localism

Service-Learning

Pattern ID: 
428
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
90
Norman Clark
Appalachian State University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The people who are the most affected by the digital divide typically need to access information from nonprofit organizations. However, most NPO's do not have the time, personnel, and/or skills to create and maintain web sites. Thus, the service-oriented information needed the most by lower income community members is often not online. In addition, many lower-income community members lack the skills necessary to effectively use web sites. Finally, data supporting the local impact of the digital divide is often insufficient or even non-existent.

Context: 

This problem has a unique solution in regions surrounding college campuses with service-learning programs.

Discussion: 

The groups most likely to be impacted negatively by the digital divide are paradoxically the groups that need access to basic service-related information the most. Quite often, members of these groups also lack the skills needed to use the Internet effectively. In addition, nonprofit organizations (NPO's) often have the information needed by these disadvantaged groups, but also paradoxically are unable to make this information available online. The needs of both groups are in conflict, and create a context in which it is extremely difficult for either group’s needs to be met. Digital Divide Impacted Groups’ Needs: * easily accessible and up-to-date information * interaction with service providers * appealing design * intuitive navigation systems * training NPO's Needs/Lacks: * personnel to put information online while still meeting clients' needs * additional time to create and maintain web pages * knowledge and skill to create effective web sites * funds to pay for server space or a webmaster One possible solution is for the NPO's to rely on a volunteer from the community to create and maintain a website. However, relying on volunteer labor for web sites is risky, due to the turnover rate and varying skill levels of volunteers. What is needed is a pool of skilled, but cost-free, assistance. One place to find this pool is on college campuses with service-learning programs. Service-learning is a pedagogical method designed to link course content with external experiences. Students learn the course-related materials through traditional learning in the classroom and through practical projects in and with the community, as well as about the reality and significance of the social issues faced by the community; while simultaneously providing a service to the community by meeting specific needs of the agencies or the populations with which they work. A service-learning class intentionally links the content of the course to a relevant NPO's goals. Students benefit from the chance to apply their skills to a real problem, and to learn about the needs of the community; while the NPO's benefit from the chance to have some of their goals and needs met, and to influence the next generation of leaders. In the long run, research has shown that students who take part in service-learning courses feel a greater sense of connection to their local communities, as well as an understanding of their interdependence with their neighbors. Connection and interdependence are building blocks of responsibility, and responsible citizens are in turn the building blocks of strong communities. The initiative for a service-learning course can come from a number of different places. Individual professors can choose to use this pedagogical method in their courses, universities may require service-learning in certain classes, or community agencies may propose projects that fit with the learning objectives of a class. Regardless of the source, effective service-learning requires collaboration between the members of the community and the academic institution: it should be done WITH the community, not ON the community. The goals and needs of the community must be combined with the goals and needs of the course. This process of collaboration is often facilitated by offices on the campus specifically designated to assist with service-learning. The service can take one of three forms. 1) Direct service: students work with the community members served by local agencies. In the case of the digital divide, students in a wide range of courses could train local community members to access and evaluate online information. This training could be done at the local library, senior centers, retirement homes, elementary schools, and any other locations with the necessary facilities (connected computers). 2) Indirect service: students work with the local community agencies to provide them with some needed assistance, which indirectly benefits their clients. In the case of the digital divide, students in web design courses can be required to create and/or update web sites for local NPO's, or run workshops training agencies representatives to maintain their own sites. 3) Community-based research: students (with faculty support) conduct research for and with a local community agency. In the case of the digital divide, people trying to change the existing systems sometimes lack the hard evidence needed to prove that a problem exists. Students in a wide range of research-methods courses could conduct survey research into the impact of the digital divide at the local level. But most importantly, the impact of a service-learning course goes beyond the immediate project: it results in changed lives. This is because a critical component of any service-learning course is reflection. Research shows that we don't really learning anything from experience (we often make the same mistakes repeatedly); we learn from thinking about our experiences. Students in service-learning courses are required to reflect on their experience in rigorous, thoughtful, and evaluated ways. This process drives the learning home, increasing the integration of knowledge they have gained in the present course with the way they live their lives in the future. For example, to create web sites, students must understand the agency, which means they must research the role that the NPO plays in the community, the populations that it serves, and the social issues that underlie its mission. This research helps students understand how critical access to the right information is for everyone, and how information is always related to power. Putting students in contact with members of the local community can also help dispel stereotypes. Students' easy access to computers often leads them to mistakenly believe that the digital divide is just a "Mercedes divide." Requiring students to work with underfunded and understaffed non-profit agencies, who are themselves working with disadvantaged groups, can open their eyes to the very real informational needs in the communities in which they live.

Solution: 

Service-learning provides a way to use the resources of a college or university to meet real community needs, such as designing web sites for NPO's or training community members to effectively access and evaluate information online. Students can create valuable resources for the community while simultaneously becoming more aware of the social issues in that community. This ensures that once people are able to cross the digital divide, they will find the local information that they need, and not just more places to shop. This also creates the possibility for the next generation of leaders to have a better understanding of the information needs of their local community.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

While many important community issues are ignored, higher education often focuses on abstractions. It can miss the myriad issues that are everywhere. Service-learning connects learning and research to practical projects. In relation to the online world students could maintain web sites for non-profit organizations, train agency representatives to maintain their own sites, and train community members to access and evaluate online information.

Pattern status: 
Released
Pattern annotations: 

Future Design

Pattern ID: 
441
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
88
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

By acting as though the future will never arrive and things never change, we are subconsciously creating the future with the seeds that we are unwittingly sowing today. Whether by actively embracing the conventional "wisdom" that has created these socially and environmentally precarious times or by succumbing to the dictates of habit, instinct or necessity, humankind seems to sleepwalking into the future. Indeed it is quite plausible that we are creating the ideal conditions today for unspeakable disasters tomorrow.

Context: 

This pattern can be used in a million situations, especially when people feel strongly that the directions they're following aren't the directions that they think they ought to be following. Employing this pattern often takes the form of a collaborative envisioning exercise with a variety of stakeholders.

Discussion: 

Looking at the future with open, imaginative and critical eyes can open up the possibility of — if not the demand for — fundamental social change. After all, why would anybody bother to contemplate the future if there were no possibility of change; if every step taken was an echo of some past step.

The purpose of this pattern is to get people actively engaged envisioning better futures and making plans on how to get there. Through "rehearsing for the future" we hope to create a wealth of possible scenarios that could become the positive "self-fulfilling prophecies" of tomorrow, rather than the violent and exploitive scenarios that seem to rule today.

Educational settings are not the only setting for introducing and advancing a rich future-oriented agenda but they may be the best. Unfortunately, however, current educational practices seem to be oblivious to the future. Schools present topics such as mathematics or science with no historical context. History, on the other hand, though based on human events, becomes an "authoritative" recounting of past facts while the future is a "mere abstraction" (Slaughter & Beare, 1993). And since everything seemingly and inexorably unfolded in an inevitable way, the sequence of human events appears largely unalterable.

