Organization

Local Knowledge

Pattern ID: 
728
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
728
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
1
Problem: 

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Context: 

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Discussion: 

This pattern is still in an exploratory stage. It will contain ideas  from Street Science by Jason Corburn, Local Knowledge in the Age of Globalization by Anne Fischel and Lin Nelson, and "Improving Civic Intelligence for Habitat Protection & Rehabilitation" by Prateek Trivedi.

This is from Prateek's report: 

When considering the application of any ‘modern’ or scientific environmental management, one must take into account the indigenous knowledge of the resident communities. As Alison Field-Juma wrote, “Re-examination of indigenous natural resource management systems has shown that far from being static they have embodied the responsiveness, resilience and complexity of the ecology upon which they are based.”

Solution: 

placeholder.

Pattern status: 
Released

Using Collaborative Technologies for Civic Accountability

Pattern ID: 
26
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
26
Tom Tresser
Passionate Strategies
Problem: 

Citizens are attempting to come together in communities around America and the world to solve community problems. At the same time community organizers lack effective technologies to help them bring people together and to assist in their efforts to hold governing bodies accountable and responsive to citizen input. We need more collaboration among citizens and more transparency for our governmental agencies.

Context: 

There are dozens of citizen action organizations working in America to bring forth local people into civic life and to solve social and economic problems, The Industrial Areas Foundation is one such group which has been promoting civic engagement for over 50 years (see www.tresser.com/IAF.htm) The IAF has helped create over 50 local and regional citizen action organizations. These organizations are coalitions of organizations, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, labor unions and community-based groups. Over 2 million families are members of the constituent groups involved in this work. There are other networks supporting civic engagement, such as the Gamaliel Foundation (see

Discussion: 

A technology-enabled approach to the work of these organizations offers a number of intriguing possibilities. Often, these organizations are working in disadvantaged neighborhoods where Internet connection and PC ownership tends to lag behind communities where the residents have more income and have attained higher levels of education. Community organizers who use technology to achieve their goals have the additional opportunity to introduce new tools to their constituents and help them use and master these tools. I am encouraging social and community change practitioners to build technology strategies and tools into their work and to help their allies and citizen-leaders master technology in order to achieve organizing goals.

Solution: 

I propose to create two related enterprises for community technology applications for community organizing, First, a web-based project called "We Are Watching." This is a collaborative tool for allowing teams to monitor government activities and analyze governmental budgets. The online work would be supported by offline training. "We Are Watching" would be template-based and could be customized for any jurisdiction. It would include reporting, webcasts and spreadsheet tools. Citizen teams would be assigned various beats" covering government meetings, attending and exposing fundraising events and interviews. The budget analysis would work like this. Using the Chicago city budget as an example, the lead organizers must first post the budget online as HTML and work with participating organizations to identify and populate a series of working groups assigned to review a specific department. This team is coached by a project volunteer versed in government budgeting and has access to an online help center. The team meets (online) and assigns tasks. Essentially, each team must contact the official in charge of their assigned government unit and interview them about their budget. The team eventually posts their analysis, questions and recommendations on the project page. In this way the entire city budget will be scrutinized and annotated. All teams will be invited to a Peoples Budget Congress where spokespeople for each team will make a brief statement. Additional components of the "We Are Watching" project would be graphical interface databases that would allow users to easily see which groups gave how much money to their elected representatives. The second component of this project would be a hardware and ISP provisioning service that would supply participating organizations with PCs and Internet access at reduced rates. In Chicago, we have an IAF-affiliate, United Power for Action and Justice, which has over 350 member organizations. These member organizations are mostly religious institutions with anywhere from 200 to 2,000 families as congregants. I could imagine a very robust business supplying PCs, access, training and support to all these families.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
from http://www.civiclab.us/

Peaceful Public Demonstrations

Pattern ID: 
434
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
133
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Governments and large companies often ignore the will or well-being of the people. An election can be stolen a war can be illegitimately launched, an environmental disaster can be caused — all without significant challenge from legistatures, the courts or other designated "guardians of the people."

Context: 

When "normal" dissent is being ignored; when imminent, possibly catastrophic, initiatives are being undertaken such as an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country. In these cases "traditional" ways of registering dissatisfacton aren't appropriate.

Discussion: 

Although crowds of people can be — and are — denigrated by politicans, the media, and other powerful institutions, their existence is somtimes the most profound expression of a population whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. People must sometimes take to the streets to visibly express their dissatisfaction.

Large public demonstrations are probably the most overt form of protest. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands of people, in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, noisemakers and other devices that have been spontaneously and individually designed. Though often portrayed in the media as marginal and/or dangerous, mass demonstrations (such as those in the Ukraine in December 2004) are generally peaceful and, indeed, suitable for the whole family. As a matter of fact, the presence of families and older people helps ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful. Through their visibility, they also help to legitimize the protest by showing that the concerns aren't limited to one demographic use, youths, for example.

In February, 2003, the world witnessed the largest expression of this pattern in history. People gathered in over 600 ciites in over 40 countries worldwide to protest the invasion of Iraq by the world's only superpower. Although the Bush administration was undeterred by this unprecedented display of disapproval, the idea of peace as an ideal was brought forward by civil society worldwide and held aloft as a universal idea — one that citizens must not allow governments to pursue — or ignore — according to their own calculations and motivations.

Mass peaceful demonstrations don't take place in a vacuum. They need to be tied to broader strategy. This often involves engaging with the media and with established governing (or intermediating) entities. It is often helpful to have a clear set of demands. Finally, although this doesn't always happen, measures like gathering names and contact information can be used to help build a large activist network that persists beyond the duration of the protest itself.

I was dreaming in my dreaming
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleeping it was broken
But my dream it lingered near
In the form of shining valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people / have the power
To redeem / the work of fools
Upon the meek / the graces shower
It’s decreed / the people rule

   -- Patti Smith, "The People Have the Power"

I think that the photograph of the demonstration in Los Angeles (early 2003) against the US invasion of Iraq used above is from a web site that helped promote the worldwide peace demonstrations.

Solution: 

Peaceful, mass public demonstrations both large and small, in combination with other forms of dissent are sometimes necessary.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although demonstrations are disparaged by politicians and the media their existence is sometimes the deepest expression of those whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands of people in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, and noisemakers. Peaceful Pubic Demonstrations need to be tied to broader strategies that include building activist networks that persist beyond the protest itself.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wiki commons

Open Source Everything

Pattern ID: 
614
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
127
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Commercial interests in the form of large multi-national corporations strive to fulfill only the most profitable needs or wants. In many cases, the highest or easiest profit aims at wants that may not ultimately be in the interests of the targetted consumers (let alone the workers or the environment). For instance, many food companies focus on high fat, high sugar, high salt products that humans find tasty based on an evolutionary history in which these substances were difficult to find. For people in the developed world, however, having access to such foods is unhealthy. Furthermore, the way these foods are produced, transported and marketed involves unaccounted for costs to humanity. This is just one example. In general, corporations are not only motivated, but legally required to maximize profits, not meet actual human needs.

