Key Issues and Recommendations


INTRODUCTION

During the Annual General Meeting of Orbicom, in April 1999, an Action Plan was approved. One of the activities to be undertaken by the Secretariat during the coming year was a membership-wide discussion on Networking. Specifically, it was envisaged that this initiative would make a major contribution to the strengthening of the very young international network on communication, Orbicom.

The decision to undertake this Networking initiative was based, in part, on the presentation of Part 1 of a Network Issues Paper by Martha Stone. This concept paper was expanded later during the year. It is this two-part Issues paper that has served as the background document for the Networking initiative, and can be referred to at the Orbicom Web site (http://www.orbicom.uqam.ca/en/forum).

This is the final report of the Networking initiative, which concluded its activities on the 5th of April, 2000. The initiative was divided into three phases, with the objectives of: 1) forming a consensus on the nature, role, and structure of the Network; 2) defining the responsibilities of the members of the Network — Chair holders, Associate members, and the Network’s Secretariat; and 3) proposing project activities that would be the embodiment of the collaborative nature of the Network.

FOCUS GROUP ON NETWORKING

The first phase was an electronic Focus Group on Networking. Twenty members of Orbicom, representing the rich diversity of the Network membership, in terms of geography and subject specialization, participated in a three-week listserv discussion. A two-part background concept document on Networking, prepared by the Moderator, Martha Stone, set the context for the discussion. In total, six questions were considered. Initially, three general questions were posed and the discussion of these lead to three additional detailed questions:

1. Why a Global Network? Do you believe that in order for Orbicom to be an effective international organization in the field of communications, there must be a consensus amongst its members as to the nature of the Orbicom Network, that is, its construct, function, and responsibilities?

2. Role of a Concept Document: If the answer to the above question is yes, do you believe that the Concept document on Networking is useful in providing a conceptual basis for developing this consensus?

3. Missing Elements: Using the Concept document as a building block, what elements are missing from the concepts presented in the document that are required to make the transition from theory to concrete program action?

4. Strengthening our existing Network: How can the characteristics of the two categories of members, the UNESCO Chair holders and the Associate members be turned into a powerful voice in the international arena of communications? How to turn what might be seen as a weakness into strength, with the ability to influence our societies at all levels?

5. Membership Survey: Building upon the suggestion to undertake an analysis of the composition of our existing Network, how could it be effectively designed and structured to feed into the membership-wide electronic discussion group?

6. Effective Models for Communication: Recognizing the need to balance content and process, what models are available to ensure open and dynamic communications between and amongst the membership of the Orbicom Network?

It is important to note that a dynamic and open discussion of these questions and related issues resulted in a common view that the Orbicom Network although still evolving, with all the inherent challenges, is alive and well. There is clear evidence that a solid framework exists for a vital and relevant Network. [Please note that the Synthesis of the Focus Group Discussion (15 November to10 December, 1999) has been posted on Orbicom web site, and a summary has been published in the Winter issue of the Orbicom Newsletter.]

MEMBERSHIP SURVEY

The Focus Group participants felt strongly that a Membership Survey was an important activity to be undertaken before proceeding to a membership wide electronic discussion. It was seen as necessary to 1) determine the perceived requirements of the Orbicom Network; 2) ascertain the individual member’s specialization and interests; 3) goals for the network, at all levels — global, regional, national, and personal; 4) and views about how the differences between the UNESCO chair holders and the Associate members can be turned into unifying strengths for the Orbicom Network.

The Membership Survey, designed by the Secretariat, with input by the Focus Group Moderator, concluded in mid-February 2000. The analysis of the Survey has been published in the Orbicom Newsletter and is posted on its web site. However, for this report, it is useful to repeat a few findings, for they are relevant to the final observations and recommendations.

The ORBICOM Network

The most important characteristic of the Network is the sharing of knowledge and experiences with other professionals and academics, both inside and outside the same area of specialization.

All categories of members wish to contribute to the Network by participating in research projects and activities, discussion groups and seminars in order to share their experiences and particular perspective on issues.

