USAID Education Strategy Virtual Discussion Forum
In January and February 2009, the USAID EGAT/ED office hosted the USAID Education Strategy Virtual Forum on GLP taking advantage of GLP’s secure communities features to promote communication and discussion to gather input from a wide variety of stakeholders regarding the development of a strategic vision for USAID’s programming within the education sector. The first part of the virtual forum was open to the public to participate and share their views on concepts and questions USAID posed regarding the education sector. Discussions were centered on a series of research papers that delved into topics within the three subsectors of education: basic education, higher education, and workforce development. The second part of the forum was designated as USAID-only discussion to offer guidance and review the strategy’s goals and objectives.
The Ed Strategy community was visited by over 550 participants from 105 countries around the world during the five-week discussion period (including those who visited the discussion forums, downloaded papers and contributed to the discussion). Hundreds of posts and messages were created throughout the discussion to express ideas, views and methods. They provided important feedback to the USAID education strategy team in preparing the strategic vision for USAID assistance in education.
When participants were queried about the discussion, more than two-thirds of the respondents characterized their GLP experience as positive and rewarding overall. They saw virtual forums as an accessible, inclusive, and convenient method for gathering inputs from all around the world in a time-flexible fashion, and GLP was a good implementation platform for those purposes. The same majority would recommend the GLP for future collaboration and idea-sharing projects.
Several key lessons were learned while GLP hosted the first forum. It was realized that it is important to understand how platform functionality influences both the participant experience and forum objectives. During the course of the forum, based on user need and feedback, appropriate adjustments were made to streamline the process of how the application impacted participation in the discussion. For example, we increased the amount of time that logged on but inactive users remain logged on so that inattentive users are not inconvenienced. Or, we introduced the ability to automatically add a person as a member of the community when they initially register.
Likewise, we confirmed that the support process always needs to be adapted to reflect administrator and community needs. In this instance, the logistics of using the site frequently required review for ease of use by the participants. GLP worked with the administrator throughout the period to arrange and organize pages so that members could easily access information. How participants could use the functions and participate in the discussions had a direct impact on users perceptions of GLP and strongly influenced their views about using GLP as a future place for discussions.