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partnerships:articles:enable [2017/06/12 10:20] (current)
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 +# New networks may help tackle old problems
 +
 +by [Stephen Wilson](mailto:​101515.2656@CompuServe.COM)
 +101515.2656@CompuServe.COM
 +
 +How can the Internet benefit ordinary people and improve their quality
 +of life? Here is a personal perspective from Stephen Wilson, a former
 +senior BT manager whose career has embraced many aspects of customer
 +service, network and information systems strategy. He is a keen advocate
 +of the use of information networking to help resolve social and
 +environmental problems.\
 +
 +------------------------------------------------------------------------
 +
 +As we move towards the 21st century, many people in both urban and rural
 +communities are increasingly concerned about their future. There is a
 +growing realisation that current lifestyles and economic policies are
 +unsustainable,​ with escalating problems caused by many different, but
 +closely related, factors. Examples include modern food industry
 +practices, environmental destruction,​ growing inequality and alienation,
 +and the erosion of democracy. These issues affect everybody'​s lives -
 +both rich and poor - and are the inevitable result of free-market
 +economics that ignore the human dimension.\
 +\
 + Most people wish to live in a society which values the welfare of human
 +beings, together with their environment and other life forms, above
 +simplistic indicators of economic prosperity. There is a growing desire
 +for a renewal of democracy, on a local, national and global scale, so
 +that everyone, whatever their circumstances,​ has an equal opportunity to
 +contribute towards the development of strong, coherent and sustainable
 +communities.\
 +\
 + Many communities have already responded to such concerns by evolving a
 +variety of home-grown initiatives,​ such as:
 +
 +-   ​Small-scale enterprises and co-operatives which employ local people,
 +    serve the local community and help to keep it alive. In addition to
 +    those operating on a conventional economic basis, there are an
 +    increasing number of LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) schemes.
 +-   ​Innovative ways of revitalising and managing essential local
 +    facilities, such as village shops, pubs and community centres.
 +-   ​Flexible community centres, providing shared, serviced accommodation
 +    for all forms of work and leisure activities.
 +-   ​Direct food supply arrangements such as organic box schemes which
 +    provide better, safer food and establish a closer relationship
 +    between producers and consumers.
 +-   ​Self-help groups to combat social, health and family problems.
 +-   ​Credit unions to help people excluded from conventional financial
 +    institutions.
 +-   ​Closer co-operation between voluntary groups on a local, national
 +    and global basis to share information and co-ordinate actions, for
 +    example against road schemes and other environmentally-degrading
 +    activities.
 +
 +In the past many of these initiatives were carried out independently,​
 +often in isolation from others within the same community or similar
 +schemes elsewhere. However those involved are increasingly identifying
 +and developing links with others who have similar objectives, sharing
 +knowledge and experience, co-ordinating their actions and finding
 +strength in numbers. In other words, they are forming *Community
 +Networks*.\
 +\
 + ​Community networks have always existed in some form or another. However
 +until relatively recently their effectiveness and development was
 +constrained by barriers such as physical location, making communication
 +very difficult, not just between different communities,​ but even within
 +the same community. Occasionally people would be influenced by
 +foreigners who travelled between communities,​ trading goods and services
 +and conveying information not available to the permanent members of the
 +community.\
 +\
 + ​Nowadays ever greater numbers of people are able to travel between
 +communities,​ sharing knowledge, trading, learning about other cultures
 +or simply exploring the world around them. However this trend cannot be
 +extrapolated ad infinitum because it is totally unsustainable,​ not only
 +because of the environmental destruction that it brings, but also
 +because it actually encourages the breakdown of communities and can
 +never be equally shared across the population.\
 +\
 + The new challenge is to establish dynamic and sustainable local
 +communities within a global network of communities. Each community must
 +be free to preserve and enhance its individual character and culture,
 +while simultaneously teaching and learning via the free exchange of
 +information and knowledge with other communities across the globe.
 +*Globalisation* must be the servant of the local community and not its
 +master, driven in a bottom-up manner rather than the top-down approach
 +of the multi-national corporation,​ with its inherent cultural
 +standardisation.\
 +\
 + This is where evolving Internet and Intranet technology ought to help
 +us. We now have an opportunity to create electronic community networks
 +in which every citizen can be an equal partner, able to communicate with
 +anyone else and exchange information freely. However, the network must
 +benefit, and be accessible to, every member of the community, which
 +means that they must incorporate key features such as:\
 +\
 + ​**Flexible community telecentres:​** We need to establish multi-purpose
 +community telecentres by developing existing facilities such as shops,
 +cafes, libraries and business units, where both leisure and work
 +activities can be performed by individuals and groups who do not have
 +access to, or prefer not to, use their own facilities.\
 +\
 + ​**User-oriented network access software:** We need a user-friendly,​
 +individually-tailorable,​ set of front pages into the network, allowing
 +users to supply or obtain information in the manner most appropriate to
 +their requirements. Examples include a list of frequently asked
 +questions, information about local goods and services, and indexing by
 +subject matter rather than information provider. A successful community
 +network will be able to learn from its users and develop personalised
 +solutions to their requirements.\
 +\
 + ​However this raises questions about the ownership and management of the
 +different components of the network, and hence the need for perhaps the
 +most important issue to be resolved:\
 +\
 + **An open and democratic regulatory framework:​** It is essential that
 +all community members have an equal voice in the development and use of
 +the community network. For this reason we need to agree a democratic
 +regulatory and legal framework to control the ownership and management
 +of each aspect of the network, not just hardware (terminals, servers,
 +gateways, routers and links), but also software (browsers, search
 +engines, applications and databases) and management processes and
 +systems. It is inevitable that some of these components will have to be
 +publicly or co-operatively owned and managed, so the sooner a draft
 +framework is established the better.\
 +\
 + As long as everyone - individual, corporate, NGO and government - who
 +is involved in the development of community networks, adopts a flexible
 +and open approach to the future, we have an ideal opportunity to develop
 +the modern-day equivalent of the old community network. Not only will
 +this permit the free exchange of essential community information,​ but it
 +could also act as a key enabler for renewing local democracy and
 +tackling major social and environmental issues.
 +
 +------------------------------------------------------------------------
 +
 +[Email as a tool for campaigning](ed)\
 + Back to [How you can use IT in the community](../​pubs/​how)\
 + Back to the full [Guide to Community Internet\
 +](../​pubs/​guide)
 +
  
partnerships/articles/enable.txt ยท Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)