ILRI / ILRIComms / IPP / Knowledge and Information

ILRI comms – engagement and collaboration team under the microscope

Four new communications and knowledge management staff recently joined the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI): Brian Kawuma (ILRI Uganda), Julie Mateo (ILRI East and Southeast Asia), Mark Kwemoi (ReSAKSS in Nairobi, Kenya) and Mercy Becon (ILRI Tanzania).

As part of their induction, they attended a session on the ‘Engagement and Collaboration’ elements of the new ILRI ‘communications and KM‘ team.

So, what do we mean by ‘engagement’ and ‘collaboration’ in our team?


Engagement is basically about getting people to connect with each other, talk, share and feel committed or ‘switched on’, somehow. According to some sources “no other attribute of culture has a greater impact on achieving results and performance in the workplace.” The concept of ‘discretionary effort’ mentioned is important. Globally, there’s seen to be a problem of ‘staff engagement.’In an infamous Gallup study (October 2013), 13% of the American work force feel themselves engaged at work. 13%!!! That is just one in eight persons… and certainly not enough to make the workplace a conducive and productive environment it seems.

The ABC's of collaboration (image credit: Dan Pontefract)

The ABC’s of collaboration (image credit: Dan Pontefract)

But engagement reaches much beyond inside ‘organizations’. It extends to specific program teams, partners, and even beneficiaries or customers of specific products and services. In that context, it is also about the discretionary effort that people (and their institutions) are ready to contribute in order to make the work work.

What drives engagement?

  • Trust – knowing each other and each others’ frames of mind, but also knowing that we can open ourselves to one another without fearing a backlash;
  • Perceived value / An appeal to higher standards, outcomes and perhaps personal benefits – along the lines of Daniel Pink’s Drive factors. In other words a value proposition that makes us go the extra mile;
  • Critically, involvement from the start of a process, so that trust and value can be built early on rather than ‘plugged into a process’ much further down the line. Co-creation (of ideas, strategies, approaches etc.), is one of the most powerful approaches to drive engagement.

What makes these ‘drives’ work? Facilitated processes that help people align their vision and learn. So, engagement has much to do with creating the conditions for people to come together and bring the best out of themselves.


Compared with engagement, collaboration takes engagement one step further, towards joint efforts to work towards common goals and plans and deliverables.

Because it relates to these deliverables, typically, collaboration happens in a more controlled environment (e.g. a project, a team, an organization) but it relies on the same dynamics as engagement, as well as on some accountability mechanisms.

Yet, even with the relative safety of managed collaboration, there are many different facets that contribute to making collaboration successful (or not). And working on all these aspects requires a certain expertise and much, consistent, attention.

In some contexts, cooperation trumps collaboration, particularly in the case of networks (see below), where members join of theit own volition and usually cannot be held accountable for delivering certain outputs. But even cooperation is somewhere at the junction between engagement and collaboration…

In networks, cooperation trumps collaboration (image credit: Harold Jarche)

In networks, cooperation trumps collaboration (image credit: Harold Jarche)

What we plan to do

In our ‘ILRI Comms’ team, engagement and collaboration covers the above, but it also aims to facilitate learning, sharing, picking people’s brains to get more insights, get more effective, develop relationships and enable partnership. It is about developing expertise in process facilitation / documentation, to better understand how people can connect, share, learn, co-create, innovate and improve themselves and their work over time – and in the context of ILRI’s research, how different people can get involved in research processes that reach real impact.

The presentation below introduces some early ideas about how ILRI and other research institutes can invite others to engage with the research ideas, process and outcomes…

What the team does

Some of the products and services we provide include:

  • Events
    • Design, facilitation and documentation of events and conversations
    • Informal ‘social reporting’ of events on social media (e.g. coverage on Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, CG Space, Slideshare, FlickR, YouTube)
  • Consultation and engagement processes
    • Design and run consultation processes
    • Design and run processes to engage staff and partners around specific activities, events, projects
    • Set up and run communities of practice
  • Collaboration processes
    • Assess the state of collaboration in a given team or project
    • Organize collaboration workflows


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