Eldis Communities is a sister project to the Eldis.org web portal, based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), in the UK. The initiative aims to strengthen the contribution that online dialogue between development researchers, policymakers and practitioners can have in achieving international development goals. It does this by sharing knowledge and offering services to programmes, organisations and networks.

About the Institute of Development Studies

For 50 years, IDS has been convening critical thinkers, key policymakers and innovative practitioners to tackle issues of global poverty, inequality and justice.

In the digital age IDS now harnesses virtual spaces for stimulating dialogue, debate and discussion. Since 2010 we have convened over 50 online events on a wide range of themes and for a diverse set of stakeholder groups.

Some learning materials shared here by Eldis Communities were originally funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), as part of the Global Open Knowledge Hub (GOKH) programme that the institute delivered between 2013 and 2016.

About the 2016 Eldis Communities transition

For the ten years leading up to September 2016 the Eldis Communities platform was a prominent tool for individuals and groups working in the International Development sector to use to help them build connections between and across groups of peers.

However, due to changes in our funding and to broader trends related to online communities and social media it became clear in late 2015 that it was no longer sustainable for IDS to continue to provide the service. From March 2016 we worked hard to communicate this news to all members and to work with them and group administrators to support their own transitions elsewhere. We provided opportunities for extracting personal data and offered our time to discuss the implications and responses, including migration options.

A service spanning the bridge between the ‘first’ and ‘second’ Internets

In 2006 when the original ‘Eldis Community’ was first established the size, shape and reach of the digital world was very different. As a space for so-called ‘self-publishing’ it aimed to foster links not just between professionals in the sector, but between the team of Eldis.org research portal editors and its user base.

However, within a couple of years the idea of the platform being an additional pool for editorial purposes became outmoded. A multitude of group spaces were being created, mainly by ordinary members with no links to IDS. Project teams experimented with the tool for internal knowledge management, with co-constructing knowledge, or as a vehicle for rapidly producing microsites for broadcasting project work to the outside world.

At its height Eldis Communities comprised 12,000+ individual members located in over 120 countries, and a diverse range of 300+ groups. But well before its peak it had been facing major competition from the major social networking tools.

A new niche for IDS

At IDS we recognised that, despite the low barriers to entry of setting up group spaces, many group spaces did not live up to aspirations of their founders in relation to activity levels or outcomes. Our approach to delivering ‘online dialogues’ has been our response to this frustration.

Although we maintain a broader belief in the value of ongoing Communities of Practice (CoPs), and would like to explore the potential of linked open data for augmenting the reach of research portals into social spaces (and vice versa), our everyday passion is in ensuring every online dialogue event we support surpasses expectations of those who invest in them as well as their participants who give their time to make them so vibrant and purposeful.