digital divide

Socially Conscious Hip-Hop and Rap

Adam Selon
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Too many young black Americans are pushed, in the face of bleak opportunities for employment and higher education, to resort to crime. While hip-hop has served as a crucial creative outlet and community-builder for black youths since the 1980s, much of hip-hop culture contains undeniable streaks of proud violence, misogyny, drug-use and general disdain for life that are civically unintelligent, to say the least.

Context: 

The so-called Hip-Hop Generation was the first to grow up post-segregation, and its members have blazed new trails with few resources. Black american males have endured decades of institutional failure and systemic oppression that has created lasting damage to the black community and society as a whole. Currently young black males are given fewer opportunities than most and are at disproportionately greater risk for incarceration.(1) The narratives in hip-hop and rap music seem to either reflect this survival and then encourage personal reflection, social awareness, learning and growth for the black community or reflect this survival and then instead endorse unhealthy and unrealistic lifestyles, drug use, gang violence, and misogynistic behavior.

Discussion: 

Socially conscious or political hip hop narratives are not new to the industry, on the contrary they were more prevalent in the early years of hip hop in the 80s. Inspired by poets and preachers of the late seventies, such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, young black musicians rapped about what they saw in their communities and started a trend. in 1982, Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five featured one such song--”The Message”, widely regarded as the first socio-political hip hop song--on their first studio album. This song would inspire many more like it for generations to come and effectively dislodge hip hop from the house party environment and into the realm of social commentary. Paving the way for artists like NWA, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine that took this a step further and made all their music socially and politically relevant. Doubtless, much of hip-hop’s dark imagery is autobiographical expression, a cathartic act that all people—and especially those from underprivileged backgrounds—have the right to. But this message has become confused or manipulated, turning a criminal lifestyle from the starting point into the goal. Rap Stars affiliation to very-real city gangs adds to the pressure for inner city youth to join gangs. that is not to say that one would join a gang simply due a rappers allegiance. Indeed most are pushed into gang membership by regional survival necessity and a lack of healthy alternatives. Kitwana, Bakari writes, “For many both in and outside of street gangs and cliques, selling drugs is one of the most viable “job” options in the face of limited meaningful employment...high imprisonment rates due to increased policing focused on drug crimes have landed nearly 1 million Black men, many of them hip-hop generation's, behind bars” (39-40). 2

Largely the public education system has failed young black americans. Today there are more young black high school dropouts in prison or jail than those with paying jobs. Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service and the population of incarcerated peoples in America is in a significant majority black men. These statistics indicate a community under attack and in need of hope. Across Americas notorious history of oppression against the black community--from Slavery to the assassination of MLK and Malcolm X -- to the current overpopulation in prisons. Music and rhythm has been a community strength and vessel to carry messages of hope, solidarity, and culture. Like the spirituals that provided hope amid the ultimate despair of slavery, socially conscious hip hop and rap music that reflect current struggles within the black community can provide messages of healing and do so in a form popular among young black people. with tremendous detail and articulation.

Today socially conscious rap artists dominate mainstream hip hop charts--Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, CNas, common, Jay-Z,-but whether the same holds true in underground circles remains to be determined. But by comparison the artists that choose to speak about the institutional failings that have and continue to negatively impact the black community seem to garner a much less attention than those that choose (or are instructed) to rap about money, “hoes” and [insert product placement]. More and more new artists are embracing these same conscious perspectives and transforming hip hop simply by being different and gaining popularity for it. Macklemore is an interesting example of new avenues being paved in hip hop music--he is white, dresses extravagantly, created a hit song about gay love and together with Ryan Lewis recorded, produced and released their album, The Heist, which debuted at #1 on itunes. But hip hop is not only becoming more racially diverse it is also having to confront deeply held prejudices such as homophobia--Frank Ocean was one of the first major artists to announce he had fallen in love with someone of the same sex, prompting many in the hip hop community to speak out in support of Ocean and the many silent fans whom his actions might inspire. following his open letter Russell Simons was widely quoted saying “Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?”

The following are lyrics from Canadian producer and rapper“had..In the song Brother (Watching) he raps “(Saturated with negative images and a limited range of Possibilities is strange...)And it's sad cause that naturally do/ Sort of condition your mind and over time/ That's what's attractive to you/ So young blacks don’t see themselves in/ Scholastic pursuits/ Or the more practical routes/ It's makin tracks or it's hoops/ Or God-forbid movin packs for the loot/Even with this music we so limited - it's rap or produce/ And that narrow conception of what's black isn't true/ Of course, still we feel forced to adapt to this view/ Like there's something that you're havin to prove/ Now add that to the slew/ Of justification the capitalists use/ For the new blaxploitation/...”

Solution: 

Since socially conscious narratives have been observable in hip hop since its inception, the question becomes; what can be done to reinvigorate this and bolster the hip hop’s standing in political and social territory? “The cloud of capitalism prevents the Hip Hop audience from seeing that, for the conscious artist, it is the record company, itself that is "ground zero" for the battle for the minds of African people. But they rap about an external enemy when the internal, major enemy of Black Liberation is sitting in the boardroom two doors down from their recording studio. In order for conscious Hip Hop and Hip Hop in general to survive, it must become what the system never really allowed it to be; a way to educate, inform and inspire Afrikan people to become involved in the betterment of their global communities.”3

Youth organizations such as, Project Hip-Hop, are a great example of what it means to bringing socially conscious hip hop into proper frame. They seek to:

– Develop artistic leadership in youth – Challenge and shift societal narratives – Unite people through common culture – Use art as a tool for campaign organizing

An example of this is their Girlz and Guyz Cyphers program in which they “bring young MCs and poets together to strengthen their skills as performers, develop their content as socially conscious artists, and engage in conversations about their lives—all within a Hip-Hop-based social justice curriculum.”4

Kitwana, Bakari, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture (2002)

2 Kitwana, Bakari, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture (2002)3

3 Anon. n.d. “How Conscious Hip Hop Failed Us in Davey D’s Daiy Hip Hop News Forum.” Retrieved June 5, 2013 (http://hiphopnews.yuku.com/topic/502#.Ua6u9Jy8M3I).

4 Anon. n.d. “Project HIP-HOP » Programs.” Retrieved June 5, 2013

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
engagement
Categories: 
social
Categories: 
products
Themes: 
Digital Divide
Themes: 
Education
Themes: 
Social Critique
Themes: 
Community Action

Community Oriented Social Media

Pattern ID: 
138
Rudyard
Discussion: 

Access to information and connections is essential to be successful in the 21st century. There is talk in many cities across the country of establishing municipal broadband- for example the grassroots organization “Upgrade Seattle” wants to “make the internet a city-owned and operated utility.” in Seattle.

