This office is the ESA office and we’re supposed to save/sort everything we receive.
  • Q: Are you the only person working on this?
  • A: Yes.
  • Q: Which projects have which publications? Can you classify them according to region/project etc.?
  • A: Yes, perhaps.
  • Q: Why is it important to do it offline? We have web-based database systems, otherwise you’re going back in time with paper-based publications.
  • A: People still want to have the actual publication. When I give links to publications people still want hard copies. And connectivity matters: in certain areas it's impossible to rely on just soft copies.
  • Q: Does IFPRI not have a set of guidelines for how to manage information centres / libraries?
  • A: I’m sure they have them and I tried to talk to the head of the publications department but when I asked her about this she was defending herself and didn't give me any information about such guidelines
  • Q: Is the issue more a problem of how many you should have, how many you should keep (keeping track of publications for possible use over time or lending/borrowing)? Is it a problem of dealing with the supply or with the demand? 
  • A: There’s no problem with sending publications but the demand is still high, though it could be manageable.
  • Q: Do these publications go to beneficiaries?
  • A: Sometimes. These publications should have to come through me at some anyhow.
  • Q: Do you have a distribution list for target audiences etc.
  • A: Yes. 


  • Move away from traditional ways of publishing. 
  • You can have a small database explaining which publications are going out / coming in.
  • This problem can’t be solved by one person. You need to discuss with HQ how to go about this.

  • You need to know which materials about which topics – you need a document management system or a special small collection management system e.g. an Open Source solution.

  • Ask AAU about their system (it's called 'Koha' [or so]).

  • When you do the indexing etc., ask e.g. Asabech (ILRI information centre manager) about how to do this and then you can adapt this system to your needs.

  • When you find your own way of categorizing/managing, you have to make sure it’s convenient for the demand. To avoid duplicating efforts, try to get the official IFPRI guidelines from someone else. That’s what you should follow.

  • Benchmarking: Go out to see how others are doing it. Perhaps you can eradicate/discard old publications etc. e.g. after 10 years get rid of these. Then you can focus on new publications.

  • The ILRI / KMIS team could perhaps handle part of your responsibilities. Perhaps IFPRI could strike a deal with them. --> The lady before me didn’t have that relation with ILRI – go through Asabech to do t his.

  • Registering is the first thing that you need to do even with e.g. an Excel sheet. Even to develop the database you will need to have a simple system in place.

  • We can help you clean up your office ;)

  • Subject matter is key. Even if you categorize publications, you need to double check this. Try to gather the idea of the publication in your system/database (with a sort of synopsis).

  • From experience, year and theme really matter when categorizing publications.

  • Find support outside:

  • Try and discuss stock management with the publication team in Washington;
  • Organize stock management with the IFPRI team here - get others to help you take decisions about publications;
  • Ask the same question again to that person (or someone else from that unit) in Washington about existing guidelines;
  • Try a system anyhow, learn from trying and share your experience with IFPRI and more widely
  • Check if there is an IFPRI  thesaurus - or ask the Mahider ladies at ILRI to share the ILRI thesaurus.

Addis's feedback on feedback given by participants:

Thank you for your comments, I won’t discard any of them. I’ll take all these comments into account and try them. However, I liked in particular:

  • Guidelines at IFPRI are very helpful – to customize on my own. If there is an existing system or software it’d be great.
  • Trying to see Asabech is great.

B) Focused conversation: KM and communication

Elias Damtew introduced this focused conversation topic.

Comms comes in the picture when we talk about knowledge sharing. When you think about comms / KM, they are different and inter-related. You can’t talk about the knowledge lifecycle without talking about comms.

How is it organized in different centres / organizations?

  • At IFPRI comms and KM are different units but work together. There’s a comms division and under it a KM unit (and inside it a website part, an events part etc.) It all comes to one thing, they’re not together but work together.

  • In the IPMS project they also come together. We also have capacity development and it’s sthg that’s linked/connected. If you do comms you have to think about KM.

  • At UNECA, they work separately. In UN orgs, the structure affected the ways they worked. The comms unit and KM unit reported to different people. There was no incentive in talking etc. Management style/structure affects this. In ECA it’s still separate and there’s separate reporting but there’s the need to use one another for our work e.g. comms use our KM platforms and we need comms teams for support. It’s spontaneous collaboration. If management doesn’t see the point of working together it doesn’t happen formally. In the future there will be more synergies to mobilise resources. 

  • In GIZ, we have 2 different departments and we work together. We support the role of comms in KM and the other way around.

