Thursday, September 28, 2006

Technology: the Dgroups success story

Last week we had several discussions on how to get lively discussions going on online fora. It made me think again about the success of Dgroups "the starting point for fostering groups and communities in international development" and how hard it is to pinpoint the critical success factors and hence to replicate this success.

In July there was a meeting for Dgroup administrators and moderators in the Netherlands. The slogan of Dgroups is "Development through dialogue". Dgroups was designed in 2001 from the desire to create a simple, reliable and accessible communication and information-sharing tool that could be used by development organisations and its partners. Currently there are 21 supporting organizations. The system is e-mail based, but has an online platform as well, where message, resources, members and a calendar are accessible. In 2006, 12.000 messages pass through Dgroups every month, and a 1000 files or links to files are shared. In total, since the beginning of Dgroups, 288.000 messages have passed and 27.000 resources. The growth in number of groups has gone in rapid expansion since 2004 as you can see in the graph.

The report highlights some different organizational uses of Dgroups, ranging from Dgroups as a handy way to reach a group of people through a single email address by INASP, to the moderated topic and case discussions by the Pelican initiative . For PPGIS, a group on Geographical Information Systems, Dgroups is one of many tools, like a website, RSS, translation tools, webring, skype and more. I guess this may be true for most groups. Future directions for Dgroups include Improving facilitation of Dgroups, engaging Dgroups administrators and users and improving the web platform and interface.

Through a blogpost by Sarah Cummings I had the chance to read a report on the use and characterization of Dgroups in Latin America. This report identifies 7 different ways organizations utilize the platform:

* Internal communication in one organization
* Communication between organizations
* Organization of events
* Virtual communities
* Virtual forums of limited duration
* Work groups
* Publications

With the majority defining themselves as virtual communities (34%). It concludes that Dgroups is simple to use, suits low bandwith, is free of publicity and has the endorsement of a partnership of organizations working in development themes. These characteristics may explain in part its success I guess. It also states that Dgroups is not useful for all purposes it is currently used for. So there may be scope for more appropriate design of online tools, specifically designed for southern users. This may work better than adopting 'northern' tools.

The story of how ICCO, a Dutch development organisation introduced and uses Dgroups can be found here

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