The problem with many news stories is that the reporter tends to assume far too often that the reader has been following the reporter's beat along with the reporter. (A beat is a journalism term that describes the type of stories that the reporter covers. Ex: sports, foreign policy, state politics, art and culture, etc.) Of course for a majority of readers, this is not the case. A typical reader has a job, a family, and other concerns to dedicate her time to aside from keeping abreast with the latest developments of a reporter's beat. So often I find it difficult to make my way through a news article without confronting a variety of questions that the writer assumes I already know the answers to. On top of that, the reporter will throw in random facts assuming I can put them into proper context concerning the subject matter of which I have nothing more than generalized knowledge about. The gravity of the situation that these facts attest to is lost due to my ignorance and the reporter's neglect to confront my ignorance. What does this lead to? Well, for many readers who find themselves in such a position, they grow frustrated at the inordinate difficulty in trying to understand what the hell is going on. They may also feel ashamed at not already knowing enough to tell what is going on, which - when you think about it - is absurd. Why read a newspaper that already assumes you know what is going on? From here many a reader disengage before they scream and tear the newspaper into tiny shreds. Thus the masses grow apathetic and uninformed. Business, politics, foreign policy and other important aspects of society become ever more distant and inaccessible. And journalism fails to do its job.
Journalism grows ever more elitist by ignoring its duties to educate the common man. A way to battle this is to introduce more pedantic elements into journalism. News people must remember that contemporary society grows increasingly complicated as bureaucratic substructures abound in almost every endeavor modern society offers. Reporters can no longer be mere messengers in a society where the masses are estranged from corporate and political echelons. Reporters must also be teachers and illustrate what the latest newsbreak means within the entire functioning system of their beat. This will require a radical renovation of the news.
Twenty years ago such a suggestion would be absurd. "Explain the latest developments in the context of the entire system?" A reporter would exclaim, "There's not enough room! I can't keep explaining the same thing, over and over, every single day!" Thankfully, these are the concerns of the print journalist, not his predecessor, the internet reporter (who has still to fully develop).
This is a perfectly valid suggestion against the backdrop of the internet. Let's say a news blog has released an article detailing a new contract between the US government and American contractor, Halliburton. Such an article will undoubtedly refer to some esoteric information that will stump anyone other than business executives and news junkies. With a simple click of the mouse, a befuddled reader could then be ushered to a page that would illustrate what this development means in the context of the whole system between contractors and the US government. Unlike newspapers, internet pages are infinite and (more or less) cheap.
Now the question is what would such a page look like? How could one explain entire systems of society to a reader who has almost no prior expertise? There are many ways to go about solving such a conundrum: the first would be to explain the system via text. But what are often undervalued in society are the skills required to explain complex systems simply and accurately to others: empathetic sensibilities bordering on ESP and complete comprehension of a subject matter. This skill set touches upon the core asset of good teaching. Many high-ranking academics (often professors at erudite universities) miserably fail to live up to this obligation themselves. But regardless of academia's problems, it's about time these principles were prized amongst journalists.
Ah, here we may encounter a dirty dirty secret: many journalists themselves do not know what is going on. It has almost become an industry standard to scan the internet and assemble one's article out of the disembodied parts of other articles, come Frankenstein. This shameful habit is almost an industry-wide practice. Don't believe me? Google a news story. Read the articles that pop up. Notice how mind-bogglingly redundant they all are. Rarely does anyone seek a different angle on a news story, let alone get different information from another relevant party. In fact, many quotes are the same en masse. As journalists grow increasingly lazier thanks to the internet and PR announcements, their collective knowledge grows weaker, their thoughts grow more dependent on others. Thinking and producing thoughtful work in the news industry looks reminiscent of mad cow disease: reporters eating and regurgitating the words of other reporters, who themselves have devoured and regurgitated the works of some public representative of the actual party. This pattern is a double edged sword, for not only does it seek to vanquish the reader's ever-mounting confusion, but it will undoubtedly rout out reporters who operate in partial or complete ignorance: the spores of mass confusion.
