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Towards Next Dgroups and beyond

On April 24th, 2012 a meeting was held in The Hague to review the progress and future of Dgroups. The meeting brought together all Dgroups board members and Damir Simunic, director of WA Research, which has provided the technical platform for Dgroups for the past 2 years and has led the redesign of next Dgroups.

Participants moved from a common definition of what Dgroups is and what it stands for. As the tagline in the logo suggests, Dgroups is about development through dialogue. Our vision is a world where communication for development is accessible to all and has maximal positive impact on international development.

The main part of this face to face meeting was dedicated to explore Dgroups’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – and the actions to take forward. As some of the Board members said, the meeting was very constructive and useful.

From discussion that emerged from the SWOT analysis, it become clear that the first and most obvious strength to leverage upon is the Dgroups partnership, the group of development organisations that support this initiative. So what efforts should be taken to maximise this strength and to make sure that Dgroups partners become also active ambassadors and contribute to the further enlargement of the membership base, and therefore the financial sustainability of Dgroups itself? The ideas that were discussed included:

  • Redesigning of the Dgroups home page at dgroups.org and the landing pages at individual group level;
  • Publicizing the openness of existing discussion groups;
  • Putting more effort in networking and communicating with existing and potential partners, in order to increase the membership base and ensure the financial sustainability of Dgroups;
  • Working on Dgroups branding and effective online presence that reflects this brand;
  • Making more use of the Dgroups blog to showcase how Dgroups is put at work in different contexts and for different purposes;
  • Defining and communicating to Dgroups members the advantages of the cost-sharing strategy which underpins Dgroups existence.

Some of these actions are already in motion.

Weaknesses included a lack of a marketing strategy to engage new Dgroups partners, and the Board will take new measures to promote Dgroups and enlarge the partnership. Related to this is the opportunity to reach out to new partners in the South.

A threat is that current budget cuts in the development sector are forcing partners to reevaluate their budgets. But this can also be seen as a good investment by current and future Dgroups partners, as it offers a flexible tool for communication, designed particularly for low bandwidth, that can complement and in some cases replace the need for expensive, face to face meetings.

We also discussed progress on the development of the next Dgroups platform and a number of outstanding functionality issues, including the redesign of the Dgroups homepage and landing page of individual groups; the completion of the users’ interface in the different languages that Dgroups supports; the possibility for groups administrators to edit the email footer for each community; improved statistics at group level.

We shall work together with WA Research to solve these issues by the end of June 2012.

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New Board, new platform, renewed commitments – Dgroups partners meeting 2011

The Dgroups membership met last week in Rome during the Rome 2011 Share Fair for the 2011 Partners meeting. This was the first face to face meeting of the Dgroups partners since 2009, when we met in The Hague just after the Foundation was created and the migration of the platform to WA-Research was completed.

The meeting was well attended, with half of the Dgroups partners participating and actively engaging in the discussion on Dgroups present, its value and concrete plans for future activity and development.

New Dgroups platform

New Dgroups platform

In the first part of the meeting, Hapee de Groot and Rob Witte from the Dgroups Board reported on 2010 activities and finances. In the discussion that followed, Dgroups partners addressed the issue of how to enlarge the membership and market Dgroups amongst development organisations. Dgroups remains a unique initiative in development cooperation, partly because it is email based and so is suitable for those still numerous areas where Internet access is expensive and unreliable,  but partly because we are independent and so not subject to the same regulations and constraints as Google and other commercial platforms based in the US.  These factors, together with the current site redesign and the budget available for further technical development, will definitely help promoting Dgroups in the months to come.

As part of the business meeting, Dgroups members also agreed to enlarge the Board to  6 members and confirmed the nomination of 3 new Board members . This was also the chance to thank outgoing Board members Riff Fullan (Helvetas) and Maarten Boers (who stepped down last April) for serving as Board members in the first elected Board of the Dgroups Foundation and for their great contributions.

In the second part of the meeting Dgroups members had the opportunity to meet with Damir Simunic of WA-Researchto discuss updates and plans related to the Dgroups platform. The site redesign is almost complete and some existing groups have been already migrated to the new version. There are still some bugs currently being fixed and some more groups will be migrated in the next month to further assess if the platform is robust enough to proceed with the full migration. On the basis of the feedback and information received, the Board will decide on a date when the complete migration can be started.

Dgroups futures exercise

In the last part of the meeting, Dgroups partners looked into Dgroups futures. The session was designed to combine and adapt two facilitation methodologies – appreciative enquiry and ‘future backwards’. In two groups, participants listed Dgroups assets, then they shared and combined them. From this basis, the two groups defined a ‘nightmare’ and a ‘dream’ scenario for Dgroups 2 years from now. Finally, they described the steps that lead to each scenario and reflected on what can be done to influence the path – focusing on immediate, medium and longer term actions.

The complete report of the meeting is currently being drafted and will be circulated to members soon in the coming days.

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New Dgroups Board members nominated

During the 2011 Dgroups Partners meeting that took place in Rome on 27 September 2011, the partnership council nominated 3 new members to the Dgroups Partnership Board:

  • Giacomo Rambaldi, from CTA
  • Kristin Kolshus, from FAO
  • Neil Pakenham Walsh, on behalf of INASP
The three new members join Caroline Figuères (IICD, Chairman of the Dgroups Board), Rob Witte (ICCO, Dgroups Treasurer) and Hapee de Groot (Hivos) to form the Dgroups Board for the year to come. The first meeting of the new Board will take place early November 2011.
After the Partners meeting we had the opportunity to talk with two of the new Dgroups Board members. In the videos below, Giacomo Rambadi and Kristin Kolshus explain why their organisations have decided to take an active role in the Dgroups Foundation and which direction they see for Dgroups in the coming period.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gZUZgtbLAgA%5D

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gZUZgtbLOQA%5D

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Dgroups at PICNIC 2011

In the context of the International Cross Media Festival PICNIC in Amsterdam, on Friday 16 September 2011, Dgroups member IICD co-organised the session Digital Media for a Better Future.