One failing of a non futures-oriented educational approach is the lack of inquiry into the causes of the world's problems (Slaughter & Beare, 1993). Nor is there any effort to develop or consider that could help alleviate these problems. Beyond a cursory look at history, where the impact of people who aren't elites is never evident, many people worldwide live in an eternal now, a temporal cocoon which cultivates amnesia of the past and ill preparedness for the future. Both elites and "ordinary people" seem unwilling to acknowledge that they have roles in shaping the future. Forgetting that fact in the face of immense 21st Century challenges strips humankind of its fundamental capacity to consciously make plans (Slaughter & Beare, 1993).

Future Design helps surface the internal models of the future that have been ignored, repressed, or deliberately kept from view, and attempts to understand how they play out and how they came to be. At the same time, and somewhat independently, Future Design builds new models that help liberate us from dangerous inertia and help us be more effective in our thinking about and acting on the future.

There is an endless variety of exercises, games, workshops, and other activities that we are calling "Future Design." Many of these could be organized and convened in just about any setting. Lori Blewett and Doug Schuler recently used a "Design a Society" workshop to organize a large team project in our "Global Citizenship" program at The Evergreen State College. Schools, of course, should not be the only place where Future Design can be pursued. Future Design activities are needed that could be done individually (and, hopefully, shared), on the job (government, NGOs, business, etc.), with activists, and as broad-based, possibly phased, longer-termed projects — with or without government involvement and support.

The current project, Open Space Seattle 2100 to develop a "comprehensive open space network vision for Seattle's next 100 years" contains elements (including the need for participants and resources — even if it's just time) that could be considered typical of Future Design activities. Since the Seattle plan is ambitious it requires broad support and ample resources. The University of Washington and the City of Seattle are key players as are a variety of environmental, civic, neighborhood, professional and other groups. Many of the Future Design projects that have civic goals are participatory and inclusive. At the same time that the community is developing a collective vision, the organizers also aim "To catalyze a long-term advocacy coalition and planning process for Seattle's integrated open space."

The Seattle project consciously invokes the visionary park and landscape work of the Olmstead brothers in the early 1990's that contributed to Seattle's livability. The timeline for this project which is longer than standard planning horizons, frees participants from a variety of constraints on their thinking. By encouraging people to think beyond what's considerable immediately do-able people are more likely to be creative. On the other hand, if the timeframe is too far in the future participants are likely to feel detached from the enterprise. The Seattle project gets around this by including tasks for the short-term as well as visions for the long-term.

In order to strike a balance between the real and the imagined, designers of Future Design projects must provide a structure for less-structured activities to take place within. The projects must provide prompts — scenarios, instructions, props, etc. — that encourage people to imagine a future without forcing them down certain paths. Since people can't simply be instructed to "be creative," these "prompts" are used to promote futures thinking among the participants. This pattern can be used in many settings, but research has shown that Future Design needs a supportive atmosphere, and, as Open Space Technology literature suggests, participants need to participate with passion, commitment and an open-mind. A broad spectrum of community groups needs to be represented, or at least recognised, or the outcome can reaffirm prejudices and help perpetuate old conflicts.

Future Design processes often provide a variety of participatory opportunities. The 7-10 person teams that addressed open space issues in one of the neighborhoods outlined on the Seattle Charrette Map (see image at end of this pattern) are key to the effort but organizers have organized a lecture series and a blog (http://open2100.blogspot.com) to encourage alternative ways to participate.

Massive challenges await this vain undertaking at every turn. How effective is Future Design? How do games and other Future Design approaches translate into action How do future designers from one group build on the results of others? Interestingly a project whose recommendations aren't implemented can still be a success. Margaret Keck describes the "Solucao Integrada" (Integrated Solution), a plan for sewage treatment and environmental restoration in Brazil, which, although shelved by the government, lived on in the public's eye as an example of sensible large-scale solution in the face of other ill-conceived projects. "Success" must be judged in a variety of ways and this includes inclusivity and richness of the Future Design process, its immediate impacts and its indirect contributions to the overall imagination and civic culture of a community.

Finally, as John Perry Barlow's email tagline reminds us: "Man plans, God laughs." Human history is full of twists, enlightened and macabre, tragic and heroic. The future is unlikely to come out the way we think it will or want it to, but that shouldn't prevent us from trying to work towards the goal of a more just and healthy future.

Solution: 

Develop participatory activities that addrdess these four major objectives: (1) Develop visions of the future and ideas about how to achieve them; (2) Bring into the light and critically analyze the current models of the future that people, society and institutions are employing both explicitly and implicitly; (3) Help instill feelings of empowerment, compassion, hope and courage in futures thinking and action; and (4) At the same time, cultivate humility in regards to the unknowability of the future and the limits to human reason and understanding.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

By acting as though the future will never arrive and things will never change, we are creating the future with the seeds that we are sowing today. The purpose of Future Design is to get people actively engaged envisioning better futures and making plans on how to get there. Through "rehearsing for the future" we hope to create possible scenarios that could become the positive "self-fulfilling prophecies" of tomorrow.

Pattern status: 
Released

Voices of the Unheard

Pattern ID: 
479
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
83
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Despite the significant effort and thought that goes into decision making and design, bad decisions and designs are frequently conceived and implemented primarily because a critical and relevant perspective was not brought to bear. This is especially true if the missing perspective represents that of someone who holds a stake in the outcome.

Context: 

Complex problems such as the construction of new social institutions or the design of multifaceted interactive systems require that a multitude of viewpoints be brought to bear. Unfortunately, this is all too often not the case. One group builds a "solution" for another group without fully understanding the culture, user needs, extreme cases, and so on. The result is often a technical or social system that creates as many problems as it solves. This process is often exacerbated when those building the "solution" interact more intensely with each other than with those affected by the solution.

Discussion: 

The forces at work in the situations requiring this pattern include:

* Gaps in requirements are most cheaply repaired early in development; for this reason, as well as the need to gain acceptance by all parties, all stakeholders must have a say throughout any development or change process. This is an ethical issue as well.
* It is logistically difficult to ensure that all stakeholder groups are represented at every meeting.
* A new social institution or design will be both better in quality and more easily accepted if all relevant parties have input.

The idea for this pattern comes from a Native American story transcribed by Paula Underwood entitled, "Who Speaks for Wolf?"

In brief, the story goes as follows. The tribe had as one of its members a man who took it upon himself to learn all that he could about wolves. He became such an expert that his fellow tribes members called him "Wolf." While Wolf and several other braves were out on a long hunting expedition, it became clear to the tribe that they would have to move to a new location. After various reconnaissance missions, a new site was selected and the tribe moved.

Shortly thereafter, it became clear that a mistake had been made. The new location was in the middle of a wolves’ breeding ground. The wolves were threatening the children and stealing the drying meat. Now, the tribe was faced with a hard decision. Should they move again? Should they post guards around the clock? Or should they destroy the wolves? Did they even want to be the sort of people who would kill off another species for their own convenience?

