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During 2007, IT Advisor Jesper Mogensen launched a programme assisting MS Tanzania’s partner organisations to either build or improve their websites - a project in many stages.By Pernille Baerendtsen, Information Officer
17. december 2007
A total of eight organisations have worked with Jesper during 2007. Currently, four of them have created a new website; two have exchanged their old website with a new one; and another two are on the brink of launching a new website in the coming year.
The idea of the project is to give partner organisations the tools and skills to manage their websites themselves without the assistance of a third party. At the same time, it is a good opportunity to revise the organisations’ online strategies, and hopefully improve the design, communication and functionality of already existing websites. It has been a project in many stages.
The first step was to find a package of software that was free, easy to use, but at the same time accommodating of the needs of the organisations in terms of features and functionality. The choice fell on Joomla, a free, open source content management system. Joomla enables the user to manage a website from any computer with an internet connection, and only using a browser. No programming, no special software.
Netshine and Kabissa
The next step was to find web hosts supporting Joomla. Not all servers can host Joomla because it is database driven, and also a matter of good support, and a matter of costs. As a default, it is up to the organisation to choose which web host to use, as long as the host supports Joomla, but the majority of organisations has followed the recommendations of Jesper and chosen either Netshine, a British host specialising in hosting Joomla, or Kabissa, an organisation working with capacity building within IT in Africa, and promoting a free hosting package.
The websites themselves have been developed in co-operation between Jesper and the partner organisation. In this way, the first training in how to manage the sites was given even before the site was up and running. The second training session was a three day course given at MS TCDC, and representatives from all the implicated partner organisations were invited. The training covered the basic web management procedures including optimising photos for a website, but it also functioned as a consultation, where each partner made plans and benchmarks for future development of the site. Last but not least, it was an opportunity for webmasters from various organisations to meet each other and talk about web management.
The training at MS TCDC has since been followed up by individual one-on-one training either at the office of the partner organisation or at the MS Tanzania Country Office, and most of the concerned organisations are now able to maintain their websites themselves or with a little assistance from Jesper.
In the beginning of 2008, Jesper will begin working on new websites for a number of partner organisations, but the most important part of the project in 2008 will be to make it sustainable. Therefore, even more training will follow, even for the organisations already managing their websites without assistance from Jesper.
Jesper explains that this is very much a matter of learning the terms and the possibilities of the media: ‘A website is much more organic than a magazine, a report or a printed newsletter. A site can always be improved, new ideas can be implemented and bad ideas can be changed. When a website is stable and regularly updated, it is time to think about new ways to service the visitor. Online newsletter? Forum? Photo gallery? Polls? It is all possible in Joomla, but it takes both skills and time to manage.’
Time and resources
Time, especially, is a key factor. For some organisations it is already a paradox: they want a well functioning, ambitious yet low-cost website, and they want to manage it themselves. But they don’t want – or they can’t – allocate the (wo)manpower to do it.
According to Jesper some of the partner organisations have chosen to downscale their ambitions, which he reckons is fine: ‘It is better to have a website with low ambitions but stable content, than a website promising too much. A typical example of an organisational website promising too much is a website with several months old news items displaying on their front page. Or an events calendar with no events. There are already some examples of organisational websites with problems finding the time or human resources to maintain their websites.’
Jesper points to another issue which can threaten the project’s sustainability: ‘Some organisations use their MS development worker as webmaster for the site instead of allocating resources to managing the site, simply because the organisation will lose the capacity to maintain the site when the DW leaves. The – rather poor – excuse is that the organisation doesn’t have the capacity to manage the site otherwise, but in that case the organisation should rather face the consequences and maybe not have a website at all, as a poorly managed website can do more damage to an organisation than no website at all!’
As an alternative, Jesper highlights that a much better strategy is networking between the organisations: ‘There is no doubt that the organisations using Joomla as a web management tool will build up human resources within IT and web management, but the skills will vary tremendously from organisation to organisation. It is a natural process in organisational web management to abandon the tendency to see one’s own organisation as an isolated island, but rather see it as one of many entities with a common goal. Co-operation between organisations in terms of support or knowledge sharing will benefit all the organisations and ease the burden of web management in the long run.’
Therefore the training sessions are important, simply because people meet each other, see each others' organisational websites and talk internet and web management. It is a stepping stone to future cooperation, either on-line or face-to face.
Another tool for networking is blogging. Jesper has set up a blog dedicated to web management through Joomla among organisations in Tanzania:
http://guhle.typepad.com/joomla_kabisa/. At the moment the site only features a few articles and a single gallery, but the idea is that the blog will be used much more actively to support a network of webmasters in Tanzania using joomla. Hopefully other webmasters will contribute with articles, comments or questions on the future, or even put up their own blog.
Joomla Kabisa is Kiswahili and roughly translated it means 'total' and 'that's it'.
As part of MS Tanzania’s focus on ‘Building Local Democracy’, and after several requests from its partner organisations, MS Tanzania has assisted a growing number of partner organisations in increasing transparency by using their websites in a more active manner. Additionally, the intention is to enhance areas like information, communication, fundraising, advocacy and sharing of experience by giving the partner organisations improved access to managing their own websites.
The process consists of a transfer of the responsibility of the website management from private companies (typically the organisations’ ISP) to the organisations. Through training, MS Tanzania has introduced new systems for updating websites without the partner organisations necessarily having a prior knowledge of IT, html or web management.