Possible Roles for Electronic Community Networks and Participatory Development Strategies in Access Programs for
Poor Neighborhoods

Jonathan Lillie
PLAN 310
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

If Telecommunity is about the interconnections between and among people, then we need to find ways to include and share responsibility for the network among all peoples in a community, particularly those from segments of society who have been excluded from power. We need to learn to understand the abilities, capacities and the needs of all people, including the poor, the disabled, and people from ethnocultural communities. Our own futures are bound up in the successes of all peoples.

- (Agger-Gupta & Strickland, 1995)[1]

Ultimately this paper is concerned with the potential for electronic community networks (hereafter community networks)[2] to serve as vital links in offering network and Internet access to poor communities in the United States, Canada and throughout the world. Looking at the rhetoric, intentions and evolution of these community networks within the broader context new, networked information and communication technologies and the static(slow to change) state of social and political conditions in which we live, I think that community networks have the greatest potential for helping rural and urban poor communities to access community networks and the Internet. Yet it is doubtful that access projects can succeed without employing methodologies for achieving effective resident participation. Therefore, this paper dicusses (1) some of the qualities of existing community networks, and (2) models for participatory development methods, that could be used in the fulfillment of this potential in future and existing access projects.

Universal Access: Defining the Problem.

Optimist's that laud the potential benefits of Internet communication technologies have published and disseminated many predictions about the social, political and economic ramifications of this "revolution." The erosion of gender, race, age and national bias as status symbols; the development of more participatory democracies; transitions from hierarchical communication structures to more horizontal and equitable flows; acceleration of the loss of national economies and boundaries; and increased equality, egalitarianism and potential for utopian realities, are among the vast euphoric prophesies concerning the effects of these new technologies. While only a few of these issues, such as the equalizing effects of text based computer-mediated communication, have been researched, use of community nets and the Internet for information exchange and communication are nonetheless impressive, amazing and exciting innovations even for those of us who were raised with daily domestic consuption of audiovisual and telephonic technologies. The implications of these new, networked technologies for educational use alone has culminated in the United States with President Clinton's agenda for expanding the "National Information Infrastructure," to offer access to all U.S. citizens. This "universal access," is on the wish lists and the PR agendas of many social, educational and political institutions. Globally, many government are developing policies for the development of NIIs. For the most part, these initiatives should be seen within the logic of a neo-modernization development paradigm. As with the US model, the goal here is state lead projects to establish or improve telecommunications and computing infrastructures, while the telecommunications industries themselves (previously these have been state owned in most countries) are put quickly to liberalization and or privatization. Such neo-liberal policies are principally undertaken to insure that national industries are not left without adequate onramps to the global information highway and ultimately the information age. These terms are themselves not only descriptive of economic and social trends, but also carry great political and cultural weight. In general, most NII strategies mirror national differences and concerns. Denmark is one example of a country that has combined liberalization of telecommunications with social welfare programs within a broader NII agenda. Implementation of NII for social development must include the participation of civil groups and organization. This is particularly true in places where the private sector guides growth and policy (like in the USA). A demographic look at who uses the Internet now, illustrates that economics is the primary factor in determining who these users are.

While the demographics of Internet users are looking less "white" and less "male," as with most socialization processes of access to technology and resources, it is the poor as a group that are the most disenfranchised. According to one study, the mean average household income of Internet users is $60,800 (US). Only 18.8% of users earn less that 29K.[3] A study of the growth of users of computer networks from 1989 to 1993, showed a rise in individual use in households making less than 15K a year of 264,000 to 764,000. This is compared to an in crease in the 15K to 30K group of 1.5 million. Network access in this income group (15-30K) reached 6.8 million in 1993.[4]

Obstacles to Universal Access / Access for the Poor

There are many obstacles that are preventing poor communities from gaining access to community networks and the Internet. The privatization of Internet services and access, for example, means that the cost of user hardware and access costs will be far too costly for most poor families. This is despite the fact that the public's tax money has been vital to the development of a National Information Infrastructure, in terms of federal money and heavy expenditures by state financed universities.

Steve Miller, from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, has noted that the poor are disproportionately represented within the 20% of U.S. families that do not have telephone lines and the 20% of adults that are estimated to be "illiterate."[5] Other more complex social, political, economic and historical causal agents of poverty, though widely debated, also adversely affect the likelihood that the poor would have access to new communication technologies. The relative scarcity of programs for developing access within these communities also contributes to continuing inequalities.

