Learning from our peers – Email and online forums for health and development professionals

The third Dgroups Online Peer Exchange session took place on Monday 15 July 2013.

With a thematic focus on email and online forums for health and development professionals, the session was organised together with the Knowledge Gateway, which is running on the same technology that powers Dgroups and that is developed and supported by WA Research.  In this sense, the session was a useful occasion to compare notes and see how different initiatives are using the same technological solution.

Around 25 participants took part in the 90 minutes webinar, engaging in a lively and interesting conversation. The full recording of the session is available on the Dgroups Foundation channel on YouTube. Below here you can find a short summary and the individual recordings of the two presentations, which are also available for download on SlideShare.

IBP Knowledge Gateway – Share, exchange, transfer and apply knowledge

The first presenter, Angela Nash-Mercado from Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programme and K4Health, introduced the Knowledge Gateway.


The Knowledge Gateway is an initiative of the Implementing Best Practices (IBP) Consortium, supported by a diverse range of partners such as USAID, WHO, UNFPA as well as organizations and institutions from developing and developed countries. IBP strives for finding ways to more effectively transfer, exchange and apply knowledge in the health sector. To achieve this goal IBP partners promote the set up and participation in Communities of Practice (CoPs). CoPs are indeed very effective and beneficial to their members in terms of, for example: finding and seeking help with specific problems; learn from each other; share and exchange information and knowledge; jointly create tools, standards and manuals; share best practices and lessons learned; promote collaboration; etc.

The Knowledge Gateway is the platform that IBP has deployed to support multiple virtual communities of practice, and it now counts more that 42,000 members from 220 countries and territories. The underlying software that powers this platform is the same used also by Dgroups, and it answers to the same principles: a web-based technology that functions through emails to support knowledge networks and communities of practice; it is designed to work in technically challenged countries and enables people to share, exchange, transfer, discuss, debate and access knowledge in and across countries.

Based on the rich experience in developing and facilitating CoPs on the Knowledge Gateway, Angela shared some design features and principles to keep in mind when setting up and moderating online communities and forums. Firstly, it is important to recognise that as the community evolves, so does the structure – so this may need to change or update depending on what the community is used for. Further, it is crucial to find ways to link the community to outside sites, experts and other communities, to broaden the dialogue and the perspectives. Additionally, it is key to recognize that there are (and will always be) different levels of participation in CoPs – and some members do not openly share, engage and participate. Equally important is to focus on the value that a CoP brings, to both its individual members and the organization they belong to.

HIFA2015 – A global community of purpouse to achieve health information for all by 2015

Neil Pakenham Walsh, the second speaker in the webinar, presented how Dgroups is used by HIFA 2015 (Healthcare Information For All by 2015), a global campaign to promote the availability and use of essential healthcare information in low- and middle-income countries.

HIFA is a community of purpose whose members work together to achieve a shared vision: “A world where every health worker and every citizen has access to the information they need, when they need it, to prevent and manage disease and injury.” Through the community, its 6300 members share and exchange experiences to bring about increased effectiveness of healthcare information services worldwide.

The use of Dgroups seemed the most logical solution to enable this virtual sharing of experiences, and facilitate online dialogue amongst HIFA members, for different reasons. On the one hand, Dgroups is a partnership of 18 development organizations and a non commercial solution. On the other hand, in terms of technology, Dgroups uses email and this is more appropriate than web-based tools to reach rural areas in low-income countries. Moreover, it has unique functionality that allow HIFA moderators to add value to the messages that are posted by members.

The approach used by HIFA in the facilitation of the email discussions is defined as Reader-focused moderationand it aims at providing maximum added value to all members. This is done through the “subject” line, the “from” line and the “body” of the message, with the HIFA signature profile.

Additionally, HIFA is experimenting with new ways to make use of the discussions and messages circulate via the email list. Short extracts (‘HIFA-Voices’) of the email messages are selected, tagged and added to a searchable database. The database will drill “up” to major databases and “down” to the full text of the source message and discussion thread. HIFA-Voices have already been used to inform the development of a WHO Policy Guideline, and there is a huge potential for such a knowledge base to “become a leading source of practical and experiential data.”

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