Furthermore, the economies of scale lead large companies to focus efforts on those wants that are best met by mass-produced goods and services. There are a huge range of very specific needs that much smaller groups or individuals have which do not provide suffficient inducement for large companies to provide.

Thus, the corporately created world both fails to meet many human needs and even when it does produce value, it tends to focus on wants rather than needs and do so in a way that has many undesirable side-effects.

Context: 

In a variety of arenas, including publishing scholarly work, the development of educational materials, and the development of useful, robust software, an "open source" process has shown itself to be very effective. There are a variety of reasons why such a process is now timely. First, there are a large number of people globally with access to the Internet. This allows global communities with common interests to work together without the necessity of physical travel (which can be expensive in time and money). Second, there are worked examples of people from many fields volunteering their efforts to create value for the common good of their community. These examples serve, in turn, as models for other communities. Third, there are a critical mass of people with time and knowledge to add value to such collective efforts. Fourth, although it has been common in the past for those in power to use their power to keep their power, in modern times, a series of social and legal processes have been put in place to consolidate power into structures that are no longer effectively regulated by countervaling forces such as local governments or community pressure. The first three factors make the use of Open Source feasible and the last makes it manditory. In addition, Open Source has the capacity to personalize and customize value to much smaller groups than is feasible for large companies. Thus, by offering Open Source materials, people may collectively fulfull a greater proportion of human needs and wants. This is currently referred to as "the long tail." There are a very large number of people wanting a few common things and a very small number of people each wanting something different. Open Source is much better positioned to fulfill those different things wanted by only a relatively few.

Discussion: 

Perhaps the most articulate introduction to the general concept of open source is the introduction to Eric von Hippel's Democratizing Innovation:

"When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services -- both firms and individual consumers -- are increasingly able to innovate for themselves. User-centered innovation processes offer great advantages over the manufacturer-centric innovation development systems that have been the mainstay of commerce for hundres of years. Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfact) agents. Moreover, individual users do not have to develop everything they need on their own: they can benefit from innovations developed and freely shared by others. The trend toward democractization of innovation applies to information products such as software and also to physical products. As a quick illustration of the latter, consider the development of high-performance windsurfing techniques and equipment in Hawaii by an informal user group."

Probably the most notable and widespread success story of "open source" is the development of open source software. The "source code" of any computer program is the complete set of instructions that the computer follows to provide its functions. There are two competing philosophies that determine the rules regarding the distribution of software "source code."

The basic business orientation dictates that, above all, the source code should be kept private and that only people who are allowed to make changes to it -- either to add functionality or fix bugs -- are the people who are authorized by the company that owns it. Although there are several variants, the "free software" or "open source" model if more-or-less the opposite of the corporation model in nearly all respects. Anybody can obtain the source code without cost. Anybody can make changes to the source code. And anybody can distribute the code without restriction to anybody.

Besides its desirable price (nothing!), the open source model offers many advantages over the closed, corporate model. One is that many eyes can identify and fix many bugs. Software flaws such as bugs or security holes are more readily found and exposed. (This is the reason why fair voting advocates are generally in favor of open source voting software.) Another reason is that the open source model promotes innovation by allowing anybody to implement new functionality. Although many of the modifications may be unwanted, some may provide a foundation for desirable features. Although the open source approach has its own disadvantages (as do all approaches), it offers surprisingly stiff competition against deep-pocketed corporate behemoths. Linux, for example, is more robust, less buggy and on a faster release cycle than well-funded corporately engineered operating systems.

Although computer programmers have been at the forefront of this intellectual revolution, computer programs are certainly not the only complex artifacts that could be designed, built, maintained and improved through an open-source collective effort.

One obvious artifact to think about moving into open source development is the development of vaccines and other medicines. And in this arena, medicines that could reduce suffering caused by the worldwide HIV-AIDS epidemic come to mind readily. Of course, in so-called "primitive" societies, knowledge of how to find, prepare and use medicinal plants was a precious gift handed down from generation to generation.

With oil prices skyrocketing, open source automobile developers could work together on developing automobiles with super high mileage and other environmentally friendly features. Already (NY Times August 2005) hobbyists are modifying Priuses and other hybrid vehicles to pump up the mileage.

Because corporations are driven primarily to maximize profits, they tend to focus efforts on the very popular and tend to ignore small niche interests. For example, the open source music movement now allows individuals to create music collaboratively and globally. Probably the most popular of these, adding 200 users per week is MacJams. (See links below for general home page and to see what an individual's entry looks like). Albums can be built and distributed on a one-off basis without the high up-front costs of using a recording studio.

Similar avenues exists for poetry, stories, photographs, video and artwork. Examples may be seen at lulu.com, Xlibris, and publishamerica.

Solution: 

Use the mechanism of Open Source to meet needs that are not well-met by large institutions and corporations as well as areas where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the value provided.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

High profits for corporations can mean low benefits for consumers, workers, and the environment. In many areas, including scholarly publishing and the development of educational materials and software, an "open source" process can be an effective alternative. Open Source Everything can be used to meet needs where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the benefits.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ligeti Stratos

Open Source Search Technology

Pattern ID: 
431
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
125
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People rely on search engines to find the information they need on the web. The motivation, however, of the groups providing search engines is securing profits for their owners; other motives necessarily and inevitably take a back seat. The negative implications of relying solely on commercial search engines, though vast, are generally not recognized. If the enormous gatekeeping potential of commercial search engines is not balanced with open and accountable public approaches, the ability to find non-commercial information including that which doesn't appeal to broad audiences or is critical of governments and other powerful institutions could conceivably disappear. The privatization of the means to access information could also lead to a situation where advertisements and other "sponsored" information could crowd out non-commercial information.

Context: 

People in their daily lives need, search for — and find — a tremendous amount of information. Increasingly, they are looking for this information in cyberspace. While Internet technology has opened up an unbelievably vast amount of information and opportunities for communication for millions of people worldwide, the very fact that we are relying on technology which is out of our control is cause for concern — if not alarm. Although the application of this pattern is relevant to any system that people use to find information, our immediate attention is drawn to the Interne which is poised to become increasingly dominant in the years ahead.