Although certain political-economic and social factors affect most poor communities in similar ways, there are also a variety of issues within each community that might serve as obstacles to access for poor neighborhoods. Possible examples include whether local self-help groups are active, tensions or solidarity within and between neighborhoods or blocks, geographic location, amount of unemployment, number and effectiveness of outside agencies working in the community, the average amount of education among residents, availability of motivated volunteers among residents, technology education in area schools, etc...

The reasons that myself, and others, envision community networks as being appropriate access points for the poor is that they seem to share many features that offer great potential for helping to over-coming these obstacles. Yet as we will see later, it is perhaps not likely that access will be able to overcome these obstacles unless appropriate methodologies to achieve active participati on among residents are employed.

How can access to community networks
benefit poor neighborhoods?

The potential for community nets to provide solutions for many of the problems facing poor neighborhoods has been well chronicled and circulated in optimistic appraisals that certainly do flirt with possible realities for the future. One such article posits that not only could "[c]ommunity centers in public housing projects or libraries...provide public access to the National Information Infrastructure," but also, "[c]ulturally appropriate educational, job training, childhood nutrition, and personal health information could increase the numeracy, literacy, and health of the poor, producing a higher-skilled workforce."[6]

Scholars from various fields concerned with poverty also readily suggest the benefits that access to electronic resources may have.


Electronic networks that allow for formation of positive personal relationship, access to large among of information and skill development resources, can be used by individuals and groups to achieve different kinds of empowerment.

In a research paper entitled "The Empowerment Potential of Internet Use," I used concepts and definitions from empowerment theory to consider how individual empowerment could be fulfilled through use of Internet technologies and interactions within cybersociety. Empowerment theory posits that access to resources whether social, informational, political or economic, are integral to processes of individual and community empowerment. I have found the work of Edward Schwerin, Mediation, Citizen Empowerment and Transformational Politics,[7] particularly helpful in conceptualizing empowerment. He has established eight primary components of empowerment after a lengthy review of empowerment definitions emerging from many disciplines. My research on the potential for empowerment through Internet use showed that while some of these components such as knowledge and skills, access to resources, political awareness and social participation are logically more easily fulfilled through use of the many services and information resources available through community nets and the Internet, other components like self-esteem, self-efficacy, political participation and expression of political rights and responsibilities, can also be enhanced in many ways.

Enhancing Social Power.

Greater access to communication methods and different types of information can also be seen as directly influencing a community or neighborhood's "social power."[8] Sociologist Max Weber has been credited with stressing that, " ;all social inequality rests ultimately on unequal distribution of social power." Scholars who have addressed the nature of social power have posited that having or possessing access to social, economic and information resources is vital to having the power to influence different life arenas and being able to resist the power plays of others.[9] Robert Putnam's theory of social capital is an example of a concept that helps to explain how access do different kinds of social networks (neighborhoods friendships and ties, formal or informal social clubs, family links, etc..) are vital to establishing resources that affect social power.

Empowerment scholar John Friedmann has posited that social power within civic society refers to access to certain kinds of resources which include: a defensible living space, surplus time, knowledge and skills, appropriate information, social organization, social networks, instruments of work and livelihoods and financial resources.[10] He refers to "relative access" as the extent to which households actually do have access to these types of resources that are vital to their survival and self-development.[11]

Certainly, current and future research needs to address how access to community networks and the Internet may serve to enhance social power and empowerment processes. Research from many fields suggest that the potential for these types of benefits does exist. Yet it is not merle access that will effect the benefits of access for poor neighborhoods. The methodologies and development strategies that must go along with programs to offer access, are also vital.

Benefits of Community Networks Demonstrated by Research

Complimenting the many theoretical implications of network access, there is an increasing amount of useful research on the benefits of community networks. In one example, in a study of "Public Spaces on the Information Highway: The Role of Community Networks,"[12] in Canada, Andrew Avis researched three community networks and found that they increased user participation in the democratic system, increased access to education and enhanced community development. Research of this kind continuities to demonstrate that when access to community nets is available, used and used effectively, the results end in benefits for individuals, community groups and the community as whole.

What do participatory development strategies have to do with programs to offer network access to
disadvantaged groups?

Steve Miller, along with his organization(Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility), and other groups and individual scholars and writers, has been influential in warning of the growing information gap that is further isolating the poor, as well as calling for development strategies for combating this trend. The concept of development, and the role of participation in development, are complex themes, that are significant to many scholars and disciplines in the social sciences, particularly regional and urban planning, communication and cultural studies, economics, international relations and civic engineering to name a few.

Does development mean economic growth, industrialization and low unemployment, or does it imply a decent standard of living, access to resources for self-help, and political freedoms and human rights? Some of the issues pertinent to development and participation are discussed throughout this paper. Yet essentially, for my prepossess, development can be reduced to a basic understanding: development refers to what people do and can do with the resources that they have to improve their quality of life and the quality of life of those around them and their environment.