 

A possible step further would be to create a publicly owned, operated and funded Social Network that would fill a role similar to that of radio and TV public broadcasting. The first and most obvious benefit would be the same one that comes from public broadcasting, that is- providing an alternative to the corporately owned, commercially funded media platforms, with a greater emphasis on community issues.

 

The services that companies like Facebook provide are valuable, and many of us willing give up a lot of equally valuable information in exchange for those services. The personal data Facebook mines from us is sold to other companies and used for market analysis, as well for generating personally targeted advertisements. A great wealth of information is produced thru all the clicks and likes and views from the users. All this data could go to good uses the private sector is not likely to be concerned with. Collection of census data and statistics for aiding scientific research are some of the immediate possibilities.

 

There is a need for people to have greater control over their information and how it is used. Perhaps not only a need, but a right. Then, beyond the issue of how our information is used, there’s the issue of how information filters to us through our “feeds.” The posts we see from our friends and the pages we follow (as well as advertisers) are sifted and prioritized based on hidden algorithms. There should be concern about how this system can create personal bubbles and opinion echo-chambers. Not to mention how it could influence people’s mental states (based on whether they see more police shootings or puppy videos, for example).

Categories: 
organization
Categories: 
social
Themes: 
Community Action
Pattern status: 
Draft

Inteligencia Cívica

Group Name: 
Spanish translations of Liberating Voices card verbiage
Version: 
1
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Inteligencia cívica describe que tan bien grupos de personas persiguen fines cívicos a través de medios cívicos.  Inteligencia Cívica hace la pregunta crítica: Es la sociedad suficientemente inteligente para afrontar los desafíos que se le presentan?  La inteligencia cívica requiere aprendizaje y enseñanza. También requiere meta-cognición – el pensar y realmente mejorar como pensamos y trabajamos juntos.

Explain Whole Systems Instead of Random Facts

Pattern ID: 
903
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
903
R Y Shah
The Galatic Institute of Root Journalism
Version: 
1
Problem: 

The problem with many news stories is that the reporter tends to assume far too often that the reader has been following the reporter's beat along with the reporter. (A beat is a journalism term that describes the type of stories that the reporter covers. Ex: sports, foreign policy, state politics, art and culture, etc.) Of course for a majority of readers, this is not the case. A typical reader has a job, a family, and other concerns to dedicate her time to aside from keeping abreast with the latest developments of a reporter's beat. So often I find it difficult to make my way through a news article without confronting a variety of questions that the writer assumes I already know the answers to. On top of that, the reporter will throw in random facts assuming I can put them into proper context concerning the subject matter of which I have nothing more than generalized knowledge about. The gravity of the situation that these facts attest to is lost due to my ignorance and the reporter's neglect to confront my ignorance. What does this lead to? Well, for many readers who find themselves in such a position, they grow frustrated at the inordinate difficulty in trying to understand what the hell is going on. They may also feel ashamed at not already knowing enough to tell what is going on, which - when you think about it - is absurd. Why read a newspaper that already assumes you know what is going on? From here many a reader disengage before they scream and tear the newspaper into tiny shreds. Thus the masses grow apathetic and uninformed. Business, politics, foreign policy and other important aspects of society become ever more distant and inaccessible. And journalism fails to do its job.

Context: 

Journalism grows ever more elitist by ignoring its duties to educate the common man. A way to battle this is to introduce more pedantic elements into journalism. News people must remember that contemporary society grows increasingly complicated as bureaucratic substructures abound in almost every endeavor modern society offers. Reporters can no longer be mere messengers in a society where the masses are estranged from corporate and political echelons. Reporters must also be teachers and illustrate what the latest newsbreak means within the entire functioning system of their beat. This will require a radical renovation of the news.

Discussion: 

Twenty years ago such a suggestion would be absurd. "Explain the latest developments in the context of the entire system?" A reporter would exclaim, "There's not enough room! I can't keep explaining the same thing, over and over, every single day!" Thankfully, these are the concerns of the print journalist, not his predecessor, the internet reporter (who has still to fully develop).

This is a perfectly valid suggestion against the backdrop of the internet. Let's say a news blog has released an article detailing a new contract between the US government and American contractor, Halliburton. Such an article will undoubtedly refer to some esoteric information that will stump anyone other than business executives and news junkies. With a simple click of the mouse, a befuddled reader could then be ushered to a page that would illustrate what this development means in the context of the whole system between contractors and the US government. Unlike newspapers, internet pages are infinite and (more or less) cheap.

Now the question is what would such a page look like? How could one explain entire systems of society to a reader who has almost no prior expertise? There are many ways to go about solving such a conundrum: the first would be to explain the system via text. But what are often undervalued in society are the skills required to explain complex systems simply and accurately to others: empathetic sensibilities bordering on ESP and complete comprehension of a subject matter. This skill set touches upon the core asset of good teaching. Many high-ranking academics (often professors at erudite universities) miserably fail to live up to this obligation themselves. But regardless of academia's problems, it's about time these principles were prized amongst journalists.

Ah, here we may encounter a dirty dirty secret: many journalists themselves do not know what is going on. It has almost become an industry standard to scan the internet and assemble one's article out of the disembodied parts of other articles, come Frankenstein. This shameful habit is almost an industry-wide practice. Don't believe me? Google a news story. Read the articles that pop up. Notice how mind-bogglingly redundant they all are. Rarely does anyone seek a different angle on a news story, let alone get different information from another relevant party. In fact, many quotes are the same en masse. As journalists grow increasingly lazier thanks to the internet and PR announcements, their collective knowledge grows weaker, their thoughts grow more dependent on others. Thinking and producing thoughtful work in the news industry looks reminiscent of mad cow disease: reporters eating and regurgitating the words of other reporters, who themselves have devoured and regurgitated the works of some public representative of the actual party. This pattern is a double edged sword, for not only does it seek to vanquish the reader's ever-mounting confusion, but it will undoubtedly rout out reporters who operate in partial or complete ignorance: the spores of mass confusion.

So, a reporter must be required to completely and thoroughly understand her beat. She is then required to explain the system as a pretext to her breaking story so that any reader, anywhere, will understand what the hell is happening. Not just businessmen, congress men, not just specific strata of society, everyone: housemaids, twelve-year olds, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, former convicts, stay-at-home dads, artists, everyone.