So, a reporter must be required to completely and thoroughly understand her beat. She is then required to explain the system as a pretext to her breaking story so that any reader, anywhere, will understand what the hell is happening. Not just businessmen, congress men, not just specific strata of society, everyone: housemaids, twelve-year olds, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, former convicts, stay-at-home dads, artists, everyone.
The final benefit of this pattern is that the truth will be easier to discern from hype, spin and flagrant lies. How? Easy. Lies don't make sense. That's how we eventually know (other than a third party informing us) that we're being lied to. How do we tell the difference between a genius and a madman? The genius makes sense. Whatever explanatory system makes the most sense is the best candidate for the truth. There is nothing out there that can determine such a thing other than ourselves and our relationship to the truth. No matter where we stand in society, we all are tangent to larger operating systems that determine much of our lives. Systems of real estate development, agriculture, politics, and so on. We all have some first-hand knowledge of large newsworthy systems. That, combined with our intellect, is enough to suss out the truth. If someone can't explain to us how things interrelate simply and coherently, that's probably because they're full of shit.
Constructing news that attempts to place latest developments in the context of a large system should be an effective way to the cease the public's confusion over many issues and their resulting apathy because of it. Not only will the public be more informed, but news people will have more responsibility for the peoples' comprehension of the issues.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Video games are frequently violent, sexually explicit and exploitive and commercialistic. Whether their use leads inexorably to social exclusion or anti-social behavior and attitudes, the fact that their use occupies the minds of millions of people for billions of hours in a given year might make anybody question whether this is wise.
Video games draw people in but people don't get much in return. Is it possible that this medium can be re-engineered to good purpose? Gamers and game designers should explore these possibilities as should policy-makers, NGOs, and other people interested in new educational possibilities.
The idea of using computer games for socially responsible purposes has some intriguing arguments in its favor. One is that people are already spending enormous amounts of time doing mindless virtual driving (at least they're not wasting gas!) and shooting virtual villains, etc. If they're going to spend that much of their time gaming why not have them do something of value? (or so that argument goes.) On the other hand, it's not clear that it would work. Perhaps shooting is more fun than learning for some (or many or most?) people (but then according to the Harper's discussants, you can always trick them by giving them points or the right to use the virtual laser guns only after they did the "educational" thing, like adding the numbers or spelling the word.) But it's not obvious that even if people like playing an educational or socially responsible game that it would have any positive lasting effects.
Models and simulations provide ways for people to explore situations that can't be experienced directly — like the future. At the same time we must acknowledge that these tools aren't as compelling as they could be. Well-designed interactive games have the potential to be educational in that people learn about the world as well as compelling — they thrust the gamer into the scenario.
Certain types of video games are, on some level, not unlike simulations in which the computer extrapolates certain plausible outputs — both expected and unexpected — based on user selections or decisions. Simulations, however, are "serious" while games by their very nature are frivolous — or so it would seem.
What, in theory, could socially responsible video games achieve? One possibility is that they could improve cognitive skills including memorization of spelling and multiplication tables, as well as deeper skills such as analysis, interpretation, or evaluation. Another possibility is that one could learn a general feel or understanding from the games; just as people get some type of general knowledge from visiting foreign countries. One could, for example, get an impression of what it would be like to, say, deliver relief food to refugees in a remote war zone.
A video game, like a movie, book, or, even, a story told aloud, is not "real." It's a creation of a parallel artificial world, or a world "once removed" from "reality." In the early 1960s Yale psychology professor Stanley Millgram conducted a bold experiment that demonstrated (or was widely perceived as having demonstrated) how people were naturally inclined to follow orders from perceived authority figures, however illegitimate and immoral the orders might be. In those experiments, a "doctor" with official-looking garb tells the subject (misleadingly) that he or she are going to be involved in a memory experiment. In the course of this experiment, the subject will push buttons that purportedly deliver increasingly powerful electric jolts to an unseen person in the next room, a confederate who doesn't seem to be able to master the memorization of a few words at a level that sufficiently pleases the experimenter. After the hapless person with the poor memory cries out in [feigned] pain, the real subject understandably balks at delivering more pain to the person in the next room. After the authority figure explains that they "must continue" with the experiment, the vast majority of the subjects elected to continue their regiment of electrical shocks to the unseen victim. A notable exception to this excursion into a morally dubious zone were people who had spent time in German concentration camps during World War II. Many of them simply refused to deliver the punishment.
