This social media guide aims at promoting African knowledge (in particular about climate change adaptation).
This part of the guide is concerned with explaining what it means, practically, to promote African knowledge about climate change adaptation


Potential social media pitfalls, troubleshooting and looking beyond social media


Pitfalls and Troubleshooting


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  • "I have a personal Facebook account, so I know how to use all social media..."

It is important not to underestimate the difference between using social networking in your personal life and using social media in a professional setting. Organizations and individuals making the shift from traditional offline knowledge sharing to social technologies should first think about why they want to use social media, what they are trying to communicate, how they are going to do that, and who they are targetting. Having a simple social media strategy like this maintains a standard approach to using social media for knowledge sharing and can avoid confusion and trouble further down the line.

  • "I don't have time for social media and can't afford it"

Just as in other areas of work, time and budget constraints will inevitably limit your use of social media. However, this guide aims to convince you why social media are worth dedicating some of your time to for sharing knowledge on climate change, and beyond. One of the biggest upsides to social media is that the majority are free to use - you just need to fill in a few basic personal details such as your email address and then you're set to go! The more you use social media, the less time it will take up in your day, proving much more time and cost effective than other traditional forms of knowledge sharing.

  • Managing Information Overload

One of the best tricks for avoiding "information overload" is to be smart with your social network settings. Carefully setting privacy controls can avoid an overload of notifications and allows you to filter only the information that is most relevant or interesting to you and your work. Instructions can be found for the main social networks in our Quick and Easy Reference Guide at the end of this guide. The advantage of using social media is that social networks naturally filter out irrelevant or sub-standard information on any given topic. In other words, the wider online community saves you time by sorting out the good resources from the bad for you. A quick search, with the right key words and phrases should lead you straight to what you're looking for. In the same way, social media can promote your own knowledge within the right networks and to the right audience too.

  • In Africa, so many people do not have access to the Internet.

The fact that less than 20% of the African population has access to Internet, does provide somewhat of a hurdle when it comes to promoting African knowledge on climate change. However, Africa's telecommunications industry is growing at a faster rate than any other in the world and the continent is a dynamic market for social media. With an increasing number of homegrown social media platforms, plus rapid growth in the number of international social media tool users in Africa, it is clear that the Internet will expand across both urban and rural areas over the next few years. Social media provide a great opportunity for the people of Africa to share knowledge with the rest of the world at the click of a button; to add their voices to the global conversation on climate change. For those that can access the Internet, it is therefore certainly worth doing so.

  • Trust Issues and privacy controls

The use of social media relies for sharing knowledge on any topic requires a degree of trust. It is possible to protect images and other forms of media online, and also to be relatively selective about the audience you are sharing with. Choosing the right tools for promoting different types of knowledge is an important part of the process, as is adjusting your privacy controls until you feel comfortable.


Beyond social media


The broader social learning spectrum

There is no silver bullet to development. There is no panacea for sharing African knowledge. Despite their potential and momentum, social media are no exception. The pitfalls highlighted above offer some clues as to the limits of social media. However, there are other approaches that can favour strong knowledge sharing and social learning in Africa and by Africans. These other approaches are worth looking into; in fact they may complement a social media presence very effectively.

The huddle (group) that focused on climate change during the annual Knowledge Management for (see references for this group in the Key resources section) identified a number of knowledge management or sharing approaches and tools that could be worth considering in the climate change field, showing the richness and diversity of knowledge sharing methods that might help to share knowledge (not specifically from Africa) about climate change:
  • Diagramming
  • Drama
  • E-bulletins
  • E-conferencing Meetings
  • Face to face Meeting
  • Knowledge Banking (Data Systems)
  • Knowledge Mapping
  • Mentoring / Coaching
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Multistakeholder discussions
  • Networks
  • Organizational Learning
  • Partnership Building
  • Peer assists
  • Radio
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, D-group, Blogs, Chats, E-Mails, SMS, Wiki, Youtube
  • Social Media: Radio, TV, Blip, Flickr, Web 2.0
  • Storytelling
  • Virtual Libraries
  • Web Platforms

The African social learning case

In a recent communication on the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) mailing list, Charles Dhewa (formerly member of the organisation 'Knowledge Transfer Africa') was pointing to the nature of African knowledge sharing and was inviting whoever working in knowledge management and sharing in Africa to look beyond 'traditional' social media to consider other ways of 'mediating meaning'.