Delving further, Robert Ackoff suggests that, "[d]evelopment is a process of learning not of production; learning how to use oneself and one's environment to better meet one's needs and those of others. Because the development process is essentially a learning process, one person cannot develop another."[13] This understanding of development can be referred to as participatory development, since it's underlining assumption is that people must be actively involved in the learning process for development to occur.

Typically, this concept of development has arisen to challenge a more traditional paradigm that stresses that with more material resources peoples lives will be enhanced. Thus, development agencies decided what sort of resources or program a target population needed, allocate the resources for this plan, implement their plan in the community, and tried to get the people to work with the plan. Such projects might be trying to introduce new agricultural tools, or might want to build some new housing. In general what is generally lacking in this model is a concept is how participation is related and integral to the development process.

Without using the word participation, Ackoff described why it is inherently necessary in development. It is a learning process, one that may be augmented by outside agents offering knowledge, training and material resources, but that is still predicated on the active involvement of the group of people who are developing. This view helps to articulate the difference between providing public access to network terminals and working with neighborhood associations to address the many implications (program design, outreach, training, etc...) and issues that accompany access, and that are needed to make access appropriate and effective in addressing the needs of poor communities. People cannot be given access if they do not know how use it or what the implications and potential of this new medium are. For many who use Internet technologies at home, at work, or at school, the learning process is already initiated, but in other environments it will take alliances of people working to gether to initiate these processes to make network access useful and appropriate to peoples' lives and needs.

Miller notes that critics of the inequalities of NII(National Information Infrastructure) access are calling for solutions that involve deploying access through alliances with grassroots neighborhood and community organizations. These groups are not only the best suited for structuring access and training programs to the needs and contexts within their communities, but they are also the appropriate arenas for helping to address and restructure the social inequalities that are fueling the information gap.[14] In an On-line article entitled "Building the NII from the bottom up: A strategy for working through local organizations," Miller delineates a number of benefits to deploying access through programs with local neighborhood self-help groups:[15]

New Community Networks, by Douglas Schuler
(Review of Book)

As mentioned before, the central premise of this paper, is that community networks, working with neighborhood and community grassroots organizations, can offer perhaps that best possibilities for getting poor neighborhoods On-line. As Miller has shown, the strengths that neighborhoods groups can bring to technological development projects are many. But what qualities of community networks make them so beneficial to this process?

In his 1996 work, New Community Networks,[16] Douglas Schuler covers many issues surrounding the creation and purpose of today's community networks. His book has been my primary information source on community nets, particularly due to his extensive coverage of appropriate design qualities and discussion of how many existing networks have evolved. For Schuler, community nets are not just networks of computers arranged for communication and information exchange. Rather, by definition they must be, "designed, used, administered, and owned by the community."[17] Participatory development of the community, by the community, to further the economic, social and political interests of the community, is in generalized terms, the purpose behind the creation of most community nets.

Why Community Networks?

Schuler contends that, "[c]ommunities are the heart, the soul, the nervous system and the lifeblood of human society."[18] He suggests that the rise of community networks implies that community members are utilizing the advent of available computer-mediated communication technologies to combat some of the "alarming trends" of the decline of U.S. and western sense of community solidarity. Some possible factors for this decline are increasing fear and distrust of others due to what is perceived to be a general rise in violence, the transitory nature of the many families, a national obsession with individualism, a decline in community democratic discussion and problem solving and production of a lowest common denominator cultural image/reality by entertainment conglomerates.[19]

Schuler insists that the decline of community has created the necessity for creating new communities that consciously, and with principles and purpose, must reforge community ties and power for the betterment of all citizens and the community as a whole. The appropriate approach to this initiative, he suggests, will be citizen creation of and participation in citizen-led projects that will empower those involved to realize that they can take control of their community issues, and will benefit the community through completion of project goals. The creation of networks of computers able to communicate with each other within a community is one type of citizen action project that Schuler and many other computer technicians, planners and scholars are concerned with.

Electronic communication technologies play many roles in our daily lives on the eve of the twenty-first century. Yet for the most part we as community members have very little say in how these technologies are designed to serve us. Can you think of any frequently used communication technologies that are run by community groups for the betterment of the community? Almost all communication and information technologies available to the public are run by local or state government or by private for-profit corporations. Thus, the concept of community run networks is a step towards community control of, and involvement in, how the community communicates with itself: a democratization of community communication. Furthermore, the communication possibilities offered by community nets are genuinely conducive to the community communicating with itself, rather than being receptors of media products telling us what our communities are like and what the issues are. Through citizen use of email, discussion forums, personal and group webpages, ballot boxes and polls, access to government information, interests-groups' information, etc... community members have many more tools than currently available for getting in touch with their community.