The final benefit of this pattern is that the truth will be easier to discern from hype, spin and flagrant lies. How? Easy. Lies don't make sense. That's how we eventually know (other than a third party informing us) that we're being lied to. How do we tell the difference between a genius and a madman? The genius makes sense. Whatever explanatory system makes the most sense is the best candidate for the truth. There is nothing out there that can determine such a thing other than ourselves and our relationship to the truth. No matter where we stand in society, we all are tangent to larger operating systems that determine much of our lives. Systems of real estate development, agriculture, politics, and so on. We all have some first-hand knowledge of large newsworthy systems. That, combined with our intellect, is enough to suss out the truth. If someone can't explain to us how things interrelate simply and coherently, that's probably because they're full of shit.

Solution: 

Constructing news that attempts to place latest developments in the context of a large system should be an effective way to the cease the public's confusion over many issues and their resulting apathy because of it. Not only will the public be more informed, but news people will have more responsibility for the peoples' comprehension of the issues.

Pattern status: 
Released

Sousveillance

Pattern ID: 
386
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
386
Bryan
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
1
Problem: 

"One of the fundamental contrasts between free democratic societies and totalitarian systems is that the totalitarian government [or other totalitarian organization] relies on secrecy for the regime but high surveillance and disclosure for all other groups, whereas in the civic culture of liberal democracy, the position is approximately the reverse." -- Professor Geoffrey de Q Walker, now dean of law at Queensland University in Australia.

Over the past two decades, surveillance has permeated society in ways that only Orwell could have imagined. The increasingly low costs of electronics and data storage coupled with scare tactics like terrorism have given governments worldwide the green light to put public and private spaces under their eye. During 2008 alone, Sprint gave location data of their users over to law enforcement a total of eight million times.  The surveillance infrastructure is owned and controlled primarily by those with political and class privilege. This creates a situation where people can be watched but cannot "watch the watchers". As a result, the accountability of police, politicians, and other authority figures decreases.

Context: 

In any political / social context, from a liberal democracy to an authoritarian government. Sousveillance in a democratiic (or quasi-democratic) country is particularly important in times of overzealous governmental secrecy, propensity towards surveillance, and increasing political repression.

Discussion: 

"Steve Mann presents the notion of sousveillance as a method for the public to monitor the establishment and provide a new level of transparency. This has been the role of the press, but with its strong orientation toward positive feedback, the media has tended to focus on less relevant issues, which get an inordinate amount of attention. One such example was the media's fascination with Gennifer Flowers and her claim that she had had an affair with President Clinton." -- From Joichi Ito's discussion of Emergent Democracy. One of the first thing that George W. Bush did when he became president of the US was to place his father's writings (which by law were supposed to be made public) into secrecy.

We live in an age where ever-increasing portions of the population have turned to social networking where they divulge the most personal and private details of their life to their friends, their co-workers, and most anybody who cares to look. Facebook, Google, and other advertising giants track every website a person goes to with an ad or a 'like' button on it. People scan their loyalty cards at grocery stories and give their entire purchase history, name, number, and address to the highest bidder in exchange for a few dollars off their bill. Those who run their surveillance infrastructure have not been blind to this and have begun investing significant resources into monitoring social networking sites and rich sources of user-generated information.

No matter where one turns, they can find information on their fellow citizen that they would rather not have revealed. Security cameras, credit cards, and RFID-enabled identification cards track our every movement. Normal activities which one might not want the world to know about like visits to the pharmacy, an alleyway make-out session, and a visit to Planned Parenthood all become a spectacle for those on the other end of the camera to enjoy.

While some of the information garnered by dragnet surveillance is available to the public or those of small financial stature, most of it is locked in databases and storage systems run by the rich and powerful. In 2005, it was revealed that for the past five years the National Security Agency had been collecting wholesale internet traffic, call records, and other private information from millions of Americans without warrants, subpoenas, or any judicial oversight. In a 2001 report, the European Union validated a theory that the United States, in conjunction with allies such as the UK, operated a global surveillance network called ECHELON which could intercept most worldwide communications. It is said that through publicly and privately operated surveillance cameras, the average Londoner is photographed 300 times per day. The majority of people are watched with intense scrutiny throughout the entirety of their lives while the minority of people who commit the biggest crimes sit behind closed doors where they can execute their plans for financial and social dominance in privacy and without interruption. People no longer seem to be surprised to hear that the dash-cam of a police car was mysteriously off when the officer flew off the handle or that the video from a jail beating is missing.

How can we change this dynamic? How can surveillance systems actually be used for widespread social accountability instead of preserving the interests of those who own them?

Study after study shows that surveillance does not actually reduce crime or make the average person safer and a steady stream of news stories show that surveillance abilities are used improperly by those who have them. A study conducted by Hull University showed that one in ten women were targeted for 'voyeuristic' reasons by male camera operators. Norris, C. and Armstrong, G. "The unforgiving Eye: CCTV surveillance in public space" Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, Hull University, 1997. Seeing this, the simple solution seems to be to outlaw surveillance equipment entirely or create rules to hold its owners accountable. To some extent, this has already been done. The government is barred from using surveillance and search powers without obtaining necessary legal justification and corporations have similar but less stringent limitations. Nonetheless and unsuprisingly, these rules have not stopped widespread abuse as those who own surveillance systems are often the same ones who fare better in courts and the media due to societal privilege.

Solution: 

People must have the means to watch the watchers. Steve Mann's term "sousveillance" captures this idea. As the age of surveillance is here to stay (at least until we live in a world where people's privacy is put above the sanctity of property), there must be a way to change the dynamic of surveillance. Sousveillance requires tools which are easy for laypeople to use, a network for communicating among those who use them, and a method for spreading information that comes from sousveillance. There are many some tools such as Freedom of Information Laws, cell-phone cameras, and independent media networks which help facilitate sousveillance but there are not nearly enough and they are not as widely adopted as necessary. People must make these tools easier to use, put them into the hands of more people, and make their use ubiquitous enough to truly scare those who they are meant to keep an eye on.

Pattern status: 
Released

Online Anti-Poverty Community

Pattern ID: 
126
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
126
Penny Goldsmith
PovNet
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Anti-poverty advocates and activists are isolated in their own communities. They often do not have the communications and education and training resources they need to do their work. Poor people do not have the information they need in order to take control over their lives and get the resources to which they are entitled, or to advocate effectively for themselves. Lack of access to communication severely limits the opportunities for building communities where poor people can help themselves access the resources they need and where advocates and activists in the anti-poverty community can be involved in organizing for social change locally, nationally and internationally.