One plausible explanation is that the survivors who had actually witnessed situations in which blind obeisance to power led to barbarity, learned about its pitfalls, while those who had not been in such a situation had not. This suggests that video games could provide a type of rehearsal for situations that might arise in the future, serving much the same role as it is believed that play does for children.
It is the possibility that video games could provide meaningful instruction that inspired Paul Rogat Loeb to propose a video game based on former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" movie that explores the looming prospect of global warming and massive climate change: "The game could build on Gores existing movie, slide show, and website, adapting whatever elements were useful, but also making the process more interactive, more engaging for an audience for whom games are a prime language. Why not put people in the role of climate scientists assessing the evidence, governmental and corporate decision makers, citizens trying to keep our society from driving off a cliff? Why not let them try out different ways of acting? (Loeb, 2006).
Video games could (at least theoretically) help society learn how to deal with various problems that people might encounter: emergencies, stolen elections, loss of civil liberties, etc, The fact is that our globalized, mediated, interconnected world thrusts a multitude of issues into our face that reveal our impotence: although they demand a response, individually we have nothing in our experience that helps us truly grapple with it ‐ let alone determine what that should be done about it.
Several video games have been released, and several more are in planning, that are intended to teach people about real-world issues in ways that television new reports and formal education are unlikely to emulate. One game, "Food Force" developed by the United Nations World Food Program, puts players in the middle of a dangerous food relief mission on Sheylan, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean suffering from drought and civil war. Players airdrop food, drive down mine-infested roads, buy and distribute food and help rebuild. Surprisingly, the game has been downloaded by over three million of people and is second in the number of free downloads only to "America's Army," another "serious game," this one a recruiting tool for the US Army (Rosenberg, 2006).
There are several new games with socially responsible orientations. One is called "A Force More Powerful" and designed to teach non-violent strategy. Others are based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (PeaceMaker), genocide in Darfur, and Adventure Ecology in which two kids, Dash and Bay fight eco-threats and villains like Agent Waste and Professor Ignorance and the environment is represented as a "a highly complex and interdependent system in which every life-form, air molecule and pebble plays a part" (Snoonian, 2006).
While video games are often damned because of their total disconnect from the "real world," this separation may also have its virtues. According to Raph Koster (Wasik, 2006), there is a " magic circle" surrounding games and "it has to be a circle games of no consequence." Formal education, on the other hand, generally does not have a "magic circle of no consequence." In other words, failures — both small and large — at school have consequences that vary from minor annoyances and embarrassment to not being able to attend college or find meaningful employment after high school.
Will Wright, the designer of SimCity and other simulation games, commented on the goals he has for Spore, a new video game now in development: "I want people to be able to step back five steps, five really big steps. To think about life itself and its potential-scale impact. I want the gamers to have this awesome perspective handed to them in a game. And then let them decide how to interpret it" (Johnson, 2006). While we can't know how valid this perspective is and how his new game will promote those ways of thinking, it's clear that it represents a step up in relation to the majority of the other games that people play.
Verbiage for pattern card:
Video games can be violent, sexually explicit, exploitive, and commercialistic. Whether or not they lead to anti-social behavior and attitudes, the idea presents intriguing possibilities. Ideally they could help teach people about real-world issues in compelling ways. And models and simulations provide ways for people to explore situations that can't be experienced directly — like the future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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.
In popular media, protagonists are usually richer, stronger, and more beautiful (or handsome) than "ordinary" people. "Ordinary" people, even if they have names, are turned into stock characters. Many of the situations, moreover, in which the protagonists find themselves are extraordinary (e.g. horror, action, thriller, fantasy just to name a few genres). This approach has the effect of making people feel that their own lives are boring and unimportant. Indeed, many people feel that "escaping" into a mediated reality, whether it's television, video games or movies, is the only way to "live." This approach also distracts people from actually addressing real problems by directing their imaginations on to situations that are totally irrelevant to their own lives.
This pattern blends fact and fiction. It addresses the stories of people and settings in fiction and non-fiction and in "real life" as well.
