Communicating with partner organisations through the internet
The next interview took place at June 2nd, 2006 with Gerbina van den Hurk from NIZA.
Free and easy
Around 24% of the Dutch population uses Skype. Sometimes because their friends or family live far away, sometimes to cut costs. “I have been using Skype for a long time and I was always amazed why no-one else used it at NIZA, my organisation. In our profession, it’s ideal, because phoning partner organisations in the South is very expensive, and Skype is absolutely free. I discovered Skype through an international organisation of which I am a board member. They don’t have any money, so they use Skype a lot. I wanted to introduce the programme to NIZA, but wasn’t sure how to in the beginning. People thought it was a bit strange and preferred familiar means of communication. People prefer sticking to what they know. My goal was to help people find out that Skype isn’t so strange at all. I’d love people to see the potential of Skype." What do you see as the potential of Skype? "Our partners are far away and it’s hard to build a relationship with them when you hardly see each other and stay mainly in touch through e-mail. Skype is an easy and cost-free way of phoning. So it leaves more room for small-talk which also benefits the relationship. I think that Skype should become a standard tool in improving relationships.”
“At one stage, one of our partners told us to start working with Skype. They used it a lot and did not understand why we didn’t. This was the trigger for people at NIZA. I think they didn't want to lag behind their partners. Then, about six months ago, I gave a short demonstration of how Skype works. More demonstrations turned out to be needed, but people did start to understand it." Did you succeed in the end, and why? "I think that my informal introduction to Skype helped. Everyone could experiment freely and slowly get used to the tool. Official guidelines from the management may exert too much pressure and I don’t think that’s conducive to people’s attitude towards the tool. Also, the headsets are in my room. If people want to Skype, they have come to my room first to get one. This also gives them a chance to ask me questions, or for help if they have problems. I think it’s very important that people feel they can turn to someone for help. NIZA is now using Skype, which I’m very happy about!”
Are there any difficulties in getting started with Skype? “You need to download the application and create a user account, for which you need to invent a Skype name for yourself, and a password. An e-mail address can be added in case you lose your password. There is nothing complicated about that. If you want to use Skype, you just log in and you can talk with other people online. It’s much like MSN Messenger: you need to add people to your contact list before you can start a conversation. If people aren’t online much, like some partners in the south, you should set up a Skype appointment. You can easily schedule an appointment by e-mail or telephone, so you’ll be sure you’re both online at the right time.”
Better relationships with partners
Has Skype achieved want you wanted to achieve? “Yes I think so. At least there’s more room for conversations about day-to-day things which has helped improve relationships. I am now considering introducing more e-tools. Everyone’s becoming familiar with Skype now and realises that there’s nothing complicated about it, and that it works. Now, I’d like to introduce del.icio.us, wikis and blogs. I’ll introduce them during an informal lunch, so that people don’t feel pushed. I am planning to invite some people working in the development sector, who already use the tools. Then they can explain what the tools can do, and NIZA staff can focus on the tools that will work for them."
I used Skype for the first time on September 6. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I am used to chatting a lot with my friends over MSN and I don’t have any friends or relatives living far away! My first experience was a conversation with a total of 5 people and we discussed the agenda for the e-collaboration meeting on September 20. I cannot say it went flawlessly! People ‘disappeared’ or only segments were heard of 2 people talking at the same time. I think we spent half the time talking about issues concerning the connection and whether we could hear each other properly. In the end these problems were solved as somebody else became initiator of the conversation and invited the rest. The computer of the person starting the conversation probably makes a difference to the quality.