Context: 

The players in this online movement include poor people and advocates involved with community advocacy groups, settlement workers, multicultural groups, seniors organizations, disability groups, legal aid, test case interveners, labour organizations, public libraries, women

Discussion: 

Poverty is a debilitating worldwide problem that affects poor people directly, and society at large. Although access to information and resources is critical to overcoming poverty and alleviating the problems of people living in poverty, poor people and anti-poverty advocates traditionally have less access to the internet and other communications technology.

Although poverty and computers do not make for an obvious alliance, it is clear that the two worlds have to connect unless we want to have a society where access to information and resources is only for people who can afford access to the technology. Public access sites are rarely adequate to feed public need; users need people to help them do online research, and free printers to print out forms and information. Hosts of public access sites need money to keep equipment up-to-date and tech support to keep computers and internet connections running smoothly. Lack of access to communication makes it difficult to connect communities in the anti-poverty world outside their local regions.

PovNet is a non-profit society created in British Columbia, Canada in 1997. It is an online resource for anti-poverty advocates and poor people, created to assist poor people and advocates involved in the communities identified above through an integration of offline and online technology and resources. PovNet works with advocates and activists across Canada involved in direct case work and social action and justice. Some of these groups include: * Canada Without Poverty (http://www.cwp-csp.ca/), a national voice for poor people, working to eliminate poverty in Canada * The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/), a left-wing think tank doing research for change in social policy * Canadian Social Research Links (http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/), an all-inclusive resource for social policy information about poverty in Canada.

PovNet is an online home base for advocates in BC and across Canada. Its web site provides regularly updated information about issues and policy changes. Using PovNet resources is an interactive process. Advocates learn the tools because they find them useful in order to do the social justice and case work that they care about; poor and otherwise marginalized people find the web site when they need the information on it that is relevant to their lives.

For example, PovNet email lists have grown over the years to be an invaluable resource for specific campaigns (for example the Raise the Rates campaigns in both Ontario and British Columbia to raise welfare rates). They also provide an online support network for advocates working in sometimes quite isolated areas in British Columbia or in other parts of Canada. As one advocate put it: "I love the PovNet list - on the lighter side there's the kibitzing going on amongst the subscribers which often brings me to laughter - always a good thing in this job. On the serious side - the exchange of ideas and generous sharing of experience is a huge boon to those of us who often don't have time to pick up the phone to seek advice from our colleagues." Another PovNetter says: "The lists that I am a subscriber provide me with first hand current information on what issues are affecting BC residents and/or newcomers. I am able to provide useful information and referrals to some of the requests coming through PovNet lists. They are an invaluable and efficient resource for community advocates, settlement workers working with immigrants and refugees, especially those issues that are time-sensitive and need an immediate response."

Other PovNet tools include online education and training courses on PovNet U for advocates ("Introduction to Advocacy", "Disability Appeals", "Tenants' Rights", "Employment Insurance", "Seniors Residential Care Advocacy", "Dealing with Debt"). 

PovNet is a flexible tool in that it can adapt to needs as specific campaigns emerge. For example, we set up an email list for a  campaign to raise welfare rates, and created an online hub for papers and press releases when a group of anti-poverty activists travelled to tyhe United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of poor people in Canada on social and economic rights.

Building a successful online movement in anti-poverty communities include, first and foremost, the people who are involved in the movement. Start by finding local community workers who want to broaden their connections, getting together key people (without computers) to talk about what is needed and identify the technological limitations, communicate with advocates and activists in diverse anti-poverty communities including urban and ural, First Nations, aboriginal, diverse cultural communities, disability groups, women, youth, seniors, workers, human rights and anti-poverty workers, and international anti-poverty workers. Then identify the barriers, which could include access to the technology (education, money, literacy, language), how to share information, resources and skills between "have" and "have-not" advocacy communities (e.g. community advocates and advocates in funded agencies, etc.), researching how to provide online resources in languages other than English and how to provide an online space for poor people to communicate and access information via public access sites and web based interactive resources.

Barriers for advocates and activists using PovNet tools have changed over the years. Initially, fear of technology was a big factor. But as advocates saw the use of it as a communications tool, they taught and continue to teach each other. Money for computers and printers is an ongoing problem; as the technology demands higher end equipment, advocates in rural communities with dialup get frustrated with attachments that take up all their dialup time, for example. The anti-poverty work gets harder as governments slash social services; the advocates have fewer resources to do their work. Technology can't help that. But in spite of the difficulties, the network continues to grow, make links with other organizations both in Canada and internationally, and exchange ideas and strategies for making social change.

Solution: 

The most effective online anti-poverty communities are constructed from the bottom up rather than the top down. Their resources are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address the need for online anti-poverty activism as they come up. Electronic resources can provide additional tools but they are activated and made useful by the underlying human and locally based networks where the work of advocacy is actually being done.

Pattern status: 
Released

Environmental Impact Remediation

Pattern ID: 
603
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
124
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Jim Gerner
Free Geek Olympia
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although information and communication are often conceived as abstract, intangible and immaterial, the systems that maintain them are, of necessity, constructed with solid things such as paper, lead, concrete, rubber, glass, mercury, cadmium and silicon which are fabricated into the delivery trucks, wires, library buildings, computers, chips and CDs. The manufacture (and ultimate retirement) of all of these things is often accompanied with environmental damage, as the 23 "Superfund" sites in Silicon Valley will attest, In 2005, 63 million computers in the U.S. were replaced with newer models. Up to 80% of the waste is then sent to developing countries where it often contributes to environmental and health hazards. Additionally, energy is consumed — often in immense quantities — throughout every stage in the life-cycle of a product. As devices are made with shorter and shorter life-spans and the uses of ICS increases worldwide, this problem will become more critical unless something is done.

Context: 

Vast numbers of people are affected by the increasing "informatization" of the world. This includes people who are fortunate enough to capitalize on the new technology and those who are unfortunate enough to live with the refuse. This pattern can be used by people who have some control over the situation, including those who are in a position to develop laws and policies, producers who can lessen the effects of their products entering the waste-stream, and local communities who can develop policies and programs for responsible treatment of discarded technology. Community activists, health professionals, local governments, and neighborhood organizations will need to organize and work together in this effort. Other possible participants include computer geeks, social activists, environmental activists and those wanting to learn more about computers and new technology.

