Friday, June 08, 2007

12-weeks Online Conference on Capacity Assessment & Development

From 9th January – 27th March 2007 an online conference was held on capacity assessment & development. Fourteen capacity development advisors from ICCO working in 14 different countries participated in this conference. It was decided to use two basic tools in the process, an e-mail based discussion platform (Dgroups) which facilitates participation with low bandwith internet connectivity, and skype teleconferences. A few other tools were supporting the online process.

The process
The E-conference started with introductions through Dgroups. This was followed with a start-up meeting using skype and the highspeedconferencing phonebridge where two participants shared and presented their case studies and where participants were able to ask questions. Subsequently, for two weeks experts joined the group and presented some statements. Participants responded and reacted on a number of statements such as “Values vs Tools”; “Donors stay away please!”. In early February we moved on with smaller group meetings through skype, so that advisors could bring in their own cases & questions. In each meeting two to three cases were discussed over a period of one hour, whereafter the discussion was continued through the Dgroup. Between February and the end of March we held 5 skype meeting. The online conference was closed with a final review skype meeting and an anonymous online evaluation.

Participants’ experiences
The overall event was highly valued by the advisors. Especially the smaller skype conferences with participant cases and the D-group discussions about own cases were appreciated. One participant commented. “I have learned a lot from each others’ case studies. You discover that you are not the only one struggling with similar issues.” Other participants express similar comments. “By reflecting on my own work and talking about my experiences it helped me to understand my difficulties better. Also the responses and questions of other made me realise that I am doing quite OK, despite all challenges.”

Some of the participants were also involved in a one-to-one coaching program. They expressed that the coaching helped them to discuss personal and sensitive issues, while the online platform with ‘peers’ helped them to gain more in-depth understanding about their work. One participant expressed she felt less need for a coach being involved in a forum with peers.

Many of the participants felt overwhelmed by the high number of e-mails. Around 4 participants switched off the daily receipt of D-group mails. One of the recommendations was to make the e-mail traffic less intensive or to create a more user friendly virtual learning environment. Daan van Bree, one of the ICCO advisors, who just finalized his contract and who is currently working for Music May Day, expressed his concern about D-groups and digital assertiveness. “I first had to get acquainted with the techniques and the platforms, before I felt ready to start sharing my feelings and opinions.” It is good to prepare people in advance, so that they have more digital assertiveness. View Daan’s comments by viewing the following video:

Facilitator experiences
It was good to work as a team of two facilitators for the skype conferences, one paying more attention to the technical aspects of the meeting, like re-connecting people who have dropped off from the conference, the other paying attention to leading and facilitating the conversations. It also helped to take notes during the skype conferences. The fact that people appreciated the later conferences more may also be related to the fact that they all became gradually more accustomed to the use of teleconferences and the particular technologies. Since people felt very overwhelmed by the large number of e-mails, they really appreciated the fact that the facilitators made summaries of each discussion.

Overall the process took longer than planned. On the one hand, we extended the process from the planned 8 weeks to 12 weeks to give people room to react and reconnect, on the other hand, it might have been better to close on the indicated date, as it created unclarity about the process.

As facilitators, we discovered that it is very rewarding to facilitate such a group of advisors who feel isolated and are happy to be connected. On the other hand, we noticed that the facilitation process takes a lot of time and can not be planned. At time, advisors will respond during the weekend because they have good internet connectivity so you have to be on stand-by at all times. Again, it helps when you can team up as two facilitators, so that you can inform the other facilitator to be alert when you are offline for longer periods.

We can compare the process to face-to-face facilitation, yet, it is more complex, because you have an additional task of introducing new technologies and helping people get at ease. It was really remarkable though, that a lot of innovations came from the group itself, for instance, phoning each other into the teleconference using a cheaper option like call2

The way forward – Sustain the Community of Practice!
According to one of the recommendations from the participants, a co-ordinating committee will be formed to discuss around 6 cases per year, and have one case every two months. This process will be facilitated by a rotating leadership. Up to the end of this year we will guide this group to become a sustainable “Community of Practice” (COP) which will share experiences about capacity development of local people and organizations. In the meantime we will use this time to build institutional knowledge on how to sustain a COP.

This article is written by:
Simon Koolwijk, Joitske Hulsebosch, Angelica Senders & Maarten Boers

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Monday, June 04, 2007

The e-collaboration blog as a group blog; half a year later