What is the secret to the SuSanA Discussion Forum's success?

  • eendres
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What is the secret to SuSanA's success?

From what I've seen, this forum might be the most successful and active discussion forum I've come across in the "development" space. As a former WASH practitioner, I found this community extremely useful. I now work in the health sector on an initiative called the Center for Health Market Innovations (healthmarketinnovations.org). I think our community would benefit from a forum like this one... but I wonder what makes SuSanA "work"? I'd like to hear from you:

1. Why do you participate in or follow this forum? How do you benefit from it?

2. What attracted you to the forum?

3. If you've ever started or moderated your own discussion on this forum, what was your experience? Did you have any concerns? Did you make the decision on your own or did you have someone encourage you or help you?

4. What's the most useful or helpful thing about the SuSanA forum?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Emily Endres
Senior Program Associate

Results for Development Institute
Washington, DC
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  • Marijn Zandee
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Re: What is the secret to SuSanA's success?

Dear Emily,

Thank you for you high praise.

One place to look would be the archive of "featured users", some of the questions you ask are also answered there.

My personal answers:

I started partaking because I really needed the inputs of peers when I entered the WASH sector. Now, I still ask questions from time to time. One reason is that it is a faster way to get good information than spitting through a stack of pdfs from various projects (that only report their successes, not the things that did not work out that well). Further, I often contribute, because I feel I have something useful to say after 8 years experience :).

I think a major success factor is the very dedicated moderation (a big thanks to Elisabeth here!). I think having paid staff in Eschborn also helps. For one, it makes that the forum evolves technically over time. The paid positions and funding also make that professional user surveys for quality improvement have been done (and followed-up). Further, it was probably helpful that we migrated from a yahoo group that had a core of experts with great enthusiasm and dedication to their subject.

I think it is great that we have managed to foster a spirit of debate, while maintaining a respectful tone. Again, moderation (also behind the scenes) has been very important here. Perhaps the fact that many people that are active on the forum know each other as real people in the real world also helps.

Finally, it would be great if some of the people who post less regularly would also answer here.

Marijn Zandee

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  • F H Mughal
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Re: What is the secret to SuSanA's success?

Dear Emily,

I support Marijin's views. This forum is a great source for information. The forum's administrators are highly dedicated staff. Elisabeth is a very hard working. Their efforts keep this forum lively and interesting.

Regards,
F H Mughal

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  • cecile
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Re: What is the secret to SuSanA's success?

Dear all,

I am personnally very satisfied with the level of participation of practitioners in the sense that my questions are usually answered by practioners very quickly and in a very professional way. If I remember well, one of the last questions I posted got 5 answers, from the usual very active persons but also from other or "new" members and I was satisfied with it.
Whenever a question remained unanswered, Elizabeth spotted it and reactivated the discussion.

I am part of other discussions fora and I actually seldom read the discussions nor contribute, except on rare occasions. Why? Because I am used to SuSanA's interface and I am satisfied with the information I get. This leads to the following point: some practioners may be members of SuSanA but contributing to other discussion fora for different reasons. And then, they cannot be everywhere nor write everywhere.

An idea would be to look at other discussion fora and try to see if there are topics that we don't discuss on SuSanA, sectors that we do not reach, or discussions in which practioners contribute more? Of course the idea is not to "steal" contributors but to get inspired from good practice of others.
If you find that the idea is good, you could assign a couple of us to review other fora and give you a feed back? I am sure I would end up contributing more to these fora as well!
Best,

Cécile

Cécile Laborderie
MAKATI Environnement
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  • neilpw
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Re: Reply: How to increase the participation of

Thanks Cecile,

"An idea would be to look at other discussion fora and try to see if there are topics that we don't discuss on SuSanA"

Yes indeed. I would be happy to help identify such fora. We could create a visual map of communities of practice that look at issues relating to SuSanA's remit?

Best wishes, Neil

Dr Neil Pakenham-Walsh MB,BS, DCH, DRCOG HIFA Coordinator Co-director, Global Healthcare Information Network Chair, Dgroups Foundation ( www.dgroups.info ) Corner House, Market St Charlbury, Oxfordshire OX7 3PN, UK

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Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network. He is also currently chair of the Dgroups Foundation ( www.dgroups.info ), a partnership of 18 international development organisations promoting dialogue for international health and development. He started his career as a hospital doctor in the UK, and has clinical experience as an isolated health worker in rural Ecuador and Peru. For the last 20 years he has been committed to the global challenge of improving the availability and use of...
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  • eendres
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Thanks Marjin, F H Mughal, and Cecile! All great insights so far.

What I'm hearing is that much of SuSanA's success has to do with:

1. Full-time, dedicated, and effective moderators. (With lots of specific praise for Elisabeth!)

2. SuSanA has a track record of delivering useful information and answers, so it may be a favorite over other fora out there.

3. Participants may be motivated by a need for information, but also a desire to give information. So there's some satisfaction in giving advice as well as receiving it.

4. It helps that many members of this community know each other personally.

What else would people add to this list? What motivates you to participate? What do you enjoy talking about on this forum?


Cecile, thank you for your idea and your offer to scope out other fora! What other WASH fora do you know about? Any fora on global health?

Marjin - I'll definitely check out the archive of featured users. Thanks for the tip!

Emily Endres
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Results for Development Institute
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

eendres wrote: What other WASH fora do you know about? Any fora on global health?


dgroups.org/ seems to also have a few global health "communities" (basically mailing lists), but no idea how active they are. The RWSN moderated WASH (mostly water) lists there are fairly active however.