A Brief History of the Community Network Movement[20]

The first electronic community network was started in the mid-seventies in Berkley California. Public terminals for this project "Community Memory," were placed in libraries and laundry mats in hope that the network would be used by a wide range of residents. In 1986, the Cleveland Free-Net was begun by Case Western University, and soon after the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) (a related project) started up. NPTN was created to offer "Free-net" software and support to other communities that wished to start a network. As the section on community network typologies outlines, many types of networks with different types of hardware, software and purposes have since come into existence, particularly in the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent, in countries such as Australia.

Here are some URLs of community networks that have extensive sites on the World Wide Web:

Charlotte's Web (Charlotte, NC) (http://www.charweb.org)

LibertyNet (Philadelphia, PA) (http://www.libertynet.org)

Building Community Networks: Appropriate Social Architecture

One of the greatest assets of Schuler's, book, as well as the work of other researchers on designing communities and community networks, is that they have offered many design principles that can be used to make community nets meet the diverse needs of the communities they serve. Many of these writers describe community nets as social spaces or electronic commons. The technical architecture of the networks, the programs/technologies/services that they provide, will decide what types of social interaction, and other uses, take place. Schuler observes that many factors will influence the design and use of community nets, such as the members of the community network organization, other community organizations, other community networks, commercial service provided, the users of the network and cultural contexts of these different groups and communities.[21]

The community network organization is the most influential group in deciding how a network will be designed, since it is due to their initiative and work that a network will be built. The organization might start with only a few individuals who want to start a network to serve their community. Eventually, other interested individuals with varying degrees of technical and organizational experience will join on to the project. Most of Shulers' experience comes from his involvement with the Seatle Community Network.

As mentioned earlier, there are a variety of resources that these start-up groups can use, such as the National Public Telecommunications Network(NPTN) which can help them to organize sofware appropriately. Furthermore, there is a large amount of literature on building communities, both traditional and virtual, that community networks organizers can look to. Mike Godwin's "nine principles for virtual communities," [22]and Elinor Ostrom's "design principles for collective goods," are two examples that are widely cited as useful to consider in community network architecture.

Community network organizations are usually by definition grassroots organizations. They can be seen as being development projects within themselves. As newly formed groups, these organizations often develop a set of principles that will guide the organization and the community network. Figure 1 shows the Seattle Community Network Principles. Most principles for community nets include offering access, often free, to as much of the community as possible and working with populations and organizations within the community to facilitate access and use. Schuler insists that although hybrids of non-profit, for-profit or government sponsored community networks are possible, they must develop principles that support the six core values (see next paragraph), free speech, privacy, and democratic citizen input and control of the network. Thus, one of the reasons why community networks have so much potential for involving poor neighborhoods, is because this possibility typically lies explicitly within their goals and principles. Certainly, as we will see later, some community network organizations are currently involved in projects to address the needs of disadvantaged members and neighborhoods of their communities.

Throughout his book, Schuler introduces several principles, concepts and technological suggestions, that can be used to design successful and user-oriented community networks. He has complied a useful list of "Core Services for a Community Network," (figure1), that he has arranged according to six core values that should be reinforced by "new communities,& quot;: conviviality and culture, education, strong democracy, health and well-being, economic, and information and communication.[23]To be for community use and benefit, a network must offer a variety of services that can help community members in many ways. Looking at Schuler's core services, it is clear that the choice of what services to provide will clearly impact whether certain communities such as poor neighborhoods would be able to utilize a community net for a variety of gratifications. For example, services such as email to all Internet addresses, self-help forums, interest group usenet forums, job listings, unemployment discussion forums and the like, can be seen as having great potential for enhancing social capital among disadvantaged groups, as well as affecting other possible benefits as discussed earlier. Thus, the types of services that community nets provide are crucial to the potential benefits that access for poor neighborhoods can have.

Figure 1. Core Services for a Community Network.[24]

Conviviality and Culture


Strong Democracy

Health and Well-Being

Economic Equity, Opportunity, and Sustainability

Information and Communication

In addition to these core services, there are also a host of opportunities that community networks can make possible, particularly when the network is connected to the Internet. These include:

"Building Strategic Alliances"

Recognizing community network organizations as grassroots groups that have come together to create a technology for their communities, Schuler emphasizes that they must form alliances with other community groups to expand the scope and quality of what the community nets have to offer. He quotes Steve Miller who posits that, "[t]o strengthen democracy, we need to integrate NII implementation with local organizational development....not just any organization, but specifically those that serve, advocate for, and are run by people from the parts of our society that are least likely to be able to buy their way into a market-driving NII that rations access according to personal income."[25]

What types of Community Networks are there?:

Ann Beamish's Typology of Community Networks[26]

Researcher Ann Beamish, has established four general types of Community Networks, which are ultimately the product of the goals and backgrounds of the individuals and or institutions that make up each community network organization. Her typoology includes Free-Nets, bulletin boards, government-sponsored networks, and wired cities.

