three weeks of extensive interventions and exchanges, this first
phase of the Focus Group Discussion comes to a close. The purpose
of this synthesis of the discussion is to highlight some of the
key issues that were identified by the discussants and present
some observations and recommendations that will serve to guide
the Orbicom Network as it moves steadfastly toward its agreed
participants in the Focus Group can be viewed as a microcosm of
the Orbicom membership. [Names of the participants of the Focus
Group and their addresses are attached as Annex I.] The two categories
of members were represented, eight UNESCO Chair holders, from
Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Japan, Morocco, Russia, the United
Kingdom, and the United States; and eight Associated members from
Australia, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Nigeria (currently residing
in the USA), South Africa, Sweden, and Uruguay.
addition to representing academia, the Focus Group participants
represented the private and public sectors, as well as all major
disciplines within the field of communications.
this diverse representation, there is no question about the success
of this three week electronic exchange, with over 75% participation.
While it is true that not all the Chair Holders contributed in
the discussion, several of those who were not able to make substantive
input, did indicate their pleasure in being able to follow the
important exchange, and if the discussion had lasted longer, they
would have participated more fully. As it was stated by some of
the participants, work agendas are heavy, people are travelling,
and some of us do not have schedules which permit active participation
in electronic discussion groups, no matter how important the subject.
can not ignore the matter of language. As mentioned in the beginning
of this Discussion, one negative factor was the inability of some
participants to communicate in their language of choice. Lack
of resources, financial and technical did not permit translation
capability. Due to the powerful linguistic skills of Claude-Yves
Charron, we were able to carry out our work in English and French,
with only a three hour delay between translations! As mentioned
in the opening remarks of the Moderator, and repeated by one participant
at the close of the Discussion, the deliberations of the Focus
Group were weakened due to the inability to communicate effectively
in Spanish. Clearly, when the electronic discussion will be opened
to the membership at large, the matter of language of expression
will have to be seriously addressed.
the Montreal Board Meeting and AGM, in April 1999, Martha Stone
raised concern about the lack of consensus amongst the members
with regards to the role, function, and responsibility of the
Orbicom Network. There appeared to be the "two solitudes"
separating the membership, the UNESCO Chair holders and the Associate
members. These two solitudes have also been characterised as "
the paradox" in our discussion. The underlying question is
whether the research agenda of the various UNESCO Chairs are consistent
and complimentary to the research agenda, as reflected in the
Program of the Orbicom Network and approved by the membership.
The creation of Committees had been identified as the mechanism
to implement this Program.
general, the participants believe that the Orbicom Network is
alive, and if not totally healthy, has the framework to ensure
it's vitality and relevance. In response to a request for information
about the existing committees and their membership, the current
committees and their chairmen will be provided as Annex 2 to this
Synthesis. [ It should be noted that at the AGM, in April,
1999, it was agreed that the Committee structure should be reviewed
serve as a basis upon which to initiate discussions on the future
of Orbicom, and on the fostering of partnerships between and among
Orbicom members through the identification and articulation of
research programs, a two-part issues paper on the concept of Networking,
prepared by Martha Stone was tabled. This background document
was followed by three very general questions; following their
discussions more specific issues were raised and discussed fully.
One week was given to the review of the background document and
consideration of the following questions, which were:
Why a global Network?: Do you believe that in order for Orbicom
to be an effective international organisation 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?
Role of a Concept Document: If the answer is yes, do you believe
that the Issue document on Networking is useful in providing a
conceptual basis for developing this consensus?
Missing Elements: Using the Issue 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
the discussion continued on various aspects of the first set of
questions throughout the electronic discussion, three additional
questions were added in an attempt to achieve a balance between
theory and practice. It must be underscored that the interventions
were more far reaching than the six questions posed by the moderator,
and hopefully this synthesis will reflect this. The remaining
structured questions were:
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 a strength, with the ability to influence our societies at
Membership Survey: Building upon the suggestion to undertake an
analysis of the composition of our existing Network how could
it be effectively designed or structured to feed into the membership-wide
electronic discussion group?
Effective models for communication: Recognising 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?
SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES RAISED
response to these lead-in questions, it was agreed that there
must be a full "buy-in" and ownership of the Network
by the membership, and a recognition that the impact of any program
initiative is greater through partnership and alliances. At the
same time, however, there must be due recognition of the diversity
amongst the members. There are differences in the subject
areas of expertise, differences in regional priorities and concerns,
and these in addition to the cultural and linguistic diversity
ensure unique perspectives on the research agenda in communications.
challenge of identifying a research agenda reflecting the
interest of the entire membership is great, however, due to the
richness in the diversity of the members, the outcomes of the
various research initiatives can have a major impact on our respective
societies. It is not necessary for all members to participate
in all research programs at the same time or with the same expectations;
what is required, however, is a universal acceptance of the importance
of the program. To build upon the metaphor of one of the participants,
"how do we swing open the doors between all categories of
Orbicom members, and have the doors remain open?"
was little debate about the contents of the background document
on the concept of Networks. All participants thought it was
a valuable concept piece and extremely useful in getting the Focus
Group Discussion launched. It was, therefore, implicitly approved
as presented, and will be submitted to the membership at large
for final consideration. Thus, it stands as a background document
that can be referred to as required in the future.
from theory to concrete programmatic action was discussed in depth
by the Focus Group participants. There was unanimity in the need
to survey the existing Orbicom membership. Although
there were several views about the nature of the questions to
be asked, there were some common threads. These related to: a)
determining the expectations of Orbicom; b) individual members
specialisations and interests; c) goals for the network, at all
levels - global, regional, national, and personal; d) how can
the differences between the UNESCO Chair holders and the Associate
members be turned in to unifying strengths for the Orbicom Network.
Group participants agreed that a membership survey was
an important step before proceeding to hold a membership-wide
electronic discussion on the activities to be undertaken within
the Network, partnerships, both internal and external, and the
mobilisation of resources to support the research programs of
the network. However, there was also the view expressed that significant
preliminary work had to be done even before the membership survey
was undertaken. It was felt that the participants in the Focus
Group needed to discuss what kinds of individuals and their capacities
are needed to fulfil the stated mission of Orbicom. This discussion
would address the existing organisational structure and modifications
required to strengthen the ability to support the mission. Indeed
the Focus Group should consider the question of whether the existing
committee structure is relevant not only for today, but also for
was stated in several ways, but a critical point made was that
the Orbicom Network is a reality, and this reality must be made
stronger. The role and responsibilities of the various components
of the Network must be clearly articulated. Thus 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 existing Research and publications Committee
and by the Board of Directors, in response to the priority setting
in the various fora. The structure and role of the existing Committees
was discussed, and it seems clear that this is one aspect that
should be addressed in the survey of the membership. There was
also general agreement that the Network, in responding to the
reality of diversity of its membership, should be a decentralised
model. In stating this, there was not a full discussion on the
implications of this model versus a centralised one or variations
of the two.
addressing the issue of partnerships and alliances within the
Network and with external stakeholders, Orbicoms relationship
with UNESCO was cited by many of the participants. Although
the specific problems were not identified, it was clear that most
believed that if the relationship between Orbicom and UNESCO did
not improve, the capacity for the Orbicom Network to be relevant
in international fora would be greatly compromised. This is a
matter for the Board of Directors, together with the Secretariat,
with the issue of partnerships, several references were made to
the interaction between the public and private sectors.
While it may be necessary to clarify the terminology, it was pointed
out by some participants that an international NGO, such as Orbicom
working with the private sector has its challenges. Specifically,
the challenge of responding to the commercialisation of knowledge
will raise issues such as intellectual property rights and copyright,
privacy, and universal access to information. These issues should
not deter the collaboration between public and private sector
initiatives, but it does mean that the implications of such collaboration
must be fully understood.
Elements in the Networks Issues Document: In response to the question
regarding missing elements in the background document on Network
Issues, three items were identified, and they are presented here
In several of the points in this Synthesis strong points are made
concerning the survey of the Membership. Most participants agreed
that the survey should be undertaken as soon as possible. However,
there must be agreement as to how the survey results will be utilised
and how they will aid in the strengthening of the Orbicom Network.
Several participants have recommended the type of questions to
be asked, and to whom they should be posed.
An inventory of resources [monetary, institutional, and personal
/ professional resources] available to Orbicom will be useful
in helping set some parameters to the discussions. This will ensure
realistic [versus ideal] plans and objectives being developed;
A synthesis of the findings of previous landmark studies on international
and regional networks so that we can avoid "past mistakes"
in the construct and methods of our network.