We have seen that promoting African knowledge in practice begs the necessity to adopt a broad look at social learning, echoing Charles Dhewa's plea. Looking at the specific case of Africa, some tools and approaches come to mind as particularly appropriate for the continent. These tools and approaches include:

Mobile phone applications (SMS services, mobile radio)
Statistics from the International Telecommunications Union from November 2011 estimate that 1.4% Africans possess a telephone land line, as opposed to 53% of the population possessing a mobile phone subscription. Some African countries such as Kenya are leading the way of mobile telephone applications such as mobile payments. There is naturally a number of very promising mobile applications to complement social media activities in Africa such as early warning systems, monitoring (of e.g. water points), mobile payments, sharing information on e.g. market prices, either purely text-based or - increasingly, as smart phones are entering African phone markets - using pictures and videos.

Radio initiatives
The radio has traditionally been a strong communication channels in rural areas worldwide. In Africa too, radio stations are seen as useful alternatives to communicate when the Internet fails to reach certain pockets of the population. Add text here .

Face-to-face approaches
The most powerful way to share knowledge, in Africa and elsewhere, is directly from one person to another, face-to-face. This approach is all the more important in Africa, a continent that has a very strong storytelling tradition transmitting stories verbally from a person to another or a group of others. The 'griots' from West Africa and 'arbres à palabres' (palaver trees) are just two witness standposts to this age-old tradition codified in e.g. Southern African Ubuntu, stone sculptures and rain-making ceremonies.

It is commonplace to hear that online communities need to establish trust in order to stimulate. Trust is best established through direct contact, ideally on a regular basis. Other knowledge sharing approaches that enhance African social learning thus include: meetings, workshops and other events; study tours and exchange visits; joint work (e.g. action-research); training and coaching/mentoring approaches; informal get-togethers such as drinks etc.; retreats and other reflective group activities.

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community information centres which also serve as social clubs

Certainly visual communication is of great importance to communities where the use of print information sources is not always favoured because of low literacy levels.
This would include the use of videos, pictures on the walls, and posters to convey messages concerned with poverty issues and other behaviour change goals

Oral communication is also very important as a tool in addressing poverty issues as most of the people rely solely on it for KS. This can be woven around discussion forums facilitated by adult education and community development tutors or even religious leaders, regular talks given by agricultural and livestock extension workers, public health workers, and school teachers. Radio listening clubs, particularly for development programmes such as health, adult education, agriculture, and small business management, is another useful tool. This could be enhanced by discussion forums where the issues raised in the radio programme are discussed further and its application to the community made more explicit.

Print materials in the form of books and pamphlets, textbooks, and recreational reading such as novels and plays can also be a valuable tool in poverty eradication.

The contribution to education in general at primary, secondary and adult literacy ICTs are increasingly being used for KS in many rural and urban communities in Africa. The key problem is that ICTs rely on ‘infomediaries’ as most of the urban and rural poor lack ICT use skills. Indeed, the lack of local content reduces the value of ICTs as tools for KS. However, in the long-term, ICTs have great potential because of their power to share information over a vast geographical space and time span, thus achieving economies of scale in the creation and use of content. Given that there are core common areas of information needs for addressing rural and urban poverty, one could envisage content development from a central location to address the common core areas of need, focusing on accessing and adapting global information and other forms of external information, shared over a nationwide network on poverty alleviation. The information needs which are location specific and dependent on climate, agricultural practices, and cultural heritage (e.g. indigenous knowledge) would be created with local communities.

multiple communication methods (including word of mouth, visual materials, drama, games and cultural interaction, and networks)

Part of the challenge of empowerment is to enable the community to use information and knowledge to think for themselves and about their situation and how to work together to get to solutions. The community should learn to create their own meaning from both incoming information and their own traditional information and knowledge in the light of social and cultural changes which have and are taking place.

Also for climate change adaptation, these alternative ways of sharing knowledge and social learning should not be overlooked as they greatly enhance social media approaches to share knowledge, about climate change adaptation or any other topic.