Discussion: 

The use of information and communication systems is expanding enormously in countries like the US as well as in countries like China and India. This is causing immense demands on their infrastructure and on the environment. Computer technology has grown increasingly more sophisticated in a very short period of time. During that same time, the costs have dropped in relative and absolute terms, thus resulting in a massive number of obsolete computers and other technology much of which has been dumped somewhere where toxins like lead, cadmium and mercury can leach into the soil and water.

In addition to the new intellectual and social spaces that the new technology helps provide, we need to think about the impact that information and communication systems are having on the environment. Although we associate physical spaces like libraries and auditoriums with energy and resource use, the creation, storage, and distribution of information requires energy and resource use as well. Some of this use doesn't square with conventional wisdom. Computer use, for example was supposed to lower the consumption of paper because everybody would simply read the computer screen. The amount of travel was also going to decline because business could be conducted electronically, thus substituting communication for transportation. The electronics industry was also celebrated as an environmentally friendly industry yet there are 19 "superfund" sites associated with high-tech industries slated for environmental remediation in Santa Clara county, home to more of these sites that any other county in the U.S. IBM and Fairchild Electronics were disposing their waste products in underground tanks which subsequently leaked trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Freon and other solvents into the drinking water of 65,000 people. There also seems to be an unhealthy link between the waste producers and the people who must deal with it, specifically prison inmates who work with inadequate protection and no health insurance working in for profit prisons.

Why pick on information and communication systems? After all, other sectors use energy and cause pollution. One reason is that "electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the waster system," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Another reason is that it's important for people to realize that information and communication technology is not a utopian, magical answer to all problems. Obviously we need to consider the entire life-cycle of all products — including those related to information and communication. (While this task is not trivial, thinking about the "second order" effects while extremely important, is even more difficult to do meaningfully. The effects of the automobile on all aspects of life, including attitudes on sex, as well as the effects of the size of the weapons industry in the U.S. on foreign policy are both intriguing examples of unforeseen side-effects.) Understanding the entire "cradle-to-grave" (and beyond! as in the case of toxins that can reach out from the grave to poison air and water) is critical, but what should be done with the information? It may be easiest to require that every manufactured or imported product is covered under an ecologically-sound "Take-it-Back" (SVTC, 2005) policy that requires the manufacturer or importer to pay for recovery or safe sequestering of hazardous materials.

Free Geek was started in Portland, Oregon in 2000 by members of the open source software community to bring resources to bear on the problems of e-waste and the digital divide by helping "the needy get nerdy." The Free Geek approach combines participatory education and environmentalism. Free Geek addresses the problem of discarded computers and other electronic e-waste can be diminished by reusing and recycling. Free Geek uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology. Volunteers are eligible to receive a computer after finishing a tour of service which educates the volunteer about computers and about the environmental impacts of ICT. The city government in Portland, as part of their effort to reduce e-waste helps support the project. A broad range of people are working together to cross the economic and social divides by working towards a common goal. The Free Geek concept has quickly spread to other areas including Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Free Geek approach is not the only way to address the problem of lacking a community recycling program. There are many similar projects throughout the country that may or may not use open source software. But Free Geek is worth mentioning here for many reasons. First, Free Geek was developed by civil society; second, Free Geek is a partnership between several sectors and thus helps bring all sectors of the local community into a common struggle; and, third, Free Geek is an innovative approach that deftly addresses a multitude of issues within a common set of principles, assumptions and actions.

Starting and running a Free Geek or similar program requires a variety of skills and activities. The pattern can only be implemented by a group of people. To start that group one would post meeting announcements and invite members from local Linux users groups, college students and others. Since the overall environment for this approach will vary from community to community it's important to find out what's happening in your community and who's involved. The success of the project is likely to depend on how well you understand your community and can work with people in the community. Beyond that, there are many "nuts and bolts" issues including finding space and funding and developing programs. Associating with Free Geek is probably a good idea because of its network of dedicated people, useful documents and software for running an community recycling project.

The environmental problems associated with information and communication technology are severe and no mutually agreed-upon long-term, sustainable solution has been identified. People are developing a variety of creative and thoughtful responses to the problems of ICT-related pollution but more are needed. Information and communication technology can probably be part of the solution — but part of this involves stopping be part of the problem.

Solution: 

As a necessary part of stewardship and responsibility, it's essential to come to terms with the environmental impact of information and communication systems and devise suitable strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. Some combination of policy, consumer education, habits of consumption, social and technological innovation and recycling will probably be necessary for this take place effectively.

Introductory graphic located at http://freegeek.org/volunteer.php

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although information and communication may seem abstract and immaterial, the systems that support them are built with solid things whose manufacture and disposal is often accompanied with environmental damage. We must acknowledge the environmental impact of these systems and devise strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. One group, Free Geek, uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology by reusing and recycling.

Pattern status: 
Released

Community Inquiry

Pattern ID: 
724
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
122
Ann Bishop
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Bertram (Chip) Bruce
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Communities face a wide variety of challenges in areas of health, education, economic development, sustainable environments, and social order. But regardless of the difficulty of these challenges, a necessary condition for addressing them is for communities to find ways for members to work together. Too often, community members work at cross purposes and fail to develop what Jane Addams (1912, Nov. 2) called "the capacity for affectionate interpretation," resulting in what John Dewey (1927) called "the eclipse of the public." Community inquiry is what Addams and Dewey called their theory and practice for reshaping communities and, thus, society at large.

Context: 

The challenges for constructive communities are as old as humanity and there will never be an absolute or universal solution to them. One reason is that every member of a community has unique experiences in life and thus unique perspectives, beliefs, and values. This diversity can be a source of strength within communities, but it can also lead to frustration, disappointment, conflict, and even violence. Diverse institutions have been created to address community challenges, including public libraries, public schooling, procedures for democratic governance, and venues for free expression. Often, however, these institutions are reduced from their idealized conception. With community inquiry, diversity becomes a resource and institutions are knit together productively.

Discussion: 

As Jane Addams pointed out in founding Chicago's Hull-House, the first settlement house in the U.S. (Addams, 1912), and Dewey examined through the creation of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, democracy has been more realized in its political than its social expression. That is, even when formal procedures are established and maintained, meaningful participation is by no means guaranteed. For example, a public library might offer a large collection of books available at no charge to members of the community, but meaningful use of those materials depends also on available public transportation, broad-scale development of literacy skills, and a social organization that makes people feel welcome. In this and many other examples, it is clear that the problem goes beyond institutions, structures, and procedures, requiring instead the means by which every member of the community comes into the process of authority.

