Summits Virtual Platform: An effective tool being expanded for broader participation
The Summits Virtual Platform (SVP) was launched in September 2008 to promote active civil society participation within the preparatory process for the Fifth Summit of the Americas. Moreover, it was designed to facilitate access to information, to expand opportunities for interaction among the diverse stakeholders and to benefit from the cost and time effectiveness provided by new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) tools.
From September 2008 until May 2009, the SVP hosted 5 on-line thematic fora, in accordance with the draft Declaration of Port of Spain, and held one more forum in preparation for the General Assembly in collaboration with the OAS Department of International Affairs. More than 780 participants registered for the virtual discussions, representing 34 countries in the region and a variety of stakeholders and interest groups.
The SVP proved to be an effective tool to promote wider participation from social actors in the preparatory process for the Fifth Summit. Considering the achievements and the interest manifested by its participants during its initial phase, the Summits of the Americas Secretariat (SAS) is currently developing a new and enhanced version of the platform.
At the Hemispheric Civil Society Forum held in March 2009 in Washington DC, under the theme ‘Strengthening of civil society participation in OAS activities and the Summits of the Process”, participants called for “…the continuation of the OAS Virtual Forum as an ongoing instrument for network and discussion of issues across the hemisphere by Civil Society.”
In order to receive feedback regarding the outcomes and the possible improvements for a continuation phase of the SVP, the SAS conducted 2 follow-up online surveys and a series of audio interviews with civil society representatives with support from the OAS Radio team. All of these valuable inputs are currently being considered for the improvement of the SVP initiative.
In the SVP user surveys, 90% of respondents indicated that “the virtual forum has improved the understanding of the Summits Process”; 83% believed “the SVP facilitated participation of civil society in the Summits Process”; and 75.3% affirmed that “they are very likely or likely to use e-participation tools in the framework of the OAS and the Summits.”
“I think it was an excellent opportunity for those who were not able to attend conferences abroad to still have their voices heard and to make their point” said Gia Gaspard Taylor, the National Coordinator for the International Education and Resource Network Trinidad and Tobago, in an interview with the OAS Radio in July.
Melissa Golladay, the Director of youth exchanges for Partners of the Americas, suggested that “it would be very useful to include an ‘organization profile’ to facilitate linkages between organizations”.
Many participants suggested that the virtual platform should ensure accessibility and provide training on the use of the tools. “A lot of us are technologically challenged and finding your way around it’s not always easy” said Hazel Brown, coordinator for Network of NGOS of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women.
Based on the recognition that ICTs play a significant role in the promotion of inclusion, transparency and active participation of diverse groups within the Summits process, the SAS is currently endeavoring to enhance the reach of the virtual platform.
Using interactive tools, known as Web2.0, the new virtual platform intends to provide ongoing training to bring users on board, optimize the online community for low-bandwidth connectivity, and complement and enhance the face-to-face consultations with social actors. Overall, the upgraded version of the SVP will strive to be a continuous and interactive mechanism to promote participation in the Summits Process.
To read the complete outcomes of the surveys and the interviews conducted please go to:
- “Exploring New Ways to Engage Social Actors in OAS Activities” and its
Summits Virtual Platform Post-User Survey Report
Report of interviews with Civil Society Representatives regarding the SVP
SVP Case study.
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