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partnerships:articles:day [2017/06/12 10:20] (current)
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 +How are Community networks (potentially) useful in community building?
 +======================================================================
 +
 +\
 + By [Peter Day](mailto:​P.Day@bton.ac.uk),​ Brighton University\
 +
 +\
 + Over the last few years there has been a growth in the usage of terms
 +such as the '​information society',​ the '​information superhighway',​ and
 +the Internet. It seems that almost everyday at least one article can be
 +found on these subjects in the popular press and lifestyle magazines.
 +Television and radio too are allocating more and more programme time to
 +the developing new technologies,​ and how they are likely to shape our
 +lives in the future. Politicians and political parties are also keen to
 +announce policies aimed at enabling Britain to play a leading role in
 +what we are told is a '​technological revolution'​.\
 +\
 + Much of this populist coverage engages in what is known as '​social
 +forecasting'​. That is to say that the predictions may be right but they
 +might also be wrong. The simple truth of the matter is that the speed of
 +current technological development is such that no-one can predict with
 +any degree of certainty what the future holds for societal uses of
 +technology.\
 +\
 + One thing that can safely be predicted however, is that information
 +communication technologies (ICT) will have a profound impact in terms of
 +societal development. It is imperative therefore that all sections of
 +society are given the opportunity to engage in a dialogue that assists
 +in the development of a socially inclusive '​information society'​. This
 +section aims to aid that process by suggesting some areas where the
 +technology might prove useful in facilitating the development of local
 +communities.
 +
 +Community networks and community development
 +--------------------------------------------
 +
 +*It is important to stress that no one community is entirely alike. Each
 +has its own unique history and culture which impact on, and shape their
 +sense of identity. They are diverse and dynamic entities, whose
 +evolution are effected by their surrounding environments.*\
 +\
 + ​Communities comprises of individuals,​ families, groups, organisations
 +and institutions,​ all of which, both individually and collectively,​
 +contribute to and effect the development of the whole. Often, they are
 +sources of untapped skills, expertise and knowledge which, if encouraged
 +and stimulated, can contribute not only to the development of an
 +individual community itself, but to society in general.\
 +\
 + ​Today'​s commercial organisations harness networked technology to
 +improve business efficiency and effectiveness. Similarly, modern
 +community networks utilise networked computers interconnected via a
 +telecommunication link to form a distributed system which provides both
 +community information and a means of electronic communication within and
 +between communities. In both commercial and social environments,​ ICTs
 +are used to increase access to, and the availability of information;​
 +whilst adding to and improving upon traditional communication channels.\
 +\
 + As already indicated, communities consist of individuals,​ families,
 +groups, organisations and institutions,​ to a certain extent they are a
 +form of self-sustaining social and economic network. Community networks
 +therefore are not a new phenomenon, what is new however, is the
 +utilisation of ICT to underpin forms of socio-economic activity or
 +community development.\
 +\
 + ​*Before continuing it is worth noting that the term community
 +development is viewed as something more than just economic
 +development.*\
 +\
 + There is a distinction which must be made between "​development in" a
 +community, and "​development of" a community. The former is a reduced
 +concept, defining a community as a place of development:​ i.e. markets;
 +businesses and modernization,​ whilst the latter is more inclusive,
 +recognizing a community as an organic social system that possess its own
 +political and cultural identity; something more than an arena of
 +ubiquitous trends. By using this approach as a basis for community
 +development and regeneration,​ the participation of the local community
 +can be successfully harnessed.
 +
 +Community Information Needs
 +---------------------------
 +
 +*The information needs of each individual citizen within a community
 +varies according to their personal, family and social circumstances.*\
 +\
 + It is fair to assume that these needs are met to a varying degree by
 +the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors of the local community.
 +Hidden behind this assumption however, is a growing problem for citizens
 +of today'​s society. Making and maintaining contact with the growing
 +number of organisations,​ groups and agencies that impact on our daily
 +lives is a complex and sometimes impossible task.\
 +\
 + Often these organisations are situated in different locations
 +throughout the community. It can be difficult, if not impossible for
 +people with children, no transport, no money, mobility problems, etc. to
 +get to these geographically dispersed locations. If transportation,​ etc.
