I just finished preparing a presentation about the art of fostering online networks in development; with a focus on producer organisations in the south (for a session with progresonetwork). While preparing the presentation I thought again about the fact that the basics of online networks are still social networks. Nothing else. So that is what I stress in my presentation. Since I really believe in the power of peer learning, I am existed by the possibilities of web2.0 to make south-south learning possible.
I've always believed in south-south learning since you can learn a lot of people who face similar difficulties and practice- just slightly different. Not that everybody in the south can learn from everybody else, but for instance cocoa producer organisations in Ghana can learn a lot from cocoa producers in Ivory Coast- similar difficulties but different context which pushes you to think creatively. I'm refering in my presentation to a survey undertaken by the world bank with 137 respondents about south-south learning. 94% think it is important or extremely important for improving the impact of international development and poverty reduction. Partnerships and alliances score best as mechanisms for south-south learning, followed by networks and associations, exchanges/secondments and study tours.
I use the examples of km4dev (see interview Lucy Lamoureux) and the IFRTD networks (see evaluation) and the lessons here are definitely that you have to mix face-to-face and online communication creatively and that it really help to have a dedicated network leadership, consistent over time.
Suddenly thought it is sometimes discouraging to read these success stories (that are even hard to replicate too!) and included the lessons of two attempts to stimulate online learning networks which were less successful: one by Anne Hardon, virtual knowledge communities: lessons learned in making them work, the other by three authors titled Forming a community of practice to strengthen the capacities of learning and knowledge sharing centres in Latin America and the Caribbean: a Dgroup case study. Great that these experiences are also shared and they may be even more helpful and insightful than the success stories.