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Dear David,

In your enthusiasm to make a big splash, you are trying to drown community informatics before you actually hit the surface of the pond.

You emphasise the mobility, versatiilty and agility of ubiquitous civic knowledge, and assume that all that has preceded in its wake will submerge for ever. Drowning takes a little longer than that. Floating on through the big surf is also a possible future.

One observation I make is not related to any specific prior research: people tend to use new modes (e.g., new means of using community knowledge) in old ways, and the nature of community and its adoption of ICTs is unlikely to be changed radically by the introduction of pervasive mobility. The wires may disappear, but the ways of thinking, the applications, the uses remain.

Community needs for information (or knowledge) revolve around a few fundamentals -- food, work, study, family contact, travel, leisure, holidays, belonging, shelter, security, self-advancement -- and probably always will, whether the needs are satisfied by mechanics' institutes in the 1840s, or mobile phones and PDAs at the moment.

I look forward to a virulent discussion, and hope that you have a very enjoyable swim.


Graeme - thanks, and I am delighted if a blog entry can make even a small splash, and help start a conversation! I agree that we should see communication needs from the perspective of people's needs. My main point is that people are picking up whatever technologies are appropriate and available for them, and CI research would best assist practitioners and policy makers by following those trends and if possible helping with insights - foresights - for the future.
However, CI discussion - on email lists anyway - seems more focussed on technology centres and old-style community networks that are problematic to sustain and mainstream. Very important over the past decade, and still in some circumstances, but not perhaps the main focus for the future.
Will pervasive mobility, and the adoption of ICTS change the nature of community? I should think in some ways, but not in others, and for some people more than others. Like the telegraph, electricity, phone, radio, TV...

Dear all

This is an interesting start to what should prove to be a stimulating discussion during and (hopefully) after the Brighton conference. For my own two pence worth, I suspect that there is value in the positions taken by both David and Graeme.

The history of the community technology movement, from its early roots in community newsletters/newsheets to community resource centres to community radio/tv to community bulletin boards to community networks to community telecottages/telecentres, and yes, even 'pervasive mobility', has witnessed a range of emergent technologies, many of which have been applied in different and innovative ways.

The main challenge, imo, has been to ensure that such community technologies are embedded in community life, i.e. that they engage with local communities and are seen to contribute to, and be part of, the social fabric (network?) of community life.

Community technology initiatives, whatever their focus, characteristic or organisational structure, must be seen by the community to be part of that community, if they are to be socially sustainable.

This leads me to the most fundamental question facing the Brighton conference. Can community technologies be utilised to contribute to building and sustaining healthy communities? Or, to put it another way: Can network technologies (including mobile telephony) be utilised as tools for building and sustaining community social capital?

This is not necessarily the same thing as saying look, we can and are doing some neat things with ICT in community X. Neither is it, necessarily the same thing as saying we've set up some public internet access points in community X.

There are, of course, many other relevant issues that could be identified and hopefully some of these will be addressed at the Brighton conference and beyond. It is our hope that many of you will join us in Brighton and if you can't be there in person that you will join us in a virtual way over the next few days and in the months and years to come.

We will be posting more details about how to do this on the conference website http://www.cna.org.uk as we go. There will be a conference Wiki that you be able to contribute to and we have set up a mailing list at CNA@JISCMAIL.AC.UK Traffic is slow but will hopefully take off soon.

Thanks for this opportunity to contribute to the discussion. I'm am now off to focus on the issue of organising the conference.

Hope to see you there.

Best regards


Hi David,

I keep reading about the conference, and I'm pretty annoyed that I can't make it, as I work just round the corner from it. I'm also definitely no professional when it comes to this (so excuse me if I cover much-covered ground) but am thinking about taking 'decentralised' local networks into academia, so found this exceptionally interesting.

It seems that this is heading more and more towards implementing abstract networks at a varierty of levels, and I think it'd be useful to separate the mess out. On one level, you have the purpose of a network. At another, you have the interface to that network. The former will be most likely be specific to the community it serves, while the latter is specific to the individual. "Standardised" CMS-style networking systems seem to go against the grain of both of these, which is perhaps why they fail to gain any "real-world" position. (Being situated within an organised structure, such as a company, with set tools and procedures, is different I suspect.)

Ideally, both levels would be adaptable to the network's/user's needs and preferences, whether through an analytical/design approach, or through some other "emergent observational" approach (in which a system could, say, be changed easily to meet its users needs with minimum impact).

I think it's important that the communities themselves have control over much of this, and so perhaps rather than trying to continually come up with new models that fit "a majority" of scenarios, it may be of more benefit to provide the tools needed to let others build their own model.

Hope the conference is good. (I am hoping to make the e-mint drinks though.)


These are some really interesting points. I often worry about the fact that the people who get so excited about technology are often early adopters. If you're working with unempowered, underpriveleged communities, how long does it take for those technologies to be attainable for them? I think CI can take a page from current social work macro practice here, and try to ensure that efforts are centered on the needs and desires of the clients - with most of that effort being led by the communities themselves.

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