Monday, 24 March 2008

Changing the world one Facebook group at a time

Who has eagerly joined a ‘group’ on facebook devoted to whatever worthy cause only for it to remain completely inactive? It appears merely as a line on your list of other inactive facebook groups. Even though it’s “only Facebook”, it leaves me disillusioned about the influence of the web on building community and promoting social change. Nevertheless there is an increasingly strong case to be made for the potential centrality of the internet in connecting and mobilising individuals around common concerns, interests and goals.

In mid-March I attended a conference aimed at exploring new forms of social organisation, practices that lead to change and ideas about the use of online tools to influence and democratise society. The Web 2.0 ethos framed the two days; that is changing order of information around the centrality of the user. Caroline Basset from the University of Sussex described the Web 2.0 phenonmenon well, “the fuller realization of the web platform” implying more than use but “active participation, agency and/or active networks”. Caroline challenged participants at the outset by asking, What is agency? What do we mean by participation? Does the 2.0 model imply social responsibility? And Is it naturally ethical?

I will leave these questions open-ended and unanswered; however, presentations throughout the 2 day event acted as case studies demonstrating how the internet can be used to increase individual agency and influence and mobilize social networks. Presentation highlights included an online global awareness and citizenship community for children called Panwapa and a proposal for a “collaborative aid marketplace” which sought to transform the architecture of humanitarian aid. This concept proposed to change the power dynamic of aid so civil society and the private sector work together transparently through an online collaborative network of shareholders on a virtual stockmarket.

My humblest apologies to presenters for reducing their contributions to two sentences, but they have reaffirmed how web tools have the potential to reach a broad spectrum of individuals around a common purpose. It is heartening to know AIDSPortal is part of a broader movement where participation and change are at the core. The conference gave me hope about building community focused on social change, be it not necessarily on facebook. It left me with questions for AIDSPortal. How far do we see AIDSPortal’s reach? And how can we ensure it is a community driven by active participation of its users?

For more on this PRADsa conference go to

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Help AIDSPortal to better meet your needs - survey

AIDSPortal would like to invite you to participate in a short survey that will help us to better meet your knowledge management needs related to HIV and AIDS. The survey is open until March 28th 2008 and should take no more than 10 minutes of your time. Click here to take the survey now.

Why are you asking me for feedback on AIDSPortal?

AIDSPortal is a global initiative that aims to facilitate greater knowledge sharing and networking among organisations involved in the response to HIV and AIDS. It focuses on developing or adapting simple tools that can support country led networking and knowledge sharing. AIDSPortal primarily works in partnership with networks and seeks to strengthen their ability to support the response to the AIDS epidemic.

The tools that make up the AIDSPortal knowledge management platform are focused on three key areas:
  • Electronically share and organise information, including policy, best practice, programme experiences, events, and jobs
  • Connect people and organisations involved in a national response to HIV and AIDS
  • Consult and provide feedback on key policy or programmatic topics
These tools are currently internet based (see but we are exploring how we could also use other technologies, such as cell phone and fax, in order to expand access to HIV and AIDS knowledge. This survey is the first part of a process to improve these tools, taking advantage of new needs and technical developments.

How can I learn about the survey results?

Survey results will be available on this blog as well as highlighted in the AIDSPortal monthly newsletters.

What will the results be used for?

We will use the results from the survey to better understand your needs and inform our future plans. We will make an anonymous version of the findings available to anyone interested. This will not include any comments that you make or your name, should you choose to provide it.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Supporting country-led knowledge management in South Africa

On February 18th AIDSPortal, in partnership with HEARD and SAfAIDS, held a day long information sharing workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. The workshop aimed to promote discussion about how a South African AIDSPortal project could support the national response to HIV & AIDS and create a space for government, civil society and the private sector to share experiences and lessons learnt relating to the four priority areas of the NSP.

We have been engaging with South African organisations since February 2006 and are continually reminded of the unique HIV and AIDS as well as knowledge management environment in South Africa. Unlike many other countries, where internet usage is limited and most HIV and AIDS resources are housed in physical resource centres, South Africa has a diverse range of strong information management initiatives focused on HIV and AIDS and based on new information and communication technology. This includes websites, portals and cell phone initiatives. In general, these have been designed to meet the needs of specific target groups, in line with urgent needs, and use effective and creative channels to disseminate information and meet these needs.

What we have found is that, in this rich information management environment, the gap lies in knowing who is doing what between sectors, particularly around shared priority areas.

As we form partnerships in South Africa and take the project forward, we hope that AIDSPortal can provide two areas of added value to the HIV and AIDS response in South Africa:

  1. Simple ways to identify, connect and share information across sectors
  2. A platform to link South African expertise and experience across sectors with cross-country learning and regional collaboration

Crucial in this process is listening carefully to the expertise of ‘infomediaries’ in South Africa, and ensuring that new knowledge management initiatives in South Africa support, connect and extend existing work.

If you would like to learn more about the workshop, the report is available here: