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Learning and Knowledge Exchange


Applying collective knowledge to answer key questions

E-Discussions are online exchanges among members of a group, in written (text) form, that are organized to reflect in depth on important questions related to ongoing projects, initiatives, or development themes. It takes place over several days or a few weeks (by contrast, an Online Jam takes place over an hour or two, with all participants present simultaneously; see 'Online Jam' in this Toolbox). E-Discussions are used to improve practice and overcome challenges in a critical development area, to prepare documentation, or to help plan for events.

An E-Discussion occurs in a dedicated online discussion space, such as on an organization's social networking platform (e.g., Yammer). Participants go to the discussion space independently to read, contribute their answers, and respond to others by noting points of agreement or difference, sharing significant evidence, and raising relevant issues. The group's responses to the questions discussed represent a concrete output of the E-Discussion. These responses may be summarized by the facilitator, adapted for use in documentation, and applied in event planning and in relevant development contexts.

E-Discussions may be structured (organized in advance around preplanned discussion questions) or unstructured (arising spontaneously through an important question(s) asked of an online group by one of its members). Both approaches benefit from skilled facilitation.


  • Online discussion platform (e.g., Yammer, Teamworks, Jive, IBM Connections, etc.).
  • Participants (preferably at least 5) with computers and access to the platform.
  • Participants should have some solid experience in the topics/issues being considered (unless the discussion is for purposes of gathering public opinions), and may even be experts.
  • Facilitator with experience in online discussions, and some subject matter expertise.
  • For structured E-Discussions: Advance preparation time for drafting questions, publicizing the E-Discussion and inviting participants. (Unstructured E-Discussions by definition do not have advance preparation.)
  • Time for event: Varies, usually takes place over several days or a few weeks.
  • Depending on the level of activity, the facilitator may need up to 1 - 2 hours/day to post questions, monitor the conversation and intervene or stimulate the discussion as needed.

Download the full module on E-Discussions (PDF), including when and why to use, how to apply, tips for success, variations, and references. 



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