A Guidebook for Managing Telecentre Networks/International Telecentre Networks Collaboration
International Telecentre Networks CollaborationEdit
Telecentre people like to work, share and learn together. This occurs in a multiplicity of ways and intensities. Information sharing is often triggered by enthusiastic people who want to learn or by people who want to help their friends do better – either informally or formally. Together, these two groups form the creative core of any telecentre network. When these people are in managerial positions or have a high level of responsibility in telecentre networks, collaborations can quickly turn international.
Telecentre network collaboration is increasing as TCNs continue to encounter benefits from working together. It has helped in the establishment of new telecentre networks and in the strengthening others. Collaboration is also the foundation of telecentre.org community, a community of people and organizations working together to improve the social and economic impact of grassroots telecentres.
This chapter discusses the benefits of international network collaboration and the ways in which networks can collaborate. It also aims to examine the future of network-to-network collaborations and the extent to which the partnerships will be valued and used by members. It also highlights the example of the global telecentre.org Academy as a case study, which since 2008 has provided the ground for collaboration for networks and institutions in Spain, Colombia, Philippines, and Brazil among many others.
Potential and experiences arising from collaboration across telecentre networksEdit
A telecentre network loses its capacity to support, analyze and strengthen telecentres as soon as it stops learning. That is why since 2005, telecentre.org has been at the front of fostering network collaboration and creating new networks. The broad aim of telecentre.org in this context is to connect people and networks, build social capital, facilitate partnerships and sow the seeds of new networks by regularly convening telecentre leaders and champions to share their knowledge.
The benefits of telecentre network collaborations may include:
- New services and products – Such as the telecentre.org Academy (as reviewed in the case study in this chapter);
- Improving network operation – Such as the Kenya Nework of Telecentres (KenTel) which developed its network strategic plan through collaboration with UgaBYTES;
- Opportunities for network staff exchange – For example, where networks from Burkina Faso and Mali collaborated to develop services and online resources;
- Alliances that require efforts for multi-stakeholder resource mobilization and bigger task accomplishment;
- Solving problems (short and long-term) based on information and knowledge sharing.
Emerging forms of international networkingEdit
The rise of telecentre network collaboration has taken three main stages, personal connections, informal networks and formalized networks. For example, the telecentre.org initiative has been supporting networks through the transformation through these stages, where it now acts as a ‘clearance house’ for many telecentre networks and moving towards formalizing into a networks’ network.
In its beginning phase from 2003 to 2005, telecentre.org depended on personal connections and focused on information gathering and knowledge sharing at the global level. It was concerned mostly with skills identification and engagement from existing networks all over the world. But in the process, it built complex informal networks that would later lead to its present, already significantly formalized, stage.
At the launch of telecentre.org in 2005 there were very few TCNs, among them UgaBYTES in Uganda, Somos Telecentros in Latin America, SchoolNet in Bangladesh and the Telecentre Association of South Africa (TASA). The emergence of the telecentre.org initiative had a strong catalyzing effect, and since then, more than 45 telecentre networks or associations have been formed, some of which are included in the table below:
The importance of informal networks cannot be underestimated, and deserve support and cultivation even if they are hard to manage, as exemplified by telecentre.org. Three types of networking modes can be highlighted in informal networks, namely advice networks, trust networks and communication networks. However, none of them operates in isolation, as illustrated by the example drawn from the Telecentre Times, below.
Like when building a network, network collaboration thrives on trust and good relationships. It may be informal or informal. Networks need opportunities to develop the necessary trust as well as ongoing ways of nurturing and deepening relationships. Often, collaboration starts with a face-to-face meeting. Relationships grow faster when networks work together on a concrete activity of mutual benefit and maintain regular communication. They learn to understand and value each other more and more. Therefore, concrete projects such as the Telecentre Times have a kind of ‘double value’: as products of network collaboration as well as in sparking future collaborations among TCNs.
Effective network collaboration also needs leadership and mentoring. As we saw in the case of the Telecentre Times, telecentre.org provided resources for face-to-face meetings, occasionally facilitating online conversations and providing advisory support on a variety of issues. Additionally, telecentre.org encourages and facilitates documentation and sharing of experiences across networks involved in the publication.
Experiences in network collaborationEdit
Networks (and thus their individual nodes) have much to gain from collaboration. As pointed out, together they find innovative solutions to challenges, develop new products, build up community development resources and strengthen institutional capacities.