There are no reasons why stories involving "ordinary" people in more-or-less everyday life can't be genuinely beautiful, moving and inspirational.
The Everyday Heroism pattern was inspired by this passage: "Lispector (1925-1977) is best known for short stories and novels that are structured around small, epiphanic moments in the lives of Brazilian middle-class women" (Sadlier, 1999).
Jean François Millet's evocative painting of The Gleaners (1857) shows the simple heroism of simply staying alive. Toiling under the social stigma of gleaning for their food, these three women scoured the fields after the harvest for the leftovers to which they were entitled under French law. The film "To Be and To Have" provides another inspiring example. Through a simple and unhurried portrait of a school teacher in a small French village, the viewer understands his concerns for the children in the one-room school house, his hobbies and his connections with the entire village. No matter what the movies tell us, most real heroes don't fight intergalactic evil or psychopathic killers. The real struggles are at the "human level."
Beverly Cleary, a Portland, Oregon author captures a great deal of the ordinary "dangers" that everybody must face with her wonderful about Ramona. In Ramona the Brave, when Ramona was just six, "She was tempted to try going to school a new way, by another street, but decided she wasn't that brave yet." In that same year Ramona enters a new classroom with a teacher that doesn't seem to understand her or her imaginative ways of seeing things.
Although there is no evidence that Ramona became an activist, she probably would have respected the tough position it can put people in. One takes an unpopular stand and insists that changes for the good can be made. Clearly there would be no social change without heroism — including the "everyday" kind. A small but significant piece of wisdom offers encouragement to those of us who hesitate when faced with this challenge: Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.
The Giraffe Project promotes "ordinary heroism" (or, rather, heroism by people who might otherwise appear to be "ordinary") realizing that no movement is due to a single "leader." The Giraffe project celebrates people who "stick their nose out" and has named nearly 1,000 "Giraffes" thus far who have a vision of a better world. These people have all taken personal risks to initiate an ameliorative project on a grand a scale such as replanting a country's trees or on a "small" scale such as building bridges between two hostile groups in a community.
The introductory photograph of Reverend Maurice McCrackin, who is still active in his 90's, is from the Giraffe Heroes Project. In 1945 Reverend McCrackin built the first interracial Presbyterian congregation in the United States. The summary graphic is of The Gleaners, now in the public domain.
Produce — and consider — more popular media that involves "ordinary" people and "everyday" lives. Celebrate the heroes among us and strive to be one yourself. Even an "ordinary" one.
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In the media, heroes are usually richer, stronger, and better looking than ordinary people. And the situations in which the heroes find themselves are not ordinary. This makes people feel that their own lives are unimportant. No matter what the movies tell us, however, most real heroes are ordinary. We need media that involves ordinary people and everyday lives. Celebrate the heroes among us and strive to be one. Remember: Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.
Stories are one ancient and still powerful technique for people to create and share knowledge across temporal and geographical boundaries. Stories may be conceptualized as having three major dimensions: character, plot, and environment. Traditionally, societies have used and shared all of these dimensions. Today, in an effort to make the rich and powerful yet richer and more powerful, the natural processes of creating, sharing, and building on stories has been subverted into a process of "claiming" the world of stories as private property. This limits artistic creativity and stunts the growth of collective wisdom.
Large, powerful corporations (many recently merged) control much of the media and have a huge influence on the international copyright laws. In most cases, the characters used in movies and television shows (even if originally taken from the public domain) are restricted in terms of the ability of anyone else to use them. In fact, in some cases, people have been sued even for setting up "fan sites" for these characters as well as for using them in satire. Arguably, there has never been a greater need for collective human wisdom. Yet, the profit motive gone hypertrophic has put a host of economic, legal, and logistical barriers across possible paths of collaborative thought.
