The item that has got the most comments and trackback on this blog is Ten Open Source Tools for e-activism - which set me thinking about what to call 'doing good stuff with technology'. The question came up earlier this week during a stimulating discussion with Steve Walker and Andy Dearden, who organised the workshop last year that gave birth to this blog (workshop items here). My colleague Dave Greenop and I were talking to Andy, Steve and his colleagues at Leeds Metropolitan University School of Information Management about Designing for Civil Society, and what that meant. I'll do another post with our slides. We agreed that - for us - it was about the interactions of technology, citizen engagement, civil institutions, nonprofits and so on. But what to call it?
There is already a mainly academic Community Informatics Research Network and also a practitioner mailing list . Steve Walker has set up a list on social movement informatics. All are useful, but 'community' tends to equate with local, and social movement with campaigns, nonprofits. Steven Clift is promoting Public Net. "Community networking" is used by practitioners, but again has a mainly local focus.
On the Leeds-London train, Dave G and I mused on names and ethos, our thoughts lubricated by GNER's on-board services.
Informatics doesn't have popular appeal, but academics and funders are using the term increasingly to define their territories, so it has its uses. Civil informatics? Sounded a bit engineering, or municipal.
I think it was Dave, around Peterborough, who wonder whether it would be useful to team up Open Source and Informatics. That's not to suggest that all civic/socially useful applications should be developed using Open Source software - but rather that OSS style of collaborative development has a place in designing for civil society. It might also encourage OSS enthusiasts to explain and examine more fully why and where their applications are useful - an issue raised by Mark Walker.
It was the best we/whoever could come up with to start a discussion on what we should call this field - and whether it is a field. We also talked about personal nets, smart homes, and smart cities, but that's another story. Or blog item.
Dave Greenop on Smart homes
Mike Gurstein's White Paper on Community Informatics Word download
Dot Org Media provide a very useful evaluation of Using Open Source Software in your Nonprofit Organisation
Azeem Azar writing in Prospect magazine on The Microsoft Killers also discusses Open Source ways of working that go beyond software development.
In Choosing Open Source Mark Surman and Jason Diceman of The Commons Group provide 'a decision making guide for civil society organizations'