Free-nets are generally the type of network that Schuler emphasizes as having the most potential for being able to offer the best services to the most members of a community. This is due to their focus on offering access to the entire community of a diverse array of services. Free-nets also tend to encourage community involvement in many aspects of the network. Since Free-nets universally use the text-based technology distributed by NPTS, they have been criticized for not seeking to integrate graphic-based systems that are more user-friendly. Most Free-nets are supported by area institutions such as universities that augment network resources.

Bulletin boards tend to be more neighborhood focused. They are usually run by a smaller organizations and are focused on offering the benefits of posting information to local neighborhoods.

Government networks tend to focus on offering government information, databases, tourist information, etc.... to users. Their scope might be city or state wide. Many of these networks would not meet Schuler's definition of a community net.

Wired cities focus on offering city information to terminals throughout the city. Often the service might be run by a local business, non-profit or government agency.

Beamish's principle resource in conceptualizing a typology of community networks was Kendall Guthrie and William Dutton [27] who have developed a framework for assessment that considers (1)the design of the network (technical and policy decisions made) and (2) the factors which led to that design.[28] They suggest that by asking questions such as who the individuals, organizations or institutions who started the network are/were, and what contexts such as their goals, backgrounds, beliefs, etc...affected the design and implementation process. This emphasizes on the importance of design is also discussed by Schuler. Participation in the design processes by members of the groups that will ultimate be utilizing the networks, is an area of concern that can be bought out by the participation assessment models that I outline below.

Stressing Participation & Development

Throughout his book Schuler emphasizes that the purpose of creating a community network is to promote community participation in the network. As mentioned above he stresses the importance of strategic alliances between other grassroots organizations and the community network organization, to develop programs that can address specific needs of community residents. In general there are many obstacles or issues that community network groups might face when attempting to from these alliances, particularly when the goal is to provide access to poor neighborhoods.

While scholars and writers have astutely described many of the technical and social/community architecture issues for community networks, few have taken detailed consideration of what methodologies community network organizations can use to effectively work with groups from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The rest of this paper is devoted to: (1)suggesting participation methodologies and models that have arisen from analyzation of participation in international development projects that could be applied to research and implementation of access projects; and lastly (2) looking at some alliances formed by community networks.

Development Literature and Background

The importance of participation in development has been the subject of growing concern for scholars since the 1970's. This advent was due in large part to surmounting criticism at the time of the failure of widespread development projects in the "Third World" to greatly affect the quality of life of the majority of the populations involved. Please click here for a more detailed explanation of some of the academic terms and political/economic debates that are pertinent to the emerging focus on equitable participation in development from the 70s. This summery also discusses several concepts from communication and cultural studies that are principle in linking the potential for individual and community empowerment to peoples' active participation in the political, economic and social institutions that affect their lives.

Since the integration of participation theory into the design of an increasing number and variety of development projects, researchers have begun to study the methodologies, levels and types of participation that have been implemented. This research, albeit still in its infancy, has gone a long way in suggesting how different methodologies and types of participation might affect the levels of success, benefits and limitations of various projects.

The two authors whose work have offered some principle models and concepts that I think could be particularly useful in considering the issues described above, are Peter Oakley and Lucia Vargas. Peter Oakley's work, Projects with People,[29] focuses on participation in rural development projects in d eveloping countries. Chapter five of his book, "Emerging Methodologies of Participation," gives an excellent overview of different approaches and methodologies that organizations beginning development projects should consider in order to achieve integrated participation. For her part, Vargas's book, Social Uses & Radio Practices: The Use of Participatory Radio by Ethnic Minorities in Mexico,[30] is based on her research of indig enous participation in government run rural radio stations in central Mexico. She has developed a comprehensive model for assessing participation in media-based projects that emphasizes a wide breadth of possible participatory involvement.

I think that these models and others like them, can be particularly useful to (1) community network and neighborhood organizations to offer ideas for furthering participation in access projects, and (2) researchers that want to analyze participation in access projects and in community networks in general.