Humankind has generated a magnificent pantheon of fictional and not-so-fictional characters over the millennia of its existence. Unbelievably enough, this rich legacy may be stopped cold through a transfer of the ownership of humankind's stories and images to corporate rather than shared "commons" ownership. Civil society should establish a repository of characters who are available to all without charge. This could contain characters from our pre-corporate past as well as those of more recent vintage (such as Cat-Man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat-Man_and_Kitten) who was raised in Burma by a Tigress but abandoned on our doorstep by the corporation that spawned him. Ultimately it could even include those are now serving time, cloistered behind commercial contracts until their sentences expire. Novelists could legally allow the inhabitants of the universes they created to be enlisted in others: Cartoonists such as Matt Groening could donate Homer Simpson or a brand new type of American everyman complete with voices and descriptions of where he lived and what he liked to do. Frustrated novelists could supply names and descriptions that their colleagues could borrow for their own work. However, it is not only artists and writers who benefit from having access to stories and the characters who inhabit them. Characters can serve as sources of inspiration for all; they can give us hope in dire times; they can serve as models for ethical, effective, or clever behavior. One use of characters is to serve as a kind of "Board of Directors" that we can use imaginatively to help look at our problems and proposed solutions from various perspectives. (See http://www.research.ibm.com/knowsoc/ The Disney corporation may be the most prolific "borrower" of stories (including Aladdin, Atlantis, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Davy Crockett, Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Hercules, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Jungle Book, Oliver Twist, Pinocchio, Pocahontas, Robin Hood, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, and the Wind in the Willows) from the public domain; the number of stories they have added to the humankind's commonwealth is still at zero. (Thanks in part to legislation that granted Mickey Mouse another 75 years of service to the corporation.)( State of the Commons - Culture)
Humankind has created a magnificent pantheon of fictional and not-so-fictional characters. Sadly, this legacy may be lost as corporations increasingly own the rights. The natural processes of creating, sharing, and building on stories has been degraded into a process of claiming stories as private property. The development and sharing of Public Domain Characters can help reclaim these timeless functions.
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Humankind has created a magnificent pantheon of fictional and not-so-fictional characters. Sadly, this legacy may be lost as corporations increasingly own the rights. The natural processes of creating, sharing, and building on stories has been degraded into a process of claiming stories as private property. The development and sharing of Public Domain Characters can help reclaim these timeless functions.
People outside the major spheres of power are often denied access to the tools and technologies of self-expression. This is often the unfortunate by-product of poverty; education is out reach of the majority of the majority of the world's population and access to media tools (including cameras, editing software, recording studios, the Internet) and other systems is often prohibitively expensive. Although this situation can be debilitating to people who are caught in those circumstances, the rest of society suffers as well: they are deprived of stories and perspectives that could enrich their understanding of the world while preparing them to become better citizens of the world — and their local community.
Anybody with a story to tell — and this includes everybody — could benefit from this pattern. This pattern, however, specifically addresses those people with little to no access to media production of any kind. Although this pattern focuses on the people who lack the access, implementation of this pattern often requires the assistance of people and organizations who have both the resources and interest in working with people in a participatory way.
The story told in the 2004 documentary "Born into Brothels" is an excellent example of this pattern. In 1997, New York-based photographer Zana Briski traveled to India to document the lives of women, children and men who lived in Calcutta's impoverished red light district. During the next three years, some of which was spent living in the brothels, Briski noticed that many of the children of the prostitutes were fascinated by her photographic equipment. Soon she started giving them cameras and helping them to use them as a new lens to look at their world. Later she organized shows at galleries for the photographs and made the photographs available on the Internet. The money from the sales is now being used to help support the children's education. While raising money for the worthy cause of education — and raising the consciousness of millions of others who watched the documentary — is exemplary, the most important outcome of the project may be the increased awareness and perception that seemed to be unlocked in the children by the acts of observing and recording their surroundings with the camera.
While the Homemade Media pattern is not a panacea it does have many possible benefits. The first benefit is of course that learning to create media helps build skills and as such may lead to employment. Regardless of that, however, it helps build confidence and self-esteem. These positive attitudes about oneself and the desire to keep persisting in the craft of creating media — whether photography, interviews, audio recordings, or newspapers — is a good defense against self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol or other drug abuse or gang activity or criminal outlets. The act of capturing an image in a camera's viewfinder or writing down fragments of overheard conversations or otherwise recording promotes the idea of reflection upon various aspects of life or the imagination.