Discussion: 

Access to information can be made easier; barriers to obtaining the information that people need can, at least in theory, be anticipated and circumvented. But, like the chain whose ultimate strength is determined by its weakest link, access to information can be thwarted at many levels. Although non-public (commercial and otherwise) providers of information and communication services can be "good citizens" who prioritize the needs of their users, the temptation to become less civil may prove irresistible if and when the "market" suggests that uncivic behavior would result in higher revenue. In circumstances such as those, they may decide to relax their current high standards accordingly. Big web portals are, for example, becoming increasingly cooperative with the Chinese government, presumably because of the huge market which potentially exists there. One approach to addressing this problem, an open source / public domain classification system similar to that used in the public libraries in the U.S. and other places coupled with open source, community owned and operated search engines, is simultaneously defensive and forward looking. Defensive, because it could serve as a hedge against information deprivation and commodification. Forward looking, because this approach could help usher in an exciting new wave of experimentation in the era of access to information. As the development of the Internet itself has demonstrated, the "open source" nature can help motivate and spur usage in terms of the complementary tasks of classifying information and retrieving it easily. Existing classification approaches like the Dewey Decimal System also have limitations (Anglo-centrism, for example) and approaches like Dewey are not strictly speaking in the public domain (although Dewey is readily licensable). Nevertheless the Dewey system might serve as at least a partial model. Schemes that are well-known, such as the Dewey Decimal system allow everybody to communicate more quickly and with less cost. It is the open protocol nature of the Internet that has allowed and promoted easy and inexpensive ways to not only get connected, but to develop new applications that relied on the underlying, no license fee, protocols. Computing and the potentially ubiquitous availability of online environments provide intriguing possibilities that older approaches didn't need or anticipate. The Dewey Decimal system, for example, tacitly assumes a physical arrangement of books — the code assigned by the librarian or technicians using the system declares both the book's classification and the location it will occupy in the library. Although having a single value is not without advantages, an online environment opens the door for multiple tags for a single web page — or for finer-grained elements (a paragraph, for example, on a web page or the results of a database query) or, broader-grained collections of elements. A federated collection of link servers (Poltrock and Schuler, 1995) could assist in this. As far as search engines are concerned, civil society can hardly be expected to compete with Google's deep pockets and its acres of server farms. Yet, it may be possible to distribute expertise, knowledge, and computational capacity in such a way that a competitive "People's Google" ("Poogle?) becomes conceivable. The idea of a single organization within civil society that can even remotely approach Google's phenomenal computing resources is of course absurd. But so in general is the idea of civil society "taming" the most powerful and entrenched forces and institutions. The problem here, though chiefly technological, is very similar to the one that civil society faces every day: How can a large number of people sharing similar (though not identical visions) work together voluntarily without central authority (or centralized support), undertake a project and succeed with large, complex undertakings. The "answer" though diffuse, incomplete and sub-optimal is for the "workload" — including identifying, discussing and analyzing problems to devising responses to the problems — to be divvied up — as "intelligently" as possible — so people, doing only "pieces" of the whole job can be successful in their collective enterprise. This strategy is much easier to define and implement in the technological realm. One very successful example of this is the SETI@home project that employs the "idle" cycles of user's computers all over the world to analyze radio telescope data in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence. If, for example, one million computers working together on the people's search project, could devote some amount of processing power and storage to the project, the concept might suddenly become more feasible. Although it would be possible for every participating computer to run the same software, breaking up the tasks and distributing them across a large number of computers (thus allowing us to "divide and conquer") is likely to provide the most suitable architecture for a People's Search Engine. For one thing this allows dynamic re-apportioning of tasks: Changing the type of specialization that a computer is doing to make the overall approach more effective. At the beginning of "Poogle's" life, for example, half of the computers might be devoted to finding (or "spidering") and indexing websites while the other half might work on identifying which web sites meet the users' search criteria and presenting a list of pertinent results to the user. After a week or so, it may become clear that the first task (identifying and indexing sites) may require less attention overall while the second task (handling user search requests) desperately needs more processing power. In this situation, some of the computers working on the first task could be re-assigned to the second task. Of course this situation might become reversed the following week and another adjustment would be necessary. In a similar way, the contents of indexes could be shifted from computer to computer to make more effective use of available disk space more efficiently while providing enough redundancy to ensure that the entire system works efficiently even though individual computers are being shut down or coming online all the time and without advance notice. The People's Search Engine (PSE) would make all of its ordering / searching algorithms public. Google's page-ranking algorithm is fairly widely known, yet Google has adjusted it over the years to prevent it from being "gamed" in various ways by people who hope to increase the visibility of their web pages by "tricking" the algorithm to gain a higher page rank than the Google gods would bestow. Ideally the PSE would offer a variety of search approaches of arbitrary complexity to users. Thus people could use an existing, institutionalized classification scheme like the Dewey Decimal System or a personalized, socially-tagged "folksonomy" approach, a popularity approach a la Google, a social link approach like Amazon ("People who searched for X also searched for Y") or searches based on (and/or constrained by) "meta-information" about the pages, such as author, domain, publisher, or date last edited.

Solution: 

The development of "open source," public domain approaches to information access is essential for equity and progress among the people of the world. The possibility of credible competition will serve as a reminder to for-profit concerns that access to information is a sacred human right. It would also help to maintain and extend the patterns of innovation that open protocols have made possible. Among other things, researchers and members of civil society need to work on classification systems for Internet resources. It is imperative that civil society focuses attention on open source approaches to searching, archiving and other information access needs. For many reasons, this will help in the evolving process of opening up the world of information to people everywhere.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

If the gatekeeping of commercial search engines is not balanced with open and accountable public approaches, the ability to find non-commercial information or that which is critical of governments and other powerful institutions could disappear. Open source, public search engines using open classification systems could solve this problem. This could open a new wave of experimentation and remind us that access to information is a sacred human right. 

Pattern status: 
Released

Environmental Impact Remediation

Pattern ID: 
603
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
124
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Jim Gerner
Free Geek Olympia
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although information and communication are often conceived as abstract, intangible and immaterial, the systems that maintain them are, of necessity, constructed with solid things such as paper, lead, concrete, rubber, glass, mercury, cadmium and silicon which are fabricated into the delivery trucks, wires, library buildings, computers, chips and CDs. The manufacture (and ultimate retirement) of all of these things is often accompanied with environmental damage, as the 23 "Superfund" sites in Silicon Valley will attest, In 2005, 63 million computers in the U.S. were replaced with newer models. Up to 80% of the waste is then sent to developing countries where it often contributes to environmental and health hazards. Additionally, energy is consumed — often in immense quantities — throughout every stage in the life-cycle of a product. As devices are made with shorter and shorter life-spans and the uses of ICS increases worldwide, this problem will become more critical unless something is done.

Context: 

Vast numbers of people are affected by the increasing "informatization" of the world. This includes people who are fortunate enough to capitalize on the new technology and those who are unfortunate enough to live with the refuse. This pattern can be used by people who have some control over the situation, including those who are in a position to develop laws and policies, producers who can lessen the effects of their products entering the waste-stream, and local communities who can develop policies and programs for responsible treatment of discarded technology. Community activists, health professionals, local governments, and neighborhood organizations will need to organize and work together in this effort. Other possible participants include computer geeks, social activists, environmental activists and those wanting to learn more about computers and new technology.

