Monday, 29 June 2009

Three Rome-based agencies share their blogging and microblogging experiences

Earlier this month my FAO colleagues Gauri Salokhe (@gaurisalokhe), Luca Servo (@neoluk), Michael Riggs (@mongkolroek) asked me to participate in their web2.0 session on blogging. I always thought that guest appearances were only the prerogative of celebrities… Well, guess what, also development workers can be guest stars!!!

I guess I will never quite make it to Oraph or Larry King's show, but quite frankly I do not know what Oraph or Larry can offer that I was not offered by my hosts. They made me feel just like a star (sounds like the Turkish airline ad, with Kevin Costner).

I was unable to attend in person. Since the session was about Web2.0 tools, we decided to use Skype as our preferred instant messaging tool. Luckily my webcam was working, so we did a video conference and I must admit it felt pretty cool….

I felt like I was being broadcast live on CNN or BBC. The difference was that I had a wonder anchor person by the name of Romolo – who has the most gorgeous voice asking me questions instead of Zeinab Bedawi and her annoying voice…..

I started by sharing my personal experience with blogging, when and why I started blogging – basically it started as a means for letting off steam, sharing my ideas and challenges. I am not an assiduous blogger – that is I do not blog every day – but I try to blog at least once a month.

In my blogging adventures, I was pleasantly surprised when two of my more serious posts were picked up and subsequently published. One is a personal tale (see original blogpost) and the other one (see original blogpost) has now turned to be a solid 'academic' piece which was published in 59th issue Participatory Action and Learning.

We then moved to the blogging experience of my organization - IFAD. I shared with the participants the fact that IFAD President has an internal blog. That won us lots of brownie points. It put my organization light years ahead of others and showed that we are indeed a modern organization.

IFAD's social reporting blog
We talked about IFAD's social reporting blog which now has over 100 posts.

I shared how it all started on a spring morning, when we set it up for an event. In retrospect, it was my easiest projects, as it picked up on its own and the reason of its success was because colleagues immediately saw its value.

For those who could not attend the event, the blog ended up being an invaluable tool. Every morning, they could read about what had happened in the workshop which was held in another continent. It was invaluable, because the blogposts included all relevant information in one single entry (yes, they were great examples of mashup!) – that is powerpoint presentations, videos, photos were all embedded in the blogpost. Truly a one-stop shop!

For those attending the event, and the organizers, it was a great tool, because thanks to their daily reports, they ended up having their final report at the end of the workshop. No extra work needed after the workshop. That was really a treat.

The audience was pleasantly surprised that both members of management and staff alike contribute to the social reporting blog. We recently held a couple of web2.0 briefing sessions and as a result we now have members of our senior management keen to blog.

Guidelines – how about common sense
I was then asked whether we had blogging guidelines for the corporate blog and personal blogs.

I often ask myself why do we need guidelines for common-sense stuff, why do we need to be told what we can and cannot do, if we can use our common sense.

I know, I know, we need guidelines because not everyone may have the same understanding… So yes, I told the audience we have some draft guidelines which we are finalizing.

I really think guidelines kill creativity and innovation. I wish we could live in a world where peer pressure would act as guiding principles.

For example, if I were to do something that the community deems unacceptable, I would much prefer for the community and my peers to point it out to me and help me rectify rather than a lifeless piece of paper telling me what I can and cannot do? After all, community is the foundation of Web2.0 paradigm! Is not it so?

Understanding the psychology
When we embark on new adventures which can rock the boat, we need to understand what goes on in people's heads. Inevitably there is uneasiness, because people feel they may be 'exposed' and/or they are afraid of entering into unchartered territory.

Web2.0 is no different. I was asked whether staff could comment on the President's blog and if so whether comments were anonymous.

When I mentioned that yes staff can comment and comments are not anonymous, although I could not see the audience, I could feel that there was a sense of awe, surprise and also uneasiness.

I must admit, until then I had not realized that the fact that staff feel free to comment and share their ideas on the President's blog shows the organization's maturity and transparency.

At IFAD our the philosophy is that if someone has something to say or ask they also expect to receive an answer. So, if they do not identify themselves, how can they get a response? That makes sense, does not it!

There are risks associated with this – for example someone can criticize or be obnoxious. But that is not necessarily bad, but rather healthy as it is probably something that needs to be dealt with. It is always better to know sooner rather than later if there are seeds of discontent, as this way these can be dealt with as opposed to being complacent and/or be left in the dark and let the discontent grow like a cancer.

My next guest appearance, this time on Twitter
After this first wonderful experience and because I had got a kick out of it, I volunteered to do an encore for the microblogging session.

I owe my entrance in Twitterville to Michael who was instrumental in making me understand the value of microblogging. I will eternally be grateful to him. Recently we did a tweet duet at the World Summit for Information Society Forum 2009. The two of us started twitting away and our enthusiasm ended up being contagious. As a result after the first session we had others tweeting! Sorry for digressing….

Back to the microblogging session…

I was really sorry that this time too I could not be physically present, especially since Peter Casier from WFP (@TheRoadTo) who is a fantastic and active blogger and tweeter was the guest star! Peter is truly exceptional.

I followed what was happening through tweets @neoluk, @TheRoadTo and @mongkolroek tweets. I did tweetvened (intervened via a tweet) by responding to a few questions, and asked my own questions. We also cracked some jokes about @neoluk's new haircut – thanks to the tweet pictures send by @TheRoadTo and @monkolroe. That was really fun and showed the sense of community, collaboration and trust – all pillars of web2.0 and the web2.0 way of life.

It is a challenge for novice twitters to immediately see the benefits and value of microblogging. I hope our tweets helped convert the sceptics. For sure, those more conversed – such as @ICT-KM - got a lot out of it, as they tweeted thanking for all the tweets and said "thanks to your tweets, I felt as if I was there".

In the true spirit of web2.0 – that of reciprocity and giving – we agreed that next time my FAO and WFP colleagues should come to IFAD for similar sessions.

My Web2.0 journey so far has been nothing but fun. It's been fun thanks to wonderful colleagues such as Nancy, Gauri, Luca, Michael, Peter, Lucy and many more who held my hands and showed me the marvels of these tools. You have really made the difference and I will eternally be grateful to each and every one of you.

THANK YOU.
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