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Prato 2003 - Proceedings

Many Voices, Many Places - Electronically Enabling Communities for An Information Society: A Colloquium Proceedings

Listed here are the blind peer-reviewed abstracts (and papers) in alphabetical order of papers presented on 15-16 October. The outcome statement, as a Communique for the World Summit on the Information Society, Prato, September 2003 was also developed.

Craig, Barbara

Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

Social consequences of connecting low-income communities: the New Zealand experience (refereed paper)


We are convinced that digital technologies can offer important benefits to families living in low-income communities. We cannot know for sure what impact the digital revolution will have finally on the lives of our research participants. These outcomes remain open-ended, as the technologies themselves do not stand still, opening up unforeseen possibilities and opportunities. As Mitchell urges, we need to keep our minds open to effects on poverty and equal opportunities, inherent in advanced information technology and that to capture the benefits it is not necessary first to remedy social inequalities (Mitchell 1999).

Can ICT enable more social equity by connecting people to information and to each other or whether a digital divide in an information-rich country is inevitable?

We draw on the experiences of Internet-users in ICT community projects. Increasing connections between individuals - near and distant or bonding and bridging- can benefit all members of a community, according to one theory of 'social capital' (Putnam 2000). Through research involving individuals and families we have documented how these participants have appropriated the technology for their own use, that is what new connections they have made and what new information they have sought, deriving some understanding of how the Internet has transformed their lives. Through the experiences and voices of users we can then speculate about the impact of ICT on these communities and how the Internet and World Wide Web might support local economic development and social and political empowerment (Gurstein 2002). Although these participants are pursuing their own individual, personal (rather than community or civic) interests on the Internet (Putnam 2000), we argue that becoming connected builds social capital in the community.

Peter Day,

University of Brighton, UK

CNA - Community Network Analysis and ICT: Bridging and Building Community Ties

Successful community technology initiatives engage with communities and encourage participation in all stages of their life-cycle, from planning through to ongoing development. This paper introduces a research project, which aims to develop and test an innovative research methodology - Community Network Analysis - in order to examine if, and how, network technologies affect social network ties, and facilitate social cohesion and community building. Embedded in a participatory action research philosophy, the project adapts and combines a range of participatory tools and techniques. These include profiling and mapping the information and communication assets and needs of both geographic community and community of practice. This data will then be synthesised with a social network analysis of communication patterns and behaviour. Participatory learning workshops form a central part of the community development function of this project. Grounded in community practice, a community communications prototype will be designed and constructed in partnership with participating communities.

Tom Denison, Graeme Johanson, Larry Stillman, Don Schauder

Monash University, Australia

Theory, practice, social capital, and information and communications technologies in Australia (peer reviewed paper)

This paper discusses connections between community informatics and social capital in theory Australia. It is argued that an adequate theoretical analysis of the character of community informatics as a recognizable form of social institution or practice has not occurred. A theoretical location can be found in Giddens' structuration theory and more recent derivative work concerned with information and communications technology (Giddens 1984). Some speculative comments about community-based organisations are presented to demonstrate the usefulness of structuration theory. To appreciate the recursive significance of contemporary Australian cases of community uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs), under the aegis of Giddens, we argue that communities and ICTs interact and potentially sustain each other in a range of newly-identified ways.

Our main propositions (enumerated below) are contentious, yet in themselves serve to provide some sign of the direction and locus of community informatics debate at present. They involve the use of terms that may not be familiar to those without exposure to Giddens' theories.

1. Many community networks are created by ICTs, while at the same time ICTs reinvent community in networks.
2. Community network structures reproduce and modify memory traces for multiple knowledge-sharing agents.
3. ICTs are both an outcome of and vehicle for social practices in community networks.
4. ICTs can foster structural cohesion: members of community networks act out their social norms via ICTs.
5. ICTs provide evidence of rules-based behaviour in community networks, rules about trust, value, worth, performance, and other key features.

Mike Gurstein

New Jersey Institute of Technology

The Digital Divide industry has been busily working to make the world safe for the commercial ISP's. What all that access (actually so far there has been a lot more studies than practical outcomes from the DD industry) will be used for how remains an open and mysterious question. Community Informatics looks to answer that question by developing in conjunction with end users, meaningful and useable community oriented ICT applications. This paper develops the concept of "Effective Use" as a preferred approach to making ICTs useful as a tool for empowering communities and overcoming social inequality.

Beris Gwynne

The Foundation for Development Cooperation, Australia

Information Technology: A world of difference

For many, "information technology" is the platform for the next "revolution" in human progress. For development practitioners, information technology shows signs of becoming just another vehicle for the currently successful to advance their interests, its potential to contribute to prosperity and global security by closing the gap between rich and poor within and among states largely unfulfilled.

According to one "pro-development" interpretation, unless otherwise managed, the spread of information technology subtly reinforces the status quo in terms of the distribution of wealth and power. It confirms measures of human welfare in terms of material wealth, leaving large numbers of people unrepresented and uninvolved and support for "public good" outcomes under-resourced. In addition to its reach in terms of political and economic globalization, it promotes a form of cultural globalization that puts product ahead of process, and domination ahead of diversity.

An alternative, more positive "pro-development" view is that information technology provides precisely the vehicle for 21st century citizens to challenge the status quo, re-assess contemporary paradigms, and realise the potential of information technology and communication not just to "bridge" ever-widening gaps, but to close the gaps. Substantial re-orientation of our thinking on what constitutes "progress" and what is needed to secure prosperity now and for future generations will be required. For rhetoric to give way to a new reality, pro-active multi-sector investment is needed to ensure inclusion and address local issues with emphasis on processes of communication and knowledge management rather than "information" or "technology".