In East Africa, UgaBYTES brought together network leaders and helped East African national networks like the Kenya Network of Telecentres (KenTel), Burundi Community Telecentre Network (BCTN), Tanzania Telecentre Network (TTN) and Rwanda Telecentre Network (RTN) to work more closely together. UgaBYTES contributed to the development of the mailing list and the website of the French network in Mali (Afriklinks), while Mozambique sent a representative on a one-week staff exchange program to Uganda in order to share experiences between UgaBYTES and the CAICC (The Community Information and Communication Support Centre in Mozambique). Telecentre networks in Latin America started a regular networking Skype chat in 2007. Community content facilitators based in Egypt, Peru, Uganda, India, Sri Lanka, Spain and Benin are also holding regular online chats to share strategies.
Networks have collaborated to create and manage telecentre helpdesks. Helpdesks are forums that enable telecentre practitioners to access support on demand. They use instant messenger (such as Skype, yahoo), emails, telephone and fax among other technology options. There are helpdesks in Portuguese (run by CAICC in Mozambique), in English (run by UgaBYTES in Uganda and the Bangladesh Telecentre Network), in French (run by Afriklinks, the Réseau des Télécentres du Burkina in Burkina Faso) and in Spanish (run by CEPES in Peru). Network leaders regularly discuss how to make the helpdesks effective, accessible and sustainable.
Bilateral, project-oriented collaborations are also occurring. One example involves Brazil’s Telecentre Information and Business Association (ATN) and its exchanges in Mozambique for content adaptation (both being Lusophone countries) and capacity building programs for telecentre operators. The counterpart in Mozambique is the Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) in Maputo, a pioneer in providing internet access that has also helped other digital inclusion initiatives.
Challenges to inter-network collaborationEdit
Network collaboration can offer substantial benefits, but it is not without its challenges. Telecentre network collaborations are constrained by the fact that most networks are not at the same level of development, with some just in the emerging stages while others are well established, perhaps causing a barrier to fluid integration. For instance, it is a significant challenge to agree on procedures and requirements across networks at the stage of emerging large services, because most TCNs are in their initial stages, after all. Advanced members in this position typically feel that collaboration is less rewarding and does not provide mutual benefits. Let us examine other challenges for network collaboration:
- Participation: Most of the time networks actively engage in collaborating in activities of their choice and interest. But a few individuals and networks may appear to collaborate without actually contributing. This skews the process of sharing and learning. And its negative results end up reducing network collaborations.
- Coordination and control: There is a saying that everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility and that somebody will blame everyone for not doing something about that responsibility. In network collaboration there is a very big dilemma in resolving this phenomenon. Members are afraid that once one of them is chosen to coordinate, it is easy for that network to take the credit and in the end assume a controlling role. Or worse even, that once your network is picked to coordinate, you will have to perform all the work!
- Inclusion and focus: Most network collaborations draw on people interested in a specific part of the collaboration – such as about a telecentre.org Academy, staff exchange, or social enterprise models. This approach risks losing out on useful people who are not necessarily interested in several specific themes. A broader inclusion, on the other hand, opens up many opinions and perspectives, although it requires more complex coordination.
- Process and structure: Network collaboration may start from personal contacts and via informal processes before focusing on concrete actions. There is no standard time for network collaboration to mature. The one thing we know, however, is that if networks change the collaborative dynamics too early, the process may fail.
Case study – The telecentre.org AcademyEdit
The telecentre.org Academy is a global initiative to provide telecentre managers with ongoing training, capacity building, and professional development opportunities. Structured as a consortium of national academies and partners with a small global support unit, the academy supports and coordinates training programs, promotes the collaborative development and sharing of resources, and maintains accreditation and certification standards. At the global level, the telecentre.org Academy does the following:
- Establishes national academies in partnership with academic institutions, government, NGOs, and the private sector, and provides support for business and sustainability planning;
- Sets standards to accredit national academies and develops a certification scheme that recognizes telecentre managers' training achievements as well and skills gained through work experience;
- Supports the development of open curricula and promotes the creation, coordination, and improvement of common resources;
- Facilitates events, networking, and knowledge sharing activities, including engaging the community to contribute to a shared, multilingual repository based on UNESCO's Open Training Platform (to include curricula, certification standards, best practices, models, list of experts, etc.)
- Develops a web-based learning management system;
- Establishes partnerships to secure additional resources and support, encouraging other training organizations, technology companies and donor organizations to join as partners in the academy;
- Reaches out to governments and donors supporting telecentres to help them incorporate continuous and sustainable capacity building into their program design.
At the national or regional level, each academy localizes materials, delivers training, and links managers to ongoing mentoring and coaching opportunities. The telecentre.org Academy is a participatory initiative, where national academies and TCNs come together to determine the direction and activities of the global support unit.
