Project Activities

US-Russian Civic Networking Workshop

December, 1998

Members of the workshop

The entire month of December was devoted to the US visit by representatives from the three Russian communities, Samara, Sergiev Posad, and Chelyabinsk and to the five day civic networking workshop in Knoxville.

The motivation for organizing the workshop was to take advantage of the experience of the US team and to thus facilitate the transfer of necessary technology, ideas and experience. The primary purpose of hosting the workshop in Knoxville was to take advantage of the wide base of community experience in the development of the large and successful civic network, KORRnet. In addition, leaders from other civic networks in the US were invited to give the Russian participants a wider exposure to ideas that have proven successful elsewhere.

After establishing the technical, communicative and organizational elements of the RCNP project, the next step towards developing a successful community network was to emphasize the need for a broad base of community input and involvement. The two-week visit and workshop were considered essential components of Friends and Partners' plan to facilitate the active sharing and transfer of ideas, experience and technology from those with years of experience with civic networking to the Russian participants. This allowed a broad cross-section of local community individuals and organizations to directly interact with the participants.

While the timing of the workshop was much later than we had originally planned, the delays in the project placed the visit at about the right time in the development of the civic networks (approximately 2 months before formal announcement ceremonies).

KORRnet Display

Briefly, a rather enormous amount of material covered at the workshop, exposure to community networking projects throughout the US, the extensive interaction with the local KORRnet community network, and the discussions amongst the US-Russian Civic Networking team provided an experience which dramatically exceeded the expectations of the project directors. The following will explain some of the highlights from the two-week visit and workshop.

The seven Russian visitors arrived in Washington, DC on the evening of December 7th (the Russian Director, Natasha Bulashova, had arrived a week earlier to prepare for the workshop). The entire day of December 8th and one-half day of December 9th were spent at the Community Networking Conference sponsored by TIIAP in which the best practice of community networking (and similar projects) in the US were highlighted. This workshop was a wonderful introduction to the "reality" of the community networking movement in the US allowed the Russian visitors a chance to gain a broad perspective on community networking efforts in the US and, very importantly, allowed the entire US-Russian Civic Networking team a good means of beginning discussion, and in general, getting to know one another. (Prior to the workshop, a very few of the team members had met each other.)

TN Congressman Duncan's Office at the Capitol

On the evening of the 8th, the entire 10 member group traveled by van to Williamsburg, Virginia where they had a full day to learn about early American history and about the basic principals and foundations upon which American democracy is based.

The group left Virginia early morning, on December 11th for a drive to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet with Steve Snow, the Director of Charlotte's Web, one of the first large community networking projects in the US (and indeed, the first to receive funding from the US government for community networking efforts under the TIIAP program). A nearly three hour meeting gave good opportunity to learn about the history, development, organizational structure and financing arrangements of the "Charlotte's Web" project. The discussion was much more in-depth than was possible during the TIIAP conference and provided a very good opportunity for questioning one of the older American community networks and how it has achieved and maintained success in its local community. By this point in the trip, the participants were much more at ease with each other, making discussion at this meeting (and during travel time before and after) much more productive than would have been otherwise possible. The group continued that evening on to Knoxville, Tennessee, where they remained for the following week.

The weekend was utilized by the Russian visitors to complete preparations for the presentations they were to give at the workshop which was to begin Monday in Knoxville.

The workshop was jointly sponsored by the Friends and Partners Foundation in Moscow, the Center for International Networking Initiatives at the University of Tennessee (the US base of Friends and Partners) and the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Regional Network, KORRnet, which Friends and Partners had helped to develop four years prior.

TranslatorsNearly all presentations were given in English. Simultaneous translation was provided by Tanya Stepanova and Sonya Slutskaya for the three Russian participants who did not speak English.

An online program guide is available which gives a complete agenda for the five day workshop. It was an extraordinarily intensive week with many presentations and discussions, a few local tours and the chance to interact directly with those who have leadership responsibility for the KORRnet network as well as those who work on the project day-to-day (and in nearly every capacity). It would difficult to imagine a more thorough immersion into a local community network experience; and this was the reason for hosting the workshop in Knoxville. We were very fortunate to have Doug Schuler, the creator of the Seattle Community Network (and the best published author on topics related to community networking in the US) who traveled to Knoxville for the workshop and presented his experiences with the Seattle Community Network (SCN) and his perspective on community networking in other parts of the world for a full day and an additional morning session. Doug seemed likewise pleased to be able to be able to participate in the workshop and eager to continue the association and work with the Russian Civic Network Program.

Director and Nickolay SapistanAs interesting and perhaps relevant as the workshop was for the Russian visitors, it was just as important an event for the local KORRnet community. Interaction with the Russian visitors encouraged them to rethink the successes and failures of their own local network, as well as providing inspiration for continuing and improving their efforts.