Susan Kretchmer

Johns Hopkins University,

Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide & Rod Carveth Rochester Institute of Technology Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide How to Build an Online Participative Online Community

Electronically Enabling the Disabled Community for an Information Society: Lessons Learned and Policy Recommendations

Websites, just like buildings, can be designed to meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities. The evolution of disability rights laws has resulted in the understanding that access to information and communication is a civil right for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, however, web pages frequently contain major access barriers to effective communication and participation in the cybersociety of the new millennium. Consequently, the digital divide will continue to expand if this issue is not addressed through law and policy as well as through research, education, and outreach.

Michel Menou

City University London, UK

Digital inclusion: a magic potion for the development of communities?

It is common belief that ICT use will help cure most if not all of the societal diseases. Policies, programs and research do therefore focus on these technologies and their use with a natural tendency to extract them from their broader context. Furthermore, all stakeholders, while using a formally common language, have indeed quite different views and stakes. As a result confusion is increasing, ill or inappropriate practices proliferate, and consolidation of knowledge is prevented. When it is not a matter of plain cheating. We would like to highlight some aspects of this situation as a starting point for a collective quest for possible ways out.

Scott S Robinson

Depto. de Antropologia, Universidad Metropolitana, Mexico DF

Reflections on the Rural Innovation Institute (Refereed Paper)

The Social Science Research in the CGIAR network Conference, held at CIAT in Cali, Colombia (September 2002) announced the creation of the Rural Innovation Institute (RII). This novel figure is charged with delivering the products of all research in the CGIAR system to small farmers and their organizations, to date largely ignored in regional trade agreements and bereft of the development benefits the historical and extensive research products have catalyzed in many countries and regions over the past three decades.
This paper offers some reflections from a Mexican and Latin American perspective about the power realignments, priorities, process and products the RII could offer in today´s digital age.

Wal Taylor, G.Zhu,R.Jewell,S.Marshall,

Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Australia

Psychographic Profiles and Discontinuous Adoption of Internet Technologies in Regional Australia (Refereed Paper)

The adoption of ICT by community is not following trends predicted by traditional adoption cycles. It is not following ICT availability nor is adoption leading directly to predicted benefits associated with increased participation in local communities. Hence there is value in further examining attitudes of non-adopters of ICT in situations where access is relatively easily available. This paper will report on the attitude of 600 survey respondents who did not have a computer at home to a series of 11 propositions which aimed to determine reasons for non-adoption in Central Queensland, Australia and to asses these against a set of nine socio economic parameters. Central Queensland is a region situated on the coast in the north-eastern part of Australia straddling the Tropic of Capricorn covering some 250,000 square kilomoetres and has a population of approximately 300,000.

The research found that there were wide variations in responses across the socio-economic parameters. Hence the research supports the proposition of a discontinuous adoption cycle based on psychographic profiles as proposed by Moore (1991).
This research clearly points to the need for well planned and targeted support programs to accompany the rollout of ICT infrastructure, if high levels of Internet use for local community benefit are to be obtained. Higher levels of home use of Internet are quite clearly linked to the demand for ICT products and ICT enhanced services. Whilst the roll out of ICT infrastructure in developed countries was promoted as providing regional, rural and remote situations with the benefits associated with the information age, current experience is clearly showing this access clearly has the potential to bleed regional economies as purchasing, decision making and power shift to centers with larger economies of scale either within or outside of nation state boundaries. The challenge is to concurrently build demand and supply in regional areas in ways that strengthen regional commitments as well as providing the benefits that access to such technologies in a globalising world provide. These findings also have implications in maximising the benefits of funding allocations in developing situations as they address how best to meet the challenges of the digital divide.

Steve Thompson

Community Informatics Research and Applications Unit (CIRA), University of Teesside, Middlesbrough. UK.

Presentation: Fear Of Crime - The Movie
Using New Technology To Help Community Groups Have a Voice

CIRA were invited by Middlesbrough Borough Council to work with a group of older people to explore ways of using digital filmmaking to express their perceptions of crime in the town. After discussions with the older people, it was decided that we would do the same project with a group of young people to explore their views about crime and look at different attitudes and experiences across the two generations.

Initially we had intended working with the two groups to produce a single video of their work. However, it became apparent early on in the group work that the differences between the two groups would make this problematic. Accordingly, we worked with both groups to produce two videos that it was anticipated would work as a pair. The resulting videos were shown to an audience at the University that included the Mayor of Middlesbrough and other decision makers and police officers. Ray Mallon, the Mayor of Middlesbrough, was elected on a manifesto largely based on tackling crime in the town so the two groups saw him as a key figure to see the completed videos and to listen to their experiences and future expectations.

The comparative low cost of Digital Video equipment and ease of use makes it possible for community groups to get their message across using a very powerful medium. In the past the only way for these groups to have a voice would have been by writing to the newspapers or calling up radio/TV stations. Having access to this equipment levels the playing field a little between community media and mainstream media. Finally, when a screening was arranged at the University Of Teesside it was an attractive enough prospect to bring in key decision makers as well as the media.

The aim of my presentation is to discuss the stresses and problems we experienced over the course of this project. I will discuss the process, the mistakes we made, the lessons we learned and the impact of the project. At the end of my presentation of approximately 10 minutes, I will show the videos, which together have a total running time of 14 mins.