Discussion: 

The use of information and communication systems is expanding enormously in countries like the US as well as in countries like China and India. This is causing immense demands on their infrastructure and on the environment. Computer technology has grown increasingly more sophisticated in a very short period of time. During that same time, the costs have dropped in relative and absolute terms, thus resulting in a massive number of obsolete computers and other technology much of which has been dumped somewhere where toxins like lead, cadmium and mercury can leach into the soil and water.

In addition to the new intellectual and social spaces that the new technology helps provide, we need to think about the impact that information and communication systems are having on the environment. Although we associate physical spaces like libraries and auditoriums with energy and resource use, the creation, storage, and distribution of information requires energy and resource use as well. Some of this use doesn't square with conventional wisdom. Computer use, for example was supposed to lower the consumption of paper because everybody would simply read the computer screen. The amount of travel was also going to decline because business could be conducted electronically, thus substituting communication for transportation. The electronics industry was also celebrated as an environmentally friendly industry yet there are 19 "superfund" sites associated with high-tech industries slated for environmental remediation in Santa Clara county, home to more of these sites that any other county in the U.S. IBM and Fairchild Electronics were disposing their waste products in underground tanks which subsequently leaked trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Freon and other solvents into the drinking water of 65,000 people. There also seems to be an unhealthy link between the waste producers and the people who must deal with it, specifically prison inmates who work with inadequate protection and no health insurance working in for profit prisons.

Why pick on information and communication systems? After all, other sectors use energy and cause pollution. One reason is that "electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the waster system," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Another reason is that it's important for people to realize that information and communication technology is not a utopian, magical answer to all problems. Obviously we need to consider the entire life-cycle of all products — including those related to information and communication. (While this task is not trivial, thinking about the "second order" effects while extremely important, is even more difficult to do meaningfully. The effects of the automobile on all aspects of life, including attitudes on sex, as well as the effects of the size of the weapons industry in the U.S. on foreign policy are both intriguing examples of unforeseen side-effects.) Understanding the entire "cradle-to-grave" (and beyond! as in the case of toxins that can reach out from the grave to poison air and water) is critical, but what should be done with the information? It may be easiest to require that every manufactured or imported product is covered under an ecologically-sound "Take-it-Back" (SVTC, 2005) policy that requires the manufacturer or importer to pay for recovery or safe sequestering of hazardous materials.

Free Geek was started in Portland, Oregon in 2000 by members of the open source software community to bring resources to bear on the problems of e-waste and the digital divide by helping "the needy get nerdy." The Free Geek approach combines participatory education and environmentalism. Free Geek addresses the problem of discarded computers and other electronic e-waste can be diminished by reusing and recycling. Free Geek uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology. Volunteers are eligible to receive a computer after finishing a tour of service which educates the volunteer about computers and about the environmental impacts of ICT. The city government in Portland, as part of their effort to reduce e-waste helps support the project. A broad range of people are working together to cross the economic and social divides by working towards a common goal. The Free Geek concept has quickly spread to other areas including Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Free Geek approach is not the only way to address the problem of lacking a community recycling program. There are many similar projects throughout the country that may or may not use open source software. But Free Geek is worth mentioning here for many reasons. First, Free Geek was developed by civil society; second, Free Geek is a partnership between several sectors and thus helps bring all sectors of the local community into a common struggle; and, third, Free Geek is an innovative approach that deftly addresses a multitude of issues within a common set of principles, assumptions and actions.

Starting and running a Free Geek or similar program requires a variety of skills and activities. The pattern can only be implemented by a group of people. To start that group one would post meeting announcements and invite members from local Linux users groups, college students and others. Since the overall environment for this approach will vary from community to community it's important to find out what's happening in your community and who's involved. The success of the project is likely to depend on how well you understand your community and can work with people in the community. Beyond that, there are many "nuts and bolts" issues including finding space and funding and developing programs. Associating with Free Geek is probably a good idea because of its network of dedicated people, useful documents and software for running an community recycling project.

The environmental problems associated with information and communication technology are severe and no mutually agreed-upon long-term, sustainable solution has been identified. People are developing a variety of creative and thoughtful responses to the problems of ICT-related pollution but more are needed. Information and communication technology can probably be part of the solution — but part of this involves stopping be part of the problem.

Solution: 

As a necessary part of stewardship and responsibility, it's essential to come to terms with the environmental impact of information and communication systems and devise suitable strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. Some combination of policy, consumer education, habits of consumption, social and technological innovation and recycling will probably be necessary for this take place effectively.

Introductory graphic located at http://freegeek.org/volunteer.php

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although information and communication may seem abstract and immaterial, the systems that support them are built with solid things whose manufacture and disposal is often accompanied with environmental damage. We must acknowledge the environmental impact of these systems and devise strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. One group, Free Geek, uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology by reusing and recycling.

Pattern status: 
Released

Illegitimate Theater

Pattern ID: 
621
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
123
Mark Harrison
The Evergreen State College
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Theater, viewing and participating in performances, is an ancient yet vital cultural force. Although "legitimate" or mainstream theater has traditionally been a gathering place for the exchange of ideas, it is largely irrelevant in today's world as a tool for social change. Forces which have contributed to this situation include economic factors, dwindling audiences, the talent drain to other mediums, the transformation of audience tastes and expectations as a result of film and television, and the decline of the avant-garde as alternative to legitimate theatre.

Context: 

Illegitimate Theater can be "legimitate" response in almost any setting of ordinary — and extraordinary — life. It can be practiced in any place where an "audience" might be found.

Discussion: 

"Legitimate theater" engages a paying audience sitting inside a theater with the expectation that they will watch the performance of a play or musical. These productions employ conventions normally associated with traditional theater: lights up and down, applause at the end of acts, a proscenium stage, professional actors working with prepared scripts, no significant interaction between performers and spectators.

Less than 2 percent of the population in the United States attends legitimate theater performances.

While legitimate theater has lost much of its relevance to our everyday lives, theater (or performance) in the broad sense is a fundamental human experience. As such it represents a reservoir of immense potential that a mediated experience can rarely provide: the potential for human interaction. Film and video provide a stream of images to watch, but no experiences in which the viewer can actually participate. Everyday life is often a sequence of ordinary, that is expected, events. One's life experiences easily become insulated from important world events — and the possibility of learning from new experiences as well. Ordinariness becomes a form of oppression and a steady dumbing down of society is deleterious to culture and to democracy as well. Performance provides an immediate human experience. Theater — particularly its "illegitimate" varieties — can also punctuate the ordinary and thrust new and unexpected experiences into everyday life. It has the power to bring a person into new, temporary realities in which the self is momentarily forgotten and submerged. Theater can empower the spectator with insight and possibilities.

