Use Distance to Experiment with What is Possible

Distance can be a challenge, it can also be a push factor in gaining networking expertise.

This week I visited Vilnius for the first time, consulting with the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The issue at hand was how to build and share the social and knowledge capital of EIGE.

EIGE is new. Although it came into being in 2007, many of its 30 staff moved from all over Europe to work with EIGE in Vilnius only a year ago. EIGE is still filling vacancies. EIGE's tasks are to collect and analyse comparable data on gender issues, to develop methodological tools, in particular for the integration of the gender dimension in all policy areas, to facilitate the exchange of best practices and dialogue among stakeholders, and to raise awareness among EU citizens.

This institute must become the place where ministers, civil servants and institutional policy workers go to find information about gender in Europe - and to find comparative information that will help them create successful gender policies. Technology offers some terrific solutions to developing knowledge capital. Ordinary citizens - like you and I - will also be able to go there and find out what the law is in, say, the UK on fathers and paternity leave. The challenges are many, like how to translate information from the 27 languages into a form that all of us can understand.

In developing its social capital, distance could be a great advantage to EIGE. Vilnius is far from Brussels, and this distance may be the very push that the European agency needs to experiment with the deeper possibilities of internet in enabling people to act collectively, for the benefit of the agency but also for their own benefit. The organization will get more value from the people using its services and contributing knowledge when it purposefully defines its networking goals and then explores one by one how to manage the networks to provide value at the structural level, the cognitive level and the relational level. How does that look in real life? Lets say that one of the stated networking goals, is to learn which countries have been successful in implementing policies to have at least one third women in boards of companies with more than 250 employees. An animator could ask what worked, what didn't work, what could be done differently to be more effective? Sharing best practices is a great start to the discussion. What is also needed is for people to be able to ask questions about the social or employment context that makes that best practice possible. Quick, week long interventions with a clear starting time and a clear ending time, so people can clear their agenda's and make the conversation vibrant and valuable.

Elodie Servent, walking into the room in the picture (the other person is me), was at the meeting. She shared how her organisation, the Women's Foundation for the Mediterranean, has set up its technology to share information. Visit the site, it is quite remarkable. The website was set up with the intention of being a means of communication between people working in gender departments in government organisations throughout the region. 

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