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Good Practice – E-facilitation and Linking Face-to-Face Events and Online Dialogues at SDC

February 21, 2012 | LND | Methods & Tools |

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Nara WeigelThis blog post explores the guides on e-facilitation and on linking f2f events and online dialogues in more detail. The guides are part of a set of interlinked guidelines available on the website of the SDC Learning and Networking Division. Two users of the guides on these closely related issues share their first reactions, personal reflections and further lessons from their daily work.

By Nara Weigel, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation

Linking Face to Face Events and Online Dialogues

The guide on linking face to face events and online dialogues explains why it is important to bring together these different types of interaction in the network context. In a nutshell, being conscious about how both aspects are designed and implemented can lead to the creation of synergies that strengthen network activities, outputs and coherence, as well as generate higher levels of enthusiasm among members. These synergies in turn support enhanced learning and can ultimately lead to stronger, more effective networks that make robust contributions to thematic policies, dialogues and activities of the organisation. The guide examines who can ensure these linkages are made in the SDC network context. It also highlights that f2f events and online discussions may have different functions depending on the stage of development of a given network. The guide also addresses the question of the appropriate rhythm for planning f2f and online events.

As Steering Group member of SDC’s Climate Change and Environment network, Manuel Thurnhofer is skilled in dealing with strategic network issues. Yet he also knows very well what it is like to be a “normal” member of a network, as he is actively involved in other networks (e.g. Aguasan, ResEau). Manuel’s reaction to the guide was twofold. He appreciates the added value of bringing together online and f2f actions while cautioning that this must be done with care. Considering the relatively low cost of online discussions, ensuring an appropriate frequency (in terms of maximum participation) with which online dialogues are held may be a challenge. Manuel Thurnhofer found it particularly interesting how the guide describes the different functions f2f events and online dialogues fulfil at the different stages of network development. Click on the video below to find out more…

E-facilitation

The guide on facilitating online discussions within networks focuses on the particularities of this type of exchange or collaboration. It gives short answers to questions that you’ve probably asked yourselves before: Why e-facilitation? What is so special about e-facilitation? What skills are required to facilitate online discussions? The guide also points to key considerations regarding the planning of online dialogues and dealing with diverse networks in which people speak different languages.

Rupa Mukerji, Co-Head of Advisory Services at HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is well versed in network facilitation, also in the SDC context. She stresses how important some nitty gritty aspects of facilitating online discussions are. For example, for a facilitator to ask broad framing questions in a scheduled discussion while also making sure that space is given to unexpected questions that may provoke more in depth discussions. She also highlights how in her experience there’s a big added value in having diversity within networks and in being very clear about the reasons for online discussions and outputs related to the dialogue, as this often encourages more lively participation from members.

Conclusion

Rupa’s and Manuel’s observations – along with the two guides – help us appreciate the complex interplay of f2f and online interactions in network contexts: it is not simply a mechanical exercise to decide how to facilitate and link them. Rather, it requires significant reflection, thought and an appreciation of networks as social entities, as collections of people with different perspectives, motivations and styles.

As such, facilitation of f2f and online dialogues, and of networks more generally, needs to take an iterative approach, to adopt engagement strategies and to see how network members respond, to adjust those strategies accordingly, and ultimately to gain a deep understanding of the social context of network interaction.

In addition to the various guides on managing and supporting networks that have been covered in this and other recent blog posts, you may be interested in looking at two that have not been discussed, the guide on social reporting, and on planning f2f events.

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