The Secretariat should determine the cost implications (time and
money) in carrying out these last two recommendations.
the seven broad program areas around which the Orbicom Network
was framed in 1994, the Focus Group participants reaffirmed the
three key issues that could serve as the unifying research agenda
for Orbicom. They are:
National Information Policies and Communication Laws;
Access to, (transfer of) New Technologies and their use; and
Professional Training and Ethics
should be noted that these issues are consistent with the Plan
of Action approved by the Montreal Conference in April, when it
was agreed that the first membership-wide moderated forum would
be on Professional Training and Ethics.
examples of ensuring that the Orbicom Network is more than bi-annual
meetings and conferences, three specific proposals were given
as practical initiatives, two in the regions of Africa, and one
Possible collaboration with the University of North Dakota, The
African Council for Communication Education, and Orbicom to provide
practical (not theoretical) communication training in Nigeria;
In connection with the African Conference on the Public Radio-Television
Challenges (organised in collaboration with UNESCO, the World
Council for Radio and Television, and others), it is proposed
that in the name of the Orbicom Network, the Morocco Chair, in
collaboration with the Ivory Coast Chair, initiate a follow-up
program with the conference participants on the public broadcasting
systems. This multi-faceted partnership would ensure a synergy
in the Pan-African region, and would build an important linkage
between the Orbicom Network and the World Council for Radio and
The Chair in Japan and the counterpart in the Philippines have
agreed to develop joint research activities in the field of educational
video programming. A specific area of concern is the production
of courseware on environmental communication using information
and communication technology. Although a regional initiative mobilising
the resources of several actors in different university departments,
there may be the scope for global participation in the future.
The Orbicom Network could be a facilitator in this expansion.
Tools for Communication:
the beginning, the most effective mechanism for communication
and exchange of ideas amongst and between the membership was discussed.
Concern was expressed that e-mail, even in the form of a Listserv
was not the most appropriate vehicule to foster a free and
open exchange of ideas. The example of the successful INFOETHICS
forum was suggested as a possible model for the membership-wide
discussion group or for the Open Forum on Professional Training
and Ethics. Other models, such as the extremely impressive WebCT,
were presented. To ensure that the most appropriate technical
tool is available for the important work that has begun within
this Focus Group, it is proposed that the Web Master, within the
Orbicom Secretariat, consult with members of the Focus Group who
are knowledgeable and interested in electronic discussion group
technology to implement the most appropriate for the needs of
it's aspect of the Orbicom program. The system to be used should
be available by mid-January, 2000.
recognising the linguistic diversity of the membership in the
Orbicom Network, it is critical that the issue of translation
services be addressed. All members must be able to participate
in public fora of debate in the language of their choice, thus
ensuring a truly open door to the exchange of ideas thus making
a dynamic network.
this objective must be pursued, it is well known that translation
and interpretation services are costly, and Orbicom as an organisation
is not strong financially. Thus the Secretariat, with the support
of the Board of Directors must give serious attention to the translation
process required to support the policy of linguistic equity.
repeat the question of one participant, what needs to be done?
is clear that a very dynamic, open, and enthusiastic discussion
has taken place over the last three weeks amongst communication
professionals who are committed to the strengthening of a successful
Orbicom Network. It was originally envisaged that this phase would
lead to a larger, membership-wide electronic discussion on the
structure and research agenda of the Network. Based upon the discussion
to date it is also clear that the work of this Focus Group, a
group of committed members of the Orbicom Network, is not completed.
Reference only need be made to the points under Recommendations
participants of the Focus Group must discuss future actions, the
phases for achieving these actions and their respective role or
tasks in these actions. For example, the launch of the work of
the Focus Group, Phase I, was achieved during the period
of November - December 1999.
Action and Preliminary Time Table:
II will be the Membership Survey, referred to under Summary
of Key Issues Raised and in the Recommendations and Proposals.
The recommended time for the Survey will be 17 January - 12 February
is proposed that Phase III will be the electronic Membership
Forum, from 6 - 24 March 2000. The structure and content of the
Forum will be heavily influenced by the Membership Survey.
Summary of all of the above, Phase IV will be presented
to the Board of Directors at their 30 March, 2000, meeting, and
the results presented to the AGM, during the summer of 2000 (to
is indeed a very ambitious schedule, and it must not be forgotten
that most of you are participating in the exciting initiative
on a voluntary basis. Thus the strengthening of the Orbicom Network
must be done within very busy and demanding schedules. Therefore,
it is important to receive feedback regarding the viability of
the time frame proposed for the remaining phases and the implications
of the work involved. We have reached a stage in the evolution
of the Orbicom Network where failure is not an option.