Media is inherently shareable in some way. Photographs can displayed for viewing in galleries, printed in magazine or hung on public walls. Videos can be shown on televisions or in theaters. These can be artistic, informational, or lead to social change in some way. In any case, however, they can be used to communicate with others. Homemade Media can open up channels of communication with people, as audience or as potential partners for additional collaboration.
A few other examples can show a little more of the breadth of the pattern: Drawings of children in Darfur present the horror of genocide that is hard to shake off. Gumball Poetry (http://www.gumballpoetry.com/) allows people to buy a short poem from a gumball machine for 25 cents. One of the most remarkable projects, however, took place in Bogoto, Colombia. Film-maker Felipe Aljure developed the Rebeldes con Cauce project in which he worked with 140 young people with no filmmaking experience to help them learn how to make films (Dowmunt, 1988). Most of the students were from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. They studied film, developed outlines and created ten to fifteen minute films which were ultimately aired on Bogota's channel Canal Capital where they received "outstanding" ratings.
The Plugged In Project in East Palo Alto helped teach underprivileged youths how to create web pages that told their stories (while teaching them a skill, self-confidence, etc.) from celebrating Thanksgiving holiday with their family to witnessing the seizure of a family member by immigration officials for now have the appropriate papers to remain in the country.
The homeless newspaper movement is active in many cities around the world. Although it takes different forms in different cities, the basic model is the same: The newspaper concentrates on issues of homelessness and poverty, two subjects that are likely to be covered sensitively or in much depth by mainstream media. Beyond that the newspaper is often actively engaged in the struggle for the rights of poor people and engages poor people and their communities in every aspect of the newspaper production and distribution. The Real Change weekly newspaper in Seattle is sold by people who are homeless or otherwise in underprivileged positions for $1.00 and receive 70 cents for each paper sold.
The Homemade Media can be applied in a million ways. Support and enjoy homemade media in your community and around the world.
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Capturing an image or conversation encourages reflection and introspection yet people outside the major spheres of power have little access to the technologies and tools of self-expression. Although this can be harmful to those people, others are deprived of enriching stories and perspectives. Homemade Media helps build confidence and self-esteem as well as employment skills. Anybody with a story to tell can benefit from Homemade Media.
Tourism has largely developed unhindered by environmental and community concerns. Its sole basis is economic growth, with the majority of profits funneled to already rich industrialized nations. At its worst, tourism devastates rich landscapes, displaces long-established and thriving communities, causes pollution, creates a culture of drug and sex-trafficking, abuses access to clean water, and eradicates culturally unique lifestyles and livelihoods.
Individuals or organizations seeking to take part in travel and tourism that benefits local communities should investigate the many resources for Engaged or Responsible Tourism. The hallmark of Engaged Tourism is that it is community-determined, sustainable and draws on the existing people and environmentally centered resources of the community.
The challenges to participating in responsible tourism are many. A westerner's perception of travel and vacationing are already formed to expect a certain kind of product. Swimming pools, air-conditioning, lavish meals, subservient staff, "staged" traditional activities and the like leave little room for discovering the many wonders of foreign cultures or experiencing the complexities of a different lifestyle. Foreign governments share in the global race to classify tourism as a national export, paving the way for multinational corporations to build a tourist infrastructure at the expense of whatever may be in its way.
Tourism Concern, an NGO based in the United Kingdom is a primary source of information about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of tourism at the same time that it advocates and provides information about alternatives. According to Tourism Concern's Web site, some of the main negative effects of tourism include displacement of people (particularly native peoples living on their traditional lands), environmental damage from uncontrolled development, and water abuse. In examining water abuse it's easy to find that "the presence of tourists naturally means a much higher demand for water. Local communities normally do not benefit, and in most cases, are not allowed access to infrastructure built to ensure safe drinking water. The development of golf courses and hotel swimming pools are responsible for depleting and contaminating water sources for surrounding communities; this is especially true in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. An average 18-hole golf course soaks up at least 525,000 gallons of water a day - enough to supply the irrigation needs of 100 Malaysian farmers."
