To discuss or create
The next interview took place at September 5, 2006 with Maarten Boers from ICCO.
Use of a mailing list
“I am in charge of an internal project entitled ‘Capacity development, Knowledge systems and Networks’. In brief, this project aims to stimulate systematic learning both in-house, as well as with and between partners. There is no escaping from e-collaboration then. I was already familiar with knowledge sharing using mailing lists, because I was involved with the Grupo Chorlaví, a learning network in Latin-America. This network started in 1998 and its purpose is the sharing of knowledge and experiences about rural development in Latin-America. So, in that way I became familiar with the possibilities that a mailing list can offer and I saw the potential for ICCO. Forces can be joined to make both sides stronger. This is why we became a partner of Dgroups. We wanted to stimulate collaboration at ICCO and with partners.” How do you use Dgroups? “Until now we have created about 22 groups of which 8 are in-house groups. The latter are mostly used for preparatory stages of meetings or to make policy plans. Real discussions are still mostly held face-to-face, because people are close by. The groups we set up with partners are mostly learning networks.”
The essence: A community
Are people eager to start a Dgroup? “I am promoting the use of Dgroups by approaching those colleagues who I assume will be interested, because not everybody will see the potentials right away and many people – not only within ICCO – seem to have some resistance to the use of “new” web-based tools. So the idea is to get the people who are already interested using Dgroups and let them share their experiences with others. In that way I hope a snowball effect will take place. Good experiences and enthusiasm from colleagues can stimulate others. Some groups were started just as an experiment, where people can go to check out for themselves what Dgroups are all about. Most people are reluctant to start one though, because they primarily see it as a source of extra e-mail. The biggest problem is to make clear what Dgroups really are about. The basis of a Dgroup is sending e-mails to a (large) number of people with one address, but this can also be done with a normal e-mail, where everybody replies to all emails. The benefits of the use of Dgroups are that all e-mail is stored in one place together with documents and links – the groups’ web-site. It is easy to retrieve a message you accidentally missed or the documents placed on the site. The website can also be accessed from wherever you are, so you don’t have to go to your own computer or even ever store them in your own e-mail box.” What do you see as the essence of Dgroups? “Dgroups have the potential to create communities. Unlike just sending e-mails, there is a place people can go to. The mere fact of having a name of the group itself also helps to create “community-sense” and even trust among the group members. You can refer to the group by its name.”
How do you see Dgroups evolving in the future for ICCO? “ICCO is decentralizing and becoming a real network organisation. There will be regional councils and regional work organisations. So I think Dgroups will be an instrument for the internal (management) communication of the future ICCO-network-organisation. But of course Dgroups will also play an important role in the knowledge sharing among all parts of the network organisation and its partners.” What do you think are the main problems with Dgroups? “Spamming is a real nightmare for Dgroups. Messages originating from the Dgroups server are often marked as spam, so people won’t receive the messages in their normal e-mail. Within Dgroups we are doing everything possible to avoid these problems. Another problem is that people find it difficult to write their ideas or opinion in an e-mail to people they do not know very well, because they see it as a form of official publishing. That might be also the reason that – mostly in the South - the e-mails are written quite formally, with many lines devoted to just courtesy alone. In that way a real open discussion is very difficult or even impossible because formality “kills” open discussions. So what you see is that people use the Dgroup as an address-list. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but that depends on the initial goal the group was set up for. There should be a way to introduce some kind of etiquette for the use of Dgroups, which stimulates people to use it more loosely and so it becomes common knowledge that a message to such a group does not have to contain all formalities of a formal letter.”