Information exchanges and personal contacts are prerequisite to the functioning and sustainability of the Network. There is a requirement to establish new alliances with other like-minded organizations and agencies (international NGOs, multilateral agencies, etc.); and help UNESCO Chair Holders and Associate members work together.

Networking Environment

For most members, e-mail discussion groups allow the highest level of interaction amongst members. This mechanism is seen as encouraging the sharing of experiences regardless of geographical location, and it is seen as saving precious human and financial resources.


Limitations to using electronic communication tools were identified as a lack of standardization of communication systems, and a lack of face-to-face contact.

The Orbicom Web site was identified as an important tool to facilitate in meeting the objective of information exchange and helping Network members work together. Many members see the Web site as the venue for learning about the activities and research of other members, as well as a source for keeping up to date on current news. This being said, it is also true that lack of time was credited for not visiting the Orbicom web site frequently.

ON-LINE FORUM ON NETWORKING

The third phase of the Networking initiative began on March 14th, 2000, with the beginning of a two-week membership-wide On-Line Forum on Networking.

Members, after registering to participate in the On-Line Forum, were invited to read the background documents that led up to this final phase. (They have been referred to previously.) The central question addressed in this Forum was: "What to do together, and how?"

To set the parameters for having an interactive discussion on this fundamental question several days were allocated to discussing the Roles and Responsibilities of the membership of Orbicom. Specifically, the following questions were posed:

1. Strengths and Weaknesses: What are the strengths that our categories of members, UNESCO Chair holders and Associates, bring to Orbicom? If weaknesses do exist, how can they be addressed?


2. Focus: If we accept that an international network is an efficient mechanism to address the critical issues in communication, in broad terms, where should we be focusing our energies in making the Orbicom Network viable?


3. Regional and International Joint Initiatives: Our membership represents various communities, as well as subjects of interest. To ensure that we, the members, collaborate meaningfully amongst ourselves, what do you see as concrete joint initiatives that we could undertake, over the next two years, either on a regional or an international basis?


4.
The Secretariat: Based upon the Membership Survey responses, there appears that there is some confusion regarding the role of the Orbicom Secretariat and what it does. Can we discuss some of the ways in which the Secretariat can support the collaborative programs that hopefully will develop? Given that the Secretariat’s role is more than financial, what are some of the other areas in which the Secretariat should be engaged?

These were the principal questions around which the discussion took place. It is worthy of note that the results of the Membership Survey were reflected in this discussion. For although some attention was given to the role and responsibilities of the members, almost all the interventions addressed the issue of focus and proposals for joint initiatives that would demonstrate the collaborative nature of an international communications network. The Summary of the Discussion on Roles and Responsibilities presents the detailed responses to the above questions so they will not be repeated in this report.

OBSERVATIONS

Emerging Networks — challenges

The following is a quote from one of the interventions in the On-Line Forum on Networking:

"The costs of networks in money, time and energy are high, especially at the front end, making any network which does not last beyond 2-3 years especially wasteful. Often to the frustration of donors and [network] members who want quick results and clear impacts, networks need time to: a) to develop, estimates are 5-7 years; b) to establish links with policy-makers; and c) to generate legitimacy within the communication sector.

Pressures put on networks to show concrete products and progress in the short-term, and decisions to withdraw support quickly where they don’t, ironically risk undermining the very capacity and impact for which they aim.

Networks don’t produce much fruit in only a few years; the foundation is set and opportunities exist, but the risk is that everything will disappear if donors back out to soon…"

A critical challenge to a viable Network is the time required for building a sense of solidarity and ownership. At this stage of Network development there is a need to build a sense of solidarity amongst our members, between our UNESCO Chair holders and Associate members within a regional and within the Network as a whole. It is the sense of ownership that takes time. For without that ownership, that "buy-in" by all members, the Network will not survive.

Roles and Responsibilities

In all three phases of this initiative, the participants stated clearly that the roles and responsibilities of the various partners in the network must be clearly articulated. There should be no confusion about the facilitating role of the Secretariat; the policy making function of the Board of Directors, or the research agenda setting by the responsible committee and by the Board of Directors.

