Thursday, 29 May 2008

Knowledge is power: Kenyans enthuse over AIDSPortal tools

Anne Babcock, AIDSPortal Facilitator ran an AIDSPortal training day along with KANCO colleagues, Lenard Odini and Kennedy Cheruiyot. The conference room at KANCO offices was filled to the brim with 25 participants from NGOs all over Nairobi. It was a lively day complete with much discussion and questions.

The focus of the training was how AIDSPortal can…

· Strengthen networking

· Coordinate activities

· Improve consultation

· Improve information sharing

The feedback at the end of the day was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone had an opportunity to discuss respective activities and learn how to connect online with each other and other professionals across the region.

One participant responded, “The training was a good eye opener for all of us. I have experience I’ve wanted so much to share but had no idea how until now.”

Anne and the KANCO team hope to run follow up training sessions throughout Kenya during the year.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Private Sector Mobilisation and Civil Society Linkages

I recently attended the Pan African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (PABC) conference, held in Johannesburg May 20 – 22, 2008.

The PABC aims ‘to be the engine of private sector mobilisation in the fight against HIV and AIDS across the African continent.’ Ultimately, the PABC supports in-country coalitions to take effective action on HIV and AIDS. Participants in the conference identified common issues facing business coalitions (such as funding, information sharing and membership) as well as regional issues. For example, while business coalitions in East and Southern Africa are relatively well established, there are challenges to setting up and sustaining coalitions in Central and West Africa.

In terms of the AIDSPortal initiative, we are interested in exploring how AIDSPortal information services can both support information flows within business coalitions as well as between business coalitions and civil society groups.

Since AIDSPortal began, the initiative has aimed to promote information flows and networking between civil society, government and the private sector. While both civil society and the private sector are proactive about making linkages with government, the link between civil society and private sector is often the weakest. While each group lists the other as a key stakeholder, they are more often seen as competition in the race for funding rather than a partner. I found it telling that, while government and international agency stakeholders were well represented at the PABC conference, civil society groups were markedly absent.

There are two questions that come to mind when thinking about how to build linkages between the private sector and civil society:

How can the private sector identify community based organisations that can help them provide services to the communities around them?

How can the private sector meaningfully consult with the communities in which they work?

These are the questions that will guide the ongoing development of AIDSPortal services and I look forward to working with partners, such as the PABC, to explore answers that bring added value to both the private sector and civil society.

To learn more about the PABC:

Saturday, 24 May 2008

What is an RSS feed and how can I use it?

Many of our partners are interested in RSS feeds and have questions about what they are and how they can use them. In this post we'll try and give you some background and explain how you can make use of RSS feeds.

Really Simple Syndication?

Wikipedia defines Really Simple Syndication or RSS as 'a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts in a standardized format'. You may have come across this icon: It is now commonly used to show when an RSS feed is available. You may also have heard of 'subscribing' to an RSS feed. RSS feeds offer a way for websites to make their content available beyond people visiting it using a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. Using an RSS feed a website can enable 'subscriptions' to it's content via email, a news reader or even another website.

So in short RSS is an easy way to:

1. Keep track of new information on many websites via email or a newsreader
2. Automatically display information from one website on another

Have a look at the following video from Common Craft for a simple explanation of how RSS helps you do the former.

How can I use RSS to keep track of different websites?

As the video shows, RSS makes it easy to see what is new on a number of different websites. Instead of having to go to each site in turn you can view a list of new information that has recently been added. To make use of RSS feeds you first need to choose how you want to view them. There are many different options, so we will focus here on two of the simplest.

1. Using Google Reader

For those of you already using gmail or that have some kind of Google account, this is very easy. Simply go to to get started. As in the video above, you can easily add any number of feeds to Google Reader. They all appear in the bar on the left and you can quickly sift through them.

2. Using Live Bookmarks

If you regularly use the same computer and your lucky enough to have a recent version of Firefox or Internet explorer as your browser, then you could also use something called Live Bookmarks. This is possibly even easier than using Google Reader, as you can do it all from within your browser. Any feeds that you subscribe to appear in your bookmarks (or favourites) bar, exactly as they do when you bookmark a website. Except in this case, if you click on the bookmark they open up to show you a list of new things added to that site. See below for an example.
How can I use RSS to add information to my website?

So RSS can help save time and also money for those with limited access to the Internet. It makes it easy to quickly check and see what is new. However, for those that have their own websites, it also offers a great way to automatically add interesting new content to your site.

As you can see on this blog, we have a list of news stories from AIDSPortal. We've done this using an RSS feed. It's a little more complicated than using Live Bookmarks or Google Reader, but luckily several websites are around that make it easy for us. Widgetbox is one example.

When you arrive at the site it gives you the option to create a 'widget' from an RSS feed.
Having entered the RSS feed that you want to display on your website, you are presented with a variety of options to choose how you want the feed to display. The end result is some short code (javascript or flash) that you can cut and paste into the html on your website. You can see the widget we created here, which looks like this:

Click on the link at the bottom of the widget if you would like the code to add this to your website.

How can I make my own RSS feed?

So, you know how to subscribe to feeds and maybe you've even added some feeds to your website. However, what if your own site or the site you want to keep track of doesn't have it's own feed?

There are several ways to make an RSS feed available for a website, most of which require some technical know-how and ability to make changes to the website itself. However, there are now some very easy ways to create an RSS feed with no technical knowledge. Dapper (or data mapper) is one option that we have found works very well. Dapper's aim is 'to make it easy and possible for anyone to extract and reuse content from any website'.

The 'Dapp Factory' really is very easy to use. You can watch a video here that explains how to do it. We've used Dapper to create a number of different feeds. This one takes information from the AIDSPortal events page and makes it available as an RSS feed that shows a list of HIV related events from around the world.

We hope these ideas and techniques are useful to people. If you have experiences of using WidgetBox, Dapper or other applications then do let us know by leaving a comment below.