service

Sousveillance

Pattern ID: 
386
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
386
Bryan
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
1
Problem: 

"One of the fundamental contrasts between free democratic societies and totalitarian systems is that the totalitarian government [or other totalitarian organization] relies on secrecy for the regime but high surveillance and disclosure for all other groups, whereas in the civic culture of liberal democracy, the position is approximately the reverse." -- Professor Geoffrey de Q Walker, now dean of law at Queensland University in Australia.

Over the past two decades, surveillance has permeated society in ways that only Orwell could have imagined. The increasingly low costs of electronics and data storage coupled with scare tactics like terrorism have given governments worldwide the green light to put public and private spaces under their eye. During 2008 alone, Sprint gave location data of their users over to law enforcement a total of eight million times.  The surveillance infrastructure is owned and controlled primarily by those with political and class privilege. This creates a situation where people can be watched but cannot "watch the watchers". As a result, the accountability of police, politicians, and other authority figures decreases.

Context: 

In any political / social context, from a liberal democracy to an authoritarian government. Sousveillance in a democratiic (or quasi-democratic) country is particularly important in times of overzealous governmental secrecy, propensity towards surveillance, and increasing political repression.

Discussion: 

"Steve Mann presents the notion of sousveillance as a method for the public to monitor the establishment and provide a new level of transparency. This has been the role of the press, but with its strong orientation toward positive feedback, the media has tended to focus on less relevant issues, which get an inordinate amount of attention. One such example was the media's fascination with Gennifer Flowers and her claim that she had had an affair with President Clinton." -- From Joichi Ito's discussion of Emergent Democracy. One of the first thing that George W. Bush did when he became president of the US was to place his father's writings (which by law were supposed to be made public) into secrecy.

We live in an age where ever-increasing portions of the population have turned to social networking where they divulge the most personal and private details of their life to their friends, their co-workers, and most anybody who cares to look. Facebook, Google, and other advertising giants track every website a person goes to with an ad or a 'like' button on it. People scan their loyalty cards at grocery stories and give their entire purchase history, name, number, and address to the highest bidder in exchange for a few dollars off their bill. Those who run their surveillance infrastructure have not been blind to this and have begun investing significant resources into monitoring social networking sites and rich sources of user-generated information.

No matter where one turns, they can find information on their fellow citizen that they would rather not have revealed. Security cameras, credit cards, and RFID-enabled identification cards track our every movement. Normal activities which one might not want the world to know about like visits to the pharmacy, an alleyway make-out session, and a visit to Planned Parenthood all become a spectacle for those on the other end of the camera to enjoy.

While some of the information garnered by dragnet surveillance is available to the public or those of small financial stature, most of it is locked in databases and storage systems run by the rich and powerful. In 2005, it was revealed that for the past five years the National Security Agency had been collecting wholesale internet traffic, call records, and other private information from millions of Americans without warrants, subpoenas, or any judicial oversight. In a 2001 report, the European Union validated a theory that the United States, in conjunction with allies such as the UK, operated a global surveillance network called ECHELON which could intercept most worldwide communications. It is said that through publicly and privately operated surveillance cameras, the average Londoner is photographed 300 times per day. The majority of people are watched with intense scrutiny throughout the entirety of their lives while the minority of people who commit the biggest crimes sit behind closed doors where they can execute their plans for financial and social dominance in privacy and without interruption. People no longer seem to be surprised to hear that the dash-cam of a police car was mysteriously off when the officer flew off the handle or that the video from a jail beating is missing.

How can we change this dynamic? How can surveillance systems actually be used for widespread social accountability instead of preserving the interests of those who own them?