At last it was decided they would move to a new location. But as was their custom, they also asked themselves, "What did we learn from this? How can we prevent making such mistakes in the future?" Someone said, "Well, if Wolf would have prevented this mistake had he been at our first council meeting." "True enough," they all agreed. “Therefore, from now on, whenever we meet to make a decision, we shall ask ourselves, ‘Who speaks for Wolf?’ to remind us that someone must be capable and delegated to bring to bear the knowledge of any missing stakeholders.”

Much of the failure of "process re-engineering" can be attributed to the fact that "models" of the "as is" process were developed based on some executive's notion of how things were done rather than a study of how they were actually performed or asking the people who actually did the work how the work was done. A "should be" process was designed to be a more efficient version of the "as is" process and then implementation was pushed down on workers. However, since the original "as is" model was not based on reality, the "more efficient" solution often left out vital elements.

Technological and sociological "imperialism" provide many additional examples in which the input of all stakeholders was not taken into account. Of course, much of the history of the U.S. government's treatment of Native Americans reflects a refusal to truly include all the stakeholders.

A challenge in applying the "Who Speaks for Wolf" pattern is to judge honestly and correctly whether, indeed, someone does have the knowledge and delegation to "speak for Wolf." If such a person is not present, we may do well to put off the design or decision until such a person, or better, "Wolf" himself can be present.

As a variant of this, a prototype creativity tool has been created. The idea is to have a "board of directors" consisting of famous people. When you have a problem to solve, you are supposed to be reminded of, and think about, how various people would approach this problem. Ask yourself, "What would Einstein have said?" "How would Gandhi have approached this problem?"

Solution: 

Provide ways to remind people of stakeholders who are not present. These methods could be procedural (certain Native Americans always ask, "Who speaks for Wolf"), visual (e.g.,diagrams, lists) or auditory (e.g., songs).

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Despite the significant effort that goes into decision making and design, bad decisions and designs are often made because a critical and relevant perspective was not heard. This is especially true if the perspective is that of a stakeholder. Remind people of voices that aren't present through procedures, diagrams, or, even, songs.

Pattern status: 
Released

Academic Technology Investments

Pattern ID: 
409
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
81
Sarah Stein
North Carolina State University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

New technologies have been making rapid inroads in higher education, and, in many ways, are changing methods of teaching, learning and research. Yet, strict segregation of academic disciplines, industrial-age concepts of technological ownership and control, and entrenched silos across institutions place limits on the kinds of innovation and extension of learning and research that computer-mediated communication networks can help facilitate.

Context: 

Institutions of higher education afford significant benefits to students and researchers within their walls as well as the broader public. At the same time, economic downturns have resulted in diminishing revenue streams for legislative support of higher education, and for-profit as well as international educational institutions offer increasing competition. Academic institutions need to explore the greater opportunities enabled by information technologies for inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional pedagogical and administrative partnerships, in order to revitalize their economic circumstances and re-establish their social relevance.

Discussion: 

Institutions of higher education play a critical role in the maintenance and advancement of a nation and a culture. They are also often mired in organizational fiefdoms and disciplinary rivalries arising from competition over scarce resources. In turn, opportunities for collaboration are neglected that can advance the education of students and the production of knowledge.

Information communication technologies (ICTs) enable faculty and students to interact with others in academies across the nation and around the world. Courses engaging other institutions are being taught through video conferencing and computer-based classrooms; groups activities for students using databases and computer-generated learning objects are revolutionizing large lecture courses in physics and other sciences; researchers are using high performance computing to conduct experiments with international colleagues, at the same time that the extra computing power is leveraged to make available to students at their desktops expensive software through virtual computing labs.

Yet, the rapid and continual development of ICTs leave administrative budgets and personnel at universities struggling to adapt to the constant rate of change. In an age of vastly distributed information networks that can speed data and news around the globe, transparency and accountability are still lacking at traditional universities and other academic institutions. Despite the proliferation of communication devices and channels, faculty, staff, and students too often feel that their needs and views go unheard. Though the complexity of technological advances make it impossible for any one person or group to know all that is needed to make the best implementation plans, for example, ICT investment decisions continue to be made without soliciting other viewpoints.

At the same time, academic communication systems such as email and electronic calendaring that have become inextricably interwoven with the day-to-day operations of universities are still being run by multiple units and departments who have developed a sense of distrust and distance from central operations. Educational institutions within the same region and state continue to run routine technology networks individually instead of investigating the significant cost-sharing possible through inter-institutional cooperation, and beliefs in the necessity of institutional branding outweigh the advantages to be found in inter-collegiate curricula and teaching.

Part of what hinders the realization of more of the collaborative advantages communication networks can offer is an administrative hierarchy that tends to favor corporate-style decision-making in the hopes of producing corporate-style efficiencies, especially in light of the huge costs and rapid change of educational technologies. Yet, Institutions of higher education are built on principles of peer-review of evidence, and communal sharing of knowledge. When the diverse constituencies of the academy—students, faculty, administrators, technical staff—are not consulted in top-down decisions, and have no forums in which to engage with each other, those foundational principles are discarded and progressive initiatives can be resisted and even sabotaged.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "The Role of Colleges in an Era of Mistrust” lays out ten communication principles by which colleges can provide leadership and maintain good faith in the public eye. Reporting on a University of California controversy over the cancellation of an invited speaker by the university’s president without consulting faculty or students, the authors press for a process of communication that includes diverse perspectives: “When it is possible to make deliberations open and transparent, colleges must do so. When open-door meetings are not prudent or practical, colleges must be careful to ensure that all the affected parties have a place at the table. Just as important, they must emerge with a clear account not only of what was decided but of how that decision was reached.”

Multiplying communication channels do not necessarily yield greater communication. An inclusive environment that fosters transparency and accountability within all academic sectors can go a long way to eliciting the sense of mission and dedication that characterizes the motives of people in choosing to be part of an educational community. Collaborative learning opportunities, inter-institutional partnerships, and inter-disciplinary scholarship are all developments that are supported by ICTs; creating a climate of openness and engagement across the university enterprise will further their realization.

Solution: 

ICTs can facilitate the development of new models of teaching, learning and research that take advantage of inter-disciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations in higher education and contribute to the quality of an information society. Such developments can be hindered by the persistence of traditional top-down decision-making that excludes the voices of the wider academic community, and in turn perpetuates a climate of disciplinary rivalry and entrenched silos. The constructive realization of the network capacities of new communication technologies in higher education need to be guided by insights and perspectives from a diverse collective.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Segregation of disciplines and institutions hinder innovation, learning, and research in higher education. Institutions need to explore opportunities enabled by information and communication technologies for new partnerships. These incorporate interaction with others around the world via conferencing, learning objects, and high performance computing. Fostering transparency and accountability can encourage a dedicated sense of mission.

Pattern status: 
Released

Grassroots Public Policy Development

Pattern ID: 
862
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
78
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Michael Maranda
Association For Community Networking
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Ironically, public policy development is very unpublic. It's often silent, invisible, and developed "behind the scene." This results in poor public policy that favors narrow interests and blocks progress. As power and wealth become more concentrated, wealthy people and institutions become more and more dominant in the policy arena. When that happens, local and marginalized voices are not heard; people feel disempowered and disengage further from the political process. "Ordinary" people generally stay far from the public policy arena. They feel isolated and are unaware that others are striving towards positive change. When there are public policy successes, they're not often shared with other communities and the people at the grassroots who enter the public policy arena often must needlessly reinvent the wheel.