Equations, an East Indian NGO promoting responsible tourism, documents several tourism projects that are moving ahead without local support. The mega Bekal Tourism Project plans to convert Bekal, a northern rural coastal fishing district, into Asia's largest beach tourism resort of 6500 units by 2011. As a consequence, four entire fishing communities would be destroyed, communities that are among the most sustainable in all of India. In addition, unique cultural practices are at risk: "The indigenous fishing community of Kasaragod is the last remaining community along the Keralam coast with traditional fishing techniques. They abhor over-fishing and adhere to sustainable harvesting practices. The community still practices the traditional 'sea courts' where the community heads assemble at the place of worship every day to hear and decide on issues within the community."
The Bekal project illustrates more. The government of Keralam has already begun acquiring land as cheaply as possible under "public purpose" and intends to sell the land to private and multi-national tourist organizations for this same price. To date, there is no Environmental Impact Assessment despite the fact that as planned it would violate national Coastal Regulation Zone rules. Local community members are being denied due process through hearings that are a sham.
Fortunately, there are organizations that are becoming involved in the process of re-vitalizing community efforts to direct tourism. An extensive list of responsible travel organizations can be found on Tourism Concern's Web site, (http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/). Reference books also published by Tourism Concern include "Good Alternative Travel Guide: Exciting Holidays for Responsible Travelers" by Mark Mann, and the new, "Ethical Travel Guide" by Polly Pattullo, lists ethical and sustainable tourism in over 60 countries.
Global Exchanges is a model organization in creating opportunities for Engaged Tourism. Their Reality Tours operate give people "the chance to learn about unfamiliar cultures, meet with people from various walks of life, and establish meaningful relationships with people from other countries."
Engaged tourism represents a shift in both attitudes and activity. Tourists traveling to developing nations shift their attitudes from participating in inexpensive fun abroad to participating in meaningful experiences in international communities. Interestingly, it is exactly the presence of western engaged tourists that assists in re-establishing the values, culture, status of local people and communities adversely affected by commercial tourism.
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At its worst, tourism devastates ecosystems, displaces communities, causes pollution, promotes drug and sex-trafficking, restricts access to clean water, and degrades culture. A westerner's perception of travel often is oblivious to foreign cultures or different lifestyles. Engaged Tourism shifts from fun abroad to meaningful experiences. In fact, engaged tourists can help re-establish values, culture, and status of people adversely affected by commercial tourism.
All too often development initiatives are designed and implemented by outside professionals, politicians and wealthy elites. Neither community empowerment nor fundamental sustainability plays a central role in many of these interventionist projects. And just as bad, they fail to honor the basic desires and knowledge possessed by these people. Thus displacement, increased unemployment and the overall degeneration of livelihoods becomes the normative result of mis-planned, mis-interpreted and thus, mis-implemented development. Similarly, even among the well-meaning development NGOs a culture of dependence tends to emerge with communities being perpetually tied to the expertise and monetary assets that these organizations bring with them.
Before governments, international development agencies and corporate stake holders attempt to define the nature of development for a particular community or region (or for the world for that matter), peoples must proactively assert their own paradigm as a challenge to the problematic realties that have come from vertically planned development schemes, and to break out of dependency.
Stepping away from the interventionist model of development, self-designed or autonomous development emphasizes at its core development designed and implemented by the people it is intended to affect. While on one hand this pattern presents an orientation towards the practice and approach of development at one level, at another it is meant to be translated into the direct actions of peoples pursuing the right to define the trajectories of their lives, the lives of their families and their overall communities. It tries to avoid the assumption that all peoples want to be developed, rather it does assume that peoples wish to enjoy a certain type of life defined on their own terms and the hope is that they have the opportunity to realize that desire in their life-time.
The words self-designed or autonomous are meant to address the fundamental notions of power, who has it, who uses, and how its used and to what end. As a pattern that values autonomy, but also a notion of development towards greater well-being traditional as well as modern knowledge must be acknowledged, understanding that they do not always have to be perpetually competing forces, but when approached carefully they can be utilized to promote viable path towards community transformation that honors the social, cultural and political realities a community exists within. Thus, the overall basis of the self-designed development places both the responsibility and power of change into the hands of those who have been historically disempowered through the processes of traditional developmentalism.
At the level of orientating this process, its necessary to re-frame development and stress a redefinition of the roles between peoples in communities seeking transformation and the various outside agents who are working for authentic social and economic change. Here we would emphasize facilitation over the management and design on the part of the part of the so-called professional, and community independence and autonomy over dependence.
