In 2002, Bellanet, IICD, OneWorld, DFID, and UNAIDS Southeast Asia got together to build Dgroups on top of some existing workspace applications that Bellanet had developed and were providing one by one to their partner organizations. For those  of you that don’t know, the original Dgroups platform uses two pieces of software: the Lyris mailing list manager plus “front end” software written by Bellanet staff. The platform developed over the next three years with Bellanet staff and  contractors providing technical support to the 20 plus organizations that joined the partnership. Euforic was brought in early in 2006 to help coordinate the partnership and develop a roadmap for Dgroups future development. Since Bellanet Ottawa closed in 2008,  the platform has been technically hosted and supported by IGLOO in Canada, with Euforic still providing coordination and ICCO acting as administrator and banker.

Why on earth is this useful or important information?
1. “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”, as a Canadian once sang. Igloo and Euforic and a host of individuals across several Dgroups communities have done a great job in maintaining the platform since Bellanet Ottawa ceased operations. But the real contribution and value of the work Bellanet did, mainly behind the scenes, only became apparent when they were no longer there. A platform based on more than one software tool is always more difficult to manage, especially the relationship between the two tools. With their experience of building the platform, Bellanet staff knew how to tweak and manage it to keep it going smoothly. That has meant a steep learning curve for Igloo, which cost them a lot of time and energy – and many others disturbed weekends and sleepless nights. However, one of the members of the migation team, Sarah Kerr, is ex-Bellanet, which re-connects us directly to that experience and knowledge. For example, Creators and Administrators are in the middle of cleaning up the data on dgroups – identifying defunct groups, working out what to do with groups originally started by Bellanet, and so on. It was a relatively quick task for Sarah to run a mini-programme to reflect those changes – which she did on Monday 24th, so people should now see the changes they have made on the system properly. (Sarah is going to join us in blogging – and in case there is any confusion, this picture is the Canadian singer not Sarah).

2. User support for Dgroups has always started with administrators and group creators from member organisations. This included Bellanet for their own groups, but they also provided technical support and learning to administrators and creators. When the platform moved to IGLOO, this support role moved with it, but without the time to properly carry across that deep knowledge, which has created enormous challenges for all involved.

3. It’s useful as a basis for understanding the way Dgroups is changing. Firstly, the new platform is provided by one organisation, WA Research, which runs it as one integrated operation. Secondly, WA Research provide this platform already to 27 partners, and manages its development according to the needs – and budgets – of those partners. In that sense they operate like Bellanet, but on a different basis, since their income depends on the smooth operation of the system and they don’t have a whole range of other tasks and functions in the way that Bellanet did.

4. I haven’t seen anywhere in public, at least on the web, a public acknowledgement to the people who worked in Ottawa for Bellanet of the really good job they did for us with Dgroups. It took creativity, mountains of hard work and networking to build up the platform. I for one am very grateful, and want to say so in public. Thanks folks.

Pete Cranston.

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