Clarity is required on the status of the permanent Committees. Although the 1999 Annual General Meeting approved the restructuring of Committees, this information needs to be presented again to the membership. The implication is obvious when priorities are set for the project proposals approved at the AGM and the large number of joint initiatives proposed during the On-Line Forum on Networking.

The combination of academic and practical knowledge is strength of the Orbicom Network. Although not fully utilized, there is a unique potential in the blend of academics and professional practitioners, grouped in categories of UNESCO Chair holders and Associate members. The later have a chance to capitalize on the research carried out by the Chair holders or made available via them. The former have the opportunity to generate interest in business and other circle for their work, to get input, not only by their applied research, but also to their basic research and theory building from experienced professionals. This concept aims at tearing down barriers between academics and professional practitioners.

Their exists an inherent weakness in the interface between the practitioners and the academics, which must be overcome. Firstly, we do not really communicate across the dividing line of theory and practice. Secondly, each member, either by category or sector, believes that his or her category or sector is the most important. On one hand it is perceived that the Chair holders, in general, prefer to discuss and network amongst themselves. While on the other hand, the professional practitioners question what value they have within the Orbicom Network, and what contribution they might make. It must never be forgotten that both categories of members joined the Network to assist in the development of communication research, and interventions, and the dissemination of its results.

Moving toward a solution, we, as members of the Orbicom Network, "must respect our differences and tackle the same subjects from our different perspectives…" We have within our membership those, because of their backgrounds, who are suitable "bridge-builders" between the two communities. "We must take that responsibility very seriously, in order not to waste a truly valuable intellectual capital."

Partnership and Alliances

As the Orbicom Network evolves, partnerships and alliances, external to the network, with like-minded actors will have to be forged. During the three-phases of discussions, Orbicom’s relationship with UNESCO was frequently cited. Specific issues to be addressed have not been articulated, however, several discussants believed that if the relationship between Orbicom and UNESCO did not improve, the capacity for the Orbicom Network to be relevant in the international fora would be greatly compromised. There is evidence that this matter is currently being addressed by the Secretariat.

To foster partnerships and alliances with multilateral organizations, the Network, via the Board of Directors and the Committee structure should identify issues that would link Orbicom with like-minded agencies on a long term basis. Members who are knowledgeable about these critical issues of concern to Orbicom could serve as representatives or advocates at international fora, i.e. UNESCO, WIPO, and WTO.

The subject of partnership was also raised with respect to the interaction between the Orbicom Network and the private sector. This is an area that requires more focused attention, however, the fact that there are challenges deserves comment at this time.

Of major importance is the challenge of responding to the commercialization of knowledge that raises issues such as intellectual property rights and collaboration between public and private sector initiatives. The implications of such collaboration, although of great potential, must be fully understood.

Proposals for Joint Initiatives: As mentioned previously, the Summary of Joint Initiatives will be attached as Annex 1 to this report. However, it is important to make some observations to place the list in context.

Two joint initiatives, the Knowledge Network and Learning to Learn Regional Training Workshops were approved at the Annual General Meeting in April 1999. Although a budget has not been clearly identified, these two initiatives represent the support of the membership, by its approval. In setting program priorities, this reality must be taken into consideration.

Budgetary considerations. With the exception of one or two initiatives, there is no reference to budget or proposed sources of funding. This is a critical issue, for it is clearly understood that the Secretariat does not have the resources to fund program activities. In the one or two exceptions, there are indications regarding possible sources of funding. However, as of this report, there is no overall funding strategy for Orbicom. This fact underscores the need for a dynamic committee structure that will address program priorities and funding strategies.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Committee Structure: In nearly eight weeks of consultation with the membership of the Orbicom Network, valuable input was received about why the Orbicom Network should exist, what it should be, and what activities should be undertaken to visibly demonstrate a dynamic and relevant network. It is interesting to note that very little discussion was directed to the process for achieving these objectives.