Study after study shows that surveillance does not actually reduce crime or make the average person safer and a steady stream of news stories show that surveillance abilities are used improperly by those who have them. A study conducted by Hull University showed that one in ten women were targeted for 'voyeuristic' reasons by male camera operators. Norris, C. and Armstrong, G. "The unforgiving Eye: CCTV surveillance in public space" Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, Hull University, 1997. Seeing this, the simple solution seems to be to outlaw surveillance equipment entirely or create rules to hold its owners accountable. To some extent, this has already been done. The government is barred from using surveillance and search powers without obtaining necessary legal justification and corporations have similar but less stringent limitations. Nonetheless and unsuprisingly, these rules have not stopped widespread abuse as those who own surveillance systems are often the same ones who fare better in courts and the media due to societal privilege.

Solution: 

People must have the means to watch the watchers. Steve Mann's term "sousveillance" captures this idea. As the age of surveillance is here to stay (at least until we live in a world where people's privacy is put above the sanctity of property), there must be a way to change the dynamic of surveillance. Sousveillance requires tools which are easy for laypeople to use, a network for communicating among those who use them, and a method for spreading information that comes from sousveillance. There are many some tools such as Freedom of Information Laws, cell-phone cameras, and independent media networks which help facilitate sousveillance but there are not nearly enough and they are not as widely adopted as necessary. People must make these tools easier to use, put them into the hands of more people, and make their use ubiquitous enough to truly scare those who they are meant to keep an eye on.

Pattern status: 
Released

Sustainability of Weedy Sociality and Distributed Wilderness

Pattern ID: 
53
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
53
maja {and} xinwei kuzmanovic {and} sha
FoAM {and} GaTech
Problem: 

The process of globalization is causing a rapid decrease of diversity in the social, biological and cultural habitats, due to the dominant economic powers, such as proprietary communication technologies and transnational 'life industries'. Physical public spaces, as arenas for a wide range of interaction and social change are losing their importance, as the global marketplace has shifted its locus from the accessible public markets to the dispersed and elusive global networks.

Context: 

In the era of mass homogenization of branded public spaces around the world, we propose a research into the historical examples of sustainable urban spaces that focus on dynamics and diversity in the social, biological and cultural domains. The examples of such public spaces are community gardens and pocket parks, non-institutionalized plaza and street life, travelling fairs and periodic festivals. From these spaces, we learn about ways of conducting an alternative economy based on emergent trans-local actions, rather than accepting the generic, mono-cultural approach of the global free-market.

Discussion: 

We propose two projects: Hubbub and GroWorld as case studies for a pattern that deals with sustaining trans-local diversity in the social, organic and cultural domains. This pattern is based on the assumption that social interaction and exchange can take advantage of the information technologies to augment site-specific urban contexts with a layer of pliant digital media, that can be shared between several localities and communities. By developing (elements of) spaces that can be seen as autonomous, 'alive' entities, the public arenas acquire additional layers of interaction (human-human, human-built space, human-media space...), that can yield unexpected social participation.

Hubbub, a project developed in the Topological Media Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, is an investigation of how accidental and non-accidental conversations can by catalyzed in urban spaces by means of speech projected onto public surfaces. Hubbub installations may be built into a bench, in a bus stop, a bar, a cafe, a school courtyard, a plaza, a park. As you walk by a Hubbub installation, some of the words you speak will dance in projection across the surfaces according to the energy and prosody of your voice. We'll capitalize on recognition errors to give a playful character to the space. Hubbub's success will be measured by the extent to which strangers who revisit a hubbub space begin to interact with one another socially in ways they otherwise would not. Hubbub is a part of a larger cycle called URBAN EARS, which explores how cities conduct conversations via the architecture of physical and computational matter.