While all participants found local community environments different between Russia and the US, there was no question at the end of the conference that the ideals of civic networking are as relevant (if not more so) in Russian communities as they are in American communities. As one of the Russian visitors stated in his closing remarks, the workshop left two vital impressions - 1) that civic networking is real and 2) that drawing upon the experience of successful projects will help them be successful in their own local community.

Despite the very intensive days, the group still managed to meet several evenings for extended discussions about what had been covered during the day's sessions and about its relevance to efforts in their own communities. The visitors were able to stay in the same lodging (an old and nicely furnished bed and breakfast), with very good facilities for meals and for informal meetings, which provided a good environment for the after hours discussions.

At the Knoxville B&B

On Monday morning the entire team had a roundtable discussion at the Eurasia Foundation offices in Washington, DC with representatives from several different funding organizations. The Program Officer, Jennifer Stuart, was there as well as Ford Foundation Program Officer, Chris Kedzie. The United States Information Agency (USIA) was represented by two individuals; IREX representatives Aaron Lamar and Rob Cronin attended; Don Druker of the TIIAP program (US Department of Commerce) attended and Alexi Ostrovskiy from the Russian Embassy (Science Counselor - who works with "Friends and Partners" on the NaukaNet project) attended the entire meeting also. During this meeting, the project directors gave an overview of the Russian Civic Networking Program and some of the Russian visitors presented their individual community projects. Formal presentations were followed by a very interesting discussion about civic networking and about the potential for jointly funding a common US-Russian effort. The project directors agreed to follow up with the different organizations represented about continuing funding for the project beyond this first year.

Following this meeting, the project directors met with Chris Kedzie from the Ford Foundation and, later that day, with Rob Cronin and Aaron Lamar from IREX.

Chris Kedzie and Natasha Bulashova

During the final evening, the entire US-Russian team had the opportunity to meet to evaluate the visit, and to make plans for the next steps of the program. A good portion of the evening was devoted to the technology which is being used (and software which is being developed) to support the civic networking efforts. This discussion provided a wonderful conclusion to a very successful two-week visit. On the following day, the Russian visitors returned to Moscow.

It was decided during this meeting that the Russian participants would begin disseminating a monthly publication to non-governmental organizations and interested communities throughout Russia who share interest in the ideals and practice of civic networking. We are still discussing the possibility of including additional US partners on this project and making this a broader US-Russian effort.

To summarize, the following represent the primary achievements of the two- week visit.

  • The meeting provided a sufficiently long time period in which the Russian visitors could get to know one another and begin working more as a team. While this had been our hope in organizing the visit, we naturally had no way of knowing if this would be successful. We were especially pleased with the personal interaction and the comfort level with each other that all of the team members from Russia and the US gained by working and traveling with each other over the two weeks.

  • The TIIAP conference provided a wonderful introduction to community networking in the US, exposing the visitors to the very best networking projects, technologies and key issues of successful community networking projects in America.

  • Throughout the two-week visit we tried to introduce the visitors to as much historical and cultural information about the US as possible. Nearly all of the visitors cited this as the genuine strength of the visit.RCNP Members Sightseeing in DC

  • Personal meetings with leaders of three successful US community networks were very beneficial in exposing the visitors to key issues regarding successful organization and financing of community networking projects.

  • Of special interest to the visitors was the chance to hear from and talk with various members of the KORRnet community who work on KORRnet day-to-day. There was almost no element of KORRnet operation that was not presented and discussed during the workshop. All participants (both Russian and US) agreed that the technical discussions were very helpful and must be continued during the coming months (indeed, these issues will be followed up on when the US and Russian directors of the project visit each of the cities in February). Throughout the workshop, special attention was given to issues of sustainability and financing of community networking projects. It was agreed that a wide variety of funding mechanisms was helpful for planning out a financing program in each of the three communities. It was generally agreed that the best means of insuring sustainability is to first ensure that the community network makes a dramatic and visual impact in the community and that, as quickly as possible, the community sees that the civic network is essential to its own growth and development.

  • For the two project directors, perhaps the greatest lesson learned from the visit and by the close interaction with the Russian Civic Networking leaders is that, instead of developing a single model which might work best in Russian communities, the three communities chosen to participate in the first stage of the project have all developed their own unique models based on local environment and the key local organizations involved. For one community, the primary emphasis is a strong technical one (based in the Chelyabinsk Technical University). The other communities will be able to benefit from their strong technical experience and the Chelyabinsk Civic Network will be able to gain from the less technically focused efforts of the other two community networks. The Samara Community Network is based almost entirely within a consortium of non-governmental organizations and thus, has a stronger humanitarian focus. They have intentionally developed a relationship with the local technical university to assist with technical components of the project. Finally, in Sergiev Posad, although they are without a strong technical partner, they have very good relationships with different non-governmental organizations and with the local Chamber of Commerce which enables them to develop a strong community base for the project (and subsequently strong technical base).

We also have additional photos of the Russian Civic Networking Workshop posted.

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