Baz Kershaw in his insightful study of the British Alternative Theatre Movement over four decades explicitly addresses the role of theater as an instrument of "cultural intervention." His book (1992) "is about the ways in which theater practitioners have tried to change not just the future action of their audiences, but also the structure of the audience's community and the nature of the audience's culture." This pattern affirms Kershaw's observation: New theater should accompany a new society.

Other phrases — such as Theater Without Theater, Anti-Theater, Meta-Theater, The World's a Stage, Social Performance, Guerilla Theater, or Oppositional (or Radical or Provocative) Theater — are variations on the title of this pattern. Each of these alternative formulations focuses on some attributes and not on others. We use the term "Illegitimate Theater" primarily to highlight the differences between it and legitimate theater. Illegitimate theater can describe any performances in which one or more conventions of the legitimate theater are circumvented. For example, the convention of a single, discrete performance can be ignored in illegitimate theater. Thus, a "one-two punch" can be delivered, possibly anonymously: Half of the cast can "perform" — in Starbucks, at the zoo, or, even, a traditional theatrical venue — while the other half of the cast can "accidentally" encounter the audience afterwards and engage with them a second time, perhaps in dialogue, perhaps again as spectators, perhaps as actor / participants in a new performance that builds on ideas of the original one. The French group Le Grand Magic Circus devised a performance which gradually added the spectators (while withdrawing their members) at the "end" of their performance until finally the spectators were the only ones left "performing" (Bennett, 1990).

Performance is an extremely broad term that characterizes an infinite number of situations including sports, rituals, education, carnivals, politics and protest. It can encompass everyday social events such as shopping, eating in restaurants, going to parties or hanging out. Performance can be spontaneous or planned, obviously "staged" or masquerading as "real life," artistic, political, cultural. The advent of “performance studies” as an academic discipline which transcends the traditional notion of the theater has contributed to our understanding of these myriad forms.

Bertolt Brecht, the most influential artist/advocate of theater for social change, rejected Aristotelian drama (the basis of Legitimate Theater) in favor of the Epic or Dialectical Theater. His theories and plays, such as Three Penny Opera" and Mother Courage, blur the line between real life and performance, reveal the mechanics of production, present actor and character simultaneously, and employ a wide range of techniques designed to rouse the audience to social action. The venerable San Francisco Mime Troupe with performances such as Fact Wino vs. Armagoddonman, Damaged Care, and Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan, is a more recent incarnation of Brechtian rebellion. Augusto Boal from Brazil, a Workers' Party (PT) activist, pioneered "Theater of the Oppressed" and other forms of participatory role-playing theater that has helped audiences to explore and recognize their own predicaments while fostering cooperation and critical engagement.

Many public protests, especially those that include role playing, dramatic encounters, or masks, puppets and other props can be viewed as a type of performance. When Greenpeace's sailing ship "Rainbow Warrior" confronts a nuclear submarine or whaling ship, two symbolic worlds collide. Crosses symbolizing those killed in Iraq spring up in Crawford, Texas near the ranch of U.S. President George Bush; Argentine mothers and grandmothers clothed in mourning black stand before the president's Casa Rosa in Buenos Aires. More recently social activists employing techniques of illegitimate theater, have emerged to confront corporate globalization. These include the marching bands and giant puppets in the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Reverend Billy from the Church of Not Shopping who orchestrates chain store "interventions" to "unlock the hypnotic power of transnational capital" and the "Yes Men" who have "played the roles" (as they satirically interpreted them) of various corporate and organizational officials to unsuspecting audiences around the world.

As Clifford Geertz would say — and Shakespeare before him — the world is truly a stage and everything we do in public is a type of performance. This of course means in a trivial sense that everyday life provides a venue for exhibition and self-promotion. The media exploits people's desire for "fame" (or publicity — the desire to be made publicly recognizable) and exhibits the ones it considers off-beat enough for public display, in the modern day equivalent of a freak show.

Media is more easily commodified when it assumes rigid forms. When a "package" exists, it's relatively easy — and cost-effective — to replicate it again and again with little effort or creativity. And when commercial broadcast media defines what is "legitimate", the imagination of the people decays, their capacity to create is harder to draw upon, their tolerance for experimentation and "amateurism" diminishes. Illegitimate

Theater, like other patterns in this language, has unsavory manifestations as well: burning a cross in the yard of an African-American or other ethnic minority, militaristic parades and rallies, public intimidates. Since "performance" likely predates language, its effects on people can be deep; it can unlock hate as well as love, anger as well as reason and compassion. Theater, whether legitimate or not, can be driven by emotion and therefore less analytic than many other patterns in this language. Illegitimate

Theater blurs or even negates the line between spectators and performers. In its extreme version everybody, all the time, is an actor. And "actors" in public performances can also be "actors" in social life, actors who help make things happen — for good or for ill. Although our life "in public" is a series of performances, our roles are often construed as "bit parts." But every moment is a "teachable moment;" every public appearance is an opportunity to do something new and to experience something new. Thus anybody, at least in theory, can practice the craft of illegitimate theater. The "performances" that come from this practice can be simple or elaborate, impromptu or painstakingly rehearsed. The point is to cause ripples in the everyday stream of life.

Illegitimate theater, like is predecessors "legitimate" or otherwise, can be used to provoke emotional reactions, discussion or reflection. Practiced successfully and in a great number of venues, illegitimate theater could help foster positive social change and increased democratization of culture.

Solution: 

Illegitimate theater represents a intriguing set of possibilities for interactions between people that can lead to social change. Performance as a deeply human phenomenon can be explored by audience and performers alike in our quest for a better world.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Theater, viewing and participating in performances, is an ancient yet vital cultural force. Theater — particularly its "illegitimate" forms — can punctuate the ordinary and evoke new and unexpected experiences. Anybody can practice Illegitimate Theater that causes ripples in the everyday stream of life. It can be used to provoke emotional reactions, discussion or reflection. It can even help foster social change and the democratization of culture.

Pattern status: 
Released

Emergency Communication Systems

Pattern ID: 
618
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
121
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Natural or manmade disasters reveal the fragile nature of our social infrastructures, including our most advanced technologies, and require us to draw upon our own essential resourcefulness. Given the destruction or significant compromising of basic civic infrastructures—electrical power, water and sewage, natural gas, roadways and communications systems—individual and local capacities as well as external supports at every level must be prepared and effectively implemented to ensure personal and collective survival and wellbeing.

Context: 

Disasters require the attention of every level of society, from individuals, families, and neighborhoods to city, state, and national agencies as well as international organizations. The content and flow of information is critical at every stage, from policy development to preparation, search and rescue, recovery and the reconstruction of vital infrastructures. Therefore, to some extent, everyone may be called upon to participate in various the aspects of this pattern, not only in the area of immediate impact but in the formal development of policies, procedures and systems as well as informal, voluntary emergency responses that help to extend the safety net for those directly affected.