GroWorld is an initiative that started within FoAM in Brussels. It encourages multidisciplinary discussions, bringing different research topics into a common focus: 'growth processes' in (physical and virtual) life. GroWorld is currently developed in three parallel trajectories: ecological, technological and socio-cultural. The trajectories are mutually independent, but complimentary, with their results being integrated into several experiments. The ecological strand involves building a trans-local network of public gardens concerned with preserving local bio-diversity, grown by scientists, landscape architects and neighboring communities. The gardens are sites evolving on their own accord - becoming patches of autonomous organic wilderness in the midst of an urban jungle, grown and molded by their care-takers and temporary dwellers. They are devised both as growing environments in which the visitors can comfortably linger, surrounded by specific local flora, and instruments allowing their players to collaboratively shape and steer the environment's processes of growth, decay and transformation. GroWorld's cultural trajectory comprises artists and designers interested in 'biomimetics', learning from nature to design responsive spaces and objects. More specifically, this strand examines growth processes in audiovisual media, textile design and human computer interaction and applies this research in mixed reality installations, a-life gaming environments and smart textiles. Simultaneously, the technological strand develops responsive media, technologies and interfaces for social interaction, information and entertainment. Its results should be accessible to different communities and should be adaptable for several social, biological and cultural contexts - adaptable to both indoor and outdoor spaces, different climates and cultures.

Both Hubbub and Groworld are phenomenological experiments, that are built upon symbiotic collaboration between different cultures and disciplines. The projects should lead towards manifold applications of developed media and technologies, with a high level of invariance. Metaphorically, these practices can be compared to the horticultural, communal patterns of farming, that can function as an alternative to generic or monocultural approach to global economy.

Integration of cultural, ecological and technological studies will move these projects towards a long term experiment in sustainable creative, technological and sociological development, connecting organizations and individuals from various disciplines and cultures in one common goal: growing an adaptive, sustainable habitat for nature, technology and culture.

Solution: 

Minimize borders and maximize edges. The sustainability of public spaces is dependent on an abundant diversity of social, biological and cultural habitats. Their interrelationships will inevitably grow at the edges of dissimilar environments, such as urban-natural, cultural-scientific, physical-digital. The public spaces of the future should merge the context and the meaning of the local, physical sites with the globally accessible digital media and build trans-local events encouraging interaction between communities on both sides of the digital divide.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
from DIAC-2002 paper, Sustainable Arenas for Weedy Sociality: Distributed Wilderness

Whistle Blowing

Pattern ID: 
481
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
130
Tom Carpenter
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Corporations may flaunt legal or ethical guidelines by, for example, ignoring safety considerations on the job, harassing employees, or dumping toxic chemicals. Governments also engage in a multitude of transgressions from the minor to the truly horrific. Many of these misdeeds are kept secret, cloistered within a strict organizational "code of silence." "Whistle blowing" is an American expression for exposing problems within an organization from within that organization. The act of whistle blowing is essential to correcting problems in society, yet the whistle blowers are often punished severely for their actions. Society benefits from — but does not adequately protect — the whistle blower.

Context: 

This pattern can be used by anybody who finds themselves in possession of knowledge that is being kept secret when it should be made public. People who aren't in this position — journalists and "ordinary citizens," for example — can also use this pattern to support the people who are in this position.

Discussion: 

Whistle blowers are often heroes of the modern world who undergo a mighty — and sometimes ultimate — sacrifice for the good of the rest of society. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) wrote a thoughtful and informative book which contains useful advice on how whistle blowers can "blow the whistle" on wrongdoing — without becoming martyrs in the process.

Powerful (and not-so-powerful) institutions and organizations may engage in a variety of unethical or illegal activities to further their own goals — at least as perceived by the perpetrators of the activities. These acts are kept hidden from those on the outside until such time as they are uncovered by somebody on the outside or exposed by somebody on the inside. The pressures on an "insider" to keep quiet about the transgression are immense. Although society as a whole benefits from the new revelations, the whistle-blower is likely to be seen as a traitor to his or her community and punished heartily for his or her efforts; He or she could be shunned at work, fired, "black-balled" (denied employment in general in the future) , or, even, physically harmed. Of course, even after it's revealed to the world, the damaging evidence can be ignored by the media or spun into irrelevance by the institution and its allies.

In a section called "Blowing the Whistle Wisely", Devine discusses "basic survival strategies" which are listed below.

