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Encyclopedia > Community informatics

Contents

Overview

Community informatics (CI) , also known as community networking, electronic community networking, community-based technologies or community technology refers to an emerging set of principles and practices concerned with the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for the personal, social, cultural or economic development of and within communities. CI as an academic discipline (and as a practice) is often located within Information Systems presented however, in conjunction with community development and other social academic and practice areas. It can be considered as a cross or interdisciplinary approach utilising ICTs for different forms of community action in the real as well as, increasingly, within the virtual spheres. Information technology (IT) or information and communication technology (ICT) is the technology required for information processing. ...


Human activity, with rare exceptions, is lived in communities. The concept of "community" and its connections to different of social networks has seen countless analyses and critiques.[1] It can be seen in two contexts. First, the reality of "community" as a lived and working experience where the lived community and the physical community overlap (as for example in rural areas). Second, the reality and significance of neighbourhoods, ethnic and cultural associations, and professional interests among others remain central preoccupations and frameworks for social meaning and social action (as for example in urban areas). Thus "communities", as people coming together in pursuit of their common aims or shared practices both physically and electronically-enabled, proliferate even while their "researched" reality remains in considerable dispute.


To date there has been very considerable investment in supporting the electronic development of business communities, one-to-many social tools (for example, corporate intranets, or purpose-built exchange and social-networking communities such as Ebay, or Myspace), or in developing applications for individual use. There is far less understanding, or investment in human-technical networks and processes that are intended to deliberately result in social change or community change, particularly in communities for whom electronic communication is of second order interest to having an adequate income or social survival.


The communal dimension (and focus of Community Informatics results in a strong interest in studying and develop strategies for how ICTs can enable and empower those living in physical communities where ICT access is done communally as for, example through Telecentres, information kiosks, Community Multimedia Centres, and others. This latter set of questions is now of very considerable interest as Information and Communications Technology for Development ICT4D has become one of the more significant (funded) approaches to social and economic development in Less Developed Countries by the variety of multilateral, bi-lateral and non-governmental agencies concerned with development such as the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation(SDC), the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and as a key element in the poverty alleviation component of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. There is also an increasing interest in these areas from the private sector both from a market perspective (cf. the "Bottom of the Pyramid") and from companies concerned with finding a delivery channel for goods and services into rural and low income communities. A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable people to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential 21st-century digital skills. ... Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) deal with the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in development programmes in underdeveloped countries. ... The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the largest multilateral source of grant technical assistance in the world. ... The World Bank logo The World Bank (the Bank) is a part of the World Bank Group (WBG), is a bank that makes loans to developing countries for development programs with the stated goal of reducing poverty. ... The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is Switzerland’s international cooperation agency within the Swiss Foreign Ministry. ... - Mahatma Gandhiji The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) is anon-profit NGO trust based in Chennai, India. ... The Millenium Development Goals The Millennium Development Goals are eight goals that 192 United Nations member states have agreed to try to achieve by the year 2015. ... In economics, the bottom of the pyramid is the largest, but poorest socio-economic group. ...


There is thus growing interest in Community Informatics as an approach to the understanding of how different information and communication technologies can enable and empower ordinary, and deprived social and physical communities in relation to the achievement of their collective goals.


Academic approaches

As an academic discipline community informatics (CI) can be seen as a field of practice in applied information and communications technology. The term was brought to prominence by Michael Gurstein. He brought out the first representative collection of academic papers[2], although others, such as Brian Loader and his colleagues at the University of Teesside used the term in the mid-1990s [3]. // Biography Dr. Gurstein is currently a Director of The Information Society Institute, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town South Africa; Research Director for LOGIN Africa, a Research Project linking e-local government researchers throughout Africa; an Honorary Professor at Central Queensland University in Australia, a Fellow of the Center...


