Community technology centers as catalysts for community change: a report to the Ford Foundation

Community technology centers as catalysts for community change: a report to the Ford Foundation

How can community technology centers take on broader community issues?

This report presents the findings from our exploratory research into how community technology centres (CTCs) could function more effectively as public spaces and as forces for positive social change at the community level.

Findings:

  • there is a gap between the community development and community technology fields, but that this gap is one of language and perception
  • although CTCs are overwhelmingly located in the types of neighbourhoods served by Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), and often have consistent goals with these older institutions, there is a gap between the two types of organisations because there appears to be little interaction between them
  • although CDCs and CBOs have barely scratched the surface when it comes to using IT to forward their work, CTCs have taken on community development issues as part of what they do. There is a communication gap, but in practice there is significant overlap
  • knowledge-sharing would benefit both fields, and could lead to important synergies
  • functioning as a good public space is a precondition, necessary but not sufficient, for a CTC to catalyse positive community change

Ways in which CTCs can take on broader community issues include:

  • enhancing facility design, including more gathering places such as conference rooms and lounges, for people to mix and hold meetings and events away from computers
  • raising the profile of existing centers by incorporating plazas, planters, lighting, banners and other entrance treatments. New facilities should be sited in places that get significant foot traffic. Such measures also help give a facility a strong identity within and perhaps outside of the community
  • mixing use of space for people who pay for Internet connections with those who get free connections, thereby increasing the number of drop-ins and casual contacts, and facilitating community-wide use of the center. However, this issue must be handled delicately so as not to exacerbate class and income distinctions among residents
  • engaging in partnerships with existing community institutions, such as schools, libraries, and community centers to leverage the resources of the CTC and those of other institutions
  • creating programming agendas that target community issues in order to: leverage the potential of technology; lure potential partners; and attract a broader funding base
  • allowing the space to be used for multiple purposes such as community meetings and celebrations
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