Models and Methodologies of Participation

Oakley's Methodologies for Participation

Oakley begins by discussing how organizations that run projects have different ideas of how participation fits into how their projects evolve and function. He illustrates three approaches to methodologies: (1) those that seek to offer participation in benefits, (2) improvement projects that are externally managed yet might involve participants in outreach leadership roles and in other ways as well as benefits, (3) and projects that seek to use participation as a means for getting locals to take over the project, thereby reducing the need for external agents and empowering locals to continue their own development.[31]

While his book focuses on international rural development projects, Oakley concludes that few organizations consider a development methodology, and this observation, I think, might be able to be made concerning many community network developers' concept of how people in their communities will use the networks. Most networks seem to be interested in the possibility of all citizens in the community having access. Often having terminals in public places such as public libraries is seen as the best way to provide potential access to those who cannot afford their own computers. In fact, working with public libraries to facilitate access involves processes of organizations working together, which must be commended where it has occurred. Yet, it seems doubtful, that this in itself would lead residents from poor neighborhoods to use community nets. Rather, specific development methodologies and alliances are needed. This is because it is doubtful that members of poor, disenfranchised communities will magically become interested in community networks that they might know little about, or have limited interests in or hopes for gaining access to. Often poor communities are isolated physically, socially and economically from other parts of their larger communities. Their social networks are less likely to pass along information about new technologies and groups interested in these technologies. Also, transportation, literacy, amount of free time and motivation for continuing education, are issues that might limit use of public libraries.

These explanations of why poorer neighborhoods might be isolated from access to community networks, or information about them, are partial speculations that must be researched to see which populations within a community are using the networks, which populations are not, and why. Factors that would likely play a role in this determination are economic status, education and knowledge about communication technologies, among others.

Oakley discusses several instruments of a methodology of participation that could help those interested in introducing community network access to poor communities/neighborhoods. Three instruments that might be particularly useful for community network access projects are project group meetings and discussions, workshops, seminars or camps and small group projects. All are various ways to engage people in the learning and participation in projects.

In general, methodologies of participation must be fulfilled through innovative and appropriate instruments. As Oakley stresses, "[i]t is not enough merely to set up a committee or form a group of local people; there is a need for greater detail and the elaboration of more sensitive and particular means of promoting this participation."[32]

The need for instruments of participation in access projects in poor neighborhoods, and in other development projects in general, arises from the fact that participation does not just magically occur, especially where disenfranchising systems sustain obstacles to successful participation and development. Thus, these instruments must not only be innovative, and well thought-out, but must also be appropriate to the resources and skills available and to other cultural context that affect residents and outside agents as well. The time needed for of planning appropriate instruments (a participatory process itself) as well as for implementation and use of the instruments could be considerable, yet appropriate instruments are vital to the success of a participatory project.

Specifically, these methodologies can fulfill two benefits or goals of participation - participation as a goal and participation as means. Although I have chosen to include Vargas's definition of these concepts, other scholars have been instrumental in creating this distinction.

1. Participation as a means (equated to liberation): The organized efforts to increase control over resources and institutions in given situations, on part of groups and movements hitherto excluded from such control, for the emancipating purpose of achieving a better life, self-reliance, self-esteem, and freedom from servitude.

2. Participation as a goal (equated to moral and psychological empowerment): The set of feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that accompany the sense of self-worth, on the part of groups and individuals historically regarded by a given society as being unable to cope effectively with situations concerning control over resources and institutions.[33]

These working concepts of participation are important to consider when developing methodological instruments for participation. Participation as a means is fulfilled when then participatory project leads to fulfillment of the material goals that the project seeks to achieve, such as enabling residents to use a network effectively to address their personal and collective needs and concerns. Participation as a means is fulfilled merle by the participation in the project, which implies processes of psychological empowerment by building individual self-esteem, skills and solidarity with others. Within the following examples of instruments suggested by Oakley, the potential for types of participation are inherent.

Workshops, Seminars and Camps

For Oakley, workshops refer to a sharing of knowledge, techniques and ideas. As opposed to utilizing a teacher pupil model, workshops rely on more participatory and egalitarian connotations:[34]

Workshops can be a means of orientation for all involved. For example, both the persons who wish to initiate access programs and training, and neighborhood residents and local organizers, have much to learn about each other's backgrounds, ideas, goals and strategies. While outsiders from a community network might know about the technology and the network, local participants must offer knowledge of how a program can be appropriately started and implemented in ways that are more likely to lead to use and success.

Oakley notes that many workshop organizers seek to combine three elements:

reflection ---- analysis ---- action.

A series of workshops is perhaps the most appropriate way to begin a project for neighborhood access. In general, they are a logical way for diverse members of a community to get together to share ideas, and to develop the motivate and organization to formulate goals and strategies for achieving them. As Vargas's model shows, participation in of all pertinent groups in the initial phases of a project is crucial if development is truly going to be "participatory."

