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partnerships:articles:oip [2017/06/12 10:20] (current)
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 +Open Information Project, Sheffield
 +Sheffield'​s [Open Information Project](http://​​)
 +cannot claim to be a community network. Its aim is establish an
 +electronic information network which will be cheap, easy to use and of
 +direct benefit to the work of "third sector"​ - voluntary and social
 +economy - organisations in Sheffield.\
 + It is thus a network of organisations who work in and for the
 +communities of Sheffield rather than the communities themselves. This
 +has arisen because the project is based on perceived needs of such
 +organisations rather than on a desire to have a community IT project.
 +This emphasis was essential if the project was to attract the necessary
 +time, money and energy from a sector in which all these commodities are
 +in inadequate supply. That said, the choice of IT as a tool to meet
 +these needs to an extent selected the initial beneficiaries. It was
 +organisations which already had computers and, in the main those with
 +paid staff, who could both see the potential of the project and not find
 +the barriers to participation too awesome.\
 + The project has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund
 +and also received repeated help, both officially and voluntarily from
 +staff, from the University of Sheffield and from Sheffield Hallam
 +Rationale for the project
 +The reason why the project has found support lies with the changes the
 +sector has experienced in recent years. Sources of funds for work in the
 +social economy and voluntary sectors have multiplied in recent years but
 +their nature has also changed. They are often less transparent and
 +accountable in their decision making, more focused on short term output
 +rather than institutional development and may require the development of
 +new partnerships - local or transnational - as a condition of funding.\
 + Such demands increase the importance of regular access to information
 +in two distinct areas. At the same time, by reducing the funding
 +available for core tasks, they actually lessen organisational capacity
 +to get that information through traditional means such as attending
 +conferences and meetings in order to learn and network. Thus
 +organisations active in the sector need new means of gaining rapid
 +access to information about funding sources and the ability to share
 +experience and ideas in order to make appropriate responses.\
 + ​Secondly,​ at a time when services are increasingly delivered through a
 +succession of time limited projects, there is a need for those who
 +deliver services and for organisations which provide information about
 +services to the public to have access to the most up to date information
 + ​Although Sheffield does have a number of high quality paper based
 +directories and newsletters there are a number of reasons why it was
 +felt appropriate to develop an electronic network.
 +-   The electronic network can be complementary to paper provision -
 +    allowing existing information providers to develop their own
 +    services.
 +-   ​Technology now allows such a network to be developed with a
 +    manageable amount of extra work for participating organisations and
 +    a minimum of ongoing central costs.
 +-   It is better for organisations in the sector to determine their own
 +    plans for organising and presenting their information electronically
 +    than waiting to be fitted in to someone else's system.
 +Development of the project
 +Previous efforts to create electronic information systems in Sheffield
 +suffered for lack of high level supporters or from being so technically
 +led that others had difficulty in comprehending let alone following.\
 + Open Information Project, by contrast, grew out of the experience of
 +one organisation,​ Sheffield Co-operative Development Group (SCDG), of
 +the difficulty of keeping up to date with all the potential changes
 +affecting its area of work. Discussions with other organisations showed
 +that this was a common feeling and this shared with a belief that there
 +should be technology available to help us led to the start of this
 +project. The first step was to send a questionairre to organisations in
 +the sector. Of some forty positive responses:-
 +-   ​Nearly all thought their organisation would benefit from quicker
 +    access to relevant information and from sharing information with
 +    other organisations.
 +-   Over half thought the project would save time and cut costs.
 +-   Over half thought it important to have a say in how this technology
 +    is developed and used locally.
 +-   All bar one had computers, only one had a modem
 +SCDG appointed its development worker Mike Powell, to work on the
 +project. His job has been to develop options which have then been
 +discussed at a series of five seminars, attended on average by
 +representatives from ten different participating organisations,​ each of
 +which have guided the next stage of the project.
 +### Key discussions have included
 +-   The choice of the World Wide Web as the physical base for the
 +    project. This has meant that participation in the project provides
 +    organisations with training and capacity which goes far beyond the
 +    limits of our own network - in particular it opens the potential for
 +    participants to network with national or international levels of
 +    their own organisations or areas of work. It also makes the
 +    information posted more accessible to the public.
 +-   The decision to seek FTP access for each participant which both
 +    allows and requires each organisation to take responsibility for its
 +    own on-line information. This choice greatly reduces the central
 +    revenue costs for this network compared to most previous ones.
 +-   The decision to place all OIP information on one directory which
 +    will allow the project to run its own classification and index
 +    systems. These have been selected and developed by David Miller of
 +    the Department of Information Studies of the University of Sheffield
 +    with the aim of making the information put on the network as
 +    accessible as possible to non-computer regulars. How to achieve this
 +    aim has been the most discussed subject in the project'​s
 +    development.
 +The existence of the project on one directory will make it possible to
 +download all the information contained to other systems, such as those
 +operated by the local libraries and possibly cable television, which do
 +not offer external Internet access. Training sessions introducing the
 +World Wide Web and teaching basic HTML have also played a vital part in
 +raising awareness and skills.
 +The present
 +The project went on line in April. This represents only one stage in its
 +development. So far only eleven of the project'​s members have put their
 +pages up. More are likely to follow very soon but it is expected that it
 +will take many months for the information posted to gradually build up
 +into a useful resource. The aim is not just to have a simple list of
 +organisations,​ what they do and opening hours as is traditionally
 +provided by public information services. Members are encouraged to place
 +research and statistics on their area of work on their pages so that the
 +sector as a whole builds a far more complete picture of the city and its
 + It is also taking time to develop the communications potential of the
 +project which is probably its most important single element. Early ideas
 +to use Newsgroups or On Line Conferencing Software have proved too
 +ambitious. Busy organisations taking their first steps into telematic
 +communication are not going to look for messages in different places.
 +Thus the project is starting with an internal mailing list which will
 +enable members to post messages to the members as a whole. It is hoped
 +that once this has built up, members will see the advantage of moving to
 +more structured communication on Conferencing on the Web (COW) software,
 +which allows messages to be posted under named topics.\
 + A third component of the project will involve regular monitoring of
 +network usage and attempts to develop and use appropriate methodology to
 +evaluate the impact the network has on the sector.\
 + The most important sign of progress is however in the project itself.
 +Twenty five organisations participated in the early stages of the
 +project and are receiving grants to help cover their modem and service
 +provider costs. A further nine have joined the association of local, not
 +for profit organisations which the Open Information Project has become.
 +Many others are associate members or have asked to be kept on the
 +project mailing list and the last progress meeting was the best attended
 +of all. The lead role taken by SCDG has been subsumed by a
 +democratically based steering committee. One task of this committee is
 +to endorse new members and monitor compliance with the few rules the
 +project has. The other more important role, which is already beginning,
 +is to guide the further development of the project to maximise its
 +potential for both the third sector organisations in the region and for
 +the communities they exist to serve.\
 + The Open Information Project has met all its official targets but it is
 +far too early to call it a success. The level of participation of its
 +members does however offer encouragement both for the sustainability of
 +the existing project and for its further development.\
 + [Mike Powell](mailto:​\
partnerships/articles/oip.txt ยท Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)