Overall I would say SuSanA stands out as being fairly active, but to be honest that's a bit of a one eyed man amongst the blind kind of thing. The really active participants of this forum are less than 50 or so (the "regulars")... which is really nothing comparatively speaking. Even if you apply the 1% rule ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%25_rule_(Internet_culture) ) that is a tiny reach compared to the number of persons actively working in the sanitation sector. I don't want to sound so negative about it (as SuSanA is great)... but this sector as a whole has a huge information sharing and communication problem.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
WASH news aggregator at: news.watsan.eu
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  • neilpw
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Hello Kris and all

"dgroups.org/ seems to also have a few global health "communities" (basically mailing lists), but no idea how active they are. The RWSN moderated WASH (mostly water) lists there are fairly active however"

I'm currently the chair of Dgroups - you can find out more about our work here: www.dgroups.info

Best wishes, Neil

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global health community with more than 17,000 members in 177 countries. He is also current chair of the Dgroups Foundation ( www.dgroups.info ), which supports 700 communities of practice for international development, social justice and global health. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Neil Pakenham-Walsh is the coordinator of the HIFA campaign (Healthcare Information For All) and co-director of the Global Healthcare Information Network. He is also currently chair of the Dgroups Foundation ( www.dgroups.info ), a partnership of 18 international development organisations promoting dialogue for international health and development. He started his career as a hospital doctor in the UK, and has clinical experience as an isolated health worker in rural Ecuador and Peru. For the last 20 years he has been committed to the global challenge of improving the availability and use of...
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  • eendres
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

JKMakowka wrote:

eendres wrote: What other WASH fora do you know about? Any fora on global health?

but this sector as a whole has a huge information sharing and communication problem.


What do you think the root of that problem is? Do you have a picture in your mind about what the perfect knowledge sharing and communication method, or tool, would be?

I appreciate the "realism" you're bringing to the conversation, Kris. It's good to hear from folks who feel that the SuSanA forum is not as active as it could be. I share the same skepticism about online communities and fora. Which is why I'm trying to gather as much insight and information and criticism as I can!

I've heard of Dgroups before... Neil, I'd love to chat with you more about your experience. I'll reach out to you via email.

Emily Endres
Senior Program Associate

Results for Development Institute
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

I don't think it is primarily a technical issue (with some specific exceptions related to the use of mailing lists I'll explain further below), but of course some commercial communication platforms like Facebook are technically more convenient to use than SuSanA. They are also more agile in their platform updates, while SuSanA was technically quite outdated for years, until the recent refresh...

But one of the big factors is a general perception that internet exchange plattforms are something private (that quite ironic actually, given how Facebook exploits that commercially...) and you should't "waste" working hours "surfing the web".
I have certainly been looked at strangely by collegues for openly using SuSanA during my work, while they sneekingly did a "quick" check on Facebook using their mobiles or something like that.
I have also been activity discuraged by a previous employer to have a work related Twitter account, as that is something "our PR department should do". Similarly there are all kinds of sheningans related to "respecting communication lines" and all information having to be "filtered" through several persons before being "published" etc.

This is of course by no means limited to this sector (and I realize that this is very much looking through the large NGO employee perspective only), but I guess that people working for NGOs more often seem to have some kind of "inner moral boss" that for rather misled reasons makes them guilty about spending paid time on things such as SuSanA.

This also explains the relative popularity to seemingly semi-private email lists (but usually they have a public archive really no different from forums), as most people already waste (without quotes :p ) a lot of time reading and replying to emails and this is seen as acceptable. Certainly no-one seems to think twice about quickly skimming the SuSanA newsletter in Outlook on "company time".
While this is on one hand a strong reason to have a e-mail system, it at the same time destroys pretty much any kind of active discussion as there is usually a technical barrier to directly contributing from outlook, and by the very nature of emails these lists tend to tether off into direct one-on-one replies, often repeating what others already wrote just because you had not yet checked "that other email" send a bit later.

Other than those, I can think of plenty reasons related to "silo thinking" and "not in my organisation" and other such reasons why professional exchange is quite limited in this sector and often dwindles into formulaic "exchange of numbers" also on offline professional exchange platforms such as cluster meetings.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
WASH news aggregator at: news.watsan.eu
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Came across this somewhat related article that outlines the (hidden) benefits and caveats of using social tools at the workplace:
hbr.org/2017/11/what-managers-need-to-know-about-social-tools
I guess there are some insights in it that would also apply to a network like SuSanA.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
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  • muench
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Re: How to increase the participation of "practitioners" in SuSanA? - And do we have lurkers or empowered listeners?

Hi Kris,

Thanks for the interesting link.

I found this part about "lurkers" very interesting:

That’s because learning on social tools happens at a remove, while others go about their work, so people don’t think of it as learning.

It’s actually a bit like spying or eavesdropping. Research shows that people spend much more time as “lurkers” or “observers” on social tools than they do as content producers—writing posts, sharing information, or creating documents and videos. We’ve found that people can acquire at least two types of knowledge this way: direct knowledge and metaknowledge.

Employees gather direct knowledge when they observe others’ communications about solving problems.


It's reassuring for me to know. I'd say we have thousands of lurkers here. And so often I myself go to discussion forums on other topics, read people's posts and have found my solution without ever having to post my question (e.g. recently I looked up bike helmet safety).

The only small problem for us as providers of the platform is that we have no way of measuring this impact. We can measure posts per months but not how much people learn from reading other people's posts. This page shows the stats that we gather for the forum:
forum.susana.org/forum/statistics

Interestingly, the most posts per month were made in 2014-2015 (the forum's hey days?).
But the page visit numbers have been going up steadily since early 2017 which is good to see. (visits are unique users from any location)

Regards,
Elisabeth

Community manager and chief moderator of this forum
funded via SEI project until January 2019 ( www.susana.org/en/resources/projects/details/127 )

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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