I think we may be at a turning point in how we design for the use of new technologies in local communities, non-profits, and communities of practice. Earlier thoughts here. Or it may be I'm just waking up to some changes that have been going on for a little while. Anyway, there nothing like doing a seminar presentation to provoke some head scratching and searching around the hard-drive for reusable Powerpoints. I'm contributing to an event at the University of Dundee, Scotland, on Thursday about international lessons on what works and what doesn't. Tempting though it is to do some recycling, the spirit of the times demands something different. Here's a preview of what I think I'll talk about - but it may change after my visit tomorrow to the community technology conference in Brighton, UK to run a game and any comments I get here. It's a fairly small group in Dundee, so I thought some slightly provocative conversation starters might be the way to go. This isn't tablets of stone personal philosphy, just some hunches and nudges. I'll add more after the events, including some links.
1 Community groups and nonprofits are not the strongest leaders towards "digital inclusion".
Those working in the sectors are more face-to-face and phone than online, they may be worried that pushing technology will exclude others, they are busy, short of funds, so don't have much incentive to help others get online. They'll have to change - but they won't lead the change.
2 Community web sites are today seldom a good investment of time and money
If dozens of different interests don't collaborate and share ideas day-to-day, why should they take the trouble to do so on the web? Sites need site managers and creators.... and if they are any good they will probably gravitate towards personal publishing. They won't have the time or enthusiasm to pull different interests together and help them publish in ways they don't favour themselves. See also 6.
3 Technology centres - as such - should no longer have a strong claim for public money.
Why should we be bothered that local technology centres may not be sustainable? Do we need as many public phones when people have mobiles? Are communal laundries needed when we have washing machines? Do we all learn best in one place? Shouldn't we just think about libraries, pubs, stations, schools - and community centres - with added technology? Collective learning, publishing, campaigning is enormously important and rewarding. But start with the people and the issues not the technology.
4 Many people don't want to use the Internet. Why should they?
Surveys suggest that of those not currently using the Net, a large proportion have no desire to do so. They don't see it as important to their lives. We understand that some people don't want to drive a car, and recognise that public transport is important for them - and for all of us in some circumstances. We should ensure that different channels of communication are also available for public services. See also 10.
5 Social exclusion in the Information Society is just part of wider exclusion. Spend the money on more basic programmes.
Those who use the Net extensively are recognising that it isn't a magic recipe for personal and social change. It can be - if it is the route you want. Instead of pushing technology-led solutions concentrate on giving people a range of life and work opportunities which they can follow in different ways. Digital inclusion won't fix social exclusion as a policy. It may provide great personal opportunities. See also 8.
6 Blogs may kill the buzz in online communities - but that's no bad thing
Why drop your gems into a mass of other messages when you can broadcast your wisdom to the world? Those people who make email lists and web forums worth reading are going to shift their energies to self-publishing. Conversations will take place through links between blogs, and online events convened with a clear purpose. See also 2.
7 People are buying mobile phones and digital cameras when they can. Go with the flow.
Consumer trends are towards personal, mobile, creative devices that enable people to build their personal, family, work and leisure networks - and be a bit different. Communication is wherever you are, not on the desktop. personal devices enhance people's networking capacity. See 7.
8 Inclusion is about who you know - so focus on helping people reinforce relationships and make new ones. It's about networks, networking, networkers.
Technical skills and access to information do not on their own connect people. What's important is the ability and opportunity to create or join the networks. That involves developing personal confident and networking skills, and finding opportunities to meet others that you want to meet. For some people online social networking opens that door... but what works depends more on the people and their preferences than it does on the technology.
9 Communities are networks of networks. Networks are connected people. Communication devices are personal. Therefore use technology to build community from the personal upwards and outwards.
Groups and communities don't use computers. People do, and everyone is different in the way that they do it. It doesn't work to map broad-brush 19th and 20th century notion of community on to the way that communication technologies are developing.
10 Mix communication methods, respect and favour personal differences. Nurture communication ecologies - not communication monocultures.
Face-to-face, phone, print, texting, email, audio, video all have different strengths and weaknesses in different circumstances. Most people prefer some over others. What's important is to create or support the ecologies of communication that work for your organisation, network or local community.
... and a way forward
11 Work on getting stuff to join up. Challenge commercial models that divide.
As online publishing become more personal, online communities become networks, and there's no 'one place' for anything, the challenge is to make sure the links work. That means joining up blogs and email lists and forums and challenging commercial models that create 'walled gardens' or standards which mean devices can't operate together. We have environmental audits, social audit - may be time for some network audits.
Download these notes - rtf