Discussion: 

In the space of one year, 2005, the world witnessed three major natural disasters: —the Southeast Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in the Southeast United States, and the Pakistani earthquake—, and all were reminders as to how quickly even the most basic and essential structures can literally be swept away in a matter for moments. A spotlight was also cast on pre-existing environmental conditions, policy decisions, inadequate preparation, and either dysfunctional or non-existing communication systems that either led to or intensified the extent of damage and loss of life.

This pattern encompasses three different periods that focus upon emergency situations: (1) the pre-existing conditions and preparations prior to the occurrence of any disaster, (2) the actual disaster and immediate response, and (3) the longer term recovery and reconstruction of physical and social infrastructures. While all levels of society are involved, the particular focus of this pattern is on the initiative and actions of civil society.

In the period prior to any disaster, the focus is on advocacy for effective policies, including the remediation of social and environmental conditions that might prevent or at least moderate the damage of a disaster and the establishment of evacuation, response preparations, and the storage of food and medical supplies as well as the setting up of emergency communications networks and facilities. For example, Seattle Disaster Aid & Response Teams (SDART) calls for neighborhoods to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days by organizing teams that draw upon local resources and skills. The program trains neighborhood teams and sponsors functional drills to rehearse roles and responsibilities.. In terms of advocating for improved communications systems and facilities, the World Dialogue on Regulation for Network Economies has compiled a special dossier on the role of regulators and policymakers in ensuring that adequate emergency communications are available.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the delivery of food, shelter and medical care can be hours, days, even weeks away. Tasks that must be handled by the stricken residents, as outlined and assigned to teams under the SDART model, include damage assessment, first aid, safety & security, light search & rescue, and providing sheltering & special needs. Communications responsibilities include monitoring emergency radio broadcasts, keeping neighbors informed of relevant information, relaying information about damage via amateur radio operators, satellite radio, cell phones, signs, or whatever means are available. In the longer period of reconstruction following a disaster, when additional external resources can be brought into play, it is vitally important to ensure close coordination.

The very young and very old, as well as the poor face the greatest risk, in the short and long-term aftermath of catastrophe, often related to the worsening of already existing conditions of poor health and nutrition and inadequate housing. UNICEF studies of groups hit by warfare and famine show it is critical to provide the correct mix and balance of relief services and providing not only food but public health assistance to prevent massive outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Civil society is capable of organizing large-scale efforts in the wake of disasters as demonstrated by the Katrina PeopleFinder Project and the Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog SEA-EAT blog associated with the East Asian tsunami. Other projects to assist in the reestablishment of communications systems include the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s (CNT) Wireless Community Network project and supportive efforts by the Champaigne-Urbana Community Wireless Networks for both developed and developing nations.

One of the most common approaches for alleviating at least part of the challenge of communications around emergency situations is the idea of open, non-proprietary protocols, the "secret ingredient" behind the Internet's phenomenal success. The Common Alerting Protocol is one such data interchange protocol and the Partnership for Public Warming (2006) is working on a wide variety of efforts to resolve national standards, protocols and priorities.

Even areas far distant from the disaster must also be prepared to handle a mass displacement of populations, possibly for extended periods of time.

Solution: 

Therefore, individuals, public agencies, environmental advocates, and international relief organizations needs to continually reassess their level of preparedness and coordination in response to humanitarian emergencies. This means thinking and planning for the short-, medium- and long-term as well as continuing to address persistent issues of poverty and debilitating economic conditions. Information and communication technologies can play important roles in this area — but in order for the technologies to be useful, the people in areas where emergencies do or might occur and people outside of those areas must both assume leadership for genuine progress to be made.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Disasters require the attention of every level of society, including individuals, families, and neighborhoods as well as city, state, national, and international agencies and organizations. The content of Emergency Communication Systems and the dynamic and flexible flow of information through them are critical at every stage, including policy development, preparation, search and rescue, recovery, and reconstruction of vital infrastructures.

Pattern status: 
Released

Thinking Communities

Pattern ID: 
782
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
118
Aldo de Moor
CommunitySense
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In the modern Information and Communication Age, people no longer have time to think. Creative thinking is a human activity essential for self-realization, and for providing sustainable solutions to the myriad problems of our ever more complex global society. Three main factors prevent Thinking Communities from developing: lack of suitable locations for "semi-solitary" deep thought, lack of affordable communications infrastructure for such communities to develop, and too many social, professional and financial constraints preventing people from breaking out regularly for a sufficient period of time.

Context: 

This pattern supports creative individuals and small groups with a pressing need for finding the time and concentration to work on a major project, but who lack access to locations, and are inhibited by many personal constraints. The pattern helps them to connect with individuals and organizations interested in providing affordable thinking facilities, and then to design and build their Thinking Communities. These communities allow their members to concentrate deeply, while also to meet peers who are working on their own projects. This semi-solitary mix of deep thought and social interaction should significantly increase individual and societal creative thinking capacity.

Discussion: 

Thinking, resulting in new knowledge, is an essential human activity. Most related community research has focused on knowledge management and knowledge construction communities, often in an organizational or educational setting. For example, a typical corporate knowledge management community acts as a custodian for a Knowledge Domain, nurturing the sharing and creation of practices and knowledge that is key to the achievement of both company and personal objectives (Von Krogh et al., 2001). Similarly, an educational knowledge building community is a group of learners committed to advancing the group's knowledge of some shared problem through collaboration knowledge (Chai and Khine, 2006). However, when shifting from such an institutional to a more individual-oriented type of knowledge community, not much is known. In such a community, not organizational goals but individual thinking requirements, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses predominate. The resulting communities have much more of an emergent nature, and can be realized in a wide variety of forms. Thinking Communities, even more so than other communities, cannot be fully designed in every detail. Instead, developers should provide the right conditions and just enough guidance for such communities to get started, then let them evolve (Preece, 2000). A Thinking Community pattern can help outline such conditions and guidelines, while leaving each community enough freedom to develop its own unique values, norms, structures, and processes.

Thinking Communities require the right physical locations for individuals to reflect deeply by themselves, while also being able to interact on their thoughts with peers. They need an electronic communications infrastructure to organize and coordinate their community and communicate between locations. Social, professional, and financial constraints need to be minimized.

With location, communication, and personal constraints satisfied, Thinking Communities should start to be established and grow. A great variety of communities, ranging from loosely connected, semi-solitary individuals to large groups intensely focusing on solving a joint problem, will develop. Thinking Communities could thus become catalysts of creative thinking processes urgently needed to deal with some of the many pressing problems facing our globalizing world.

