Summary of Discussion on Roles and Responsabilities

Online Forum from March 13th, 2000 to March 27th, 2000

The following summary serves as a recap of the discussions to date. It's purpose is twofold: 1) to provide a quick update for those who are just joining the On-Line Forum on Networking; and 2) to try to address the challenge of multi-lingual interventions by our discussants. We attempt this multi-lingual summary recognizing that justice can not be done to the richness of the content of the contributions to this debate.

The central question of the On-Line Forum on Networking is "What to do together, and how"?

The first set of issues addressed: Roles and Responsibilities. It was considered important to have a common base of understanding before considering the "what and how" of collaboration at different levels and in different environments. However, it became evident that the distinction was not very clear, thus perhaps it was not necessary.

The summary is presented under the four broad questions, will a fifth category: Additional Comments.

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

The strength of Orbicom is that its membership represents many subject areas in the field of communication as well as many sectors.

The strength of an international, as well as continental, network is the interaction with the members, regular contacts, joint projects, mutual enrichments, response of immediate needs, and connecting research undertaken in universities and by practitioners in the public and private sectors.

The strength is the combination of academic and practical knowledge.

The unique potential (not yet utilized) is our blend of academics and professionals, grouped in categories of chair holders and associates. The associates have a chance to capitalize on the research carried out by the chair holders or made available via them. The chair holders have the opportunity to generate interest in business and other circles for their work, to get input, not only to their applied research, but also to their pure re search and theory building from experienced professionals. This concept aims at tearing down barriers between academics and professionals.

A serious weakness is that each member (chair holder or associate) believes that his or her category is the most important. This belief is also reflected in the subject areas, as well.

Weaknesses: The ivory towers exist. The academics in general seem to prefer to discuss and network between themselves, while the professionals wonder what use they might have within Orbicom, and what contribution they might make to the network. Both communities joined the network to assist in the development of communication research AND INTERVENTIONS and the dissemination of its results.

A weakness is that we do not really communicate across the dividing line of theory and practice.

As a solution, what we need to do is to respect our differences and to tackle the same subjects from our different perspectives, ie one side providing the "intellectual base, the other implementation.

Solution: Those of us who participated in the first round of exchange of views (The Focus Group) are probably the most suitable bridge-builders between the two spheres. We must take that responsibility very seriously, in order not to waste a truly valuable intellectual capital.

2. A 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?

From the perspective of a developing country, it is important that Orbicom initiatives also address the needs of Developing countries. It is important to share experiences in development communication and other related projects in Latin America, Asia, and other regions. Community and rural radio are considered as the most effective media to reach a large part of the population in their respective language. This will ensure that the message is disseminated to others.

A specific recommendation: In the short term, a project is recommended to compare the experiences of the use of community media in support of development projects. Future projects could be adapted by building on the strengths and weaknesses of these experiences.

Two areas for focus:
1) The results and progress in communication research that has already been achieved by the chairs must be made available in a suitable format to the network and distributed externally to generate awareness of the resources possessed by Orbicom.
2) Medium term: focus on Development Communication.

Core-Literature for Development Communication Initiative. A proposal that Orbicom membership mobilizes the compilation and publication of the core literature in Development Communication. This involves the collection reviewing, and selection of the key publications, papers, articles, and audio-visual material that shaped the discipline over the past three decades. The end product could be a multimedia CD-ROM and/or web site that contains an abstracted bibliography of the selected literature AND the complete documents and materials that are abstracted.

This core literature will be an important tool for teaching, research, and continuing education in the discipline by both practitioners and researchers.

It is recommended, however, that the methodology should be designed together by the project team. Mechanisms will be required to evolve a peer-review process, and the criteria for deciding what is "core" to the evolution and growth of the discipline.

Regarding focus: Rather than analysis of the past, we should address the future. Is a starting point a process of identifying communication issues of the future? Communication of the new definition of sovereignty; human rights; economic migration issues; global governance (with NGOs?) This may give opportunities for both the thinker and the doer.

3. Regional and international Joint Initiatives: Our membership represents various communities as well as subject 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?

With respect to joint initiatives, the question remains — how best to organize this. If regional networks were established involving associate members and chair holders, they could each define areas of interest within the Orbicom framework. As the Membership Survey suggested a wider base of interest than those initially listed, this will need to be addressed to ensure that each member can make a contribution they feel happy with and which is valuable to them and to Orbicom. Perhaps this is best done at a regional level also.

There must be a way of going beyond some of these "solitudes", and find a balance between intra-regional and inter-regional initiatives. There is a great deal to learn form the experiences of community radio in Latin America, and some of these experiences have a good degree of transferability for actors in other regions, in West Africa, South East Asia, and elsewhere. One of the principals of our network should also be to contribute to this international level of exchanges.

With Orbicom’s current financial situation, one cannot count on regular meeting such as last year’s conference in Montreal other than every five years or so. On the other hand, progress cannot be achieved by correspondence only. We need to meet, sit down together, understand each other better, and draw up action plans, before we return to our home bases and continue our joint initiatives from there.

4. The Secretariat: It appears that there is some confusion about 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?

[N.B. There was very little discussion on this issue. This may be an indication that there is no confusion regarding the role of the Secretariat. In addition, it may be more appropriate to discuss this question when we consider PROCESS in greater detail.]

In addition to the financial aspects, the Secretariat should facilitate the collaboration and organization of inter-regional programs, many of which have already be mentioned.

The Secretariat should assume a facilitating role for joint initiatives between chair holders, associate members and other key actors in IEC... This could involve regional meetings (either face to face, or virtual); publications on the different theoretical models in different sectors; and a publication on Case Studies, presenting lessons learned. The Secretariat should also foster dialogue amongst researchers, program managers in the field, and decision makers in donor agencies.

5. Additional Comments: Regarding the responsibilities of the categories of members… It is the chair holders who should begin by giving their views or what they think. The associate members, then could do the same.

With reference to the benefits of being a part of an international network: It is much easier to participate and obtain value from an international network, if one has already had experience formal networking at the national or international level. This experience permits better formulation of interest groups and group needs, particularly when it concerns complementary or joint projects.

... We should identify issues which could link us on a long term basis. For instance, we should identify issues of concern to the Orbicom Network for which members from a least two continents would serve as representatives or advocates at international fora, such as UNESCO and the WTO.

Martha Stone & Claude-Yves Charron