CI brings together the practices of community development and organization, and insights from fields such as sociology, planning, computer science, critical theory, women's studies, library and information sciences, management information systems, and management studies. Its outcomes — community networks and community-based ICT-enabled service applications — are of increasing interest to grassroots organizations, NGOs and civil society, governments, the private sector, and multilateral agencies among others. Self-organized community initiatives of all varieties, from different countries, are concerned with ways to harness ICT for social capital, poverty alleviation and for the empowerment of the "local" in relation to its larger economic, political and social environments. Some claim it is potentially a form of 'radical practice'[4] In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory has two quite different meanings with different origins and histories, one originating in social theory and the other in literary criticism. ... Social capital is a core concept in business, economics, organizational behaviour, political science, and sociology, defined as the advantage created by a persons location in a structure of relationships. ...


Community informatics may in fact, not gel as a single field within the academy, akin for example to Information Systems or Management Information Systems, but remain a convenient locale for interdisciplinary activity, drawing upon many fields of social practice and endeavour, as well as knowledge of community applications of technology. However, one can begin to see the emergence of a postmodern "trans-discipline" presenting a challenge to existing disciplinary "stove-pipes" from the perspectives of the rapidly evolving fields of technology practice, technology change, public policy and commercial interest. Whether or not such a "trans-discipline" can maintain its momentum remains to be seen given the incertitude about the boundaries of such disciplines as community development [5]. Information System (example) An Information System (IS) is the system of persons, data records and activities that process the data and information in a given organization, including manual processes or automated processes. ... Management Information Systems (MIS), are information systems, typically computer based, that are used within an organization. ...


Furthermore, there is a continuing disconnect between those coming from an Information Science perspective for whom social theories, including general theories of organisation are unfamiliar or seemingly irrelevant to solving complex 'technical' problems [6], and those whose focus is upon the theoretical and practical issues around working with communities for democratic and social change[7] [8]


Given that many of those most actively involved in early efforts were academics (drawn from a variety of disciplines including Anthropology, Computing Science, Development Studies, Information Science and Systems, Management, Planning, Sociology, and Social Work among others) it is only inevitable that a process of "sense-making" with respect to these efforts would follow on quite quickly from the flurry of "tool-making" efforts. These academics, and some community activists connected globally through the medium.


A first formal meeting of researchers with an academic interest in these initiatives was held in conjunction with the 1999 Global Community Networking Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This meeting began the process of linking Developed Country community based ICT initiatives and research with initiatives being undertaken in Less Developed Countries often as part of larger economic and social development programmes funded by agencies such as the UN Development Programme, World Bank, or the International Development Research Centre. For the first time, the efforts being undertaken in using ICT for economic and social development purposes in the Developed Countries began to find common interests and common cause with parallel efforts in Less Developed Countries and similarly those with academic or research activities in these areas began to see common and overlapping interests. For example, the issue of sustainability as a technical, cultural, and economic problem for community informatics has resulted in a special issue of the Journal of Community Informatics [9]as well as the subject of ongoing conferences in Prato, Italy and other conferences in South Africa[10]. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the largest multilateral source of grant technical assistance in the world. ... The World Bank logo The World Bank (the Bank) is a part of the World Bank Group (WBG), is a bank that makes loans to developing countries for development programs with the stated goal of reducing poverty. ... The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Canadian crown corporation that supports researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous societies. ...


Community-based approaches

Many practitioners would dispute any necessary connection to university research, regarding academic theorising and interventions as constraining or irrelevant to grassroots activity which should be beyond the control of traditional institutions, or simply irrelevant to practical local goals.


Some of the commonalities and differences may be in fact be due to national and cultural differences. For example, the capacity of many North American (and particularly US) universities to engage in service learning as part of progressive charters in communities large and small is part of a long-standing tradition absent elsewhere. However, the tradition of service learning is almost entirely absent in the UK, Australia, or New Zealand, (and of limited significance in Canada) where the State has traditionally played a much stronger role in the delivery of community services and information. Service learning is a successful method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community. ...