Examples

Thinking Communities can manifest themselves in numerous forms. Each of the dimensions identified in the pattern can have many possible values. The pattern acts as an analytical lens to help identify successful combinations of values, and possibly new types of Thinking Communities. To give some idea of the breadth and depth of Thinking Communities, here are some of many possible examples:

- A researcher is totally overworked, overwhelmed by the continuous stress of teaching, the publication rat race, and projects. She decides to recharge by taking a two month sabbatical after a conference she attended on the other side of the world. Since semester is over, she can plan it in between two academic years. She looks up the country she is visiting in the ReCharge researchers community web site, and discovers a scenic location close to the conference site, in the middle of a National Park. They offer long-term accommodation, for low monthly rent rates. They also have Internet connections, provide meals, and have a common room where she can meet fellow researchers. After two months of deep thinking and discussions with colleagues who provide fresh angles on her research, since they are not in her field, she goes back home. She is full of fundamental, new ideas that will sustain her in the stressful years to come.

- Many people are inspired by the ways of living and thinking of indigenous peoples. However, it is often hard to establish relationships with such communities. A First Nation, however, hosts a simple hostel with a limited number of rooms on its domain, allowing thinkers to work on their projects, while inviting them for a selected set of meetings and activities with the local community. This offers visitors a low-intensity, non-intrusive opportunity to get a realistic sense of the values, problems, and strengths of these communities, much beyond the understanding provided by the usual, shallow touristic visit to a reservation arts center. Simultaneously, it offers these local communities an alternative source of income and access to a world of ideas and contacts provided by visitors sincerely interested in building bridges between cultures.

- Two countries go to war. Enlightened individuals from both sides want to discuss their differences in order to stop the madness, but discussions on an open electronic forum dedicated to the conflict inevitably derail into emotional rants and diatribes. Meetings in either country obviously do not work for political and security reasons. Forum members from another country, which has managed to successfully negotiate a peace agreement between its feuding factions in the recent past, invite a number of the most reasonable discussants to come to a resort in their country. A private foundation, sponsoring the discussion forum, pays most of the travel expenses. In the resort, the discussants gather in a number of group sessions, but also get ample opportunity to break out, go for walks, and have one-on-one discussions. Their meetings are structured by electronic meeting room software. Although in the short time frame available they cannot reach agreement on a “Roadmap to Peace”, they do agree on the most important issues to be worked out. In a closed electronic forum, supported by the same software, they continue their discussions upon return to their respective countries. The bonding and face to face meetings in a peaceful environment have created the conditions to start building a Thinking Community across political borders.

Solution: 

A finely meshed, worldwide network needs to be created of affordable locations where people can concentrate and work on their individual creative projects, while simultaneously being able to meet up with peers working on their own acts of creation. The Web will provide the communications infrastructure to develop the concepts of Thinking Communities and match supply and demand of Thinking Locations. Social, professional, and financial constraints need to be addressed by developing concrete guidelines and solution patterns.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Creative thinking is essential for self-realization and for finding sustainable solutions to the problems of our complex global society. A worldwide network of Thinking Communities needs to be created that links affordable locations where people can concentrate and work on individual — as well as collective — creative projects. These would allow members to concentrate deeply, while allowing them to meet peers who are working on other projects.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Aldo de Moor

Telecenters

Pattern ID: 
871
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
117
Michel J. Menou
Peter Day
Douglas Schuler
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Across the globe new information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly perceived as elements essential to citizenship in contemporary society. However, numerous preconditions must be met before a person can make use of the applications and systems that represent the network society. Sometimes understood as contributing to the phenomenon known as the digital divide, these preconditions include, at the very least, an income level that facilitates payment for the equipment, its maintenance and operation; skills to use ICT, the availability of electricity; an awareness of ICT might matter and confidence in oneself and in the possibility of an improvement in one's condition. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people on planet earth, these preconditions are not being met nor are they likely to be in the near future!

Context: 

Telecenter projects can exist at various levels from the small local community, for example, to the neighborhood or grassroots organization in a village, to the entirety of a large country, or even at the international level. Telecenters are, on the one hand, rooted in particular circumstances and, on the other hand, a product of dynamic realities. Because no two communities are alike (different environments, cultures, norms, values, etc.) the idea that recipes, "best practices", models or the like can be found and mechanically replicated across communities is foolish. Nevertheless a clear understanding of basic concepts and principles might be a useful guide for individual and collective reflection, as once again telecenters emerge as significant network society phenomena.

This pattern might be useful for individuals and grass root organizations for whom the use of appropriate ICT might strengthen their efforts toward overcoming the limitations of existing social conditions. It might also be useful for local or central government agencies intending to undertake positive action, with the help of purposeful and appropriate uses of ICT, in favor of social progress.

Discussion: 

In order to overcome the limitations listed above, the idea that public facilities might be established within communities is now fairly commonplace around the world (Menou 2003). Modern public access points to ICT are often referred to as "telecenters" even though their origins, ownership, purposes and modes of operation are so diverse that the development of a typology of public access points might be justifed, so that the commonalities and differences might be understood (Menou & Stoll 2003b).

Telecentres first emerged in Scandinavia and the UK during the 1980s and early 1990 and were known as telecottages, telehus, teleservice centers and electronic village Halls (Day, 1996 a&b) while the first "Community Computer Center" in the US was established in 1981 in the basement of a housing project in Harlem (New York City) (Schuler, 1996). Intended to provide public access to computing technology, these initiatives were either run as community development projects, commercial ventures or a bit of both (Day, 2001; Day & Harris, 1997). In the so-called "developing countries" one might distinguish 3 main avenues that the development of telecenters took. Most publicized is "pilot projects" initiated by international development agencies such as UNESCO, World Bank, IDRC, USAID, etc., which resulted in the implantation of isolated facilities with limited involvment of the communities at the beginning, e.g. Timbuctu in Mali, Kothmale in Sri Lanka. Another line is government programs pretending to overcome the "digital divide" by the implantation of a large number of telecenters in "undepriviledged" communities (e.g. @Argentina) with the same drawbacks of a top down approach, no networking plus bureaucratic constraints. A third line combines individual initiatives by grass root NGOs in particular locales and a franchising model developed by the Red Cientifica Peruana in Peru, known as "Cabinas Publicas Internet" which entertained ambiguities between community service and small business development.

Today the variety of public ICT access points (or PIAPs) and the nature of their roles is more wide-ranging and can be distinguished according to:

- their origin, ranging from ad hoc initiative of an individual to national and international programs;
- their purpose, ranging from profit of business owners - e.g. cyber or internet cafés - to free support to community development endeavors - e.g. true community telecenters;
- their ownership, ranging from individual small entrepreneurs to community groups, local and central government entities;
- the community participation in their governance, ranging from nil to full control;
- the mix of ICT available, ranging from only one, e.g. public phone booths, to all (e.g. phone, fax, internet, radio, web TV, etc.);
- the variety of services offered ranging from independant use of ICT to a wide mix of economic, social, educational and cultural activities;
- whether they stand alone or are part of a more or less extensive network

True community telecenters are part of the efforts undertaken by community members to build community and improve community conditions; they utilise ICT as a means, among others, that facilitate the attainment of these objectives (Menou & Stoll, 2003a). The centers are designed and managed with full participation of the community (Roessner 2005). Non- community telecenters are only concerned with providing access to ICT at an affordable cost to people who are deprived from it, whether temporarily or permanently. For the remainder of this pattern we focus exclusively on community telecenters.