Take for example, the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) (See: Action Research) so often thought of as the mainstay of the development practitioner seeking to design projects, becomes instead an awareness tool for community members themselves to guide their own decision making process on what steps are to be taken to better their livelihoods, and offer clear paths to achieving that. In fact this tool can be used by a community without the need for complex levels of understanding into social research and can be used in a relatively low-tech way within a variety of settings. Therefore, the role of the outside agent can be to act as observer and identify ways in which they can help a community realize their mutually defined goals.
At the level of implementation the pattern can guide specific actions to be taken up by communities to include any number of projects defined by a community. For example, projects can be anything from a system of check dams used to provide electricity to power a rural village; another project could be the construction of a primary school or health center for women. They can include the creation of farming cooperatives to ensure the community not only achieves the ability to provide sustenance, but can then also generate income by selling their products outside their geographical community.
Undoubtedly the use of this pattern at this level will be context specific and must be shaped by the various needs and desires, and including the capacities and capabilities of peoples seeking to pursue this pattern of development. This recognizes that not all communities possess the same needs or desires, nor do the posses the same levels of capacity or capabilities. Therefore in one community where the level of civic capacity is high, as well as a great deal of cohesion and participation among community members, then a more autonomous approach to development is going to be more easily realized.
Yet, to a community that lack a certain level of capacity and cohesion it may be necessary for the community to seek the assistance of an outside agent to facilitate in the process. This could include consciousness raising, financial support, transfer of knowledge and so forth, but fundamentally any such assistance must be a result of the wishes of the community and brought forth based upon the terms and desires of those these plans are meant to assist.
There may however, be situations in which such a pattern may not be at all viable, or only very minimally. This is particularly true in situations of displacement, through war, famine or other outside forces that breaks a necessary level of cohesion due to fissure in the very nature of their communal ties, and thereby fragmenting the peoples capacity to coordinate and act collectively. In these situations, the pattern may still be utilized but it will be much more of a goal to be actualized by development agents who are seeking to ameliorate the problems associated with fragmented communities. The pattern thus becomes a guiding force for the interventionist, and care must be taken not to cross the boundary of creating development dependence among peoples.
In these situations it can also be potentially problematic as it can be difficult for agencies to relinquish control over development initiatives as community reconstitute themselves and gain a level of independence and cohesion that would allow for them to participate in a process of autonomous development. And since its difficult to say when the work of an NGO is done in area there remains this tendency maintain a role of interventionism long after a community has acquired the capacity to define their own goals. It therefore begins to become the kind of development the outsiders envision and not that of the community.
Thus, this pattern not only becomes an orientation to community driven development but an orientation and guide by which NGOs themselves can pursue a process to empower communities by emphasizing any number of projects designed to empower peoples to regain control over their lives in the wake of a rapidly modernizing world.
First, those among the professional development community should not always assume that a community wishes to be or needs to be developed. Rather support to communities should be pursed based on invitation. For the communities themselves this is an opportunity to empower themselves and to project the ways in which they wish to interact and be defined in the process of modernization that is going on everywhere. It is an opportunity to exert their own sense of identity and influence their livelihoods as best and most effectively as possible in the face of so many outside forces that are consciously and unconsciously seeking to define their collective futures.
When pursuing a development project peoples must come together, discuss, plan and decide what they want. If the community chooses to maintain a traditional way of life it becomes up to them on how they will protect that. And in the event that a community does seek outside assistance it is up to them to define the nature and terms of that relationship to those working with them from the outside. And for those with a low-capacity for truly implementing such an approach any initiative must incorporate the necessity of capacity building for communities to achieve a level in which they can envision their own development. Ultimately, the realization of a communitys independence rather than dependence in this world should be at the fore in such circumstances.
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Development initiatives are often designed and implemented by outside professionals, politicians and wealthy elites. Neither community empowerment nor fundamental sustainability plays a central role in many of these interventionist projects. Communities must take the opportunity to proactively assert their own paradigm and to exert their own sense of identity and influence in the face of outside forces attempting to define their collective futures.