Meet the AEGEE Forum, the Online Space for Discussion, Communication and Feedback

One of the plans of the Comité Directeur 2014 – 2015 was to bring the forum back to AEGEE as a means of communication and platform for discussion. We spoke to Ivan Bielik, Human Resources Director, about this potential new place-to-be in the world of AEGEE!

meansThe AEGEEan: To start at the beginning: when, why, and how was the forum first set up?

Ivan: To be honest, I do not know when exactly the original forum was established. What is important, is that it is here right now. It exists to provide an online space for AEGEE where members can discuss, communicate their ideas and give feedback to others.

What other ways of communications have been and are still used?

As far as I remember there have been different tools for internal discussion – mailing lists, YPart, the forum and social media. YPart has not been used recently because we did not get what we wanted from the company to necessarily improve the tool for AEGEE. The mailing lists are still here and social media are used by members as well. In the last year, the forum has been reintroduced. With this Comité Directeur (CD), we wanted to create one coherent platform for internal discussion in AEGEE. YPart was not useful for this, because it is mostly a tool for feed-backing proposals, which makes the discussion limited. Mailing lists are not structured and not properly visualised for the audience. Usage of social media scatters the discussion into different places and there are serious concerns about the privacy of such discussion. Thus, the forum had the best trade-off from the four options. That’s why the CD would like to move every discussion to the forum, so that there is one coherent place.

What has changed for this new forum?

We changed the design of the forum to fulfill the need of a modern responsive design on cellphones and tablets. The biggest change however is that we finally started to talk again about the place where to discuss matters that are relevant to us. Participation in online discussion is not determined by how beautiful an online forum looks, but by people who care enough to go there and discuss what is relevant to them. Thus, the current CD believes that we need to talk about this online discussion in our organisation to slowly change the pattern of lack of online participation.

Which information can be found on the forum?

There are places for discussions about statutory events, internal matters and thematic discussions related to different interests in the Network. Moreover, there is a new area for local antennae to share solutions for their problems and to exchange best practices. It has a huge potential to be beneficial for locals, but right now it is heavily underused by members involved in local antennae.

_DSC0952Why should people join the forum too?

I do not have the need to forcefully persuade anyone to go there. In my opinion, it should be natural that if I am a part of an organisation that I care about, I am interested in discussions about matters that are relevant to all of its members. But I guess that is kind of idealistic to expect. The sad reality of our organisation is that the culture of discussion is low. And it takes time to change such patterns.

What are the future plans for the forum?

I would like to install a plugin on the forum that would create automatic digests once per week and then post it on the mailing list (either AEGEE-L or FORUM-L). This way, people get an overview of the developments on the forum directly in their email inboxes. And then there is the option to adjust the structure of the forum, so it reacts to the needs of the organisation. But I need others to express their needs and suggestion about it.

What are the advantages of the forum for users?

These are not different from any other online discussion place. An AEGEE member has an opportunity to take part in discussions and express their point of view. They can participate in forming the opinion that might spill over into something bigger than casual discussion. They can connect with people of similar interest. Additionally, they can help others either by explaining something (like why it is useful for organisation to have an online space for discussion), providing them with something (IT solutions for a local antenna, for example) or supporting other ideas (put forward any idea you support in AEGEE).

And what are the downsides?

It is an online tool, so the contact and bonds will never be as strong as they are with face-to-face discussions. Also, the structure of forum is not very intuitive and sometimes it is hard to find relevant things. It requires a bit of time to get acquainted with the structure of the forum. Even though it is not something everyone is willing to do, the structure is very fluid and easy to adjust if there is a constructive suggestion. The forum is not perfect and never will be, but as I said before the overall trade-off between benefits and problems is prevailing on the side of the forum.

Proposals2How do you plan to attract more members to the forum?

The usage of online discussion platform is a long-term process. It will not happen from one week to another. I can use the analogy of the implementation of Visual Identity. Even after two years of existence, more or less only half of the organisation uses it. The same happens with the forum. I do not expect that people will start using it immediately. The best way to attract attention is to provide content that matters. If there is content on the forum that is relevant to AEGEE, its members will find the way how to gradually become involved.

Written by Svenja van der Tol, AEGEE-Nijmegen