Steve Cisler on Tue, 19 Feb 2002 21:21:53 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> UCLA community technology conference

[via: geert <>]

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 process.

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 over 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 renew 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

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 programs.

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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