BARCELONA, JULY 9-11, 1998.|
By: Garth Graham Director, Telecommunities Canada Board firstname.lastname@example.org
We considered it a real privilege to be invited to this conference and have returned with many fond memories of Barcelona and the hospitality of our hosts. We were also delighted with the opportunity to make contacts with representatives from so many other organizations. We would like to thank both our hosts and Industry Canada for helping to make our attendance possible.
Canada can take great pride in the fact that it is recognized internationally as a leader in community networking. At the Second European Community Networking Conference, this fact became very evident.
Although the original impetus for the formation of community networks came from the United States, a significant portion of their early development and evolution was fostered in Canada and we can play a strong role in their future evolution.
RECOMMENDED ACTION ITEMS:
EUROPEAN ALLIANCE FOR COMMUNITY NETWORKING (EACN)
The desire to promote increased contacts among various community networking organizations in Europe has now reached a take-off point. Agreement to work towards an EACN was reached at the first conference in Milano, July 1997. This ECN98 Conference, "the second European conference on community networking," successfully built upon work of the previous meeting and reached an agreement on specific actions that will formalize EACN.
The goals for EACN that were mentioned by conference participants included:
The specific tasks requiring action that the participants discussed includes:
AN INTERNATIONAL WORKING GROUP BEGINS
An International Working Group consisting of representatives of the new European Association and the national associations was one of the outcomes of the Barcelona meeting. Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States all now have national associations.
With the emergence of these national associations, and now the European regional focus supplied by EACN, the meeting felt that the time had finally come to create an "international presence, plus people links, bearing in mind the limitations of resources and whatever."
The Australian ACNA representative, Ken Young, volunteering to host a listserve or set of listserves. He advised, "Don't try for a formal organization. We've all got a lot of things to do at home. We should bite off only the do-able. We should build confidence through direct action, so that the international agenda will grow through what we do not what we say."
The major "do-able," already underway, is David Wilcox's "cookbook" project, a collaborative effort to collate and share experience of how to foster and operate community networks (See Appendix B for details).
Gary Shearman stated that "this is a move that will make all of us stronger."
Amy Borgstom, AFCN, noted that we should "view this as a year of relationship building, and begin to draw in developing countries. We should expand organically, grow the circle."
A need was noted for an "international leverage list" of peer-to-peer practitioners of community networking.
Michael Gurstein cautioned that "thinking in a global context" required being clear that "public access can be achieved in a number of ways." He was of the opinion that there were many "impulses" leading to community involvement and "At the global level, you will need to recognize and manage these impulses."
Ken Young concluded that we should "put ourselves on the Internet 'map,' with a statement that announces an international working group with a core set of common values." The proposed listserve will be used to flesh out a draft of this.
There is some thought that a formal international organization may evolve over time from these beginnings. At the very least the international contacts will continue.
GETTING SMART ABOUT TELECITIES AND COMMUNITY NETWORKS
(See also the "Telecities / EDC" section of appendix A.)
Much of the discussion at ECN98 centered on consciousness of a continuum in European policy running from Digital or "smart" cities that have a primary focus on municipal public administration to Community networks that have a primary focus on social inclusion. Some of the key words that qualify an organization's position on that continuum are as follows:
The tension caused by this continuum set the key theme of the ECN98 conference - "Models for Digital Cities: New roles of community networking." As the conference organizer and host, Artur Serra, put it in the ECN98 conference announcement:
"Community networks or; freenets started years ago as an expression of this citizen participation in the digital era. Now other private (local directories, geocities, ...) and public (telecities, smart cities,...) initiatives are beginning to compete with community networking in defining the models of digital cities and local online communities. Multiple civic actors are in place. Even professional communities (digital journalists, teachers, SMEs, universities...) are playing a key role in defining local public digital spaces. Finally, on line communities are already spread allover the world. They are not only a local phenomenon.
It is time to rethink the role of community networking in the digital era. It is time to think about what kind of digital cities are we going to build. We need a discussion about models for digital cities." He also said, "We need a dialogue between the city and the citizen that sums up existing networks and is not imposed from above... with the expectation that the Internet will reduce the barriers to forming closer ties among all actors."
The question was then asked from the floor - which community networks have successful working relationships with the city administrations that are members of the Telecities network and that benefit from the EDC project? While there was no ready answer to this question, the audience expressed considerable interest in pursuing it. One response, making reference to the social inclusion agendas of grassroots community nets, asked " Can Telecities draw in entities that aren't cities and that aren't responsible to city councils?" The Telecities representative indicated, after a lengthy floor discussion, that she felt "cross examined."
Fiorella De Cindio noted that Telecities represent centralized services and a "broadcast" model that "comes from public administration, not from interaction and free discussion." But she concluded that "I believe the two approaches can find reasons to develop shared spaces." This belief was echoed by others, particularly Artur Serra who said "Digital cites need digital citizens." and Claire Shearman, UK Communities Online, who said "We have a value system that puts people before markets... Communities are the future of the Net, and community networks are the future of community."
The Telecities representative concluded by reminding the audience that European Commission funds for Telecities "flow through pilot projects," a fact of life about which they were already entirely conscious.
