Dgroups is a longstanding, successful international development initiative, like few others. It has been online since 2002, and hundreds of thousands of development professionals use it regularly in their work. Some, however, may be less familiar with it or may have just heard about it.
So what is Dgroups?
During a recent webinar organized in partnership between FAO-Dgroups, Saskia Harmsen from the Dgroups Board gave a short introduction to Dgroups, what it is, the organizations behind it, and why it is the platform of choice for online communities of practice and communication for development.
(see also the slides used in the webinar)
Dgroups as a Partnership
Dgroups is a partnership of development organizations (UN agencies, bilateral agencies, NGOs) who collectively support global communication for development. Our shared vision is a world where every person is able to contribute to dialogue and decision-making for international development and social justice. At the moment, Dgroups has 15 Full Partners, 9 Associate Partners, and 3 Project Partners.
The Dgroups partnership is formally constituted as the Dgroups Foundation, a non-profit foundation registered in 2009 in the Netherlands. The Dgroups Foundation is owned and administered collectively by the Full Partners.
Currently, there are three different Dgroups membership options, each with different levels of financial contribution and different rights. This means that the spaces for dialogue and decision-making are opened up and information is shared much more broadly than in the silos – perhaps technical silos or organizational silos that exist within our sector. This is something that we all believe in and that we can make happen – by being part of the partnership.
Dgroups as a platform
Dgroups is also a web-based platform that hosts, powers and connects the groups. The Dgroups platform is hosted and maintained by WA-Research, a small company in Switzerland that has for 20 years been building and refining its communication software, CommunityCloud, driven largely by the needs and priorities of Dgroups.
Dgroups Partners and WA-Research collaborate to ensure the platform meets a diverse range of needs for online groups, communities of practice and communities of interest. Instead of each developing their own in-house systems to create and manage online communities, the Dgroups Partners have joined forces and resources to develop a common tool and system that can also support cross-organizational communities of practice and foster collaboration across different organizations.
Some key figures are useful to give a sense of the scale of the Dgroups platform:
- At the moment there are more than 700 communities created on Dgroups – they take different shapes and different forms, from public to private, closed or open to the public, moderated or unmoderated. Communities have also many different sizes, some having many thousands of members while others are very small technical groups with just a few people. It all depends on the specific needs of each group.
- Overall there are almost 300,000 registered users on the Dgroups platform – ranging from members of international organizations or government agencies to local and national NGOs, interested individuals and professional groups. So there is a very diverse user base in all of the different communities.
- The platform enables the delivery of more than 400,000 email messages daily – this is the power of the Dgroups platform as many of you will have experienced. The Dgroups platform works better than any other communication tool for meaningful, global, multi-stakeholder communication.
- Dgroups is very simple to use for administrators and for end-users – Users do not have to log in to a web-based platform to participate. Instead, they receive and send directly as part of their everyday email experience. No technical knowledge is needed for users to engage in dialogue – everyone knows how to send and reply to an email!
- Dgroups is multilingual – the user interface is available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Russian. Users can just use the tool in the language in which they are more confident with.
- Dgroups is flexible and scalable – each Dgroup workspace allows for customizable individual profile members and they can be grouped by tree or customizable email delivery preferences from immediate delivery to daily delivery to weekly summaries. There are also RSS feeds and an open API that allow you to integrate a Dgroup into your own web page.
- Dgroups is non-commercial and respectful of privacy – this is very important for many users and administrators. Unlike other services such as Google Groups or Facebook Groups, on Dgroups there is no advertising and data is not being shared with third parties that are then using it for their own purposes. This is one of the very big reasons why people and organizations opt for the use of Dgroups.
Dgroups as a global public good
Last but not least, Dgroups can be described as a global public good – with the Dgroups Partnership making the platform available to actors across the development sector and thereby hosting a large family of discussion groups related to international development. This is a real strength and an opportunity of Dgroups.
Making the case for Dgroups
So if your organization is looking for a solution for online communities, why should you consider joining and using Dgroups?
- Because Dgroups is about appropriate technology – the focus is not about building fancy technology but about what works and what is sustainable over time, not just in terms of financial sustainability but also and especially in terms of access and use.
- Because Dgroups is an effective and flexible tool – group administrators can focus on the content and do not need to spend time with technical setup, or supporting users in answering technical questions. This way, group administrators can really focus on communication, collaboration, information sharing, etc. – basically, to get their work done.
- Because of its shared ownership model – the different Dgroups partners invest just a fraction of the resources that they would need to develop and maintain a similar system in-house.
- Because Dgroups can contribute to reducing the duplication and fragmentation of online communities, which are a barrier to effective development and social justice