In some countries such as the UK, there is a tradition of locally based grassroots community technology, for example in Manchester, or in Hebden Bridge. In Italy and the Netherlands, there also appears to have been a strong connection between the development of local civic networks based around a tradition of civic oppositionism, connected into the work of progressive academics.


In Latin America, Africa and many parts of Asia these efforts have been driven by external funding agencies as part of larger programs and initiatives in support of broader economic and social development goals. However, these efforts have now become significantly "indigenized" (and particularly in Latin America) and "bottom-up" ICT efforts are increasingly playing a leading role in defining the future use of ICT within local communities.


Tensions

There is a tension between the practice and research ends of the field. To some extent this reflects the gap, familiar from other disciplines such as community development, community organizing and community based research [11] In addition, the difficulty that Information Systems has in recognising the qualitative dimension of technology research means that the kind of approach taken by supporters of community informatics is difficult to justify to a positive field oriented towards solutions of technical, rather than social problems. This is a difficulty also seen in the relationship between strict technology research and management research [12]. Problems in conceptualising and evaluating complex social interventions relying on a technical base are familiar from community health and community education There are long-standing debates about the desire for accountable - especially quantifiable and outcome-focused social development, typically practised by government or supported by foundations, and the more participatory, qualitatively-rich, process-driven priorities of grass-roots community activists, familiar from theorists such as Paulo Freire, or Deweyan pragmatism. This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Community organizing is a process by which people are brought together to act in common self-interest. ... Community Health Community health is a discipline that concerns itself with the study and betterment of the health characteristics of a given community. ... Community Education refers to adult education and other lifelong learning projects undertaken within the community. ... Paulo Freire (Recife, Brazil September 19, 1921 - São Paulo, Brazil May 2, 1997) was a Brazilian educator and is a highly influential theorist of education. ... John Dewey (October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, whose thoughts and ideas have been greatly influential in the United States and around the world. ...


Some of the theoretical and practical tensions are also familiar from such disciplines as program evaluation and social policy, and perhaps paradoxically, Management Information Systems, where there is continual debate over the relative virtue and values of different forms of research and action, spread around different understandings of the virtues or otherwise of allegedly "scientific" or "value-free" activity (frequently associated with "responsible" and deterministic public policy philosophies), and contrasted with more interpretive and process driven viewpoints in bottom-up or practice driven activity. Community informatics would in fact probably benefit from closer knowledge of, and relationship to, theorists, practitioners, and evaluators of rigorous qualitative research and practice. Program evaluation is essentially a set of philosophies and techniques to determine if a program works. It is a practice field that has emerged, particularly in the USA, as a disciplined way of assessing the merit, value, and worth of projects and programs. ... Qualitative research is one of the two major approaches to research methodology in social sciences. ...



A further concern is the potential for practice to be 'hijacked' by policy or academic agendas, rather than being driven by community goals whether in Developed Country "Digital Divide" programs or in projects situated in Less Developed Countries. The ethics of technology intervention in indigenous or other communities has not been sufficiently explored, even though ICTs are increasingly looked upon as an important tool for social and economic development in such communities[13].


Moreover, neither explicit theoretical positions nor ideological positioning has yet to emerge. Many projects appear to have developed with no particular disciplinary affiliation, arising more directly from policy or practice imperatives to 'do something' with technology as funding opportunities arise or as those at the grassroots (or working with the grassroots) identify ICT as possible resources to respond to local issues, problems or opportunities.


The papers and documented outcomes (as questions or issues for further research or elaboration) on the wiki of the October 2006 Prato conference demonstrate that many of the social, rather than technical issues are key questions of concern to any practitioner in community settings: how to bring about change; the nature of authentic or manufactured community; ethical frameworks; or the politics of community research.


Research and Practice Interests

Research and practice ranges from concerns with purely virtual communities; to situations in which virtual or online communication are used to enhance existing communities in urban, rural, or remote geographic locations in developed or developing countries; to applications of ICTs for the range of areas of interest for communities including social and economic development, environmental management, media and "content" production, public management and e-governance among others. A central concern, although one not always realized in practice is with "enabling" or "empowering" communities with ICT that is, ensuring that the technology is available for the community. This further implies an approach to development which is rather more "bottom up" than "top down".


