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From: "Steve Cisler" <>
Subject: UCLA community technology conference

Copyright 2002 Steve Cisler. Okay to post on other lists and
non-profit servers

Los Angeles has a great many projects focused on community technology
and innovative uses of ICT. One group that is leading the way at the
University of California Los Angeles is the Advanced Policy Institute
in the School of Public Policy and Social Research. They have a
project to collaborate with librarians in Nairobi, Kenya, to help them
with the African Virtual Library-Kenya.  Based on their successful
project called Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (NKLA) , the AVLK
project sent four librarians to spend a week at the institute. During
that time, Bill Pitkin and his colleagues organized a one day
conference on community technology and invited some interesting people
to talk about domestic projects and several outside of the U.S.

It was an important visit for me, aside from the conference.  Just
after my Peace Corps service in Africa, I had been admitted to the
African Studies program to research the spread of Islam is Mauritania
and Senegal in 1967. However, the U.S. military felt my time should be
spent in other tropical climates, and I never attended the university,
though I did visit a friend who was also admitted to the program.
This was my first visit back to the campus after 34 years...

The morning of February 15 we arrived to register and have breakfast.
The Institute did not trumpet its own projects very much, but they
deserve a close study by readers of this short report. NKLA began in
1995 and continued with the support of grant money from the NTIA in
the Department of Commerce (the same program that has been cut from
the proposed US budget by the Bush regime). The project provided
access to city information on building permits, tax delinquincy, and
affordable housing. One of the challenges was the integration of data
from disparate sources. The community was involved not just as users
but also through hundreds of outreach sessions.  Locals were also
involved in asset-mapping for local neighborhoods, and a number of new
projects grew out of this. Now, they are working on a project for the
state of California that will concentrate on urban areas but also
include a few smaller towns in the collection, publishing, and mapping

Michael Gurstein of the New Jersey Institute of Technology gave a
short keynote address. He teaches courses in community informatics
and the digital firm. He explained how the pharmaceutical company,
Merck, is one of the most digitally integrated in the world.  It fulfills
8000 prescriptions in an hour, in contrast to his uncle, the
proverbial small town pharmacist in a small town on the Canadian
prarie, who might have done that many in a month. One of the points he
made was that only certain cross sections of the business sector were
reaping the benefits of the integration of this expensive technology.
Smaller firms, more conservative firms, non-profits, and whole other
countries lack the skills, money, and inclination to match these
investments. In some ways the increased integration puts those firms
even further away from groups satisfied with just a functioning LAN or
new database or active web site, not to mention those  groups too poor to
have any equipment at all. Gurstein hopes that community informatics will
the vision to make the Net useful for all.  He hopes that Bush's
declaration of victory over these disparities won't be echoed in other
countries where the situation is even more critical, and victory, if
it can be called that,
is nowhere in sight.

International projects

Doe Meyer of the Annenberg Center for Communication talked about the
women health and media project in Africa. She emphasized the
importance of not concentrating on one medium, so they worked with
t-shirts, posters, newsletters, the Net, and video. She showed a video
about the National Association of Disabled Women in Zambia and their
efforts at AIDS education in rural areas. Net activists should not
forget that video can be much more accessible to some people than
information on a computer. A video program in the local language can
reach many people who may not see any use for the Internet.

I spoke about telecenters in Latin America and the different kinds
that were emerging in different countries, depending on government
policy, the NGO's activities, and consortia like somos@telecentros
based in Quito, Ecuador. I mentioned a handbook I had just completed
on keeping ICT projects running in developing countries.

Lee Thorn of the Jhai Foundation is a real storyteller. To start off
with, he admitted he was there to get support for his project in Laos,
and he passed around literature (but no collection plate).  The Jhai
Foundation is built on his idea of reconciliation between the people
of Laos (the ones who were bombed) and the U.S. (the ones who did the
bombing).  Though it was more than 25 years ago, the bombardment of
Laos is still affecting people who weren't even born at that time.
Unexploded cluster bombs and other ordinance litter the landscape.
Thorn is working with Schools Online to set up Internet Learning
Centers in different parts of the country. I was impressed with the
long and careful planning process that he and the Laotians engaged in
before plunging into the technology aspect of the whole endeavor.
Many times this began by drinking beer around a table outdoors, and
after many conversations and planning sessions, the community would
come up with a viable plan, not one concocted only in Silicon Valley
or London or Washington.

In the afternoon, the panel discussed U.S. projects. I had spoken
earlier with  Andrea Skorepa who has long directed Casa Familiar in
San Ysidro, California, on the Mexican border across from Tijuana. She
began as a teacher and also served as a VISTA volunteer in the Rio
Grande Valley of Texas.  She has been running this community service
agency which provides all sorts of non-technical and ICT programs in
several centers around town. Though most of her members are Latino,
she described the influx of non-Latino people (mainly black) when
affordable housing became available in this part of San Diego County.
She helped lower tensions by getting both groups together over meals
shared in common. In her talk she said (and everyone on the panel
agreed) how terrible it was to have to spend so much time raising
money instead of working on the mission of the organization.

Randall Pinkett, having received his Ph.D. from MIT's Media Lab, is
now working in a consulting firm called BCT Partners in New Jersey.
Building Community Technology Partners uses the experience he had in
the Canfield Estates project in Boston as well as telecommunications
firms in New Jersey, and he showed a short video of an interview with
some of the Canfield Estates technology users and also described the
project flow and tools he and his partner used in this project that
provided new computers and fast access to many of the residents in a
low income housing project that had been torn down, rebuilt, and
turned over to the people at very low cost. His project struck me as a
strong mix of technology and community process, followed up by some
rigorous evaluation.

Nadine Watson presented an overview of Plugged In, the famous
community technology
center, that is in its tenth year, and has benfitted from strong
leadership and its proximity to many Silicon Valley firms that want to
help East Palo Alto, an underserved area of the county. However, this
same area is attracting affluent home owners, and the area is changing
its demographics once again. Plugged In is now bulding its own center
and has continued a number of content design programs and training

After each panel we had a number of questions that almost became
discussions around a single topic. What interested me most of all was
a question about the diverse number of efforts in any one community to
provide access.  Why not base it all in a public library? The
community-based organizations are somewhat suspicious of institutional
programs in libraries and public schools. They see themselves as more
flexible and responsive to the needs of the community. However, in
talking with librarians and educators, they feel they have more stable
programs than chronically underfunded non-profits. Of course, in many
towns all these groups are working together or at least aware of the
other's efforts. Both sectors share a lot of the same ideals and
clientele, but this year the community technology conference is about
the same time in June as the American Library Association conference,
but one is in Austin and the other in Washington, DC.

The Linux Public Broadcasting Network has some RealVideo files of the
Feburary 15 meeting. Over my dialup line the quality was marginal. If
you have something faster, you may have better response. A list of the
main URLs follows.

Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (English and Spanish)
Advanced Policy Institute
Mike Gurstein's Community Informatics mailing list (signup and
Linux Public Broadcasting Network
Randall Pinkett and BCT Partners:
Casa Familiar:
Plugged In:

Steve Cisler
4415 Tilbury Drive
San Jose, California 95130
408 379 9076
"There are some places where the road keeps going."  - Bud Parker

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