TheWaterChannel: Experiences with combining offline activities with online operations

Why bring this up here?
Though more than a repository, TheWaterChannel represents an effort that bears many similarities with what we are trying to achieve here. Among other things, it is an effort to pool together useful WASH (and other water-related) resources and make them available on an online platform accessible to all.

What does it mean?
Pooling together resources was a challenge. But the bigger challenge was to ensure that the repository is one that is accessed and used by the target group. This required active dissemination which is still ongoing. And we reckon it will need to go on for a long, long time till we achieve the level of utility and recall value as an online resource like, say, Wikipedia.

As a WaterManagement+WASH resource, dissemination would also have to mean reaching out to Water/WASH professionals working on the ground with very limited access to internet. That they can access the resources we have available is as important as (if not more important than) reaching those of us who enjoy good connectivity.

For this reason, TheWaterChannel places much emphasis on developing offline products. These are posters, manuals, books, DVDs with content from TheWaterChannel and partner initiatives. Our dissemination efforts include reaching these products to as many of those who would like to access/benefit from accessing our online resources but aren’t able to.

What we have been able to achieve through this:

  • Outreach and recall value to those who would not have had access to us otherwise
  • Making key resources available to those who need it and (perhaps) use it the most
  • With time, the visibility gained through offline dissemination has also attracted online users
  • A currently modest but rapidly widening offline network.

Challenges of building offline dissemination into the workflow

  • Expensive: At times, we made mistakes and realised them in hindsight. Because of the costs/logistics involved it was not possible to go back and correct them.
  • Time consuming
  • Feedback is slow. So you can’t quickly reevaluate your strategies and efforts.
  • Large scale and wide scope- when do we decide to scale down/stop?

Managing the Challenges

  • By defining target groups and focusing on them (as opposed to all and sundry)
  • By ensuring that strategies are informed by those on the ground. From among our widening offline network of Water/WASH professionals, many have come forward to become TheWaterChannel ambassadors in their regions. This has helped us immensely with our offline dissemination.
  • Using online networks to build offline ones.

Looking back, we can conclude with much assurance that offline dissemination is important for an online resource such as the WASH Library we are discussing here. And that while it is expensive, slow and inflexible initially… the costs, speed and flexibility improve would considerably as we carry on.

By Abraham Abhishek, 19/3/3013

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