IEEE is a volunteer-led organization with staff support at the "top" of the organization. Down the region level, staff support is very limited. Both governance and project work at the Region level is done (or not done) by volunteers. While one volunteer can make an impact, the real long term impact is made when groups work together toward common goals.
Region 3 has had groups of volunteers working together on projects and governance for many years. Being generally clever folks, the groups use whatever resources and tools they can bring to bear on projects to work effectively. Over the past several years, with reduced time for volunteering, rising costs of travel, and increasing availability of computers and networking, Region 3 volunteers have been turning to electronic communications tools to work together.
Several years ago, Region 3 Volunteers formed an e-conferencing committee to look into collaborative technologies that might be useful to Region 3 volunteers giving their diversity of resources (different computers, different networking arrangements, etc.) with the goal of choosing toolsets that could be widely used. The group made a decision to avoid development (of tools) but concentrate on developing methods for use of the tool and training for the tools.
The group has explored the use of many tools some are synchronous in nature requiring all participants to be "on-line" at the same time while others are asynchronous and allow collaboration to occur by sharing and exchanging information without the need for all participants to be "on-line" at the same time. The asynchronous approach allows volunteers to work as time permits without the need for schedule synchronization.
Synchronous tools being used include the IRC and telephone teleconferencing. The group uses IRC chiefly since it allows all volunteers to participate with a local call, allows the computer session to be used for both discussion (via IRC) and other Internet access (like Web Browsing) at the same time and achieves a zero out-of-pocket cost for the meeting while allowing broad participation. An IEEE server serves as the "bridge" which connects members to each other. The meeting announced at http://ewh.ieee.org/reg/3/excom/meetings/2003-07/ is an example of this approach.
Asynchronous tools being used include the web, e-mail, newsgroups, TWiki, and a new addition being considered -- an IEEE Virtual Community. Region 3 has newsgroups on a variety of subjects centered around Region 3 Committees like Communications, Strategic Planning, Conference and specific projects like SoutheastCon and E-Conferencing. A few sections and Area/Councils also have newsgroups. The participation in these groups varies but interested volunteers who would like to work on the committees related to these groups are welcome. The TWiki site allows group development efforts on web pages and is often used to hold documents under development. IEEE Virtual Communities are an IEEE offering that is being rolled out at http://www.ieeecoummunities.org/. The platform is essentially a web portal featuring authentication of users, bulletins, discussions, calendars, instant messaging and file storage in an integrated environment.
The Region 3 E-conferencing committee tries to evaluate these and other tools, make recommendations for which tools are worth incorporating into the tool set, and to provide methodology and training to use the tools effectively to collaborate on IEEE projects. Volunteers who wish to use the technology are invited to either participate in this committee or go through the training and use the "capability" for their own IEEE efforts.
Ultimately, the success of this effort will be judged on if volunteers are willing to try to use these methods and tools as well as whether they are effective. Clearly, there are some collaborations that must be done face to face. There are other collaborations that are better face-to-face than using e-conferencing but which can be done by e-conferencing. There are also some collaborations that are done better with e-conferencing than face-to-face. The real challenge is to get the collaborations that make sense to do by e-conferencing done through that mechanism, so that the limited face-to-face meetings that occur (due to budget, travel restrictions, and available time limitations) can be used effectively for activities that greatly benefit from face-to-face collaborations.
If you have any questions or desire additional detail send me an e-mail or the entire e-Conferencing Team