Context: 

As our lifeworld becomes more and more complex governance also grows more complicated. Meanwhile the need for sound policy becomes more essential. There are opportunities for grassroots political engagement for every policy issue that is at stake. Increasingly this will involve the intelligent use of new media and the Internet. Moreover, in this context, the development of the Internet — and policies regarding citizen use of and oversight of ICT in general — make these a critical areas in themselves for grassroots public policy development.

Discussion: 

Public policy determines whether a new library is built — and where — and how a new clinic for homeless people is funded — or not. It even determines to a large degree who has access to communication services and who has the right to control them. Although it is often "public policy" which silently promotes or discourages certain public actions, the development, maintenance, use, and, often, the very existence of the "public policy" is about as far from "public" as can be imagined.

Policy is governance. It helps address questions like, How will we live together in a complex society? How will we deal with the problems of our time and how we collectively define what those problems are? Will governance be of the people, by the people, for the people? or will it succumb to the defects resulting from a concentration of power and wealth? This pattern is closely related to Power Research because the information uncovered is likely to be useful in determining how policy is developed and what alternative practices may be effective for developing alternative policies from the grassroots.

Public policy often has a technocratic air about it. It's often constructed by "wonks" just as computer code is produced by "geeks" and both geeks and wonks are stereotypically portrayed as social misfits who prefer complicated and artificial arcana to the "real world" (of flesh, blood, emotions, etc.). But while it's true that policy development (like computer development) does have its degree of inherent complexity (especially as it assumes a final form), an important part of its development is not "geeky" at all: it involves the crucial task of determining what one would like to see in society and how it might be encouraged to happen.

Grassroots public policy development involves local engagement that is generally contrary to top-down approaches. It occurs when the problem and the solution are defined by the active local parties rather than imposed from outside. Jason Corburn (2005) discusses why people — especially non-professionals working in the local community — are unlikely to get involved in policy work.

"…one difficulty that local knowledge presents is that is insights are often very contextual, while policy-making tends to make general rules. Much of the work on local knowledge is ethnographic and deeply conceptual, and few general patterns or lessons are offered. Advocates of local knowledge have been understandably hesitant to "scale up" or generalize their findings and insights — largely out of fear of inaccurate decontextualizations, oversimplifications and unjustified generalizations."

Corburn goes on to point out that it isn't just local communities who lose out when they're excluded from the process. Society at large suffers as well as, interestingly enough, the policy "wonks" whose job it is to develop these policies.

"…professional decision makers have not found ways to incorporate the important understandings from studies of local knowledge into the more generalized practice of policymaking. Scaling up knowledge from local settings is a necessary task in environmental health because of the extreme heterogeneity in ecosystems and human-environment linkages. But local knowledge can be used to improve environmental-health decisions while maintaining a heightened sensitivity to the contextually specific qualities of this knowledge."

The W. K. Kellogg Foundation lists four types of public policy (Kellogg Foundation, 2006): statutory (including constitution / charter or laws), fiscal (including annual budgets, acts and resolutions), regulatory (administrative rules), and institutional (such as policy manual and standards, and tenure and appointment). For each public policy type, they describe broad characteristics including scope, applicability, duration, process characteristics and primary policy makers. Note that different jurisdictions will have different public policies and each contains a variety of types. Nevertheless, the public policy landscape of any given jurisdiction can be described and understood with some variation using this framework. Using the typology described above as a way to focus one's learning in the public policy arena — especially as it pertains to one's own area of interest — is usefull for focusing public policy engagement.

Once the type of policy to be developed has been established along with at least a rough form for the policy, the plan for implementing the policy should be developed. The process must be considered, including both the formal or legal aspects of the process and the informal, tacit and behind-the-scenes aspects of the process, especially in conjunction with a consideration of the primary policy makers and how they generally operate.

The Children's Partnership offers "Six Essential Elements Derived from The Children's Partnership's Experiences" that show the basic steps in a process of moving "from an idea to a successful public policy."

1. RESEARCH BASE that is grounded in what local communities want and need.
2. POLICY PROPOSAL that responds to findings from research — one that is saleable and scaleable.
3. WAYS TO COMMUNICATE the policy idea effectively.
4. DEMONSTRATION that the policy idea can work in the real world.
5. ORGANIZING / ADVOCACY for the idea — using strategic partnerships
6. FOLLOW THROUGH TO IMPLEMENTATION of the new policy.

The inherent problem of people approaching similar problems from diverse perspectives (and, hence, using different vocabularies) will continue to crop up. People working on similar problems may not find each other or be aware of their respective efforts and intentions. Other questions also need to be addressed: who gets to do what, whose ideas are taken into account, what attitudes (respectful, paternalistic, domineering) prevail, in whose name or on what basis decisions are made, and whether they are enforced or neglected.

People often do not know how to get involved and have limited experience with being effectively involved. They therefore require contexts or channels to guide their participation and an invitation to join the effort. There are numerous sociological and psychological dimensions at play here and people will need to advance in their individual development within this social exercise.

Although face-to-face encounters remain important, tools of the Internet era can be used to facilitate new modes of organizing. For one thing, people can allow for more open spaces for dialogue and engagement. It may also be possible to coordinate with other communities who are involved in similar activities. The Internet can promote the idea of moving decision-making power towards smaller local assemblies while maintaining flexibility and freedom to connect local assemblies. In other words, new online media can allow people and communities to organize more effectively around these principles and values.

Note also that although some action, procedure or decision might be properly enshrined as part of public policy, it may have very little bearing on how things are actually done. In other words, public policy is only as valid to the degree that it is enforced and/or respected and abided by. The use of this pattern is probably only reasonable to the extent that public policy is actually respected in the setting in which it is intended to be used. For that reason, the reality of the policy's actual deployment in society, in addition to any other relevant circumstances surrounding the development and use of the policy, needs to be given special consideration.

Solution: 

Public policy should genuinely reflect accumulated public wisdom. The discipline required for policy work must be distributed throughout the body politic in civil discourse, research, and inclusive creative deliberation. The exercise of grassroots public policy development is the ongoing work of reconstituting the public sphere.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Policy helps address issues related to living together in a complex society. Ironically, public policy development is very unpublic. It's often silent, invisible, and developed behind the scenes. We must advance Grassroots Public Policy Development which is distributed throughout the body politic in civil discourse, research, and inclusive and creative deliberation.

Pattern status: 
Released

Mobile ICT Learning Facilities

Pattern ID: 
485
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
77
Grant Hearn
University of the Western Cape
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In many countries, the lack of access to technology and Information and Communication Technology in particular, is an acute problem of both resources and location. Solutions must focus on making scarce resources cover as much ground as possible.

Context: 

Placing fixed computer facilities in communities with government or donor funding limits the benefits to the particular communities in question.