Project Group Meetings and Discussion

Within authentic participatory projects, meetings and discussion are used to develop the process of participation and development that are occurring, and that will occur in the future of the project, by serving as: forums for getting new participants involved, to create awareness of issues, to identify problems and solutions and to help build solidarity and consensus, among other goals.[35] Although group meetings are seen as the primary interface between group members and project staff or leaders, they rely on the basis of equal partnership.

Project meetings work to sustain interest, participation and new ideas, and thus, working them into the development process can be instrumental to the relative success of a project.

Small Group Projects

Oakley describes popular theater and song as a instrument of participation methodology that has worked well in many rural development projects for allowing groups to collectively express themes, issues and frustrations that they have.[36] The creative potential of programs and services available through computers, community networks and the Internet, offers a wide range of possibilities of expressive projects that small groups can engage in. Such projects not only serve to encourage new types of expression, but also serve to allow people to build technical skills while realizing potential uses for different services and programs, and may therefore also increase interest and motivation in many ways. While these types of projects should be encouraged, group autonomy is important to the process of learning and expression.

One community network program discussed later has designed programs for school children to develop individual and group projects using the many programs and services available.

Vargas' Concepts for Assessing Participation

If members of poor neighborhoods are to gain access to community networks, they must be involved in the process of addressing how residents are to get to network terminals, as well as programs to help educate residents in the benefits and potential of using the networks and technical training of how to use the networks. Lucilia Vargas has developed a model that can be used to consider the different areas of a media-based development project where participation can be integrated

Evolving from participation terms and concepts that were begging to be suggested in the 70s, Vargas's model is based largely on the work of Antonio Goulet who has developed a comprehensive typology of participation as a tool for analyzing participation within actual development projects. In his essay on "Participation in Development," Goulet asks: "how many types of participation are there?"[37] Like Vargas, Goulet derives his first distinction about participation, that it can be both a means and/or a goal, from Paulo Freire, an influential missionary and theorist.

In a "Conceptual Map for Assessing Participation in Media-based Projects,"[38] Vargas expanded Goblet's' typology to include: the scope of participation, the reach of participation, the origin of the project (outside agency or grassroots movements), the purpose of the project, who participates in the project, the reasons for participation; participation as a strategy to achieve and the results of participation.

Vargas's Conceptual Map for Assessing Participation in Media-based Development Projects

Looking at Vargas's model we can begin to discuss ways in which participation can be manifested in different aspects of development projects. The purpose of this paper is not too actually assess development projects between community network organizations and neighborhood groups, although that is one way that this model could and should be used. Research of that scope would involve an in-depth analysis of individual projects. Vargas, for example used ethnographic methods, including personal interviews with indigenous villagers and radio station managers, to apply her model to the realities of development projects in central and southern Mexico. Yet, her model has much to offer even at a basic level and can even be used to suggest the different aspects of participation and purposes of a project that should be addressed in the early design phases.

The model is also grounded in a development paradigm bias that views complete participation at all levels as always the most desirable. Certainly in some of her categories "highly-desirable" participation is more easily fulfilled than others. For example, achieving system-transformation in macro-arenas is perhaps beyond the reach of many projects grounded in the social and political realities of different societies.

Levels of Desirability Non-desirable AcceptableDesirable Highly-desirable
Scope of participationOnly inside project Some immediate
Local micro-arenas Macro-arenas
Reach of
Only in matters
not related to control
In all matters
allowing limited
In all political

In all aspects
Origin of Project
Outside Agent

Catalytic agent
Local groups with limited aims Grassroots

Only to solve immediate problems To provide knowledge and information for self-reliance To promote skills and social organization To achieve control over resources and institutions

Who participates
Elites/ powerless, isolated individuals Powerless, non- organized groups
Powerless, organized groups

Grassroots movements
Reasons for participationCoerced by authorities Economic pressuresSocial pressures by peers Willing choice
Participation as a strategy to achieve
Participation in co-related projects Organization in micro-arenasOrganization in macro-arenas
Results of participationSystem-
Towards a system transformationSystem-
transformation in micro-arenas
transformation in macro-arenas

Scope and reach

The scope of participation, is one area of concern for both Goulet and Vargas. Goulet insists that the size of the arena in which participation takes place will affect development strategies and success. Within this criteria he predicts that participation within a micro environment is much more likely to succeed and be sustainable than development that tries to expand to macro environments. "Experience suggests," he explains, "that it is relatively easy to achieve participation at micro levels of activity where homogenous values and interests are not difficult find and mobilize....Such participation creates, in effect, islets of social organization, which obey their own rules of problem solving irrespective of dominate rules governing society at large."[39] It is expanding the scope of these islets while still maintaining efficiency, where Goulet anticipates the most problems. For access projects expanding the scope of the project might include implanting the programs into other poor neighborhoods once important lessons and structure have emerged from a successful pilot project.

