US-Russian Civic Networking 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).
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
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.)
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.
Nearly all presentations were given in English.
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.
As 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
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.
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
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-
- 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.
- 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
We also have
additional photos of the Russian Civic Networking Workshop posted.