There are benefits to gathering information through online discussion forums but they should be combined with other more robust research for the board to make confident decisions.
Gathering and sharing information for your board to build knowledge in order to make good decisions is a critical component of good governance. There are multiple ways to gather information and each way has its benefits and its drawbacks. Recently, we were asked about the success of online discussion forums.
We find that online discussions are useful in gathering and distributing information, alternatives, and opinions. However, using only the information gathered from these discussions is not enough for the board to make confident decisions.
Sensitivity to the limitation of online discussions is especially important when effective implementation is dependent upon all members of the deciding body understanding and supporting the decision. It’s often more difficult to build trust among a group and confidence in a controversial choice in a virtual environment.
The fact that there is no real guarantee of confidentiality in a digital environment may make decisions about what is discussed on-line more important than issues about who has access.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits to online discussion boards – only that that information should be combined with other more robust research and information gathering techniques.
For more information about qualitative research methods – and the pros and cons of each, check out Robin’s book: Some Things Can’t Be Counted.