Discussion: 

One solution that has long been available in the sphere of basic literacy is the mobile library, whereby suitable motor vehicles carry libraries on wheels to those unable to otherwise access them. This makes good use of financial resources and allows a scarce and important asset to be brought to where it is most needed and reused continually.

The provision of similar traveling computer laboratories, the drivers of which are trained computer literacy educators, could play a similar role in bringing the ICT “mountain” to the disempowered. Self-contained units with their own power generation ability will grant ICT access to many people in remote locations or simply living in communities which are too poor to support such access in other ways. Encouraging community participation in the program will help to ensure that those in the community who could most benefit by the program will be helped first. The goals of such a program would be to:

  • Bring scarce and economically empowering assets to communities desperately in need of them or otherwise simply lacking in access to these assets by virtue of their remote location
  • Contribute to reducing the geographic and economic isolation of many communities
  • Begin to bring the wider world to communities who wish to gain knowledge of it and interact with it.
  • Contribute to the knowledge and skills of those joining the exodus from rural to urban areas in an attempt to provide survival strategies that move away from begging, menial labor and crime

In South Africa a similar initiative which focuses on bringing science and technology to disadvantaged communities is already in place. A bus called the Discovery Mobile travels to communities and gives young people the opportunity to interact with a wide range of exhibits inside the bus.

Solution: 

By working together with government, donors and communities, mobile computer laboratory facilities can be established to begin to answer the needs of many communities for exposure to and training in the use of information and communication technologies.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

In many countries, the lack of access to Information and Communication Technology is an acute problem. Just as the mobile library brings books to those who lack access, traveling computer laboratories with computer literacy educators as drivers can play similar roles. In South Africa, the Discovery Mobile bus travels to communities and gives people the opportunity to interact with science and technology exhibits.

Pattern status: 
Released

Media Diversity

Pattern ID: 
593
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
66
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. This is particularly important during this current era of globalization and critical public issues that require public engagement. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media which is becoming precipitously less diverse. The control of much of the world's media is becomingly increasingly concentrated in a handful of giant corporations.

Context: 

Although the exact situation will vary from place to place, virtually all communities are affected by the lack of media diversity and all communities have opportunities to help promote media diversity. In the consolidating world of corporate mass media, large companies are touting mergers and monopolistic ownership practices as being conducive to diversity of programming and community representation in broadcasting. This claim of diversity is a facade that circumvents and ignores the idea of true community access.

Discussion: 

A rich, dynamic universe of public thinking helps to ensure that all sides in public matters will be taken into consideration thus promoting social — as well as economic — innovation. A paucity of diversity doesn't just jeopardize societal innovation however. It becomes a threat to democracy itself. When media diversity is too low, public opinion is less likely to provide the oversight that democratic societies require and is more likely to be engaged in public affairs and less willing to entertain new ideas.

Ben Bagdikian is generally credited with the sounding of the alarm on media concentration in the U.S. His book, The Media Monopoly (1983) revealed the disturbing fact that 50 corporations owned the majority of US media companies and this trend towards concentration was continuing. That trend has continued unabated for the 20 or so years since the original publication and now five corporations own approximately the same percentage of media output in the U.S as the 50 did in 1983. Today media corporations argue that when a company is able to monopolize a market, they can provide a more diverse array of cultures and voices than if that media landscape was broken into independently owned outlets. To use radio as a simple example, executives claim that when a corporation owns the majority of a market, the number of different formats increases dramatically. While it may be true that different formats increase, it's doubtfuil that this reflects an increased diversity of opinion. Many media corporations use the opportunity to record one radio show which they then rebroadcast from all of their other stations with similar formats, sometimes "localizing" the show with a few references (pronounced correctly hopefully).

A lack of media diversity invariably means media concentration and media concentration exacerbates problems of media homogeneity. The problem of media concentration extends beyond mere banality; it represents a major threat to the ability of citizens to act conscientiously and to govern themselves as democracy requires. Media concentration brings power above and beyond what mere information provision would demand; illegitimate political and economic power invariably comes with the territory and the nearly inevitable cozy connection with political elites leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that is extremely difficult to break. When media concentration reaches certain levels, it then can keep an issue out of the public eye and, hence, off the public agenda. An important and relevant point of fact is the virtual blackout on stories involving media consolidation over the past two decades. Intense media concentration also allows companies to more easily work with government to pass legislation in its favor, notably overturning laws that combat media concentration; and not stepping on government toes because of possible retribution. It may already be too late. As Bagdikian notes, "Corporate news media and business-oriented governments have made common cause."

The U.S. is not the only victim of media monopolization: Conrad Black in the U.K. and Canada, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and Rupert Murdoch in Australia (and, now, after a special act of congress, in the U.S. as well) [more?] and many others are huge players in national markets while global media consolidation is now proceeding ahead in increasingly troubling ways.

In the 1990s, when use of the Internet was beginning to explode into the among the general population — or, more accurately, of people who are relatively well-off economically, especially those who live in countries that are relatively well-off economically — some of the digerati were quite eager to dismiss any protestations over media monopolization in the "smokestack" (i.e. non-Internet-based) media industries that included broadcast, print and others. They reasoned that the inherent nature of the Internet made it more-or-less immune to human tinkering, in contrast to humankind's inventions. Not only was it inalterable but it would soon prove the obsolescence of the old-fashioned media and, at the same time, provide diversity of viewpoint despite corporate or government efforts. Within several years of the Internet's inception it has become incredibly commercial and now, 10 or 15 years later, a mere handful of sites accounts for half the number of sites first seen as their web browser is invoked. This is not to say that the Internet is not important. It's absolutely critical as millions upon millions of political actions initiated by civil society has demonstrated. And it's absolutely clear that citizen activism will be indispensable to prevent control from being seized gradually or not-so-gradually by corporate and/or government bodies. It's also clear that older forms of media should be not abandoned to corporate entities &mdash even if you believe that the Internet will put them all of business anyway!

Our media and information systems do not exist in a sealed bubble independent of the capitalist structure. Because you must either own or hold stakes in a news or entertainment company to have any semblance of control over its content, the rich control our news and entertainment. While community-operated media does exist in nearly every city, its saturation and distribution into the communities is extremely low because of financial restrictions. The news and entertainment offered by these resources are vastly diverse from the corporate-owned outlets, often representing conflicting accounts and stories. Because the conflicting programming often represents the viewpoints of a different social class than of that which owns the corporations, this programming rarely makes it into the mass media. The corporate owners claim they can provide an adequate diversity of community voice, when in truth the diversity they provide is severely limited by their moneyed interests.

People can get involved in the struggle in many ways. One of the most direct ways is to create and support independent media. This not only means developing videos, comics, zines, blogs, etc. with alterative points-of-view, it means developing funding and distribution approaches, and fighting for representation within the political system. For while it may be true that globalization and new communication technologies change the rules of the game, there are still likely to be rules and for this reason civil society must be vigilant: changes in protocols, domain name registry, domain servers, etc. etc. can have vast repercussions.

