Monday, November 24, 2008

Online project management by Agriterra for more transparency

Collanos is a free tool for project management. It integrates all communication you can have within a project, so documents, discussions, notes, etc. So, instead of e-mailing to and fro or having to find documentation in several places, you can collect it all within this tool. It also allows for creating different project teams and you can assign tasks and deadlines to the team members. On the website you can take a tour and get a better idea what it is all about.

The basic features are easy and useful. If you would want additional functionality, they will charge you. During our meeting there were some questions about where the data is stored. It appears that all data will be stored on your own hard disk. So, in case Collanos would cease to exist you will not have lost all your documentation. It works as such that all documentation will be saved/copied to the hard disk of all team members and updated whenever they log on. A negative result of this is that you cannot log on to the tool from different locations and see all documents. For example you work with Collanos at the office, but you’d also like to work with it from home, you will have to create a second account for your computer at home and add that account to the group as well. As such you can have access to the team-documentation as well.

Agriterra's project management tool
Agriterra is an organisation working with and for farmers in developing countries. To register all the projects, Agriterra has developed a database that functions as our project-management tool and as such serves as our management-information tool as well: . We highly value transparency about our work, so the information is accessible for anyone interested. Through we can also offer a website to the producer organisations (farmers) we work with. These websites are a copy of agro-info and as such a simple solutions for producer organisations to be represented on the web. All the projects Agriterra is involved in are being registered on and they can be followed step-by-step and in detail from application until they are finished. All participating organisations are added in the system as well the planned budgets and logframes. Once a project reaches the execution phase the contracts are added to the database. To monitor our actual activities we created a Results tab where we register per year what the results are, what was spent, how the project scored on some key points of our programme (participation of women in the projects, outreach, etc.). All information in the database is interrelated. So, if there is a news item about a project, this can be linked. Or when the report of a mission has been completed, it will be added to the documents and linked to the mission itself.

Collaboration with other organisations
We are now in the process of increasing the quantity of information we can register in the Organisations-module to have the information about our customers in one place, but also to organisations we do not work with (yet) but are active in a country where we also work. The aim with this database is to become a resource site for and about producer organisations worldwide. So, if you would like to add your projects with producer organisations as well, you are more than welcome. Or if you are interested to see if the set-up of this database fits the needs of your organisation, you are invited to contact me Marjolein Hondebrink (


Friday, November 21, 2008

Twittering for development

Twitter provides you the possibility to exchange short messages with a large number of people. You can follow people, or otherwise, people can follow you. Twitter can be used in many different ways.

For example, you can use your twitter network to help you do your work. If you are looking for a guest speaker on a certain topic, and you can not directly find this person, than you can distribute your question to your network of twitter friends. It also provides possibilities to exchange your emotions, questions and other experiences. By spreading your message to a group of more than 30 people, you can always expect some responses from some people. So, in some situations this tool can be very helpful. But ofcourse, you have to build your twitter network first. When you start twitter as a new twitterer, it may seem like a stream of useless messages.

Nancy White: "So the bottom line, the value of Twitter depends on who you are connecting with, not the totality of the twitterstream (though that probably has value if you had the time to understand it and the patterns it holds.)"

Gerrit Visser from ICCO: "In itself Twitter may not seem all that valuable. With Nonaka’s old paradigm that knowledge management is essentially ‘connecting people to people’ I do think that Twitter in itself has an enormous potential. Yes it’s value may depend very much to the people you are connected to. I even dare to say to the ‘quality of your network’. The content that people share on Twitter differs as much as the people one is connected to."

Kwami Ahiabenu II from Ghana has set up an twitter account for the upcoming Ghanaian elections: Ghanaelections (see picture). Kwami explained that they did so with the following objectives in mind:

1.micro blog the upcoming elections providing short and concise news items

2. to direct more visitors to our website about the elections in Ghana

3. for Ghanaians living abroad, since they can not connect to our local short code service, an idea for them is to follow us on twitter and then linked it to their mobile, effectively having updates on their mobile phones using twitter instead of direct messages we will send to subscribers in Ghana

4. lastly we wanted to use the twitter to connect with other twitter users providing content on the elections unfortunately, there are only very few twitter accounts from this part; see a short announcement about our twitter and SMS service, wondering whether twitter is the right tool.

The Ghanaelections twitter account so far has:
36 Following
But it is too early to know whether it is valuable.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Surveymonkey helps Agri-ProFocus to organise meetings

At the Agri-ProFocus support office, we organise exchange meetings between professionals from research, private sector, NGO and government. Registration and feedback are very time-consuming and prone to errors, so this year we started to use SurveyMonkey, an online survey tool. We tried out the free version and then bought a Professional Annual Account for $ 180 a year. This allows for our logo, and the other 10 advantages you can read on their website.

Our experience with SurveyMonkey has taught us the following lessons:
1. we need to test a new invitation in our team;
2. we have to check people who misspell their email address;
3. we should allow for more than one response per computer;
4. after completion we direct to a website or a wiki for background information.
5. manual data entry is used for the odd participant who cannot enter the registration screen.

In our events too, one problem is with no-shows, especially if there is limited room available. We do politely ask people to cancel their registration by e-mail. Our events are free, we don’t think that an entrance fee would reduce the no-show problem.

One of the advantages of using surveymonkey for our registrations is that we can ask some additional questions about interests for certain topics etc. Surveymonkey registration allows us to ask for their priorities beforehand and their feedback and follow-up afterwards. This way we can link the learning with the doing. Network events then contribute to more and better cooperation in Agri-ProFocus.


Friday, November 07, 2008

David Jacovkis on anonymous browsing

David Jacovkis works for the Free Knowledge Institute and explained why and how you can browse and contribute anonymously to the internet. He tell us it is a basic skill that parents should teach their children. There is a open source software that you can download on TOR. TOR is an anonymiser tool. It makes use of a network of intermediate computers so that nobody knows from where you are connecting and to which websites. You will find the instructions- which are quite easy on the website of Torproject.

You can watch David explain this system:

If you want to know more about anonymous blogging, Global Voices has put up a technical guide for anonymous blogging which you can find here. It explains more steps like choosing pseudonyms.