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Full posts:

Making the Case for Technology Within the Community

Post:

04

Date:

Dec 5, 2000

From:

Dr. Randal Pinkett


Greetings Greg and Mario,

I finally set aside some time to read through the draft report. Overall, I think it is very well done. Here are my comments/feedback:

* I really liked the analogy of how businesses have been transformed via technology, and how the community infrastructure should similarly benefit.

* As indicated in your letter, I think the report would greatly benefit from examples. I have included a few university-supported projects I consider to be best-practice below (with a shameless reference to my current work) that you may consider including as examples.

* I would like to see an emphasis on low-income communities as active producers of technology (information, content, products, applications, etc.) as opposed to passive consumers or recipients (this comment is not to suggest that your report emphasizes the latter). I completely agree that we must "demonstrate the relevance of technology to people's lives and needs," but there are many ways that could manifest itself. If someone is interested in music, they could download it or create their own digital composition. If someone is interested in graphics or animation, they could browse the web looking at others work, or create their own website. If someone is interested in e-commerce they could shop on-line and even save money, or they could aspire to start their own business online. Consequently, I think this distinction needs to be made clearly and coupled with the important point of connecting to interests/needs. In other words, a major social outcome should be full participation in the New Economy, which means it is not enough just to say that communities are *using* technology to achieve social outcomes, but at the same time, they are empowered to *produce* technology. Not to mention in the midst of the discussion about technology outsourcing (which I agree with) and focusing on the social rather than the technical (which I also agree with), I don't want the reader to be lulled into thinking that our communities should not and cannot play a role in providing the talent that will assume the outsourcing (e.g. new businesses) and manage the technical aspects (e.g., newly trained skilled workers) of what you propose.

In this regard, I am sensitive to the fact that you don't want to get caught up with the question of what skills people should be learning... that is another report. Hopefully the preceding comment is received in the broader context of what it means to empower a community - applying technology (a prevalent theme in the report) *and* producing technology (a not so prevalent theme in the report).

* I hate to sound like an academic, but it would be nice if you could reference universities as a potential resource for your strategies/ideas. For example, under idea #3 you identify corporations as a potential resource for sponsoring Digital Peace Corps Members. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking a university would be a natural partner for the Academy For Leadership in Technology.

These are my thoughts for now... I will continue to read the [draft] report and join in the dialog. I welcome your comments/feedback.

Sincerely,
Randal

EXAMPLES:

(1) Camfield Estates-MIT Creating Community Connections Project

The Camfield Estates-MIT Creating Community Connections Project, organized by Randal Pinkett and Richard O'Bryant at MIT, has the goal of establishing Camfield Estates as a model for other low-income housing developments as to how individuals, families, and a community can make use of information and communications technology to support their interests and needs. To achieve this goal, CTA and MIT have formed a unique partnership, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and other public/private partners, to create an infrastructure at Camfield Estates that combines a community network, a community technology center, and community content, along with a community building agenda.

* Each apartment at Camfield Estates has been equipped for high-speed network connectivity via cable-modem; state-of-the-art computers, software, and Internet service have been made available, free-of-charge, to each family participating in the project.

* The Camfield Estates Neighborhood Technology Center (NTC), a fifteen-computer CTC, has been established in the Camfield community center where comprehensive courses as well as technical support are provided.

* The Creating Community Connections (C3) System, a database-backed web system, has been co-designed between MIT students and Camfield residents using the application service provider (ASP) model; C3 is specifically designed to promote Camfield residents as active producers of their own community information and content.

* Community Building - Camfield residents and MIT researchers are active participants in mapping and mobilizing community assets and resources to create connections among residents, local associations and institutions (e.g., libraries, schools, etc.), and neighborhood businesses.

(2) Making Healthy MUSIC (Multi-User Sessions in Community), Newark, New Jersey

The Making Healthy MUSIC project, organized by Alan Shaw while at the MIT, was situated in a low-income housing development in Newark, New Jersey, in 1995. Shaw, under a grant from the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provided for the installation of a community computer network that, among other goals, aimed to improve the quality of life for residents of the New Community Corporation housing development. The project resulted in a number of positive outcomes toward social empowerment and community building including increased communication and activism among residents, the formation of various special interest groups that conducted on-line and face-to-face activities, and heightened neighborhood activism. Community members were also supported by a community networking system, MUSIC (Multi-User Sessions in Community), which offered additional features not provided by traditional online tools, such as the following: bulletin board postings, discussion groups, real-time and voice communications, online voting, surveying, polling, news publication, and a geocoded graphical map database/directory.

(3) Community Networking Initiative (CNI), East Central Illinois

The Community Networking Initiative (CNI), organized by Ann Peterson Bishop in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, incorporates a community asset-mapping initiative targeted at non-profit organizations in East Central Illinois, and is currently underway. CNI was funded by the U.S. Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in collaboration with Prairienet, a community network serving the Urbana-Champaign area. CNI's goal is to help those representing limited resource populations in the Champaign-Urbana area to engage technology, engage each other, and contribute to Prairienet, in a way that reflects their own goals and values. CNI provides training, recycled computers, improvements to Prairienet, public access sites, and research. Lastly, through the asset-mapping project, CNI endeavors to facilitate resource sharing between non-profit organizations.

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