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Blogging from Malawi – How we used a blog to report from a workshop on rural development

March 20, 2013 | bit-wartung | Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences, SDC Networks |

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We were blogging from the Workshop on Rural Development organized by the SDC Eastern & Southern Africa Division in Lilongwe Malawi.

 By Michael Hirsbrunner, SDC

 

 With the workshop blog we had several ideas in mind: documenting the workshop process and make it accessible, including non-participating network members into the discussions, and linking the discussions in Malawi with others regional experiences.

Before the workshop, the blog was set-up and structured according to the different topics discussed in the workshop (Postharvest, M4P, or Financial Services); the detailed programme was published and a list of all participants with picture and email address was added to exchange before and after the workshop.

During the workshop, we summarized the discussions of the different workshop sessions in blog entries. We added links to presentations and documents. We continuously checked the comments in the blog. Every morning we brought new questions and comments published on the blog to the attention of the workshop participants and encouraged them to answer or react. We wrote a follow-up on the blog to inform our readers.

Over 200 persons have visited the blog. The blog was commented 41 times by 20 different persons.

Photo of a field visit in Malawi and the header of the blog

The feedback was positive: from participants for accessing the workshop documents and discussing contents with non-workshop participants, from the organisers for writing short summaries of the presentations and the workshop conclusions and from external readers and commentators for being informed about the discussions in Malawi. Chrystel Ferret, deputy head of the ESA division, even suggested having the blog as a standard tool for further regional workshops. The West Africa division will now also blog from their workshop in April 2013. Marylaure Crettaz, Focal Point of the Agriculture and Food Security Network over the Malawi workshop blog:

 I enjoyed looking at the presentations and the summary of the discussions posted on the blog (even late at night from home). In many topics addressed I wanted to know more details or had clarifications questions or wanted to make further links with what SDC is doing in other regions or in other networks. I had bilateral contacts with many network members to animate them to react on a specific topic that I knew being their field of experience or interest. I would have preferred more pictures and graphics to complement the statements but the connectivity in Malawi didn’t allow loading more visual supports”

After the workshop, we linked the workshop blog with our network platform: http://www.sdc-foodsecurity.ch. This is crucial as we used the blog as a document management system and we don’t want that the blog and the discussion will be forgotten.

 

What would we do differently next time?

1. Have some ideas ready how to get participants and network members to join into the online discussion on the blog.
2. Be prepared for slow internet connections. Uploading pictures and documents took a lot of time, sometimes over 10 minutes or it even failed… Next time we will write and save all posts first in a text programme to reduce  bad surprises. And we would separate heavy presentations and pictures from text to allow fast webpage connection.
3. Have more active bloggers to share the writing. As we were “1.5 bloggers”, our capacities were at the limit and we often finished our day at midnight. We tried to share the workload: One of us (100%) wrote most of the posts and did the administrative blog-work (uploading, collecting of information, etc.). The other one corrected the posts, shared blog-comments to the workshop participants and posted the rest. External helpers collected presentations and made pictures.

To reduce the stress and improve timing, we recommend having at least two full-time bloggers. This would have allowed having also video-interviews at the end of the day, as it was actually planned; and would allow increasing participation at the workshop.

The two blog-writers: Markus Bürli and Michael Hirsbrunner

Links:
• Malawi Workshop Blog:  http://www.blog4dev.ch/afs-f2f2013
• SDC Agriculture and Food Security Network’s platform http://www.sdc-foodsecurity.ch
Social Reporting in previous sdclan posts


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