One of the most effective approaches, however, remains the development of public interest policy that promotes media diversity. Although critics of this approach are likely to scoff at its quaint, "smokestack" modus operandi, governments in democratic societies have an obligation to support democratic systems and the democratic experiment may be terminated earlier than anticipated by its original proponents if they fail in this duty.

The policies that governments can enact fall into two broad categories: those that limit the enclosure by the big corporations into various regions or "markets" and those that promote media diversity by promoting alternatives to corporate mono-cultures such as government subsidies or tax breaks to independent media or specific set-asides for radio or television spectra, etc. Media diversity represents both a desired state for the media environment and an absence of concentrated ownership of media. For that reason people need to fight for both: media diversity and diversity of media ownership.

Solution: 

Democratic societies require diversity of opinions. Although government is often negligent in this area, media corporations cannot be allowed to assume too much concentration. As in other realms, power corrupts, and media corporations are of course not exceptionss to this rule. Citizens must vigilant to ensure that a diversity of opinions is availale and that citizens have access to the media. Diversity of ownership of media is one approach that is likely to promote diversity of opinion in the media.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Democratic societies rely on diversity of viewpoints and ideas for the intelligence, engagement, enthusiasm and wisdom that they need to stay alive. At the same time people all over the world are receiving more and more of their information from the mass media, whose control is becomingly increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few giant corporations. Citizens — and government — must be vigilant to ensure that citizens have access to Media Diversity of opinions.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

Community Currencies

Pattern ID: 
789
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
63
Burl Humana
Gilson Schwartz
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People have always traded or bartered with each other, using different tools and materials to represent and store value in various kinds of transactions; trade, investment, consumption, production, marriage, kinship, sacrifice. In complex, urban and global capitalist societies, money expands the potential for growth and accumulation, while also creating new forms of wealth and power concentration, regulated by central banks and other supervisory authorities at national and international levels. Community Currencies or “complementary currencies” offer a solution for local markets deprived or unserved by global or national currencies.

Context: 

Thomas Greco states three basic ways in which conventional money malfunctions: there is never enough of it, it is misallocated at its source so that it goes to those who already have lots of it, and it systematically pumps wealth from the poor to the rich. The symptoms of a "polluted" money supply are too familiar: inflation, unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures, increasing indebtedness, homelessness, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, the ultimate resource of the community, the productivity, skills, and creativity of its members, is not limited by lack of money. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

Discussion: 

According to Michael Linton, "Money is really just an immaterial measure, like an inch, or a gallon, a pound, or degree. While there is certainly a limit on real resources -- only so many tons of wheat, only so many feet of material, only so many hours in the day -- there need never be a shortage of measure. (No, you can’t use any inches today, there aren’t any around, they are all being used somewhere else.) Yet this is precisely the situation in which we persist regarding money. Money is, for the most part, merely a symbol, accepted to be valuable generally throughout the society that uses it. Why should we ever be short of symbols to keep account of how we serve one another?" (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

"The proper kind of money used in the right circumstances is a liberating tool that can allow the fuller expression of human creativity. Money has not lived up to its potential as a liberator because it has been perverted by the monopolization of its creation and by politically manipulating its distribution -- available to the favored few and scarce for everyone else."2 Creating community currencies may foster exchanges among people that need it most.

Conventional money is strictly regulated by central authorities at a federal level. Its regulated scarcity is a major source of powerful economic policy (i.e..raising interest rates to curb inflation) that plays on the rules of capitalist competition. Community currencies, on the other hand, are designed to counterweight scarcity by promoting exchanges founded on cooperation or collaboration. The emergence of new information and communication technologies has promoted numerous local projects that use “open source money” or “collaborative money”. Both “conventional” money and “community” currencies, however, rest on the same foundation, that is, confidence in the agreed on rules of production and supply of monetary and financial instruments (credits, loans, time sharing, etc.). Both are “conventions” designed and operated by living human communities.

Community currencies may also be qualitative rather than quantitative, so that the “purchasing power” of the currency takes advantage of specific ranges of skills and resources (child and social health care, environmental campaigns or edutainment projects), unlike the conventional economy which values certain skills and devalues or ignores others as effects of blind market forces. The move toward “community” currency is motivated by the desire to bridge the gap between what we earn and what we need to survive financially.

Local currencies are seen as a community-building tool. Communities may range from solidarity economies in slums and vulnerable social areas, to game players, to collectors or charity donors; spread throughout the entire world as digital networks promote new forms of community life. Community currencies not only prove a commitment to community building and to supporting what’s local but also may function as a path towards a greater experiential understanding of the role of economics and money in our daily lives. Any community can, in principle, design currencies backed by something, tangible or intangible, that the community agrees has collective value.

Hundreds of community currency models are at work these days. These are a few of the community currency reference sites - Bernard Lietaer,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Lietaer; Resources for Community Currency Activists, http://www.communitycurrency.org/resources.html; Luca Fantacci, "Complementary Currencies: a Prospect on Money from a Retrospect on Premodern Practices", http://akira.arts.kuleuven.be/meijifin/node/52; Social Trade Organisation, http://www.strohalm.net/en/site.php; Open Money, http://www.thetransitioner.org/wiki/tiki-index.phppage=Open+Money+home+page.

ITHACA HOURS, where everyone’s honest hour of labor has the same dignity and LETS, Local Exchange Trading Systems are examples of such models. These two community currency models illustrate new forms of social and communicative practices that have a real impact on living structures at a local level.

The ITHACA HOURS system was created in 1991 by Paul Glover, a community economist and ecological designer. With ITHACA HOURS, each HOUR is equivalent to $10.00 because that’s the approximate average hourly wage in Tompkins County, Ithaca, New York. Participants are able to use HOURS for rent, plumbing, carpentry, car repair, chiropractic, food (two large locally-owned grocery stores as well as farmer’s market vendors accept them), firewood, childcare, and numerous other goods and services. Some movie theaters accept HOURS as well as bowling alleys and the local Ben & Jerry’s. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

The LETS model was created on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, as a self contained network in which members buy and sell services to other members and are paid in the LETS currency. Every member has an individual account which records their debit or credit. Members do not "owe" the person or business providing the service, instead their debt is to the LETS system, and their debt is thus socialized.( James DeFilippus, 2004)

"Currencies are powerful carriers of feedback information, and potent triggers of adjustments, but on their own terms. (Jacobs, 1984) “A national currency registers, above all, consolidated information on a nation’s international trade." (Jacobs, 1984) National dollars tend to flow out of local communities where they are needed the most to those who already control large pools of wealth like banks and corporations. Community currency is also a tool that can help revitalize local economies by encouraging wealth to stay within a community rather than flowing out. It provides valuable information about the community’s balance of trade and collective values. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

People who are time-rich and cash poor can be socially and economically productive without necessarily using only national or international, centrally regulated money. If community currencies can also be used in conjunctions with national currency their use does not have to become an all or nothing proposition, thus leading to the notion of “complementary” currencies.