Community inquiry provides a theoretical and action framework for people to come together to develop shared capacity and work on common problems in an experimental and critical manner. The word community signals support for collaborative activity and for creating knowledge that is connected to people's values, history, and lived experiences. Inquiry points to support for open-ended, democratic, participatory engagement.

Consider the case of East St. Louis. Its widely noted dissolution and destruction (Kozol, 1991) resulted from many factors, both internal and external. The integration of housing in neighboring cities had the perverse effect of East St. Louis losing most of its middle class and professional workers. Racism, both within and towards the city, was a key factor that led to its failure to get the resources it needed to maintain a vibrant community. Problems compounded as elements within the city began to pull in different directions, often serving their own ends at the expense of the larger community. For example, companies dumped hazardous waste and landlords allowed buildings to become dilapidated and dangerous. From a community inquiry perspective, East St. Louis exhibited a failure for democratic, participatory engagement and demonstrated little evidence of people within the city or larger entities—state and national—coming together with shared values and goals.

At the same time, East St. Louis has survived and in some aspects has developed the capacity to thrive. Community members have come together to address the severe problems they faced. Substantial assets, such as the talent and dedication of Katherine Dunham, have taken enduring form in her museums and international dance workshops for children (http://www.eslarp.uiuc.edu/kdunham/). The community collaborates with other organizations, such the University of Illinois; their joint East St. Louis Action Research Project (http://www.eslarp.uiuc.edu) has helped improve conditions in the city by setting up, for example, community technology centers, new housing, a light rail station, and a youth-driven community theater. At the same time, ESLARP has provided new opportunities for university students, staff, and faculty who have worked in the community.

A key element of the work in East St. Louis is that it reflects continuing inquiry by people who are invested in the community in a variety of ways. That is, successes to date have not come from outsiders dictating and delivering solutions, but by bringing together participants from diverse perspectives to work together. Moreover, this work, while it addresses very practical problems of jobs, environment, health, education, cultural preservation and enrichment, and so forth, does not stop there. Instead, local action becomes a means through which the residents and those outside learn more about the community and its possibilities. In that sense, inquiry is both action and understanding. The lesson from East St. Louis, and similar communities, is that the process of community inquiry is ultimately of greater importance than the solving a specific problem.

We see many additional examples around the world of the power of community inquiry. In the domain of community development and learning, for example, a National Science Foundation study carried out in rural villages around Bangladesh related the finding that material from well-worn saris supplied a filtering material that worked better in reducing cholera than the nylon mesh that microbiologists had developed (Recer, 2003). In Reggio Emilia, Italy, with few of the resources found in affluent and advanced communities, families and teachers developed an innovative approach to education, now heralded throughout the world, that recognizes the potential of all children to learn and grow “in relation with others, through the hundred languages of doing, being, reflecting, and knowing” (http://www.reggioalliance.org). Community inquiry can also be manifested in the development of information and communication technology. See, for example, the culturally situated design tools developed collaboratively between Renssalear Polytechnic Institute and its community partners (http://www.rpi.edu/~eglash/csdt.html) and the Community Inquiry Laboratory software created collectively by the University of Illinois and its partners around the world, who come from all walks of life (http://ilabs.inquiry.uiuc.edu).

Solution: 

Therefore: When a community faces some problem, think of it not simply as something to be fixed but rather as an opportunity for the community to come together, to build capacity, and to learn about itself and its situation in a manner that can be joyful and intellectually stimulating. Recognize that every member of the community has knowledge that may be critical to solving that problem but can be discovered only if that individual has a voice and a say in what the community does. Recognize also that most problems are not solvable in one step and even when they are, may recur in the future. Thus, it is critical for the community to not only fix its problems but to become an organism capable of further inquiry. The community’s knowledge about how to deal with challenges is not in fixed procedures but rather in the capacity to learn through ongoing action, or what Dewey called experimental knowing.

We have created a diagram to represent this cycle of ongoing community inquiry (see below): a spiral of asking questions, investigating solutions, creating new knowledge as we gather information, discussing our discoveries and experiences, and reflecting on our new-found understanding.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Communities face challenges in areas of health, education, economic development, sustainable environments, and social order. But regardless of the difficulty of these challenges, a necessary condition for addressing them is for communities to find ways for members to work together. Community Inquiry provides a theoretical and action framework for people to develop shared capacity and work on common problems in an experimental and critical manner.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Emily Barney

Telecenters

Pattern ID: 
871
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
117
Michel J. Menou
Peter Day
Douglas Schuler
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Across the globe new information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly perceived as elements essential to citizenship in contemporary society. However, numerous preconditions must be met before a person can make use of the applications and systems that represent the network society. Sometimes understood as contributing to the phenomenon known as the digital divide, these preconditions include, at the very least, an income level that facilitates payment for the equipment, its maintenance and operation; skills to use ICT, the availability of electricity; an awareness of ICT might matter and confidence in oneself and in the possibility of an improvement in one's condition. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people on planet earth, these preconditions are not being met nor are they likely to be in the near future!

Context: 

Telecenter projects can exist at various levels from the small local community, for example, to the neighborhood or grassroots organization in a village, to the entirety of a large country, or even at the international level. Telecenters are, on the one hand, rooted in particular circumstances and, on the other hand, a product of dynamic realities. Because no two communities are alike (different environments, cultures, norms, values, etc.) the idea that recipes, "best practices", models or the like can be found and mechanically replicated across communities is foolish. Nevertheless a clear understanding of basic concepts and principles might be a useful guide for individual and collective reflection, as once again telecenters emerge as significant network society phenomena.

This pattern might be useful for individuals and grass root organizations for whom the use of appropriate ICT might strengthen their efforts toward overcoming the limitations of existing social conditions. It might also be useful for local or central government agencies intending to undertake positive action, with the help of purposeful and appropriate uses of ICT, in favor of social progress.

Discussion: 

In order to overcome the limitations listed above, the idea that public facilities might be established within communities is now fairly commonplace around the world (Menou 2003). Modern public access points to ICT are often referred to as "telecenters" even though their origins, ownership, purposes and modes of operation are so diverse that the development of a typology of public access points might be justifed, so that the commonalities and differences might be understood (Menou & Stoll 2003b).