Areas of concern range from small-scale projects in particular communities or organizations which might involve only a handful of people, such as telecentres; an on online community of disabled people; civic networks and to large national, government sponsored networking projects in countries such as Australia and Canada or local community projects such as working with Maori families in New Zealand. The Gates Foundation has been active in supporting public libraries in countries such as Chile. An area of rapidly developing interest is in the use of ICT as a means to enhance citizen engagement as an "e-Governance" counterpart (or counterweight) to transaction oriented initiatives. A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable people to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential 21st-century digital skills. ... The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the worlds largest charitable foundation, endowed by Bill Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft, and his wife, Melinda Gates. ...


A key conceptual element and framing concept for Community Informatics is that of "effective use" introduced initially by Michael Gurstein in a critique of a research pre-occupation with the Digital Divide as ICT "access".[14] CI is concerned with how ICTs are used in practice and not simply facilitating "access" to them and the notion of "effective use" is a bridge between CI research (research and analysis of the constituent elements of effective use), CI policy (developing enabling structures and programmes supportive of "effective use") and practice (implementing applications and services in support of local communities). // Biography Dr. Gurstein is currently a Director of The Information Society Institute, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town South Africa; Research Director for LOGIN Africa, a Research Project linking e-local government researchers throughout Africa; an Honorary Professor at Central Queensland University in Australia, a Fellow of the Center...


Socio-Technical Concerns

There is also an emerging interest in the area among those with an interest in the technological aspects of "community based" ICT use and applications. In part this is generated by a recognition that new approaches to hardware and software design may be needed to respond to the needs in developing countries or low income communities, many of whom may approach computing from a family, group or community perspective. Others approach these issues based on a concern for the social applications and uses of ICT, while still others have an interest in pursuing these from the perspective of community-based ICT strategies for knowledge creation, management and innovation; collaborative decision making and action; and flexible, dispersed and/or community based networking strategies for ICT enabled production and control. This range of concerns can be seen, for example, in the November 2006 |Workshop in Montpelier which brought together Information Systems and sociological perspectives in a rigorous way through both peer-reviewed publications and intensive discussions.


Networks

There are emerging online and personal networks of researchers and practitioners in community informatics and community networking in many countries as well as international groupings. The past decade has also seen conferences in many countries, and there is an emerging literature for theoreticians and practitioners including the on-line Journal of Community Informatics.


It is surprising in fact, how much in common is found when people from developed and non-developed countries meet. A common theme is the struggle to convince policy makers of the legitimacy of this approach to developing electronically-literate societies, instead of a top-down or trickle-down approach, or an approach dominated by technical, rather than social solutions which in the end, tend to help vendors rather than communities. A common criticism that is frequently raised amongst participants at events such as the Prato conferences is that a focus on technical solutions evades the social changes that communities need to achieve in their values, activities and other people-oriented outcomes in order to make better use of technology.


The field tends to have a progressive bent, being concerned about the use of technology for social and cultural development connected to a desire for capacity building or expanding social capital, and in a number of countries, governments and foundations have funded a variety of community informatics projects and initiatives, particularly from a more tightly controlled, though not well-articulated social planning perspective, though knowledge about long-term effects of such forms of social intervention on use of technology is still in its early stages. Capacity building is assistance which is provided to entities, usually developing country governments, which have a need to develop a certain skill or competence, or for general upgrading of performance ability. ... Social capital is a core concept in business, economics, organizational behaviour, political science, and sociology, defined as the advantage created by a persons location in a structure of relationships. ...


