Coordinating Government and Community Technology Initiatives

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Lisa Servon
New School University

Community technology initiatives have thus far led the way in terms of providing innovative solutions to the technology gap problem. Yet if this problem is to be addressed at a larger scale, it necessitates the engagement of government. How can community technology initiatives and government entities work together to leverage their unique strengths and make headway on this problem?


The community technology movement has enough history to allow it to be studied. It has grown up differently in different places, and been received differently by different types of government entities. Now that there have been many different natural experiments, it is time to amass the collected wisdom and see if we can come up with a "pattern" for how to extend the principles of good work that has been done to other places.


Why is it that some cities--such as Seattle--have begun to embrace technological literacy as a necessary goal, and one that local government should be involved with? Most cities fail to have put the technology gap issue on their radar screens. How can we get more cities to understand the importance of the digital divide issue to their own work? How can we gather the lessons learned from places like Seattle and transfer them to other places?

The first step in doing so is to define the digital divide problem as more than just a problem of access. In order to be addressed comprehensively, the training and content components of the problem must also be dealt with. Broadening the definition of the problem usefully allows for a broadening of potential solutions.

Having altered the conception of the digital divide problem, we can look at a wide range of places that have used an array of strategies to make headway. My research, which has involved extensive literature and policy reviews, as well as fine-grained case study analysis of places and programs in Seattle, Austin, New York, Pittsburgh, and East Palo Alto, can usefully shed light on how best practices might be shaped into a pattern that can create positive change.


I don't know that there is a solution yet. For now, I propose a discussion of what I am calling best practices and a reflective exercise on how they can be throught of as a pattern that would be useful in extending lessons learned broadly.

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