About Virtual Discussions

What are virtual discussions?

Virtual discussion forums are specific time-bound events (usually 1-3 weeks) that allow professionals in different parts of the world to come together virtually to raise questions, discuss issues, share experiences, and address challenges.

Who convenes virtual discussions?

A wide range of international organizations, development agencies, NGOs and others have used the Knowledge Gateway to convene virtual discussion forums. The World Health Organization/Department of Reproductive Health and Research, the K4Health Project at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs, and other partners of the IBP Initiative developed the methodologies to carry out virtual discussion forums, and have supported over 50 virtual discussions on reproductive health topics since 2004. Now many other organizations and agencies are using the methodologies developed by the IBP Initiative to support their own virtual discussions.

How do they work?

Discussion forums on the Knowledge Gateway are moderated, time-bound events that take place within a community of practice. Each day a set of questions on a specific topic is circulated to participants. Responses are then compiled into a daily digest by the forum facilitator, often including commentary from an identified subject-matter expert, and circulated back to participants. This process then repeats for each day of the form.

The Knowledge Gateway sends these messages to participants via email, and at the same time archives all messages in the online community.

At the end of the discussion the digests are compiled into a summary report, which is shared with the community and may be used to contribute to policy and practice dialogue.

Why are they conducted?

A virtual discussion forum reaches beyond a real-time meeting and is a cost-effective way to bring together individuals from many countries. Discussions are usually conducted to support a specific purpose, for example to inform the development of guidance documents, or to prepare for an in-person meeting or conference.

How much time is involved?

Planning and conducting an online discussion forum can take just as much work as planning and carrying out an in-person meeting. The planning process usually takes 1-2 months and involves a steering committee, who identifies and refines the topics and daily questions for discussion. The steering committee can also identify subject-matter experts who can add commentary to each day's discussion. Sufficient time must also be given to promoting the discussion and populating your community of practice with participants who are interested in discussing the given topic.

During the discussion, the moderator/facilitator usually devotes 100% of their working hours to synthesizing the contributions.

Find out more details about setting up a discussion in the Discussion Toolkit section.

Example: Patient safety virtual discussion forum

The global discussion forum on Patient Safety was established to review a multiprofessional curriculum. It reached a total of 1603 individuals from 119 countries. Over the course of the two week discussion, 561 contributions were received from 58 countries. These contributions were synthesized into daily digests, weekly digests and a summary paper, all of which were archived in the online community. The summary paper was used in a number of policy and practice discussions and to inform the revision of the curriculum. Forty-nine percent of the contributions were submitted from members in developing countries.