If the desired results are going to be realized, it is recommended that the committee structure be revitalized and strengthened. In April of last year, the AGM approved the restructuring of the formal Committees. Little has happened since then. If any of the joint initiatives are going to be implemented, after the approval of the Board of Directors, there must be an active and rigorous Committee that will provide oversight to the various project initiatives. It is therefore recommended that the name of the Research and Publications Committee be changed to the Program Committee. The Committee must be involved in the priority setting and its chairman must be accountable to the Board of Directors for the achievements of the Network’s program.

Resource Mobilization Strategy: Reference has already been made to a funding strategy for the many join initiatives that have been proposed. This is only one component of a Resource Rationalization Strategy, for there are many activities and functions that require financial resources.

Little has been said about the role of the Secretariat beyond that of facilitating the collaborative efforts of the network. However, it is the Secretariat that requires significant core funding, which in today environment is very difficult to obtain. The possible sources of funding for core support are completely different from project funding sources.

Financial resources are just a component of a Resource Mobilization strategy. One must factor in support "in kind", selling of services and expertise, etc. If the Network is going to remain viable, it must be able to demonstrate to all categories of donors that a resource rationalization strategy exists. The policy-making role of the Board of Directors and the implementation role of the Secretariat must also be very clearly articulated.

It is strongly recommended that a Resource Mobilization Strategy be incorporated in the Five-Year Business Plan for the Orbicom Network.

The issue of the relationship between the public and private sector, although raised as important, did not receive serious attention during the various discussions. It is therefore recommended that a working group, under the guidance of the Finance Committee present a position paper on the Orbicom Network and the Private Sector. The Board of Directors should approve the Terms of Reference, and the position paper with recommendations should be presented to the Board, via the Finance Committee.

The importance of fund raising can not be over emphasized. This is a function that can not be carried out by the Secretariat alone. It is therefore recommended that members of the Finance Committee be selected on their ability to provide sound fiscal advice to Orbicom as well as their ability to garner resources for the approved programs of the Network. This must be done within the context of the Resource Mobilization Strategy.

The Two Solitudes: Many excellent ideas have been expressed during this Networking initiative about how to break down the perceived barriers between the community of members represented by the Chair holders and the community of members represented by the Associate Members. The recommendations for action are contained in the background and synthesis documents referred to earlier.

As a short-term action, it is recommended that if the meeting of UNESCO Chair holders is held in Mexico, this year, that the Secretary General make a presentation of the Report of the Networking initiative; with special attention given to the discussions on the two categories of members working together, and the proposed joint initiatives that should be exciting to all potential partners.

As a more permanent action, it is recommended that the newly named Program Committee be co-chaired by members from the two categories Network members, a UNESCO Chair holder and an Associate member. This will ensure that the two perspectives will be brought to bear on the decisions regarding program initiatives.

During the various discussions of the Network initiative, the two categories of members, the UNESCO Chair holders and the Associate members were referred to when speaking of barriers to communication or information exchange.

However, when reviewing several of the joint initiatives and the narrative in support of the proposal, it is clear that many members interested in development communication believe that their sector is not being given due attention. This is particularly true when some members are working in regions of the world where electronic communication is difficult.

It is recommended, therefore, that as the Board of Directors and the Secretariat prioritize program initiatives and arrange for their implementation, that due recognition be given to the communication challenges of members in developing regions of the world.

Two-way Dialogue amongst the Network Members: In reviewing the proposals for joint initiatives, it is interesting to note that the outputs for some are discussion groups, usually electronic. Even though the active participation in the Focus Group and the On-Line Forum was not very high, it was enthusiastic, and it was quite evident that this was a very effective instrument for two-way consultation. Valuable input can be obtained for policy setting and program development. This mechanism for communication should continue.

It is recommended, therefore, that a mechanism be created to facilitate dialogue amongst the membership.

As an example, the Secretariat could host a non-moderated informal "discussion room" on the web site. Members would be encouraged to present issues they would like to be discussed. In this scenario, the presenter will serve as the moderator for a designated period of time.

This will be a visible indicator of the ability of the membership to voice their opinions and to be heard throughout the year. The result should be full ownership of the Network.

Martha B. Stone & Claude-Yves Charron
International Secretariat
ORBICOM