  1. Before taking any irreversible steps, talk to your family or close friends about your decision to blow the whistle.
  2. Develop a plan so that your employer is reacting to you, instead of vice-versa.
  3. Be alert and discretely attempt to learn of any other people who are upset about the wrongdoing.
  4. Before formally breaking ranks, consider whether there is any reasonable way to work within the system by going to the first level of authority.
  5. Maintain good relations with administrative and support staff.
  6. Before and after you blow the whistle, it is very important to protect yourself by keeping a careful record of events as they unfold.
  7. Identify and copy all necessary supporting records before drawing any attention to your concerns.
  8. Research and identify potential allies such as elected officials, journalists or activists who have proven their sincerity and can help expose the wrongdoing.
  9. Either invest the funds for a legal opinion from a competent lawyer, or talk to a non-profit watchdog organization about the risks and obstacles facing you.
  10. Always be on guard not to embellish your charges.
  11. Engage in whistleblowing initiatives on your own time and with your own resources, not your employer's.
  12. Don't wear your cynicism on your sleeve when working with authorities.

Whistle blowing arises within government institutions as well as commercial concerns and, as a matter of fact, has some degree of legal protection — at least in some countries. One of the most important examples of government abuse include corruption, violation of human rights (by allowing torture, for example) or by hiding decisions, such as a decision to start a war while publicly asserting that peace is being sought. Some connect the concept of protecting whistle blowers with free speech rights secured by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. Beyond a rights context, government transparency is necessary for a healthy democracy, in that accurate and timely information is vital for informed policy-making.

This pattern connotes the use of a whistle, as in the whistle of a police officer, to signal for help. Others have likened it to a train whistle, that sounds a warning upon approach to an intersection. In sports, the referee blows the whistle to stop game play.

The "whistle blowing" concept needs to be legitimized in different contexts, some of which are extremely hostile to the idea. In some cases it will be important to come up with new expressions in other languages to talk about the concept! In addition, the very term "whistle blower" does not translate well into other languages, such as Russian. It has been suggested that "truth-teller" may work better in that language than whistle-blower.

Solution: 

Support whistle blowing and whistle blowers. This is often done through support networks and by laws and media.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Corporations may flaunt the law or ethical guidelines by harassing employees, ignoring safety considerations, or dumping toxics. Governments of course are also guilty of various crimes. Whistle Blowers expose problems by making hidden incidents or documents public. Although society benefits from Whistle Blowing, whistle-blowers are often punished for their efforts. There are many ways, however, to prevent whistle blowers from becoming martyrs.

Pattern status: 
Released

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

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

Soap Operas with Civic Messages

Pattern ID: 
860
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
120
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Poor people in the developing world and elsewhere have high infant mortality rates and deaths from diseases that are preventable or readily treatable (as well as a host of social ills, such as wife beating). Moreover , lack of information coupled with inflexible or outmoded social traditions and superstition can perpetuate cycles of needless suffering for people of all economic sectors. Unfortunately the need for accurate health information is often addressed by ineffective public service announcements that seem preachy or uninteresting or otherwise fail to reach the entire “audience” or particular nexus of people who must be involved in important decisions.

Context: 

People all over the world face important life decisions with inadequate information that is often accompanied with overwhelming social pressure to behave in certain ways. Policy makers, media producers and community activists are faced with the challenge of presenting that information to the people who need it, in a form that is accessible and acceptable.

Discussion: 

The concept of Soap Operas for Social Change, developed by Mexican television producer Miguel Sabido, deftly weaves health and other socially responsible information into “traditional” soap operas to raise consciousness without compromising the compelling everyday drama that the genre exemplifies. Although this type of soap opera (called Telenovelas in Latin America) is not in the majority, there are examples of its use throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

In 1967, the Peruvian telenovela “Simplemente Maria” that chronicles twenty years in the life of a maid working through the travails of the day as a single mother preparing for a career as a fashion designer was launched. It was this show apparently that opened up the possibility of social messages intertwined with popular culture. According to Hanna Rosin whose New Yorker article, “Life Lessons” helped inform this pattern, “Peru’s working-class women identified deeply with Maria; they saw her story less as a Cinderella fantasy then as a future that was possible for them, too. Thousands of maids wrote to the station to say that they were going back to school.”