Telecentres first emerged in Scandinavia and the UK during the 1980s and early 1990 and were known as telecottages, telehus, teleservice centers and electronic village Halls (Day, 1996 a&b) while the first "Community Computer Center" in the US was established in 1981 in the basement of a housing project in Harlem (New York City) (Schuler, 1996). Intended to provide public access to computing technology, these initiatives were either run as community development projects, commercial ventures or a bit of both (Day, 2001; Day & Harris, 1997). In the so-called "developing countries" one might distinguish 3 main avenues that the development of telecenters took. Most publicized is "pilot projects" initiated by international development agencies such as UNESCO, World Bank, IDRC, USAID, etc., which resulted in the implantation of isolated facilities with limited involvment of the communities at the beginning, e.g. Timbuctu in Mali, Kothmale in Sri Lanka. Another line is government programs pretending to overcome the "digital divide" by the implantation of a large number of telecenters in "undepriviledged" communities (e.g. @Argentina) with the same drawbacks of a top down approach, no networking plus bureaucratic constraints. A third line combines individual initiatives by grass root NGOs in particular locales and a franchising model developed by the Red Cientifica Peruana in Peru, known as "Cabinas Publicas Internet" which entertained ambiguities between community service and small business development.

Today the variety of public ICT access points (or PIAPs) and the nature of their roles is more wide-ranging and can be distinguished according to:

- their origin, ranging from ad hoc initiative of an individual to national and international programs;
- their purpose, ranging from profit of business owners - e.g. cyber or internet cafés - to free support to community development endeavors - e.g. true community telecenters;
- their ownership, ranging from individual small entrepreneurs to community groups, local and central government entities;
- the community participation in their governance, ranging from nil to full control;
- the mix of ICT available, ranging from only one, e.g. public phone booths, to all (e.g. phone, fax, internet, radio, web TV, etc.);
- the variety of services offered ranging from independant use of ICT to a wide mix of economic, social, educational and cultural activities;
- whether they stand alone or are part of a more or less extensive network

True community telecenters are part of the efforts undertaken by community members to build community and improve community conditions; they utilise ICT as a means, among others, that facilitate the attainment of these objectives (Menou & Stoll, 2003a). The centers are designed and managed with full participation of the community (Roessner 2005). Non- community telecenters are only concerned with providing access to ICT at an affordable cost to people who are deprived from it, whether temporarily or permanently. For the remainder of this pattern we focus exclusively on community telecenters.

Community telecenters typically get started via two main avenues:

1) They are the brain child of interested individuals or grass root community groups who champion their development and implementation through various community strategies and actions; or
2) They form part of a top down (usually government or international agency) program purporting to bridge the "digital divide".

Telecenters face a variety of problems and challenges that can be categorized as either social, political, economic, or technical.

In the social realm the key issues are:

- the relevance of the telecenter and ICT use as a means to support the various development efforts undertaken by the community
- the appropriateness of its role, the social interaction it permits and the information it makes available, especially with regard to cultural and gender biases
- the availability of people with required skills to operate and manage the telecenter and provide training and support to the users
- the level of information and computer literacy in the community and the availability of intermediaries to offset their deficiency
- the availability and accessibility of local information.

In the political realm, key issues are:

- the degree of ownership that the community might have from the inception, or progressively reach;
- the level and continuity of community involvement in the management of the telecenter
- the support of, or conversely conflict with, local and national authorities and pressure groups
- the relationship with national programs in the area of universalization of telecommunications services and digital inclusion, and the ability of the telecenters to preserve their identity and autonomy though participating as appropriate in such programs;
- the attitude of telecommunication companies vis a vis competition, universalization and digital inclusion efforts.

In the economic realm, key issues are:

- funding for initial investments
- securing regular income streams that can can support the operation of the telecenter
- securing resources for the maintenance and renewal of the equipment
- offering employment conditions that are attractive enough for retaining the permanent staff

In the technological realm, key issues are:

- reliability and cost of power supply
- reliability and cost of telecommunications
- reliability and cost of access to the international internet backbones
- ability to implement a distributed network
- capability of operating FOSS applications
- capability of deploying media integration, in particular radio

In many countries central governments have funding programs to encourage the development of "telecenters". Significant financial backing from international organizations is also commonplace and support is also often available from local governements.

Telecenter associations have been set up and are seeking to establish their influence at the local level as well as forming broader groups at regional and international levels. These structures are powerful instruments for sharing knowledge and experiences, helping each other and consolidating the movement Menou, Delgadillo Poepsel & Stoll 2004). Such grass root organizations should not be confused with a number of top down portals and support schemes that pretend to represent telecenters and disseminate second hand knowledge for sake of specific political and commercial interests

Mirroring events from the 1980s & 90s when computers were parachuted into communities as part of top down development programmes, the current crop of telecentres face similar challenges of social, financial and technological sustainability. At that time telecottages and electronic village halls (EVHs) were very much flavor of the month among government and funding agencies (Day, 2001; Day & Harris, 1997). However, they were viewed as short-term project that were expected to achieve sustainability with no support or training. Some transformed themselves into small commercial ventures but most closed eventually leaving behind them a great deal of frustration and dissillusionment in the community.

Very few lessons from that period appear to have be learnt. In the UK, the UK Online Centre programme, some 10 years or so after the initial telecottages and EVHs closed, many of the UK Online centres have closed or are closing after massive amounts of public funds had been pumped into them. Across the globe, the present tranche of telecenters seem to be following a very similar pattern of contradictory trends. On the one hand they are recognized by governments and international agencies as key instruments for achieving digital inclusion. Thus a proliferation of funding programs to support their establishment has been witnessed in recent years. On the other hand the support currently being displayed has no long-term policy substance behind it and may not resist the medium term hazards of development endeavors. The pressure toward securing financial sustainability in the short-term - usually 3 to 4 years - may indeed push many telecenters to close or attempt to reinvent themselves as business enterprises wherever this is feasible despite the fact that by definition they serve a population which does not have a level of income sufficient for paying for non essential goods and services. Similar attempts in the UK and Scandinavia have historically proved fruitless and we hold out little hope for the future of most telecenters without significant changes being made to policy and funding strategies.

