The first Africa Telecentre Leaders’ Forum concluded last week in Porto Novo, Benin. The forum brought together community media, telecentre and network leaders from across the continent to share their successes and challenges, skills and ideas. Over 90 participants attended from over 20 countries. The forum was organised by, UNESCO and the Open Knowledge Network.

The forum used an innovative and dynamic facilitation approach to maximise interaction and networking among participants. Atypical of events of this type there were no keynote speeches, no formal panels and a marked absence of digital slide presentations. Participants designed and self-selected sessions based on their own interests and a majority of the forum’s work was done in small groups. A post-forum wiki is being established to facilitate follow-through on specific projects and to synthesise key points for both practitioners and policy makers.

A number of alternative formats had participants rotating through ten five-minute presentations in the course of an hour, pitching their ideas in a project marketplace and running short skill-sharing and peer-assist sessions. While organisers recognise the need to refine and adapt the methodology, the approach resonated strongly among participants, particularly younger paricipants.

“I found here in two days the kind of information and ideas I have not found in my own country in two years” said Nouhou Soumana, manager of a community multimedia centre in Goudel, Niger, a pilot that aims to inspire more than 100 community radios across the country to make more strategic use of ICTs. Asked why the forum was so useful, he responded “No question, it has been the approach. The methodology demands a certain passion and engagement from everyone involved and so people are able to discover things they actually need. It was exceptional.”

Key involvement and support for the forum and for larger community multimedia and telecentre objectives also came from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Microsoft.

UNESCO used the opportunity to bring together programme specialists working with community multimedia centres from across Africa as well as from Asia and the Caribbean to review the recent independent evaluation of the organisation’s community multimedia projects and new strategies to promote the integration of traditional media and new ICTs. The meeting reaffirmed the UNESCO commitment to community multimedia, especially in respect of strategic projects at the local and national level and for building the capacity of media, civil society and government to foster community access to the widest possible range of ICTs.

Among other recommendations were a clearer elaboration of the CMC approach, a more central place for development content in promotion of the model and stronger focuses on policy advocacy, open curriculum development and supporting national networks. A global monitoring system for individual country’s success in providing community-level access to ICTs was also discussed as a longer-term objective.