Thanks for your reply, and interesting questions. I'll try to briefly respond as best I can:
Firstly '...what drives the work that you do internally?' The business needs that drive us internally are mainly:
1. project objectives - our research and policy influence agendas push us to 'co-create knowledge' with partners and stakeholders that are credible, persuasive and evidence-based;
2. operational modality - we are typically working closely with individuals and organisations spread globally, including where Internet connectivity is not always strong / reliable enough for syncronous online exchange. We often have relatively limited budgets for international travel to bring groups of people together face to face;
3. organisational strategy - as a hybrid think tank, consultancy and academic research institution, we seek to create a niche for ourselves in which one of the roles we play is as a convener of key thinkers / players / actors around cutting edge research and action. In our strategy we call this approach 'Engaged Excellence'.
Secondly '...and what sort of value do your Communities offer your customers/members?' We work hard to distinguish between the objectives of the project and those of participants, and to articulate the value we can offer to them. Although we largely operate in the NPO sector we still recognise this is a competitive environment that isn't simply driven by information needs. So we tailor our messaging so that they appeal to people's 'Public Good' (e.g. sharing new knowledge with others) and 'Private Gain' (e.g. reputation is strengthened) objectives.
And thirdly 'why do think there is growing interest, and what's happening about it? Why do you think it's not being matched in the number of communities and platforms coming in?' So, I should first acknowledge I'm not able to quantify this claim about increased growth with limited investment'. I don't believe data to do this is easily available, or has been gathered. I'd welcome it if others could sense-check this from their own positions.
I think what I was trying to get across is that, anecdotally speaking, there seems to be a greater sense that the aid sector can harness online communities to tackle the challenges it faces, but that this is not commonly matched by a sense of what contribution they can really make, how this value-added can be predictably realised, and what it takes to make this happen.
As a result, there can be an imbalance in which new spaces are created (possibly duplicating existing ones), where the real interests / needs of target audiences are not properly taken into account, and where the capacity / resourcing for those managing such spaces is not sufficient.
If this plays out, the landscape becomes increasingly populated by spaces that are only of only limited success, but propped up by the fixed period grant-funding afforded to them. This isn't good for either professionals in the sector who need those spaces to improve their professional development or for the sector itself.
Does anyone else recognise this trend? Be good to hear if yes / no.