The hero or heroine of a "Sabido soap" is a “transitional” character in the drama, a "fallible character who struggles to behave decently" (Rosin, 2006). In fact, the most important aspect of the telenovela is the barrage of giros (twists of fate), trials and tribulations, that continually tests the protagonist’s perseverance. In China, the program “Bai Xing,” or “Ordinary People” in English, features Luye, an unmarried rural Chinese girl who has a baby and moves to the city. This perfectly “ordinary” story is filled with the the real-life drama that people routinely face but is rarely portrayed. In recent episodes Luye discovers that two of her acquaintances have AIDS, a subject that is generally not found on Chinese television.

The non-governmental organizations Population Communications International and Population Media Center has been involved in socially responsible soap operas for many years. The focus is on usually related to population issues although this frequently involves health, sustainable development and environmental issues as well. Both are involved in the development of television and radio shows as well as work in other media, media leadership issues, and communication strategy and theory as well. The PMC web site explains that, "The advantage of using long-running, entertainment serial dramas include their huge audience appeal and the emotional bonds that are formed between the audience members and characters, which can lead to strongly positive influences of the characters on attitudes and behaviors by audience members." Sabido has developed a methodology that was informed by the integration of several key communication theories.

Ideally the social messages in the soap operas and telenovelas are presented in the form of choices that can be consciously made – not injunctions or instructions which must be obeyed. The best of these soap operas are probably more like this although the protagonist ultimately will make a choice and that choice is likely to be the one favored by the producers of the program. For many reasons, everybody who is involved in formulating a response to a given situation would be party to the dilemma played out on the television screen and weigh all the relevant factors individually and collectively. In Nepal, for example, the mother-in-law and husband are key players in decisions involving childbirth and must therefore be part of any approach to offer new choices for life decisions. Because soap operas in developing countries are shown in prime time (rather than during the day as, for example, in the U.S.) and are, therefore, seen by people across the spectrum of the population and because a high percentage of the viewers, are illiterate or are otherwise unable to gain access to relevant information, Socially Responsible Soap Operas make ideal vehicles for the propagation of useful information on such topics as family planning, domestic violence, nutrition, home management and emergency preparedness.

Socially Responsible Soap Operas are clearly subject to challenges from many sources. In Burma, for example, the radio show “Thaby e gone Ywa” (Eugenia Tree Village) was broadcast illegally over shortwave radio because Burma’s military dictatorship declared the program illegal. In the examples discussed above the creators of the programs are aware of the dangers of using the media for propaganda. As William Ryerson, president of PMC, explains, "Unlike brainwashing, PMC’s approach is to show a range of options—to broaden rather than to narrow the perspective of the viewing audience with regard to the choices available to them. For each of the options, the programs show realistic consequences."

On the other hand, the desire to fiddle with the content of popular shows could prove irresistible to overzealous governments that were intent in spreading their messages. Put in this context the practice of inserting message into soaps seems positively Orwellian. Yet commercial message are increasingly commonplace and “product placements” in Hollywood films, television shows, and, even books, while the society at least seems unfazed. Recently in the U.S. a spot in a book for teenager girls was sold to the highest bidder, a glossy lips makeup manufacturer. Also, of course, subtle and not-so-subtle messages thoroughly permeate much of the mass media, some of which is explicitly designed (for “mass appeal,” government appeasement, or as an expression of personal ideology) while others are unconsciously added to the mix, the atmosphere of commercialization is seemingly too ubiquitous to be resisted.

