A project that began in 2009 to build a website where readers could find study groups has matured into an independent institution with broad sponsorship and a wide reach. Over 400 study groups representing 42 countries have chosen to list their study groups with the online search engine called The Urantia Book Study Group Directory (UBSGD). Each month nearly 1,000 people visit the site. The site serves pages in four languages and there are translations underway for additional languages.
A reader who visits http://urantiastudygroup.org can specify a country, city, or postal code and will be presented with a list of study groups that meet his or her search criteria. It sounds simple enough, but the road to this simple interface was far from easy. Issues such as what constitutes a study group, how to fairly administer the directory, how to deal with inactive or errant study groups, and dozens of other thorny issues have been the challenge of the eight-person management team who has worked through these concerns.
The directory is managed by a team whose members come from the three sponsoring organizations: Urantia Foundation, The Urantia Book Fellowship, and Urantia Association International. The presidents of each sponsoring organization are ex-officio members of the governing board, while the other five members function as a team to manage day-to-day issues. Under the leadership of Barry Clark of New Jersey, USA, the team began the development of a governance model that would provide a fair and robust set of principles and operating guidelines to satisfy the interests of the sponsoring organizations, without favoritism, and to serve the interests of Urantia Book readers around the world.
The directory team meets frequently via teleconference to manage and work on the directory. Today, the UBSGD is an independent directory managed by this volunteer team with ongoing programming funds donated by the three sponsoring organizations.
The team responds to the many questions sent in by users. There is a procedure to deal with reports of listed study groups that may not be aligned with the requirements of the directory (i.e., a study group must be focused exclusively on the study of The Urantia Book). When such a report is submitted, the team follows this approved process to investigate the complaint and delist the study group if necessary.
The team continues to plan new features and make necessary tweaks to the interface. While the site will remain simple, straight-forward, and focused on the primary task of helping readers find study groups, there are always new challenges.
A most daunting challenge is that of keeping the database up-to-date and ensuring that only active study groups are listed in the directory. Each year a mail and phone campaign makes contact with all study groups hosts and request that they validate their study group information. Unresponsive study groups are culled from the directory! Surprisingly, getting all listed study groups to periodically verify their current information has proven to be one of the biggest, among the many big challenges, to have faced the UBSGD team in these early years.
Another interesting and important development in recent years has been the growth of virtual study groups via the use of Skype, FaceTime, and other communication tools that allow local study groups to include virtual guests. Since adding support for these virtual study groups over 40 such groups have been listed.
In addition, a UBSGD function will be added to assist readers who want to start a study group.
Please visit the site at http://urantiastudygroup.org and register your study group. If your study group is already listed, and you have not validated your information, please be sure to do so. You may also send any questions, concerns, or suggestions to [email protected].
Please help us evolve this valuable resource and keep its content both relevant and accurate.
Current UBSGD team members are: Bill Beasley, Scott Brooks, Barry Clark, Jacquelyn Koury, and Tamara Strumfeld.
Columbus, Ohio, United States