Letters to LLLI:
Managing Electronic Communication
LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 1, February-March 2002, pp. 12-13.
The Internet and email may have many benefits to LLL Leaders, but there are potential dangers to its use as well. I’d like to share two situations my co-Leader and I have encountered.
We email Group information to all the mothers in our Group with email addresses. Once a mother used this list of names and started emailing the mothers about her personal breastfeeding/parenting issues. To prevent this use of an intended private email list, we now blind copy the Group information to the mothers.
My co-Leader and I have also been approached on several occasions by mothers in our Group who want to form “unofficial” Group email lists. We have told them, “No. Any electronic discussions and/or chat groups you form must be entirely independent of the official Group.”
I know that in the Group Meeting setting, LLL Leaders are the only ones who may speak in the name of LLLI. If I participated in one of these unofficial Group email chat circles, I would feel the need to clarify any incorrect breastfeeding information that is presented. If I were to say nothing, then I would feel liable for this misinformation.
I was wondering if LLLI has any official policy on this, or will be coming out with one in the near future.
McLean VA USA
Electronic communication is a whole new world that offers more opportunities to interact, share information, and support one another. In some situations, mothers and Leaders may find email more convenient to use than traditional means of communication such as the telephone, the postal system, or getting together in person.
As the article “Welcome to the Wild, Wild Internet” (Leaven, Aug-Sept 2001, pp. 88-89) said, we are learning how to make it a safe and convenient place for mothers and babies. That article shared some basic information about creating Web sites with those needs in mind. From experience, you learned there can be pitfalls and have come up with some ways to avoid those problems.
Having announcement-only email lists for Groups is the usual recommendation according to Sue Ann Kendall, Manager of the Online Communications Department for LLLI. The Group Leader, or her designate, manages the content of the list by posting the announcements—or forwarding them if they are from others. There is no back-and-forth discussion. The privacy of Group members is preserved by blind copying the messages or using email lists, such as Yahoo groups. If someone other than the Leader is sending such announcements, she should work closely with the Leader. This is a time-efficient way for Leaders to remind mothers of upcoming meetings, fundraisers, and other Group events or projects. It is important to remember that not all mothers have email or time to use it. It is imperative to also use alternate forms of communication to include those mothers.
Group chat lists led by Leaders, where mothers and Leaders exchange messages, can build rapport and involvement in the Group. Mothers can discuss their issues at more length than at a meeting.
They may enjoy posting when they have uninterrupted time, for instance when their children are napping or out with dad. When inclement weather or illness prevents them from meeting in person, it is an opportunity to share their thoughts and questions with other like-minded women.
Hostessing a Group chat list is an added, optional responsibility for a Leader. A Leader who chooses to host a Group chat list may feel she needs to be aware of any unhelpful breastfeeding information posted and to offer the most up-to-date and accurate information in a friendly and timely way. As at an LLL meeting, it can be challenging to keep to the topic and avoid discussion of non-LLL issues such as schooling or current news topics. Wide-ranging discussions can lead to confusion for mothers new to LLL. Group chat lists can alienate mothers who are not able to participate.
As with any means of communication, email chats have their own set of limitations. Participants need to be aware that it is sometimes more difficult to understand what someone is saying. Voice inflection, tone, and tempo can be picked up on the telephone as well as in person. Facial and body language, which can be subtle or not so subtle, help us understand just what a person is saying. These clues are missing from communication over the Internet. Written symbols, such as a smile :-) , can help convey meaning sometimes, but they don’t cover all situations. Most people find it best to take time to carefully read messages. When responding, many people have found it helps to allow time to reflect about a message, think about a response, reread it, and make modifications before sending. Often, participants in email lists and chat groups agree from the outset on discussion guidelines. The chat group can decide what topic(s) to discuss and what to avoid. Many groups have found it helpful if the moderator takes on the responsibility to remind the group and individual members of the guidelines when problems occur.
Mothers naturally form friendships with one another and develop activities that extend beyond the LLL Group setting. LLL cannot legislate what mothers do outside the Group, whether it is to form a play group, read a book not on an LLL library list, or discuss controversial issues. Leaders can suggest that Group members who want to email each other start an informal list of their own. If a mother wants to start a chat group and asks for email addresses, she can simply be told to solicit them on her own, thus giving mothers the choice of whether or not they want to share that information and/or participate. A Leader who is so inclined could suggest to the mother ways to facilitate such email lists.
Many Leaders choose not to participate in chats that Group members have formed for just the reason you mentioned—feeling responsible for clarifying any incorrect breastfeeding information. Leaders might feel their presence would be seen as representing LLL and they are concerned that they would need to repeatedly explain they are participating as a mother, not as a Leader, especially when discussing topics that are not a part of LLL. Other Leaders may feel comfortable interacting this way; they are confident that the participants understand Leaders have many active roles in their community.
Some Leaders find other lists more helpful for them personally. A Chapter or city-wide chat of Leaders may be an efficient way to coordinate LLL activities, publicity, and outreach. There are lists for Leaders only—some for discussing LLL topics as well as different lists covering other topics of interest. A Leader may feel more comfortable discussing certain issues with other Leaders because of the common ground they share. Others enjoy participating on a non-LLL list where they don’t mention their affiliation with LLL. Participating in chats is also a good way to learn how they function and the elements which help one run smoothly.
Maura, LLLI does not have an official policy on Group email lists or chats and currently there are no plans to set an official policy. Each Leader can assess what resources are available to her and the mothers in the Group. She knows what could work locally for sharing information. She is the best judge of how convenient and comfortable it is for her to participate in a particular chat, and if she has the time to do so.
LLLI Board of Directors