Although many of the people who are likely to get involved in this pattern are policy-makers or media producers, other people can help promote this idea by entering into a dialogue with people who are better positioned to make changes. Although strong challenges exist, this pattern has rich potential as a tool for positive social change.

Solution: 

Information about family planning and other important life decisions can be integrated into soap operas in ways that strengthen the dramatic impact of the show while leading to beneficial social effects at the same time.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People all over the world face important life decisions with inadequate information and social pressure to behave in certain ways. Policy makers, media producers and community activists must present that information in forms that are accessible and acceptable. Soap Operas with Civic Messages weaves health and other socially responsible information into soap operas without compromising the compelling everyday drama that the genre exemplifies.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Population Media Center

Great Good Place

Pattern ID: 
470
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
119
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People often don't have access to places in their neighborhoods that are outside their home or workplace. People need places where they can feel at home and hang out for extended periods without the need to spend lots of money. Unfortunately there is a scarcity of what Ray Oldenburg calls "great good places" that are convenient and welcoming. In many regions of the world people have forgotten how to "hang out" with friends, a lost art that refreshes the spirit and — sometimes — leads to social action as well.

Context: 

This pattern is applicable to any place where people live. Whether a community is rich or poor, it needs "third places" where people comfortably congregate.

Discussion: 

"The right of free assembly is the most natural privilege of man." Alexis de Tocqueville (1963)

This pattern makes the case that probably shouldn't even need to be made; that people need the physical presence of others and that virtual spaces however important and vibrant they can be, have not made physical meeting places obsolete.

Although situations are different in different locations, the fact remains that communities need what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a "great good place" or "third" place which is a physical location, more-or-less public place, where people can "hang out" and talk about whatever they need to talk about. Unfortunately these locations are threatened in many places. Many factors can contribute to the decline in great good places. Some neighborhoods may be dangerour or have a mistrusting atmosphere. Some may be too economically disadvantaged to be able to afford a safe place with a roof overhead. Moreover in the era of television and the car, the art of spending time around people that might be strangers may be dying. Other locations may have such high rents that it becomes necessary to cycle customers quickly to increase the "efficiency" of the cafe.

Oldenburg discusses many instances of the role of the "great good place" in history. These include German beer gardens in the US in the early 1990s, Viennese coffee shopts, French cafe society and the like. It also discusses the fascinating role of taverns etc. in the development of the journalism, the media, business practices, and social change — including the American revolution against the British. Oldenburg quotes Sam Warner (1968) who states that the informal tavern groups "provided the underlying fabric of the town, and when the Revolution began made it possible to gather militia companies quickly, to form effective committees of correspondence and of inspection, and to organize and to manage mass town meetings."

Bradie Derrenger makes the important point that the "great good place" might not always be a traditional coffee or donut shop. From the seat that he takes every day while waiting for the ferry that takes him to work he can engage with people he sees every day and with those who may be crossing Puget Sound for the first time. And if and when other people started congregating there it might just happen that others would also do so.

Interestingly it may be the case that communities with more "third places" are more politically and economically active. Whether this is always the case, a "third place" often contributes to a community's "social capital" which, as Robert Putnam has shown generally provides a wide range of benefits, including economic.

Solution: 

Communities need to ensure that "third places," which are neither the home nor the workplace exist where anybody in the community is free to go and stay for as long as they want. These places can be cafes, plazas, community centers or simply places with chairs or benches. These locations can be privately owned but their de facto policies must support the needs of the community for them to serve as genuine third places.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Around the world people have forgotten how to "hang out" with friends, a lost art that refreshes the spirit and sometimes leads to social action as well. People need places other than their home or workplace where they feel comfortable without spending much money. They can be cafes, plazas, community centers or simply places with chairs or benches. They can be privately owned but they must support community needs for them to serve as Great Good Places.

