Collaborative workspaces

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See also [Online Collaboration Tools on the KS Toolkit|]

Wikipedia defines "collaborative workspaces" (16 April 2008):

"A collaborative workspace or shared workspace is an inter-connected environment in which all the participants in dispersed locations can access and interact with each other just as inside a single entity. The environment may be supported by electronic communications and groupware which enable participants to overcome space and time differentials..."

A collaborative workspace for development may require software with specific features, e.g.:

- Low bandwidth

Low bandwidth facilitates use by partners in the South

- Absence of "branding" or advertising

A workspace for users in a variety of countries and/or in the South as well as the North should not be identified with a particular government and it should not carry intrusive or excessive advertising.

- Email functionality

Due to technological limitations for some users, it is desirable that certain functions, e.g. uploading of files, be possible by email attachment.

- Ease of programming


A number of platforms are in use to support collaborative workspaces for development. Chief among these are the following:

Communities of Practice for Local Government

Only available to users in the UK. May be of interest for the features that are included.


“dgCommunities is a collaborative space for professionals working to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development worldwide. Share knowledge, tools, contacts, and more with members in 200 countries. Each online community is centered on specific themes and guided by experts in the field. Thousands of information resource links are included, plus valuable member services.”

(From the website)

Denise Senmartin reported in an email to the KM4Dev listserv:

“Another platform to consider is the Development Gateway dgCommunities. You can contact them to ask about having a private closed dgCommunity for your specific team. I used to work with them so know that were migrating to an open source CMS that will add many functionalities to the already existing ones (posting of content, discussion forums, uploading your profile, news and events, automatic alerts, etc). However there are costs as you need to cover the technical maintenance costs.”


Developed by Bellanet in 2002, DGroups may be the first platform designed with the development community in mind. There are currently 2000+ groups and 100,000+ users. DGroups is free to users and avoids "branding" and the use of advertising.

The organizations behind Dgroups have formed the Dgroups Partnership. Current partners include Bellanet, DFID, Hivos, ICA, ICCO, IICD, OneWorld, UNAIDS and WorldBank. Member organizations include CGIAR, CIDA, CTA, Danida, FAO, IDRC, INASP, KIT, SNV, Sida, SDC, and UNECA.

ECS (Electronic Collaborative Services)

Developed by WA Research SA (Switzerland) and used by WHO, UNAIDS, UNHCR, SADC, HDNet, etc.

It is available to other organizations. I can provide contacts upon request.

I have not been able to view ECS, but it was developed to support collaborative work on the web, including work with researchers in the South.

Eldis Communities

Users may subscribe at no charge and participate in a number of groups. They may also create their own groups, which may be open to all other members or only to persons authorized by the creator. This is in beta version.

Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR)

“The Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform (GFN-SSR) is funded by the UK Government's Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP), a collaborative initiative of three UK government departments: the Department for International Development (DFID), the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).” “…the website houses a number of restricted access webgroups. These are all targeted at a different audience and designed to allow users to upload documents/information, find contact details and talk/blog online in a secure environment.”

(From the website)


GoogleGroups is not intended specifically for the development community, but it is free to user and advertising is relatively "light".

From Steve Song, in an email to this list:

“Doubtless GoogleGroups is known to you. In terms of ease-of-use it is without peer in terms of a combined mailing-list and web environment. However, you do have to tolerate some text advertising. Also, if you privacy is an issue for your group, googlegroups may not be the best choice.”


“Groups of people use Nexo to do more online: • Create Web sites and email lists • Share pictures, videos, files and Web favourites • Have discussions • Create shared calendars and vote on activities”

(From the website)

Commercial but apparently free to user.


“OpenSourceHost is a specialized hosting company focused on providing quality web space and support for php/mysql open source software systems. This includes, but is not limited to, content management systems, bulletin boards, photo galleries, blogs, e-learning systems, etc.”

(From the website)

Steve Song commented, in an email to this list:

“For about USD70 per year, you can set up a domain and they will install a combination of Wordpress/Mediawiki/Mailman for you that will do pretty much all you describe. It will require more work on your side to customise it to suit your group but it has worked very well for me. You can see a very simple example at which was set up for a workshop.”


“As the first wiki company, Socialtext is the leader in making web collaboration secure, scalable and easy to use. A Socialtext wiki is a secure, group-editable website. Instead of sending emails and attachments, Socialtext customers use private web pages to work together.”

(From the website)

Basically a fee-based, commercial service, but they offer a free trial version.

Tomoye’s Simplify

Simplify is a Tomoye product that is in the process of being replaced by Ecco. The respondent is unsure whether the latter will have all of the critical functionality available in Simplify. The respondent reports that their version has been highly customized.

The product has a toggle between low-bandwidth and high-bandwith versions. It also has fully integrated webpage and email interface. This is a commercial product.