Examples
Asodigua, Guatemala: http://www.asodigua.org
SAMPA.org, Brazil: http://www.sampa.org
Container Project, Jamaica: http://www.container-project.net

Solution: 

In the same way that public library services facilitated increased participation in society for the socially excluded through universal access to knowledge, so too can telecenters have a similar socially beneficial effect on citizenship in the network society by increasing access to and participation in information (content) creation, communication exchanges and knowledge sharing. However, history shows that treating community telecenters as short-term projects rather than part of the social infrastructure results in the long-term failure of these initiatives with community disillusionment and increased social exclusion ensuing. For telecenters to be effective instruments in bridging the digital divide and promoting social inclusion consideration of their policy, economic, technological and social sustainability is required.

We posit that a policy framework is required which establishes community telecenters as component parts of basic infrastructure supporting community life. Such policies should develop mechanisms that guarantee that appropriate levels of funding will be maintained to ensure long-term operations. In the network society, telecenters should be as much apart of our social infrastructures as public libraries, education, police services, etc. It is simply inappropriate to expect telecenters to function as instruments of social inclusion in the digital age by adopting business models from the commercial world. Similarly, the composition of the funding model that many telecenters are forced to live by is flawed. Relatively large sums of capital funding that support the purchase of equipment is made available but little or no long-term funding is obtainable for revenue functions such as equipment and network maintenance and renewal, on-going training, or the advocacy and awareness raising work that keeps telecenters at the hub of community activities and needs. Even in some of the most well intentioned cases a form of myopia exists, where ICT is concerned. Approaches that would not be accepted in other aspects of social life appear to the norm where technology is concerned. Simply throwing computers into local communities does not in itself address community need. If technology is to be both appropriate and effective it must form constituent parts of the toolbox that communities have for dealing with issues and problems. Telecenters must be grounded in the fabric of community life if they are to be socially sustainable.

A pre-requisite for social sustainability is community engagement. This demands community people getting actively involved in shaping and running telecenters in some way. In all likelihood this will involve learning directly from the experience of community telecenters operating in conditions similar to their own, so social networking skills need to be developed. Social sustainability means identifying what contribution a telecenter might make to community development efforts and involving community groups in designing, implementing and developing the telecenter. Operation and management training for members is essential if telecenters are to prosper. Support and advice in identifying and acquiring appropriate funding sources is a necessity. Finally, local communities can assist themselves in these matters by electing public administrators and lawmakers who genuinely support community technology initiatives and who understand the significance of their role in the community environment.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Across the globe new information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly perceived as essential to citizenship. In the same way that public libraries increased participation for the socially excluded through universal access to knowledge, so too can Telecenters that provide free or inexpensive ICT facilities. Remember that numerous preconditions must be met before Telecenters can effectively meet their objectives.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Creative Commons. Photograph by Tariq Zaman

Universal Voice Mail

Pattern ID: 
750
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
113
Jenn Brandon
Community Technology Institute
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How do people find a job without a telephone? How do they avail themselves of services, receive timely information, or stay connected to loved ones if they do not have a reliable message number? Even in this very wired age, the need for a phone number remains; the lack of a constant telephone number becomes a very real obstacle for the homeless or phoneless.

Context: 

Communities around the world have different levels of technological sophistication for supporting the everyday conversations of its members. The health of a community is sustained by these conversations and people who are blocked from this universe of conversations are, in a fundamental way, blocked from membership in the community. For that reason the integration of people into the broad community conversation network is important to all communities. Voice mail is a low-cost solution that substitutes for dial tone for those unable to afford it. Community Providing voice mail to a community of people cut off from the communications infrastructure is technologically plausible and works well in urban environments where there is existing infrastructure (telephone service, community providers, and pay telephones); however, the need for the service exists anywhere there are disconnected people. The audience of users runs the gamut from the homeless to the working poor to people fleeing domestic violence or dealing with health problems in need of a confidential communication link that is easy to access.

Discussion: 

In 1991, two program directors at the Seattle Worker Center conceived of a small project that had an unpredictably potent impact. Called Community Voice Mail (CVM), the idea responded practically to a specific problem: How can a homeless person find work or housing, receive medical or social services, or navigate daily life without a reliable and direct point of contact? Furthermore, how can the job developer, the doctor, the advocate, in short, the social services system charged with the mission to respond to the needs of the poor and homeless, do so efficiently and effectively if they must devote hours to tracking down the individuals they serve?

Community Voice Mail responds to this need by acting like a home answering machine for thousands of people across a community. The CVM service is a shared resource operated by the CVM national office and a local community-based organization that takes on the role of host. This host builds a network of participating agencies to maximize the distribution of the resource cost-effectively. People in crisis and transition may enroll in CVM through any number of social, human, or health services agencies in the community. By providing multiple points of access, the service allows practical and flexible eligibility criteria while maintaining basic measurement standards.

As of 2008, the program operates in forty-one U.S. cities and in Melbourne, Australia, connecting more than 461,000 people annually. The CVM national office provides guidance on how to start a CVM service and supports the resulting federation of peer sites. Cisco Systems is the majority funder of the nonprofit program and donated equipment and software for a centralized network that uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to manage accounts for tens of thousands of users. The network’s advanced capabilities include a broadcast messaging feature that is used to distribute information about job openings, training opportunities, community resources, and emergency weather warnings to the voicemail subscribers.

Connecting individuals via communication services integrates people into existing communication networks but, also, helps establish new networks. These networks could help support the community of people who use the system by allowing the users and the managers of the system to share relevant information and mobilize users in relation to specific issues and events.

Universal voice mail presents a meaningful pattern and objective that can assist communities by encouraging the integration of all people into the community. At the same time the employment of this pattern will necessarily take a wide variety of forms depending on many factors. These forms will be determined by the people who will use the services, organizations in the community that are providing the services, and the general nature and climate of social services in the community. Other things, including the technological infrastructure, social capital, and the ability to raise funds in the community, perhaps through an innovative commercial sector are relevant as well. The dedication of the organizers is also key, as is their ability to collaborate and incrementally improve the level of support over time. Since technological systems are still changing rapidly (although they are unevenly distributed, with the more technically sophisticated systems concentrated in economically privileged regions) the nature of the service needs — and the technological support that is needed to support the service — will undoubtedly change as well.

Solution: 

Universal voicemail should be available as a low-cost alternative to telephone service so that all people, regardless of income, have a reliable point of contact that maintains dignity and restores connection to opportunity and support.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Even in this very wired age, the lack of a telephone number can be a real problem. Universal Voice Mail is a low-cost solution for those unable to afford their own telephone. Potential users include the homeless, the working poor, people fleeing domestic violence, or those otherwise in need of confidentiality. Universal Voice Mail should be available as an alternative to telephone service so that all people have a reliable point of contact and a link to their community.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
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