Ultimately this paper is concerned with the potential for electronic
community networks (hereafter community networks)
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
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
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
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
the mean average household income of Internet users is $60,800
(US). Only 18.8% of users earn less that 29K.
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.
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.
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."
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
technologies. The relative scarcity of programs for developing
access within these communities also contributes to continuing
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
among residents are employed.
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."
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,
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."
Sociologist Max Weber has been credited with stressing that, "
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.
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.
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.
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,"
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
arenas for helping to address and restructure the social inequalities
that are fueling the information gap.
In an On-line article entitled "Building the NII from the
A strategy for working through local organizations," Miller
delineates a number of benefits to deploying access through programs
with local neighborhood self-help
by Douglas Schuler
(Review of Book)
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,
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
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."
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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.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
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
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.
Conviviality and Culture
Health and Well-Being
Economic Equity, Opportunity, and Sustainability
Information and Communication
In addition to these core services, there are also a host of
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."
What types of Community Networks are there?:
Beamish's Typology of Community Networks
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
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 
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.
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,
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.
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
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, 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, 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.
Oakley's Methodologies for Participation
Oakley begins by discussing how organizations that run projects
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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.
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
methodology that has worked well in many rural development projects
for allowing groups to collectively express themes, issues and
frustrations that they have.
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
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
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?"
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
Vargas expanded Goblet's' typology to include: the scope of
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
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
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
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
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
|Levels of Desirability||Non-desirable||Acceptable||Desirable||Highly-desirable|
|Scope of participation||Only inside project||Some immediate|
|Only in matters|
not related to control
|In all matters|
|In all political|
In all aspects
|Origin of Project|
|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|
|Elites/ powerless, isolated individuals||Powerless, non- organized groups|
Powerless, organized groups
|Reasons for participation||Coerced by authorities||Economic pressures||Social pressures by peers||Willing choice|
|Participation as a strategy to achieve|
|Participation in co-related projects||Organization in micro-arenas||Organization in macro-arenas|
|Results of participation||System-|
|Towards a system transformation||System-|
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.
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
which obey their own rules of problem solving irrespective of
dominate rules governing society at large."
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).
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
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
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
of participation. Particularly the last two goals are instruments
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.
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
world is "developed." Yet the growing emphasis on participation
in development must have implications for projects in
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
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
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.