The EACN belief that networking organizations with objectives for social inclusion and for effective public administration can find common cause is probably true. We are certain that EACN will succeed in allying itself with Telecities / EDC, and we note that Canada has no comparable open forum for looking at multi-jurisdictional socio-economic and cultural impacts in a comprehensive way. Because of the realities of bottom-up networks ofnetworks as open systems, the European community networks, such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Milano, that do succeed in negotiating alliances with municipal administrations are developing rapidly without significant compromise to the central objective of social inclusion.
CANADIAN EXPERIENCE IN A WORLD CONTEXT
In the world of national community networking associations, there is no doubt that Telecommunities Canada has "branded" Canada to the world in a significant way. We have set a pattern that other national associations have followed. With the exception of the now defunct "NPTN" organization in the US, we were the first national association to organize by far (organizational meeting in 1994 and formal inauguration in August, 1995). Other than Finland, three other major national associations, USA, Australia, and UK, are all in their first year of formal operation. The other associations acknowledge the influence of Canada's example and have links to TC's website.
Since "connecting Canada to the world" is one of the six pillars of the Connecting Canada Initiative, Telecommunities Canada should seek the means to actively support and participate in the emerging global dialogue on the roles, purposes and practices of community networking.
In the preconference workshop on an "international Guide on Community Networking," Garth Graham and Greg Searle demonstrated the design framework for the LCGV Project's web site - GroupLinks: realizing community online. They offered this as complementary to, and supportive of, the Guide Project initiated by the UK (See Appendix B).
Garth Graham chaired the first session of the conference after the opening session. The session was on mapping community networking initiatives around the world. Garth introduced the topic by outlining how market and social networking models influence policy in Canada, and by describing the significance of the definition of community networking in the TC / Industry Canada MOU, where the role is defined as a learning process rather than as services. Gary Shearman outlined community networking activities in Canada, including CAP and TC. Gary also contributed a description ofthe British Columbia Community Networks Association to the Friday session on designing digital cities.
In the Saturday session on strategic initiatives for community networking just prior to the final General Assembly, Garth outlined Canada's planning to date on a first global conference on community networking (ie. the LCGV Project). He noted that a formal request to include Canadian Federal Government agencies in this project has been on the table since November 1997, but that active negotiations are still ongoing.
Garth again described the LCGV Project's web site, GroupLinks: Realizing Community Online, and noted IDRC's support of its design phase and the negotiations underway on a second phase that would flesh it out to a pre-operational level. He noted that no one has a lock on a correct approach to fostering an essential global dialogue about the impact of networks on community, leadership needs to be solicited from multiple sources. He concluded, "The bottom line is that we intend to proceed, but we don't have a timetable. We obviously don't own any part of the global dialogue about what happens to communities as they go online except ourown. If some other national community networking association can get the resources to advance that global dialogue, they should do so. We'd be happy to follow their lead and to continue active participation."
The emergence of a recognized international working group on community networking will be of great assistance to the Local Choices - Global Voices Project, and to the development of it's GroupLinks web site. Once LCGV moved beyond Canada it would require an appropriate international reference body to interact with. The success of ECN98 means that exactly such a body is emerging on its own.
There is something of a parallel between Telecities / EDC and the Connecting Canada Initiative's alliance with "Smart Communities." But the EDC broadly focuses on cooperative approaches to local government social and economic telematics applications in public administration, whereas Smart Communities narrowly focuses on local business / government partnerships that are primarily economic. In Canada, Smart Communities appear to be more comfortable in dealing with commercial initiatives that appropriate communities as markets (and are better funded and connected), than they are in dealing with community networks. We'd like to be wrong about this, but it seems reasonable to predict that EACN will be able to negotiate community networking onto Telecities / Digital Cities agendas in Europe more readily than anything TC would be able to accomplish with Smart Communities in Canada.
There is also no doubt that the weakness of community networking, its inclusive embrace of grassroots diversity, is also its strength. Of all the national associations, UKCO has been the best so far at what they themselves call "impression management." But, as one UK representative put it in an aside, "We went for position and got it. Now we're willing to deliver. But it isn't that simple to know and agree on what the story is!" The reality is, in communities as any-to-any networks, anything that can happen will. The process being "managed," is relationships. That process is never going to produce homogeneous results. It's always going to be heterogeneous and polymorphous perverse. "In the common spaces of communities, you meet some unpleasant people, but community networking worries about the whole community."
Many of our potential partners want guarantees of predictability. They are never going to be quite comfortable with us. But it's exactly this "wildness" that keeps the foment going. Diversity with all its warts, and not administration, is the energy source that fuels innovation. Policy always lags behind practice. It's out of the cauldron of community realized online that successful social and institutional adaptions to the knowledge society will first emerge, not from "markets," and not from governments.
As part of Telecommunities Canada's contribution to the conference, we
prepared a Web page that contained links to a number of sites that would
illustrate the diversity of Canadian initiatives in this field. That page
will remain available. The URL for it is:
A number of publications, including several from Industry Canada were made available and were well received. This was particularly true of the English and French copies of "Preparing Canada for a Digital World."
We also had a number of copies of the CD containing the Canadian Community Network software "Csuite" and these were requested by representatives of several countries.
Appendix A: Community Networking Associations: A Sample of Approaches
Appendix B: Writing an International Guide to Community Networking Together