- Digital Resources
Pattern number within this pattern set:67
Its Not the Technology that Matters
Its How You Use It!
The vast majority of technology-related policy, particularly for telecommunications infrastructure and services, is focused on the supply. It now appears that the availability of information technology may outstrip demand. Some parts of the US lag in the rate of adoption and use of IT by organizations, institutions, and individuals, even though broadband Internet access is becoming widely available. Research suggests that without strong, IT-savvy leadership, easy to use, and patently useful information tools, adoption will be limited. This situation can be addressed via a program to inform community leaders about the IT, to identify, organize, and engage technologists in community development, and to facilitate community IT projects. Digital development is the process of applying computing and telecommunications to the challenge of community economic development.
Digital development involves three components, IT facilities, the skills and talents of individual citizens, and the capacity of local organizations to produce and adapt (see Figure 1). These components are complementary and best developed together incrementally via a series of discrete, meaningful projects. Such projects require effective community technology leadership. Leadership links community goals to action, supplying the opportunity and motivation for talented citizens to participate by building IT solutions for their community (see Figure 2).
Most communities have little awareness of a key component of digital development: individuals with some talent or predilection for technology, their technologists. The challenge then is to identify the technologists, facilitate project dialog among stakeholders about what can and should be accomplished using IT, and locate project resources. The role of the catalyst is to build support for projects among business and civic leaders, engage technologists in the process, and then let them do the project for themselves. The digital development value chain is a link in a larger learning process, in which competence and capacity are incrementally improved via guided experience, leaning by doing. In order to be effective, the digital development process must be:
▪ Flexible and customized to each community
▪ Broadly inclusive of stakeholder objectives and challenges
▪ Broadly inclusive of talent and potential technology leadership
▪ A list keeping of technologists and projects
▪ A resource brokering of subject-matter experts and tactics
▪ A partnership between community-oriented persons and organizations
The digital development process involves identifying opportunities for using IT in the community, cross-training leaders and technologist, and organizing stakeholders for collective action on projects. At the crux, it is up to some community members to decide to do a project, what project to do, and to actually do it. For those communities interested in pursuing digital development there is a wide variety of tactics from which to choose.
Each community is unique, a unique set of people with unique resources, opportunities, objectives, and challenges. Thus digital development services must be customized to each community, which is to say that the community is the customer for the catalytic agent. Such customization can only be accomplished through a partnership with a community sponsor, community supportersbusiness and civic leadersand community technology leaders. This team is responsible for choosing and implementing a project. During the project subject-matter experts, in funding, technology, management, et cetera, may be brought in to supplement the team.
For digital development to be effective objectives must be clearly defined. Then existing demand and expertise is aggregated via an alliance of technology users. Leaders and technologists need to learn more about each other, more about what IT is, and more about how to use it. Basically, technologists are activated to lead projects that put IT to work for the community, but the leaders provide them with guidance and support.
Community technology leaders are first and foremost community members. They live in the community and are committed to it. They also have some expertise, talent, or just an interest in information technology. Finally, these individuals must be willing and able to lead projects, which involves understanding community requirements, gathering and managing resources, devolving objectives into tasks and getting other to do those tasks.
Tactics for digital development might emphasize the technology itself, skills related to the technology, applications that enable organized activities, or some combination of these things (see Table 1). Tactics should be considered in terms of community goals. Is there some consensus about a particular use for IT? This would require a tactic focused on defining an IT architecture and/or deploying an IT application. Or is the concern primarily with technology skills? If so use a tactics that makes citizens more aware of, and improves their ability to use, existing IT. Often the concern is simply with making facilities more available or to increase access, and there are tactics that concentrate on these objectives.
Table 1. Digital development tactics
Availability & Access Awareness & Ability Architecture & Applications
· Computer purchase program· Free laptops for students· Community technology center· Municipal telecommunications policy· Conduit development program· Public ISP· Community managed infrastructure· New technology trials · Basic computer literacy training· School-business mentoring program· Web fair· Technology demonstration sites· IT professional mentoring· Technology presentations· In-home support · Public e-mail· Web site for civic groups· Electronic mailing lists for collaborative activities· Alumni-Net· Community portal· Web-based calendars· Web-based conference area/ town commons· Community history base/ archival record· On-line volunteer database
The TechSmart program at the Georgia Institute of Technologys Economic Development Institute incorporates these concepts into four community IT services, which may be customized and used as appropriate by each community.
Community Technology Opportunity Assessment
The CTOA is a high-level assessment of community goals and IT use, which identifies resources, activities, and talent that might be leveraged for digital development. The output is a set of tactical, action-oriented recommendations, it is a broad consideration of where the community is today, where it might want to go in the future, and how IT may be used to help it get there. Data for the assessment is gathered during a focus group with representatives of the various community stakeholder groups. The results are read out to a similar group. The dialog resulting from these sessions are a key output of the CTOA, as well, because it is this dialog that begins building collective will to do a project.
Technology Alliance Start-up Kit
Possibly the most effective means of doing digital development is to aggregate existing demand and pool talent and expertise. A technology alliance accomplishes both of these objectives. The start-up kit contains a blueprint for an alliance, including boilerplates for by-laws and articles of incorporations, but more importantly it includes logistics for monthly meetings of technology leaders. Each meeting consists of a splash topic of interest to the group, a showcase of a local user, a forum for sharing technical information, and updates on projects. The primary outputs are the meetings, a list of technology leaders, and information tools (e-mail list, website, newsletter, et cetera). The start-up kit establishes an environment in which technologists can bond and work on projects.
Technology Leadership Training
A community must be able to talk the talk and walk the walk of technology in order to make digital development projects successful. Possibly the most challenging component of this is informing existing community leaders about not only what IT is, but what it means for them and their community. Often theyve heard the jargon being thrown around and are baffled by it. They want the terms explained to them in a non-threatening manner, but they really need to know the implications of usingor not usingthe technology. Its somewhat easier to introduce the technologists to leadership, especially if its done in the context of professional development. The program consists of several sessions over several months, and is structure such that leaders and technologists are being cross-trained and planning a community technology project in the process.
Project Management Assistance
The community teams will need at least some assistance to complete the project, from identifying best practices to locating resources, from conducting research to guide projects to measuring their results. General assistanceadministrative and logistical support, in particularcan be provided by community sponsors and other local groups. Project specific assistance may need to be provided by subject-matter experts. An array of resources is available to support community projects, the challenge lies in tapping into and coordinating them. The digital development agent fulfills this role.