Local currencies empower their members to improve their circumstances and environment while protecting the general community from the negative influences of other capital flows. This gives the community more control over investments and allows the poor to become emancipated beings in the economic choices and conditions that affect their daily lives. Local currency systems offer the opportunity of transforming labor power or working time into local purchasing power. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

Solution: 

There are unique challenges in implementing a community currency system, both technical and political. Shared values and multiplayer commitment by community members are needed to build a sustainable currency. Adequate management at the local level may involve monetary policy issues similar to those experienced at national or international spheres. The community may be local, but also involve participants from distant places acting towards a common goal that can be social, educational and cultural. If successful, a community currency system can leverage local projects in economically depressed areas of the map and put them on the road to a hopeful and fruitful future.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People have always traded with each other, using various ways to represent and store value. In complex capitalist societies, money encourages growth, accumulation, and new forms of wealth and power concentration. Community Currencies can offer a solution for local markets deprived of or unserved by national financial policy. If successful, it can promote local projects and put them on the road to a hopeful and fruitful future.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
http://www.samarasproject.net/images/hours.jpg -- permission sought

Online Community Service Engine

Pattern ID: 
498
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
62
Fiorella De Cindio
University of Milano
Leonardo Sonnante
RCM - Milan Community Network - Italy
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Researchers and practitioners often trivialize the relevance of the software in determining the sustainability and success of online communities. Opinions differ widely between two extremes: some implicitly assumes that any software for managing online forums is sufficient (cf. Kim A. J., "Community Building on the Web", Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc., 2000); others, including E. Wenger (Wenger, 2001), suggest a large set of features (up to 73) must be included in software for managing online communities—encompassing several different applications, from access to expertise and synchronous interactions, from e-learning spaces to project spaces—resulting in complex and expensive proprietary solutions. Between these two extremes, we believe it is necessary to identify a set of basic macro-functionalities that an Online Community Service Engine should provide as well as a framework for extending these functionalities as required. In the course of this effort, support for communicating across community boundaries is as vital as focusing on individual communities.

Context: 

Communities are more and more seen as powerful means for addressing significant problems in many fields of human activities. Virtual and/or online communities extend these possibilities as they remove the time and space constraints of physical communities while preserving the advantages of sharing knowledge and experience, developing mutual trust, and ultimately cooperation.

Local communities in developed as well as developing countries, communities of practice within and across enterprises, and learning communities each represent very different situations that can be extended and enriched by an online counterpart. More recently, communities arose directly online, as in the case of blogs and blogger communities.

Regardless of these different contexts, online communities are complex socio-technical systems. However, while significant efforts have been made

Discussion: 

While the socio-technical nature of online communities is manifest and a massive volume of literature on online communities now deals with topics such as their sociological aspects and organizational impacts as well as the role they can play is a variety of contexts (within organizations as well as in the society), much less attention has been paid to technological issues. Actually, otherwise satisfactory sociological analysis and identification of general requirements technologies already available - for instance, usability studies (cf. Preece, 2000) -- do not provide clear hints for software developers.

Etienne Wenger has probably advanced the most relevant attempt to identify an appropriate technological platform for the features online communities should provide. In his extensive survey (Wenger, 2001), now revised and updated (http://www.technologyforcommunities.com), Wenger identifies a set of critical factors for the success of a community of practice (CoP) and the technological implications for supportive tools in terms of a list of features (73 items) that an online community environment should have if it wants to satisfy its members’ needs.

Inspired by Wenger’s work, and through an analysis of software used for managing virtual community (PhpBB, PhpNuke) and community networks (such as FreePort and CSuite) as well as our direct experience of managing several online communities (first of all community networks which constitute our basic competence, De Cindio et al, 2004) with different software, we have worked out a higher-level classification of the macro-functionalities a Online Community Services Engine should provide, which is:

  • homogeneous, since each macro-functionality is at the same level of abstraction as the others;
  • complete, since the seven macro-functionalities capture the essentials elements of a fully featured online community service engine;
  • general enough to be applied to any kind of online community, that is, communities of practice, community networks, communities of interests, learning communities, etc.

The result is the following list of macro-functionalities an online community service engine should provide:

  1. Users Management characterizes community members and provides differing and personalized views. Allows discriminating levels of access to community resources. This group of functions includes member directories, access rights, profiles, etc.
  2. Communication and dialog include all the typical synchronous and asynchronous communication tools such as email, discussion boards, blogs, private messages, chats, etc.
  3. Information and publishing allow community members to manage content for publishing as with a standard content management system (CMS), but - which we believe essential in an Online Community Services Engine - an effective integration with the communication and dialog dimension (Benini et al, 2005).
  4. Community awareness gives members the sense of belonging to a community that is characterized by rules, roles, history, customs, etc. Examples of these features are: presence awareness (knowing who is online), reputation and ranking, personal history, subscriptions, distinctive look and feel.
  5. Calendaring includes features for storing personal or community events or appointments by date, together with reminders features and the possibility of sharing calendars among members based on access rights.
  6. Workgroup support features. These features are based on the ability to restrict member access to community resources like forums, upload file areas, calendars, etc.
  7. Monitoring and statistics, i.e., features for keeping track of access, the number of posts, liveliness of forums, moderators reliability, etc.; to trace the “health” indicators of the community.

Beside these general-purpose macro-functionalities, an Online Community Services Engine should be able to be integrated with modules that offer features relevant for any specific type of community. For example teaching modules for learning communities, or deliberation facilities for civic and community networks.

To facilitate the integration of basic functionalities with dedicated features necessary to support specific types of communities, the Online Community Services Engine:

  • must have an overall modular architecture for integrating functionalities that were not built-in;
  • must include a User Management component capable of supplying authentication and authorization services to external add-on components or tools (while most of the user management components of the software used to implement online communities - e.g. PHPNuke - do not accept authentication requests from external modules);

Both these requirements have the effect of opening the Online Community Services Engine through standard protocols, thereby facilitating cross-community communication. For the same reason, the Online Community Services Engine should include features such as RSS feeds which enhance information exchange.

All these functionalities are possible if the Online Community Services Engine is implemented on standard “base-technologies,” such as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) to handle authentication and authorization and Web services for providing standard interoperability among modules.

Solution: 

This classification of the macro-functionalities an Online Community Services Engine should provide, together with the associated architectural requirements, challenge researchers and practitioners to implement and deploy an Online Community Services Engine that can be tailored by the community that uses it; i.e., each deployment of the engine should be created as an instance of the engine, including the set of functionalities necessary for each specific online community. The opening requirement naturally calls for developing software using open-source tools.

Alternatively, the resulting classification can also be viewed as a check list for selecting from available software (proprietary or not), rather than for development purposes.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

An Online Community Service Engine contains generic services that communities need to sustain themselves. These include user management; communication and dialogue; information and publishing; community awareness; calendaring; work group support features; and monitoring and statistics. An Online Community Service Engine should be able to connect with modules that support for specific groups such as educational or deliberative facilities.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Wikimedia Commons

Community Networks

Pattern ID: 
858
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
61
Peter Day
CNA Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Communities often lack the information and communication infrastructure needed to: a) support and sustain the social networks of clubs, organisations, associations, groups, agencies, families and individual citizens that constitute the structures, organisation and activities of community life; and b) enable effective organisation, planning and enactment of local campaigns when threatened by external agency.