For her part, Vargas interprets scope as being spatial (local, national, international), or sectorial, (limited to specific roles or aspects within an activity).[40] Thus, when considering the scope of participation within projects dealing with poor neighborhoods, the scope refers to both (1) ("scope" in the model) the size of the population that is being involved with the project and (2) ("reach" in the model)the levels at which the residents participate (in workshops, group projects, being trained, management roles, project design, being teachers, etc..).

If residents (or majority of them) are excluded from design phases, dealing with issues and problems, budgetary considerations, or other matters of control, then full participation is not fulfilled. Unfortunately, this exclusion of participation particularly in control factors is the predominant model for government and non-profit programs for the poor. Often participation in training leadership roles are sought to increase participation, after much of the design process has already been completed by the development organization. This means that the value of participants knowledge of community issues and needs have not been injected into the vital design phase, and that participants cannot gain the valuable experience and empowerment from being involved in such phases of development.

Purpose, Goals and Strategies(Instruments) of a Project

Participation at many levels of an access project would most likely affect the purpose of the project. One of the strengths of neighborhood groups being involved, is that they might be able to identify more far reaching goals that a projects might achieve. Some community network organizations would see providing (1) obtainable access and (2) appropriate training opportunities as being the main purpose for a neighborhood project. Yet as Vargas posits, the purpose of a project can be expanded to designing strategies and sub-programs/projects to achieve goals of social, economic and political transformation at the individual and community levels.

Thus, in the beginning phases of a project a variety of specific goals can expand the general purpose of the project to fulfill more of the potential benefits of access. Such goals could include:

This short list of goals or projects also suggests strategies/instruments of participation. Particularly the last two goals are instruments that could help to achieve the first two, percent computer literacy, and household accounts.

It is very doubtful that a project would be able to achieve these type of goals without considerable involvement of neighborhood groups at the different levels of participation. Thus, the purpose, goals and strategies for participation would be severely limited without grassroots alliances and participation.

What are some examples of access projects?

Traditionally development studies have focused on projects that are carried out in the "third world" or "developing" counties. These terms exist with a connotation that that the industrialized world is "developed." Yet the growing emphasis on participation in development must have implications for projects in "developed" countries such as the U.S., where development projects in many forms and disguises, are necessary and do take place. Below, I have offered some examples of community networks that have achieved alliances with other groups that are running development projects, as well as examples of community networks that have initiated development projects themselves.

It will be the responsibility of in-depth analysis of community networks, to discuss specific programs where community nets and neighborhood organizations have applied different methodologies to successfully integrating access in appropriate and sustainable ways.

Examples of Development Incentives

Boulder Community Network

The Boulder Community Network has been able to offer public access, by working with a variety of institutions, not just public libraries.

Recently they have begun to work with Project Self-Sufficiency, a local organization that is dedicated to helping low income residents. They offer a variety of classes, case management services, and a host of volunteer matching with clients to fulfill different needs. Boulder Community Network has been working with Project Self-Sufficiency to offer access to the network to the Project's low income clients. As a community organization, Project Self-Sufficiency has already gone through a process of selecting methodologies and services for development of a specific target population. While the question of how participation is integrated into their program is an important variable to be considered, by working through this group, the Boulder Community Net, can increase the potential for access to the poor, while the computer centers, services and volunteers of Project Self-Sufficiency allow for them to handle training methods.

Plugged In: East Palo

Some Community Networks are specifically conceived and designed to serve a particular need in a community. In this way they might be more akin to more traditional development projects. Plugged-In is a project in East Palo Alto, California that was set up as a community network to engage low-income children in the wonders of communications technologies that other children in more prosperous neighborhoods and school systems have more access to. Pugged-In has been self-described as a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the tremendous technological resources available in Silicon Valley to low-income youth and families in East Palo Alto, California.

The program offers classes that focus on computer skills, as well as interment access, and other projects for both children and adults.

In conclusion, I hope that this document can offer ideas to community network organizers, neighborhood activists and others, for planning projects for network access to the poor. There are many obstacles to this end, yet I believe that using specific methodologies of participation will facilitate success in environments where groups are willing to work together to bridge the widening information gap that continues to divide modern communities everywhere. Those who are already working toward this goal deserve our collective aid and thanks.

More On-line Resources on Community Networks

Community Networking Movement

Community Networking Resources