Working Through the Community
I think there should be discussion of at least some of the potential outcomes that are plausible with effective use of technology. If we had some specific goals in mind, it would be possible to speculate about:
* What needs to happen at the community level
* What needs to happen at the state or national level
* What are some of the "leverage" points
In the interest of getting the ball rolling, let me give a few examples, some of which are based on pilot projects the Clinton Administration has supported:
1. Increase rates of childhood immunization by developing databases that generate automatic reminder notices for doctors, parents, and principals
2. Reduce childhood lead poisoning by developing GIS systems that allow agencies to locate the intersection of (a) old housing stock; and (b) low-income families with young children.
3. Increase parent-teacher communication and strengthen the school-home connection by providing low-income families with PCs or WebTVs, training on how to use them, and setting up school extranets.
4. Increase rates of adult literacy by expanding access to software that approaches the effectiveness of a one-on-one tutor, using speech recognition and natural language understanding.
5. Allow more low-income Americans to compete for high-paying IT jobs through a combination of "soft skills" training and industry-recognized certification.
6. Decrease the rate of unemployment and poverty among people with disabilities by developing IT products and services that are accessible to people with disabilities ("universal design").
By looking at a concrete list of potential outcomes (and these are just examples to provoke discussion) - we can see opportunities for action at both the national and the grassroots level.
For example, developing high-quality software for adult literacy, GED equivalence and English as a Second Language is something that should be done well a few times, not by 100s of different community-based organizations.
Similarly, the Clinton Administration provided funding for the World Wide Web Consortium to ensure that their technical standards (Web authoring tools, browsers, Web content) were accessible for people with disabilities. This was an effective national action, since we only had to partner with one standards body. But it needs to be followed up with grassroots action to ensure that these standards are actually adopted by local government agencies, businesses, and non-profits.