 +is not a problem then very often a lack of knowledge of the
 +organisations and the services they provide can be.\
 +\
 + It is possible that exclusion from today'​s society can be created by
 +ignorance of one's basic rights as a citizen. Access to requisite
 +information at the right time and in a user friendly and understandable
 +format, together with the ability to communicate with appropriate
 +organisations should be a basic right in today'​s '​information society',​
 +it is essential for those suffering from social exclusion.
 +
 +Social Exclusion
 +----------------
 +
 +*Social exclusion is a harsh fact of life which can spell hardship and
 +suffering for many.*\
 +\
 + It is a term that can be used to describe many states of the human
 +condition, ranging from the unemployed or the homeless; to the disabled
 +or the elderly. It can include single-parents;​ those on low-incomes;​
 +ethnic minorities; or members of other minority groups. However, the
 +phrase social exclusion can equally be applied to those living in rural
 +and peripheral communities who for whatever reason are deprived of
 +essential support services.
 +
 +A Community Information Resource
 +--------------------------------
 +
 +*A community-based information resource which provides local people with
 +local information across the widest possible spectrum can go some way to
 +addressing the problem of social exclusion through information
 +deprivation.*\
 +\
 + ​Clearly the type of information provided is a central issue to the
 +success of any community information resource and community-based
 +internet initiatives are no different. The information needs of any
 +community can only be ascertained by an exhaustive exercise of community
 +analysis or profiling. In other words, it is essential that the
 +community is given the fullest opportunity to participate in the process
 +by being asked about their information needs.\
 +\
 + It is impossible to address the entire information needs of any
 +community at one stroke. It is important therefore that this stage of an
 +Internet-based community information resource is not seen as a one off.
 +In the same way as communities evolve and develop, so to do their
 +information needs. As such, community profiling must be viewed as a
 +dynamic and ongoing process which is never entirely complete.\
 +\
 + *For a community information resource to be relevant to a community, it
 +must also be accessible.*\
 +\
 + Most people today, still do not have computers in their homes, and even
 +fewer have modems which enable access to online information resources.
 +This means a mechanism must be found which enables people to '​drop-in'​
 +to sites located throughout the community. Public access points which
 +encourage the '​drop-in'​ visitor can be situated in locations such as
 +community centres, libraries, schools, health centres. Even pubs and
 +supermarkets might be considered suitable locations.\
 +\
 + ​However,​ access is not simply an issue of public access points and
 +their geographic location alone. Citizens must be able to use the
 +technology and have the capability to use the information. Because these
 +are skills that most people still do not possess, the issue of access
 +should be linked to training, education and learning.
 +
 +Education and Training
 +----------------------
 +
 +*If community networks fail to encourage learning throughout the
 +community through the provision of training and education courses then
 +there is a risk of them reinforcing existing technological and
 +information elitism.*\
 +\
 + ​Physical access alone is worth nothing if citizens can neither use nor
 +exploit either the technology or the information. Education and training
 +in developing information handling and ICT skills are therefore also
 +issues of access. As such they are also an important tool for addressing
 +the problem of social exclusion.\
 +\
 + *The pedagogical approach must be tailored to suit needs of users.*\
 +\
 + For many people the rate of change brought on by technological
 +convergence and development is frightening. How many people have had
 +problems tuning in their new VCR? Or have had problems setting it up to
 +record their favourite programme? Certainly we all know at least one
 +person this applies to, if not ourselves. Those volunteers and workers
 +involved with community networks must start by recognizing the reality
 +of technophobia,​ especially among the older generation. Teaching methods
 +must reflect this awareness and need to take the form of a hand holding
 +exercise, allowing people to see both the strengths and weaknesses of
 +the technology. A sense of honesty about what the ICT can and cannot do
 +is essential in demystifying computers, et al.\
 +\
 + A common fault among those teaching basic IT skills, etc., even among
 +the best intentioned,​ is to adopt the 'see, it's easy' approach. This
 +generally entails the teacher flashing their hands over the keyboard
 +with blinding speed and dexterity to achieve the required result. Of
 +course the student has learnt nothing, except that the teacher knows how
 +to do it. As education and training have been identified as issues of
 +access, such teaching methods can be seen to prevent community access.
