Dgroups research report

After quite some delay, the research report that I completed last year for KIT has just been published. Here is a quote from the Executive summary:

The Dgroups platform currently supports 2,308 dgroups and 88,700 individual users (15 July, 2007), but there has not yet been an analysis of the development role of dgroups on a global scale. Many partners and members of the Dgroups Partnership continue to support the platform, not only because of the access to online knowledge networks with which it provides them, but also because of an intuitive understanding of the processes supported by dgroups.

The study examines whether and how dgroups:

  1. facilitate the spread of information and knowledge among the actors (individual and institutional) working in the thematic areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs);
  2. facilitate learning processes (individual, social, and organizational learning) in the diverse institutions working in areas related to the MDGs; and
  3. facilitate the bridging of the multitude of ‘knowledge divides’ in development between the North and South, and South-South; between different sorts of institutions (multilateral, bilateral, NGOs, universities, ministries) and professional groups (practitioners, researchers and policymakers); and in terms of language.

Data were collected in the first half of 2007 by questionnaire surveys of administrators and moderators, interviews with representatives of partners and member organizations of the Dgroups Partnership, and a focus group meeting of lurkers. Additional data comprises web statistics covering the use of dgroups and secondary sources, including a ‘characterization’ of dgroups in Latin America and the Caribbean which took place in 2004 (Lo and Salas 2004).

The number of dgroups has grown at linear rate since its creation in 2002. The number of additional groups per year has been around 500 each year for the past four years. The number of individual users of dgroups has grown at a non-linear, sigmoid rate, consistent with the trend in adoption of new technology identified in the theory of the diffusion of innovations.

The highest number of additional users (26,993) joining the platform was in 2006. Estimates for 2007 may indicate that while dgroup creation remains roughly the same, the number of new users may peak at 26,000 for the year. Whether the trend in the number of additional users will then decline is unknown. There is evidence that there are fields, notably academia, where penetration of dgroups is very low, indicating that there are still areas for possible expansion of the numbers of both groups and users.

It has been concluded that dgroups facilitate information and knowledge sharing within the subject areas of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and that they also facilitate individual, social and organizational learning within these subject areas. Dgroups also play an important role in bridging the ‘knowledge divides’ between North and South, between different types of institutions, and between different professional groups, as well as crossing the digital divide. An ability to bridge South-South divides and to forge links between different language groups has not been demonstrated.

In terms of development impact, Dgroups was found to represent a very cost-effective manner of hosting groups (an average of Euro 60.70 per dgroup per year) and most moderators felt that participation in dgroups was an ‘effective’ use of their time. Dgroups were also found to have had an organizational impact on the way many of the partner and member organizations work. It is argued that Dgroups provides a unique resource: there is nothing comparable within development that facilitates information and knowledge sharing on such a large scale. Finally, some recommendations are made for the future development of Dgroups.