Associations and publications

National associations and organisations have coalesced around these issues in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and elsewhere. Most recently a community informatics research hub has been established in South Africa at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Relevant online links include the Community Informatics Research Network from which connections can be made into listservs and events and the journals The Journal of Community Informatics and Information, Communication and Society. IS THIS STUDY HELP FUL THE community aspect of health statistics


References

  1. ^ Strath, B. (2001). Community/society: History of the concept =International Encyclopaedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences. Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd, 2378-2383. 
  2. ^ Gurstein, Michael (2000). Community informatics: enabling communities with information and communications technologies. Hershey, PA, Idea Group Pub. 
  3. ^ Loader, B. and L. Keeble (2002). Community informatics : shaping computer-mediated social relations. New York, Routledge.
  4. ^ Graham, Garth, Community Networking as Radical Practice The Journal of Community Informatics, Vol 1, No 3 (2005).
  5. ^ Hustedde, R. J. and J. Ganowicz (2002). "The basics: What's essential about theory for community development practice?" Journal of the Community Development Society 33(1): 1-20.
  6. ^ Orlikowski, W. J. and S. R. Barley (2001). "Technology and institutions: What can research on information technology and research on organizations learn from each other?" MIS Quarterly; management information systems 25(Jun): 145-165.
  7. ^ Stoecker, R. (2005). "Is Community Informatics good for communities? Questions confronting an emerging field." The Journal of Community Informatics 1(3): 13-26.
  8. ^ O'Neil, D. (2002). "Assessing community informatics: A review of methodological approaches for evaluating community networks and community technology centers." Internet Research 12(1): 76-103.
  9. ^ Journal of Community Informatics Vol 1, No 2 (2005)
  10. ^ [www.ciresearch.net Community Informatics Research Network]. Retrieved on 2006-11-23.
  11. ^ Stoecker, R. (2005). Research methods for community change : a project-based approach. Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.
  12. ^ Orlikowski, W. J. and S. R. Barley (2001). "Technology and institutions: What can research on information technology and research on organizations learn from each other?" MIS Quarterly; management information systems 25(Jun): 145-165.
  13. ^ Stillman, L. and B. Craig (2006). Incorporating Indigenous World Views in Community Informatics. OTM Workshops 2006, LNCS 4277. Montpellier, France, Springer Berlin / Heidelberg: 237-246.
  14. ^ Gurstein, M. B. (2000). "Effective use: A community informatics strategy beyond the Digital Divide" First Monday, volume 8, number 12 (December 2003) URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_12/gurstein/index.html

Year 2006 (MMVI) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... is the 327th day of the year (328th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ...

See also

The term circuit rider, which has its roots in Methodist preaching, has more recently been applied to technology assistance providers who travel to small non-profit organizations in a particular sector to troubleshoot or support particular technology needs in those organizations. ... Community Memory terminal at Leopolds Records, Berkeley, CA, 1973 Community Memory was the first public computerized bulletin board system. ... It has been suggested that Information and Communication for Development (ICD) be merged into this article or section. ... Nonprofit technology comprises information and communication technologies that support the goals of nonprofit, nongovernmental, third sector, grassroots, and other mission-based organizations. ...

External links

The following is a list of some organisations specifically dedicated to research and practice in community informatics and community networking: Image File history File links Broom_icon. ...

Mailing lists

The following are mailing lists which provide on-going discussion on matters related to Community Informatics

  • Bytes for All
  • Community Informatics
  • Community Informatics Research

  Results from FactBites:
 
Community informatics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1758 words)
Self-organized community initiatives of all varieties, from different countries, are concerned with ways to harness ICTs for social capital, poverty alleviation and for the empowerment of the "local" in relation to its larger economic, political and social environments.
Community informatics may in fact, not gel as a single field within the academy, akin for example to Information Systems or Management Information Systems, but remain a convenient locale for interdisciplinary activity, drawing upon many fields of social practice and endeavour, as well as knowledge of community applications of technology.
Community informatics would in fact probably benefit from closer knowledge of, and relationship to, theorists, practitioners, and evaluators of rigorous qualitative research and practice.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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