Community telecenters typically get started via two main avenues:

1) They are the brain child of interested individuals or grass root community groups who champion their development and implementation through various community strategies and actions; or
2) They form part of a top down (usually government or international agency) program purporting to bridge the "digital divide".

Telecenters face a variety of problems and challenges that can be categorized as either social, political, economic, or technical.

In the social realm the key issues are:

- the relevance of the telecenter and ICT use as a means to support the various development efforts undertaken by the community
- the appropriateness of its role, the social interaction it permits and the information it makes available, especially with regard to cultural and gender biases
- the availability of people with required skills to operate and manage the telecenter and provide training and support to the users
- the level of information and computer literacy in the community and the availability of intermediaries to offset their deficiency
- the availability and accessibility of local information.

In the political realm, key issues are:

- the degree of ownership that the community might have from the inception, or progressively reach;
- the level and continuity of community involvement in the management of the telecenter
- the support of, or conversely conflict with, local and national authorities and pressure groups
- the relationship with national programs in the area of universalization of telecommunications services and digital inclusion, and the ability of the telecenters to preserve their identity and autonomy though participating as appropriate in such programs;
- the attitude of telecommunication companies vis a vis competition, universalization and digital inclusion efforts.

In the economic realm, key issues are:

- funding for initial investments
- securing regular income streams that can can support the operation of the telecenter
- securing resources for the maintenance and renewal of the equipment
- offering employment conditions that are attractive enough for retaining the permanent staff

In the technological realm, key issues are:

- reliability and cost of power supply
- reliability and cost of telecommunications
- reliability and cost of access to the international internet backbones
- ability to implement a distributed network
- capability of operating FOSS applications
- capability of deploying media integration, in particular radio

In many countries central governments have funding programs to encourage the development of "telecenters". Significant financial backing from international organizations is also commonplace and support is also often available from local governements.

Telecenter associations have been set up and are seeking to establish their influence at the local level as well as forming broader groups at regional and international levels. These structures are powerful instruments for sharing knowledge and experiences, helping each other and consolidating the movement Menou, Delgadillo Poepsel & Stoll 2004). Such grass root organizations should not be confused with a number of top down portals and support schemes that pretend to represent telecenters and disseminate second hand knowledge for sake of specific political and commercial interests

Mirroring events from the 1980s & 90s when computers were parachuted into communities as part of top down development programmes, the current crop of telecentres face similar challenges of social, financial and technological sustainability. At that time telecottages and electronic village halls (EVHs) were very much flavor of the month among government and funding agencies (Day, 2001; Day & Harris, 1997). However, they were viewed as short-term project that were expected to achieve sustainability with no support or training. Some transformed themselves into small commercial ventures but most closed eventually leaving behind them a great deal of frustration and dissillusionment in the community.

Very few lessons from that period appear to have be learnt. In the UK, the UK Online Centre programme, some 10 years or so after the initial telecottages and EVHs closed, many of the UK Online centres have closed or are closing after massive amounts of public funds had been pumped into them. Across the globe, the present tranche of telecenters seem to be following a very similar pattern of contradictory trends. On the one hand they are recognized by governments and international agencies as key instruments for achieving digital inclusion. Thus a proliferation of funding programs to support their establishment has been witnessed in recent years. On the other hand the support currently being displayed has no long-term policy substance behind it and may not resist the medium term hazards of development endeavors. The pressure toward securing financial sustainability in the short-term - usually 3 to 4 years - may indeed push many telecenters to close or attempt to reinvent themselves as business enterprises wherever this is feasible despite the fact that by definition they serve a population which does not have a level of income sufficient for paying for non essential goods and services. Similar attempts in the UK and Scandinavia have historically proved fruitless and we hold out little hope for the future of most telecenters without significant changes being made to policy and funding strategies.

Examples
Asodigua, Guatemala: http://www.asodigua.org
SAMPA.org, Brazil: http://www.sampa.org
Container Project, Jamaica: http://www.container-project.net

Solution: 

In the same way that public library services facilitated increased participation in society for the socially excluded through universal access to knowledge, so too can telecenters have a similar socially beneficial effect on citizenship in the network society by increasing access to and participation in information (content) creation, communication exchanges and knowledge sharing. However, history shows that treating community telecenters as short-term projects rather than part of the social infrastructure results in the long-term failure of these initiatives with community disillusionment and increased social exclusion ensuing. For telecenters to be effective instruments in bridging the digital divide and promoting social inclusion consideration of their policy, economic, technological and social sustainability is required.

We posit that a policy framework is required which establishes community telecenters as component parts of basic infrastructure supporting community life. Such policies should develop mechanisms that guarantee that appropriate levels of funding will be maintained to ensure long-term operations. In the network society, telecenters should be as much apart of our social infrastructures as public libraries, education, police services, etc. It is simply inappropriate to expect telecenters to function as instruments of social inclusion in the digital age by adopting business models from the commercial world. Similarly, the composition of the funding model that many telecenters are forced to live by is flawed. Relatively large sums of capital funding that support the purchase of equipment is made available but little or no long-term funding is obtainable for revenue functions such as equipment and network maintenance and renewal, on-going training, or the advocacy and awareness raising work that keeps telecenters at the hub of community activities and needs. Even in some of the most well intentioned cases a form of myopia exists, where ICT is concerned. Approaches that would not be accepted in other aspects of social life appear to the norm where technology is concerned. Simply throwing computers into local communities does not in itself address community need. If technology is to be both appropriate and effective it must form constituent parts of the toolbox that communities have for dealing with issues and problems. Telecenters must be grounded in the fabric of community life if they are to be socially sustainable.

A pre-requisite for social sustainability is community engagement. This demands community people getting actively involved in shaping and running telecenters in some way. In all likelihood this will involve learning directly from the experience of community telecenters operating in conditions similar to their own, so social networking skills need to be developed. Social sustainability means identifying what contribution a telecenter might make to community development efforts and involving community groups in designing, implementing and developing the telecenter. Operation and management training for members is essential if telecenters are to prosper. Support and advice in identifying and acquiring appropriate funding sources is a necessity. Finally, local communities can assist themselves in these matters by electing public administrators and lawmakers who genuinely support community technology initiatives and who understand the significance of their role in the community environment.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Across the globe new information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly perceived as essential to citizenship. In the same way that public libraries increased participation for the socially excluded through universal access to knowledge, so too can Telecenters that provide free or inexpensive ICT facilities. Remember that numerous preconditions must be met before Telecenters can effectively meet their objectives.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Creative Commons. Photograph by Tariq Zaman
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