The telecentre.org program initiative was launched in 2005 with a commitment to developing the management capacity of telecentre practitioners and network managers around the world. It was clear that any initiative that would respond to this need would have to be owned by the telecentre community and be led by national networks. The initiative would need a multitude of reputable stakeholders like government, universities and other training and curriculum development bodies. Simply put, the initiative required more complex partnerships than could be developed in Ottawa (where telecentre.org was based), if the academy was to be a truly global training infrastructure.
For that reason, telecentre.org spearheaded discussions and provided grants for some networks that were picking up the idea. Involved networks shared their experiences through workshops, telecentre leaders’ forums, and online spaces. Now, national academies have been established in Spain, Colombia, and the Philippines, which are to be followed by Peru, Chile, Brazil, Sudan, Egypt, India, and Mozambique with other academies in the pipeline. It is expected that by 2012 the telecentre.org-supported academies will have trained one million people.
How it worksEdit
The telecentre.org Academy is built on global network collaborations. It is focused on ensuring multi-stakeholder involvement and as such it has remained oriented to building trust and stimulating adaptation of its work to the needs of TCNs around the world. It fosters global debate through an open discussion forum at www.telecentre.org/groups/telecentreacademy, and it contributes training materials to the Open Training Platform run by UNESCO.It also professionalizes, motivates, and supports one million telecentre knowledge workers in the making.
Telecentre.org invites national TCNs to set up their own national academies, committing to help them establish a national-level training system for telecentre workers that use telecentre.org's Curriculum Commons resources. Thus, in the Academy, telecentre.org provides space to members as well as being an active partner, since it also contributes resources, materials and logistics.
The key result from the telecentre.org Academy so far is a strengthened operational capacity for hundreds of thousands of telecentre practitioners, as more networks incorporate the academy as part of their national training programs.
But other things have also happened as a result of this engagement. As an example, the international collaboration activities strengthen the bargaining power of the telecentre community, and it has therefore become simpler for national networks to engage with other partners like universities to support the training agenda of their telecentres.
Quick tips on international telecentre network collaborationEdit
- Embrace ‘win-win’ situations. Right from the start, establish a give-and-take exchange as you begin to build a network. Let all the content for the interaction depends on what’s happening in each participating network’s objectives, strategy, brand, products, services and member experiences; such that everyone feels that he is gaining in one way or the other. The goal should be on how to increase your knowledge and how you will benefit your diverse members.
- Create results and define processes aimed at successful relations. In cases where you have meetings or collaborative engagements, design your meetings to achieve results, process and relationship success. Clear desired outcomes, agendas and effective facilitation to support results and process satisfaction.
- Include members from diverse functions and industries. If you have supporters based on a particular sector (and with differing job functions) include them; this cross-pollination of partnerships and functions adds depth and breadth to networks’ communication and it creates diversity of thought, new perspectives, and alternative approaches to problem solving.
- Build trust. For meaningful collaborations to happen, there should be a certain level of trust between actors. However, trust takes time to build up: it cannot happen overnight, and everything that happens either builds or destroys the trust (where it´s easier to destroy than build). Using interactive collaborations tools to build and maintain trust as well as undertake collaborative works is the best way to get to know a partner.
- Get your own website. First, having and maintaining a website for your network is key to open up to the rest of the world. It gives you a communication platform for all that you do and a market to sell your ideas for whoever is interested. The telecentre.org website has proved to be one of its most powerful tools in enhancing collaborations.
- Meet face-to-face. Meeting people face-to-face remains one the most effective ways to work together, manage knowledge and develop trust. In the telecentre community, several telecentre leaders’ forums – global, continental, regional, and national – have been organized. Since they are expensive and time consuming, their objectives should be thought out carefully to justify the effort.
- Take advantage of online social networks. Today, one of the most common methods of networking is through online social networks. In general, the idea is to create a place where network leaders, members, and all stakeholders can meet to exchange experiences at the lowest cost: online of course. Some of these spaces include ning, Facebook, or Twitter.
- Use online communication channels. Once you have Internet access, you may need to engage in cheap and powerful online communication channels like Skype (for voice and video). List servers/online forums remain essential communication channels that make it easy to share and collaborate ideas asynchronously, regardless of locations. Blogs provide a simple and yet powerful means of sharing and collaborating on key issues of network enhancement, from anywhere (as they are web based).
- In fact, the discussion started as a simple midnight talk between Ndaula Sulah of UgaBYTES and Harsha Liyanage of Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka.
- See www.uem.mz
- Skype, for example, is used for the African Telecentre Network Leaders' monthly meeting and the community facilitators' weekly meeting.