  • In Goal ETHIOPIA, KM is in 'monitoring and partnerships', looking at best practices. We communicate lessons with publication units.

  • At ILRI we have a public awareness (PA) team in Nairobi, a KM and information services (KMIS) team in Addis. But we all work on comms and KM. Since our boss Peter Ballantyne came to ILRI he has helped bridge the gap between PA and KMIS and we work together. It's great because it means that PA looks beyond crafting messages, they consider engagement essential. Similarly, KMIS is now focused a lot on knowledge sharing, not just publications and information management. We have enriched each other this way.

  • Before KM became a theme at ECA, there was a unit managing the knowledge they had about Africa. They created a KS website for sharing best practices in different countries.
    Different org structures will have their impact on KS processes. Will departments work closely together?

How do you think the two can support each other?

  • I think they’re the 2 sides of a coin. They are inseparable. Before there wasn’t KM. We didn't talk about it. One part of comms is KM but in my previous place we were ‘managing knowledge’ already.

  • When it comes to KM and comms, I see them in the perspective of audiences. You have selected networks, you want to create cooperation etc. but in comms you are not specifically targeting group XYZ. They are different but sometimes overlap. There is a component of managing networks etc. Whenever there is a network there is communication.

  • Maybe it’d be good for those who have merged units to share whether it’s working. What would make it work better is that the integration between the teams. ==> Comms folks at ILRI communicate within the team. It affects how effective you are. At ILRI it has been very beneficial as mentioned above.

  • What’s the difference between IM and KM? We have been doing this again and again. It’s about grabbing sexy names… is it a unique way of doing things. ==> KM is too broad, it means documenting, sharing it etc. There are many techniques, tools, approaches etc. At any rate, information management and knowledge management are not the same (see this link from a KM4Dev conversation) and this post (from Ewen) about the definition of KM.

  • We can’t codify everything… F2F comms etc. cannot be entirely codified.

  • Comms & KM are not always working well together. It all comes down to strategies e.g. comms strategy to synch with KM strategy. Otherwise (if there's no vision to bring them together), it doesn't work. 

  • Another issue is looking at org’l perspective (then it works) but the problem is that we discussed the problem between comms and KM (e.g. public interest conflict).

  • KM is an umbrella term. Comms seems to be one part of that. But comms folks will see KM as part of the comms umbrella. There can be an emphasis on the power play between different org’l units. How do we make it possible for a unit to make use of the strengths of these two?


  • Some of us have been doing this (working on comms / KM) all along, before we called KM 'KM'.
  • Every organization has their definition – find your own.
  • Every organization has their structure: Comms/KM, it’s aligned with the environment 
  • There is a difference between unilateral vs. multilateral messaging (traditional comms tends to focus on unilateral messaging, modern comms and KM look at multi-stakeholder communication and engagement. So the boundaries between comms and KM are fuzzy.
  • IM is however clearly different to KM.
  • Learning is an important aspect of KM and increasingly of comms.
  • We need to get the two sides (comms & KM) together (at least to discuss with one another and understand each other).
  • KM powers / fuels Comms (ILRI example)

Related resources:

Reflections and closure

Participants were very happy about the meeting and agreed the following:

  • We will also meet informally (no agenda set) every month for some drinks, on a Saturday afternoon. Hermella Ayalew will organize this with Addis Tigabu and Ewen Le Borgne and if these get-togethers attract a lot of the members we might switch the quarterly gatherings to Saturday afternoon too, as opposed to Friday afternoon. 
  • We will start on time, no matter how many people come over.
  • We will explore ideas to organize a proper launch of the community/network to attract more people, though for the time being we keep spreading the word and developing organically.
  • Every new member is welcome to register to the group page on this site and to discuss on Facebook.
  • Other organizations might contribute for the drinks and snacks for the upcoming get-togethers.

The next gathering will happen on Friday 22 March 2012 - at the ILRI campus. It may happen on a Saturday if informal drinks seem to attract more people.

Possible topics of discussion include:

  • A marketplace of 20 min where anyone can share any kind of update, event, document, idea etc. with one another - as a great way to get to know each other too. Please bring materials, PCs, CD-Roms etc. anything you need for a demonstration.
  • A peer assist case from LIVES (Fanos) about getting updated content on the Ethiopian Agriculture Portal. And an update from Addis about his peer assist case and what worked out or not.
  • A focused conversation on 'communities of practice' (Hermella).
  • KM at... IPMS/LIVES (an ILRI project that has its specific staff and procedures so is almost like an organisation.).

Views: 481

Replies to This Discussion

And more about the relations between KM and comms as I thought further about this and blogged:


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