The meeting addressing the issue of contributing to a better world through digital connection between the Netherlands, other western countries and developing and emerging economies.

In her presentation, IICD’s Saskia Harmsen underlined how:

For many professionals working in development organisations both in the North and in the South, their email inbox remains the main space from which they work. With all the new technologies and services that have emerged, be it mobile phone, tablet, or desktop-based, email continues to play an important role that has not been displaced by SMS or new media services. Especially when it comes to conversations among many different people within working groups and professional networks with geographically dispersed members, a reliable, non-commercial, and low-bandwidth friendly solution is key. (Source: IICD News)

In her views, the Dgroups platform, and the partnership of development organisations that supports this initiative, makes such communications and development dialogue possible.

Watch Saskia’s presentation below here.

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Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) joins Dgroups

As of September 2011, the Dgroups partnership welcomes the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) as new Dgroups member.

RWSN is global knowledge network for rural water supply technologies and approaches. As it reads on their website:

RWSN focuses its work in specific areas where it believes it can make a significant contribution.
RWSN’s aims to:

  • Maximise impact of investment through application of cost-effective technologies
  • Reduce well drilling costs through improved drilling operations
  • Improve sustainability of supply chains
  • Mobilise additional resources, by supporting self-supply solutions at household level water supply facilities
  • Standardise handpumps with appropriate selection, procurement and simplified maintenance
  • Dissemination of Knowledge – equitable sharing of lessons learned, best practices and latest development in technologies
RWSN Secretariat is hosted by the Skat Foundation in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Contact person for Dgroups is Sean Furey.
Read more about Dgroups and its current members.

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Dgroups partners meeting 2011

The 2011 Dgroups partners meeting will take place in Rome on 27 September 2011 in the context of the Second Global AgriKnowledge Share Fair.

The Share Fair will be an exciting and “out-of-the-box” event, offering participants creative and innovative learning and sharing opportunities, and equipping them with tools to better influence future rural development activities. We are glad that the Dgroups partners meeting can be held during this international gathering as this will provide Dgroups members with excellent opportunities for networking and learning.

A draft agenda for the Dgroups partners meeting is available on the Dgroups wiki.  The participation and active engagement of current Dgroups members – as well as potential partners and interested organisations – is key to the success of the partners meeting and the discussion on the future development of Dgroups.

Besides the partners meeting, Dgroups will also organise a technical session during Day 0 of the Share Fair on 26 September 2011, which is dedicated to collaboration technologies and knowledge sharing tools and methods. This will be a perfect occasion for Dgroups members and users to participate in a hands on, practical session on the new platform about to be released and already available in beta version at http://next.dgroups.org.

Dgroups members and users that plan to attend the training session and the 2011 Partners meeting should register using the Share Fair registration form.

More updates on the programme of the  2011 Dgroups Partners meeting will be available in the coming days and the final agenda for the meeting will be circulated by the end of August 2011.

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Dgroups new look – More than a facelift

During the two online technical sessions organised in the context of the 2010 Dgroups Partners meeting, representatives from member organisations as well as groups administrators had the opportunity to preview the new look and improved functionalities of the redesigned Dgroups website.

For the  sessions, Damir Simunic of WA Research prepared a video to show the new look and feel and demo some of the new functionalities of the site.

In his presentation of the new platform, Damir highlighted the following elements:

  • The process of  developing and deploying the new platform has been taking much longer than expected; employing world-class designers was a learning process. Nevertheless, we believe the final result was worth the wait.
  • The redesign is completely focused on making it easier for administrators to manage groups, as admins are the primary users of the site
  • The technical objective of the redesign is to simplify the user interface (for example, number of clicks for common tasks are reduced, ‘announcements’ feature is now merged with ‘discussions’) and modernize the platform to use the most modern browser technologies available (HTML5, CSS3, etc), while still working for older browsers.
  • In the process, we wanted to make Dgroups beautiful for admins, to make them proud and happy to show it off to their colleagues.
  • Thanks to new technologies, the platform elegantly scales from large desktop screens to mobiles form factors – Dgroups’s first entry into mobile space;
  • The video show off some of the new user interface features like drag&drop attachments and pasting; large user avatars; significantly simplified means of adding new members; modern tabbed design, and many more
  • .

In the Q&A part of the session, some of the issues discussed comprised the following:

  • Track status of messages: this will be possible with the new design, similar as it is now to track invitations to groups;
  • Stats and tracking usage: This has always been high on any admin’s priority list, and the new design will provide the technical background needed to implement many of these statistics in the near future;;
  • Improved options for content sharing: “hidden” urls for RSS feeds to allow server-side subscriptions without the need for passwords;
  • improve Dgroups integration with other sites and platforms, a API will also be further development
  • Compatibility with older browsers: The new site is designed to benefit from the most modern browsers. However, Dgroups has always been about inclusion, and it will also work on older browsers; obviously, features that only new browsers provide won’t be available on older ones.

We’ll soon provide the link to the test site to all Dgroups administrators. The date for the full roll out on the new platform will depend on the results of this test phase, the feedback received and the improvements required but if all goes as planned, by end of January 2011 the new site will be launched.

It is very important to note that the January launch is about modernizing the user interface – new additions will be coming continuously during the whole year and beyond.

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