Slow Knowledge at the AgKnowledge Africa ShareFair and McK-snacks

Mike Powell often describes IKM emergent as promoting slow knowledge, analogous to the Slow Food movement, an approach to Knowledge centred on reflective, deliberative enquiry; marinating and melding multiple ingredients; and to be consumed respectfully, appreciative of the rich diversity of ingredients. In much of my own work, within and outside IKM emergent, I engage with the Knowledge equivalent of Fast Food: new technology mediated communication and knowledge sharing, blood-pressure raising snacks of Tweets, Blogs or Blips, where the consumption only encourages more consumption.

Anthony Mugo proposing a topic at the Open Space

So I leapt at the chance of something more nourishing, spending the first day of the AgKnowledge Africa event with other members of IKMemergent and KM4Dev organising and facilitating learning sessions on face to face knowledge sharing.

A word on AgKnowledge, extracted from Peter Ballantyne’s introductory press release: the ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ Share Fair brings together 300 innovators and supporters to examine and exchange promising tools and approaches that help spread and apply Africa’s agricultural and rural development knowledge across the continent and the world. Together, the participants are a truly multi-stakeholder group, including farmers, extension workers, rural development agents, advocacy and development NGOs, international agencies, national and international research institutes, womens’ networks, academics, development projects, governments, private companies and the media.

Discussion and learning will be focused around 4 themes: Agriculture and water; Agriculture and climate change; Land; and Livestock. Cross-theme discussions will look into the opportunities of reporting, indigenous knowledge, value chains, mobile phones, geospatial information and data, telecentres, and other emerging issues. A learning day provides opportunities for participants to get up to speed on some latest tools and approaches’.

For the Local Content stream in IKMemergent, the Fair is the next stage in our continuing project aimed at better understanding, supporting and promoting the importance of local knowledge processes, the role of knowledge in development at local level, and the value and nature of locally produced content. We have been sharing and documenting examples of how communities and intermediary NGOs create, capture and share local content on this blog and will be reporting from the fair here and using other social media tools. If you yearn for a quick snack, look for the tag #sfaddis on Twitter.

Day 0 of the Fair was a Learning and Training day, the majority of which was given over to digital tools. But the organisers – including IKM emergent, since the programme is sponsoring 30 participants at the Fair – recognised the importance of providing space to discuss and exchange ideas on more traditional knowledge sharing approaches, in many ways more common and appropriate for the community level development activities on which the Local Content stream focuses.  The facilitators were a mix of people who have been working with the Local Content project and vintage KM4Devers. We used Open Space as a way to allow the participant groups to choose from a menu of standard KS tools and suggest their own, which brought to the surface a rich mix of options: story telling, after action review, peer assist, fish bowl, testimonials, energisers, icebreakers (the KStoolkit is a good aggregate resource for these kind of techniques).

Slow knowledge

For me, once we had facilitated the open space, it was an opportunity to sink into a more reflective space, a story telling session wonderfully facilitated by Roselinie Murota of SAFIRE (who’s been involved in several strands of IKM emergent). It was quintessential slow knowledge and, even without a fire and the smell of cooking, as part of the open space dynamic, more and more people were attracted to the group on the grass, telling stories about stories, arguing and learning, nodding  and laughing. In the rest of the ILRI campus people were wrestling with Google, blinking at video-editors, sitting at computers learning how to use technology to be social. Here is Rose summarising what she took away from the sessions.

And yet…. this is a blog, that was a blip: new media continues to sweep across the world. The challenge I take away from the story telling is to find ways to use the new technologies to tell stories, engage with slow knowledge. Tim Davies’ work storing and analysing the patterns of Tweets and Blogs from the Internet Governance is an interesting signpost. This very, formally too long a blog post, might be another. Try an experiment: follow #sfaddis on twitter, or on Delicious, and see if or how you can sense-make from the cascade of McK-snacks.

[First published on the Giraffe blog of the IKMemergent programme]