Pattern status: 
Released

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

Universal Voice Mail

Pattern ID: 
750
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
113
Jenn Brandon
Community Technology Institute
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How do people find a job without a telephone? How do they avail themselves of services, receive timely information, or stay connected to loved ones if they do not have a reliable message number? Even in this very wired age, the need for a phone number remains; the lack of a constant telephone number becomes a very real obstacle for the homeless or phoneless.

Context: 

Communities around the world have different levels of technological sophistication for supporting the everyday conversations of its members. The health of a community is sustained by these conversations and people who are blocked from this universe of conversations are, in a fundamental way, blocked from membership in the community. For that reason the integration of people into the broad community conversation network is important to all communities. Voice mail is a low-cost solution that substitutes for dial tone for those unable to afford it. Community Providing voice mail to a community of people cut off from the communications infrastructure is technologically plausible and works well in urban environments where there is existing infrastructure (telephone service, community providers, and pay telephones); however, the need for the service exists anywhere there are disconnected people. The audience of users runs the gamut from the homeless to the working poor to people fleeing domestic violence or dealing with health problems in need of a confidential communication link that is easy to access.

Discussion: 

In 1991, two program directors at the Seattle Worker Center conceived of a small project that had an unpredictably potent impact. Called Community Voice Mail (CVM), the idea responded practically to a specific problem: How can a homeless person find work or housing, receive medical or social services, or navigate daily life without a reliable and direct point of contact? Furthermore, how can the job developer, the doctor, the advocate, in short, the social services system charged with the mission to respond to the needs of the poor and homeless, do so efficiently and effectively if they must devote hours to tracking down the individuals they serve?

Community Voice Mail responds to this need by acting like a home answering machine for thousands of people across a community. The CVM service is a shared resource operated by the CVM national office and a local community-based organization that takes on the role of host. This host builds a network of participating agencies to maximize the distribution of the resource cost-effectively. People in crisis and transition may enroll in CVM through any number of social, human, or health services agencies in the community. By providing multiple points of access, the service allows practical and flexible eligibility criteria while maintaining basic measurement standards.

As of 2008, the program operates in forty-one U.S. cities and in Melbourne, Australia, connecting more than 461,000 people annually. The CVM national office provides guidance on how to start a CVM service and supports the resulting federation of peer sites. Cisco Systems is the majority funder of the nonprofit program and donated equipment and software for a centralized network that uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to manage accounts for tens of thousands of users. The network’s advanced capabilities include a broadcast messaging feature that is used to distribute information about job openings, training opportunities, community resources, and emergency weather warnings to the voicemail subscribers.

Connecting individuals via communication services integrates people into existing communication networks but, also, helps establish new networks. These networks could help support the community of people who use the system by allowing the users and the managers of the system to share relevant information and mobilize users in relation to specific issues and events.

Universal voice mail presents a meaningful pattern and objective that can assist communities by encouraging the integration of all people into the community. At the same time the employment of this pattern will necessarily take a wide variety of forms depending on many factors. These forms will be determined by the people who will use the services, organizations in the community that are providing the services, and the general nature and climate of social services in the community. Other things, including the technological infrastructure, social capital, and the ability to raise funds in the community, perhaps through an innovative commercial sector are relevant as well. The dedication of the organizers is also key, as is their ability to collaborate and incrementally improve the level of support over time. Since technological systems are still changing rapidly (although they are unevenly distributed, with the more technically sophisticated systems concentrated in economically privileged regions) the nature of the service needs — and the technological support that is needed to support the service — will undoubtedly change as well.

Solution: 

Universal voicemail should be available as a low-cost alternative to telephone service so that all people, regardless of income, have a reliable point of contact that maintains dignity and restores connection to opportunity and support.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Even in this very wired age, the lack of a telephone number can be a real problem. Universal Voice Mail is a low-cost solution for those unable to afford their own telephone. Potential users include the homeless, the working poor, people fleeing domestic violence, or those otherwise in need of confidentiality. Universal Voice Mail should be available as an alternative to telephone service so that all people have a reliable point of contact and a link to their community.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Listverse
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