 +This of course defeats the purpose of community networks, i.e. community
 +access and participation.\
 +\
 + ​Training and education should be tailored to suit the needs of the
 +learner and not the teacher. Students should be encouraged to adopt a
 +hands on approach from day one. Learning resources and lesson handouts
 +should utilise screenshots that show what each stage of the exercise
 +should look like. Not only is this a useful reference source for
 +students but it allows them to progress at their own speed and in their
 +own time.\
 +\
 + This learning by doing approach makes learning both fun and interesting
 +and encourages students to continue and progress, rather than give-up
 +through frustration.\
 +\
 + ​*Developing skills and expertise to improve employability*\
 +\
 + ​Facilitating community access to the '​information society'​ in such a
 +way allows individual and group utilisation of ICT for social purposes.
 +However, it also creates a local skills-base which can be harnessed by
 +public and private sector alike for economic development purposes.
 +Community networks therefore, by addressing educational and training
 +needs, can stimulate an improvement in local people'​s employability by
 +developing much sought after skills.
 +
 +Communication Potential
 +-----------------------
 +
 +*Community networks are more than simple community information
 +networks.*\
 +\
 + By adopting a learner-centred approach to training and education and
 +incorporating interactive links with the organisations providing
 +information on the community information resource, community networks
 +provide a platform for communication. Such a facility both encourages
 +and enables citizens to participate by providing access to local groups
 +and organisations and information about the services they provide.\
 +\
 + An example of the communications potential of community networks can be
 +applied to local government. Electronic networks can be utilised as a
 +tool for extending democracy and giving the local community access to
 +local government at an additional level. This can be achieved by
 +creating remote access facilities to local government service
 +departments at the public access points. Such an initiative will enable
 +both communication with local government and provide local people with
 +information from the authorities.\
 +\
 + An extension of this provision could be the use of e-mail to provide
 +'​virtual'​ councillor'​s surgeries. Councillors,​ as elected members of
 +local government, have a heavy demand on their time. Accessibility to
 +constituents has proven difficult in the past. The surgery has been an
 +attempt by some councillors to guarantee a time and a place where
 +constituents can meet elected representatives and discuss issues of
 +local concern. The usefulness of the surgery depends on constituents
 +being able to attend the location, at a specified time. The use of
 +e-mail can circumvent such problems and improve representation by
 +allowing local citizens access to elected representatives that might
 +otherwise be denied due to domestic, work or social commitments.\
 +\
 + ​Community networks are not simply about creating an empowered
 +citizenship through civic participation. They can also create an open
 +space for social communications. E-mail, bulletin boards, discussion
 +groups, etc. can all be used to create communities of interest both
 +within and beyond the geographic boundaries of the local community.\
 +\
 + ​Community networks therefore encourage communications between
 +information providers and information users, but they fulfil another
 +important social function in the '​information society'​. By encouraging
 +information and communication links both within and between communities,​
 +community networks enable information users to become information
 +providers by sharing their experiences,​ knowledge and expertise with
 +others. This can not only help reinforce a sense of community identity
 +locally, but also raises the profile and cultural identity of the
 +community to the outside world.
 +
 +Social Role of Community Networks
 +---------------------------------
 +
 +*Community networks or virtual communities?​*\
 +\
 + It is important to note that community networks are about people and
 +their communities,​ they are not simply electronic networks. ICT can
 +underpin and aid the activities taking place within a community but they
 +do not replace and are no substitute for them. Community networks are
 +primarily social networks which harness ICT to provide an additional
 +means of communication between individuals/​groups/​organisations,​ etc..\
 +\
 + ​Community networks can facilitate the sharing of information between
 +organisations,​ and thereby encourage co-operation and collaboration
 +between them. This approach can be particularly useful to the voluntary
 +sector, by pooling resources in this way, organisations can avoid
 +duplication of effort; put clients in touch with other appropriate
 +organisations and agencies; and meet the needs of their client groups
 +more effectively and efficiently.\
 +\
 + ​Community centres make ideal public access points, or nodes on the
 +community network because they are often the hub of existing social
 +networks. ICT can be used to reinforce these social networks by
 +strengthening existing, and developing new relationships between
 +community groups, organisations and individuals. A community centre also
 +provides the ideal setting for community run ICT training and education
 +courses. Schools, public libraries, supermarkets and even pubs, in fact
 +anywhere where people meet and communicate can be used to provide some
 +form online access.
 +
  
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