Whilst network technologies present interesting opportunities to support community networking activities they are not, in themselves, community networks. Furthermore, the dominant ICT agenda of both public and commercial sectors is often hostile to the mutuality, collaboration and communicative processes required for utilising ICT in support of community networking (Day & Schuler, 2004).

Context: 

Building, organising and sustaining active relationships within the social, cultural and economic networks of the community requires appropriate and effective strategies. Building and sustaining community networks requires strategies that facilitate the community appropriation of communication technologies in support of community networking.

This pattern is intended as a contribution to, and perhaps even as a catalyst for, a dialogue about community (ICT) networks. Dialogue participants should include: 1) community members; 2) local activists; 3) practitioners (community developers and community technologists); 4) community researchers; 5) policy makers; 6) local businesses and community economic developers. Whilst not exhaustive, the list illustrates the diversity and levels of knowledge and expertise needed to plan and develop community (ICT) networks that empower and strengthen community relationships and processes through democratic communications.

Discussion: 

It is interesting that community networks are frequently referred to as technological artefacts (Wikipedia, 2006) and appear to be understood in terms of the connectivity they give to ICT rather than the links they facilitate within communities. Yet in his seminal text on the emergence of ‘new’, i.e. ICT based, community networks, Schuler explains how the term ‘community networks’ was a sociological concept – that referred to community communication patterns and relationships (1996) – long before the emergence of the community bulletin boards of the late 1970s (Morino, 1994), i.e. the forerunners for the web-based community networks of the 1990s onwards (Kubicek & Wagner, 1998).

Establishing what lies at the heart of community networking, i.e. the purpose and nature of the relationships within communities and the processes of communication, is central to understanding community. Generating knowledge of what shapes and energizes community life by making connections and interacting with people of diverse values and belief systems is pivotal to developing effective community networks. In this respect the effectiveness of community networks is understood in terms of how they support and sustain community communications, relationships and activities.

An example of how knowledge of community networking in its broadest sense can be generated and how this knowledge might inform the development of community networks is illustrated by the Community Network Analysis (CNA) project in the Poets Corner community of Brighton and Hove, UK. Early in the project a community profile (Hawtin, Hughes & Percy-Smith, 1994) was conducted to develop a picture of community assets, community needs and community relationships. Interestingly, the 104 groups, clubs, associations, centres, organisations, etc often interpret their shared social environment in different ways. Acknowledging the existence of such diversity is a central part of beginning to understand and work with it as a source of community strength rather than community threat.

Analysis of the community infrastructure reveals 8 main clusters of groups, clubs, etc and 4 smaller clusters. These clusters, or affiliation networks, are organised by a parent organisation, e.g. community associations and places of worship. Affiliation appears to be based around organisational support mechanisms and the availability of physical space. A number of isolated nodes or didactic networks were also identified, e.g. the two schools are exemplars of a didactic network, although both are keen to develop stronger ties within the community.

‘Informal’ network structures in the community are altogether more open and dynamic than their ‘formal’ counterparts but are also transient in nature. Familial or friendship ties usually predominate and networking often occurs in public spaces, e.g. Stoneham Park, local pubs and coffee shops, or serendipitous street meetings. This agora ‘effect’ provides opportunity for knowledge exchange, comfort and mutually supportive transactions.

Informal social network exchanges tend to be self-organising and mutually reinforcing, falling into one of two categories. 1) Spontaneous, e.g. someone’s cat has gone missing and the neighbours organise a search of the locality; neighbours leave bags of good quality but unwanted clothes/toys on the door steps of families new to the area as a welcoming gesture; groups of people pop in to each other’s houses for coffee and a chat – reinforcing and developing social bonds. 2) Organised but with no formal membership, e.g. networks of baby-sitters and parents requiring ‘sitters’ evolve through the local grapevine; a curry club – where participants try new curry recipes is organised at irregular intervals by email; a book club – run along much the same lines as the curry club is organised by mobile phone; or key holder networks among neighbours in the same street – in which spare keys are cut and distributed among trusted neighbours.

Our study reveals that both network types play a significant role in developing relationships of trust and social cohesion in the community. The communication technologies that people feel comfortable with are increasingly being used to support both network links and exchanges. If community networks are to support the diversity of social realities in community then they must provide safe and welcoming spaces that encourage and facilitate participation and engagement. Enabling people to tell their stories and interact with one another in ways meaningful to them and in comfortable environments is central to effective community networking.

A prototype community communication space (CCS) being developed as part of the CNA project attempts to create such spaces. By working with the community to build both the context and the content for the CCS we have been asked to support video and audio podcasting, digital story-telling, digital art, poetry and music. Local communication forums are being established to support the face-to-face forums of community development/building activities. Blogs, wikis and other social software such as social networking applications are also being explored for potential community benefits.

The graphic , draws on Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory (1995) to illustrate current stages of the CCS diffusion in Poets Corner.

Working from the centre outwards the first ring represents the Poets Corner Residents Society’s (PCRS) invitation to CNA, and the subsequent invitation from their executive committee to work in partnership with them to map and improve community communications. Much of this period was spent getting to know people in the community, building trust, raising awareness and supporting the activities of PCRS and other community groups. A group of enthusiastic project advocates emerged as CCS innovators. With their assistance the project became grounded in and supportive of community activities and needs.

Slowly but surely trust and respect developed between the partners. A number of community groups displayed interest in the project and began collaborating. The second ring shows early adopters within the community infrastructure. By this time, the project was participating in and supporting the planning and organisation of a second summer festival and family fun day. The third ring illustrates the resultant increased involvement from the community infrastructure and the beginning of some involvement from local residents. We describe this as second stage early adoption activity.

During the project the CNA partnership has been raising awareness of the potential of the CCS and interest within the community is on the increase. We are now in what Rogers’ would describe as the trial and evaluation phases of community assessment. Whether or not the CCS will be adopted, and can be sustained beyond the funding of the project will depend largely on the community themselves. The CNA team will continue to collaborate with the community, but our long term objective has always been to design and build a prototype CCS in participation with the community and to explore how the community will take ownership of and sustain that space.

Solution: 

The potential scope for ICT to support, enhance and sustain community communications is immense but effective community networks can only be built through meaningful and mutual partnerships of knowledge exchange. Communities are contested spaces rich in diversity. They embrace or reject technologies at their own pace and in their own way. These processes cannot be rushed and must be respected. Accepting that they might have to step out of their community ‘comfort zone' in order to embrace 'new' technologies can be threatening . Achieving ‘willingness to participate’ requires patience and dialogue. Community engagement will only be sustained if the community understands the benefits to community life. If community networks are to emerge as significant components of modern community life, external partners must understand this in context and content. Only then can they contribute in a meaningful way.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Community Networks must help support two capabilities. The first is supporting and sustaining the social networks of clubs, organizations, associations, groups, agencies, families and individual citizens. The second is enabling effective organization, planning and enactment of local campaigns when threatened from outside.

Pattern status: 
Released
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