"The amount of insight and perspective I've received from this forum is both immeasurable and invaluable. I cant think of any other way I would have obtained such information on international practice without leaving the country and spending thousands of hard earned dollars (taxpayers or mine)." (Tepora Afamasaga from Samoa in a contribution to the e-Forum in January 2009)
In a couple of months, the UNEVOC e-Forum will turn 12 years old, and it seems to be more alive than ever. In the days of web 2.0, an old-fashioned mailing list may not be the flashiest attraction existing in the internet. It seems, though, that it serves well for the purpose of connecting experts in vocational education from all parts of the world. Here is the story of the e-Forum that is hosted by the UNESCO's International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (UNEVOC).
In 1998-1999, the availability of Electronic Mail worldwide grew rapidly. This was also true for many developing countries. The "UNEVOC Project" was in touch with institutions and specialists in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in more than 100 countries.
In October 1998, the UNESCO-UNEVOC Electronic Mail Forum ("e-Forum") was launched. Other than the formal UNEVOC Network of TVET institutions it was open to members of the TVET community from all over the world. Any TVET professional interested in international exchange was invited to join. Also, a number of representatives of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations participated in the e Forum. In March 1999, some 140 experts from various parts of the world benefited from this worldwide exchange of information in technical and vocational education. An interesting side-effect emerged. Via the e Forum, TVET professionals from various world regions were able to identify colleagues in other regions with similar professional interests. Once identified, they were able to establish direct communication even without passing through the e Forum.
The e-Forum continued to grow over the years. The UNEVOC Project, originally located in Berlin, moved to Bonn to become the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for TVET. TVET experts continued to join the mailing list, and they started to send more and more messages (see chart). In 2005 and 2006 contributions increasingly resulted in lively discussions and fruitful debates. Again and again it is fascinating to see how often TVET policy-planners face similar challenges whether they are located in industrialised countries or in less advanted regions of the world. In the year 2007, the number of messages increased to almost 600. In 2010, there will be far more than 1,000 contributions from more than 300 different users. In total, more than 1,400 users from more than 150 countries are subscribed to the list in August 2010. About half of them are from the developing world.
The core technology and the basic principles have remained unchanged over the years: In principle, the actual list still uses the technology once set up by Tobias Eigen, the founder of Kabissa. Most of the rules and procedures have not changed since then: The forum has always been moderated, all messages are screened by a staff member in UNESCO-UNEVOC and are disseminated to the list in text-only format. Linked Documents are not forwarded in the form of attachments, but are made available through embedded links in e-Forum messages.
In 2006, UNESCO-UNEVOC launched a comfortable e-forum web interface. Since then, users can read, submit and reply to messages online and without using a mail client if they have an account on the UNEVOC website. Messages are arranged in threads, and online users can obtain additional information on contributors, such as other messages sent by the same author. It is planned to develop these features into a full-fledged experts database, so that it will be easier yet to get in touch with specialists in the field. Social networking features are thus added to the service by and by. At the heart of it, the e-Forum is and will most likely be for a long time to come a simple mailing list. Albeit one that seems to work very well to connect people from all over the world who are looking for an effective exchange of information in the field of education for the world of work, as feedback messages like the one cited in the beginning show.