Civic Networking


Civic networking (also referred to as "community networking") is defined as follows:

". . . a process (our emphasis), facilitated by the tools of electronic communications and information, that improves and magnifies human communication and interaction in a [local] community by:

  • Bringing together people within local communities and focusing their attention on key issues within the community for debate, deliberation and resolution

  • Organizing human communication and information relevant to the communities' needs and problems on a timely basis

  • Requiring, engaging, and involving - on an ongoing basis - the participation of a broad base of citizens, including community activists, leaders, sponsors, and service providers

  • Striving to include people in low-income neighborhoods, those with disabilities or limited mobility, and the struggling middle class

  • Making basic services available at a fair and reasonable cost - or, as many espouse, at no cost - for broad-based access within the community

  • Most importantly, doing what commercial [Internet service] providers find difficult to do well: represent local culture, local relevance, local pride, and a strong sense of community ownership

[from "Assessment and Evolution of Community Networking", The Morino Institute]

Successful civic networks are driven by a broad set of social ideals and goals - including how modern information and communications technologies can be used for collective community purposes. Just as with the modern public library, civic networks exist - not because of technology nor because of commercial viability - but, rather, because of the greater public good resulting from their availability and use.

Required Components

A functioning civic network will be comprised of at least the following elements:

  1. Board of Directors

    Composed of community leaders drawn from education, government, health care, social service agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector, the Board of Directors is charged with providing leadership, management, and financial sustainability of the civic network. It is important that the civic network not be "owned" or controlled by any one group. Organizationally, many civic networks create a non-profit foundation to serve as a representative, legal body.

  2. Committee Structure

    Most of the work involved with organizing and sustaining a civic network will result from the work of various committees - with members drawn from all sectors of the local community. Example committees used in existing civic networks include organizing committee, user steering committee, finance committee, policy and bylaws committee, technical committee, science and health committee, etc. The committees meet on a regular basis (generally, monthly or quarterly) and are charged primarily with liaising with the general public to ensure that the civic network is meeting the real needs of the community.

  3. Volunteer Corps

    While many community networks do maintain a minimal paid staff (generally two individuals - one technical; the other organizational - their responsibilities often hinge on managing volunteer resources), most rely on a corps of volunteers who assist with such tasks as user training, user support, information service maintenance, and administrative tasks. Volunteers generally include technology enthusiasts, university students and, oftentimes, senior citizens.

  4. Information/Communications Server

    In most cases, information and communications services for civic networks are housed on inexpensive Unix servers (costing between $2,000 and $15,000) using public domain (and free) software developed for community networking by enthusiasts across the world.

  5. Telecommunications Access

    With only a very few exceptions, civic networks always provide a gateway to the Internet (this is often through a local university connection). Also, most maintain a modem pool to allow dial-in access to the network server.

  6. Public Access Sites

    Perhaps the most important element of a civic network are public access sites - located in public places convenient for anyone in the local community to use. The public access sites include one or more computers which, through hardwired connection (often, ethernet) or modem-based connection, provide direct access to all services on the civic network and on the greater Internet.

  7. Regular programs of training and support

    Associated with the committee activities and volunteer corps mentioned above, are planned programs of training and support for users - and marketing of services throughout the local community. Only through programs of training and support can civic networks meet their objectives of education, broadening access to information services, and increasing the quantity and quality of local community information.

  8. Information and Communications Services

    It is the information and communications services developed by the community for the community that comprise a tangible "product" of a civic network. It is important that there is broad-based capability for publishing information and communications services - and that users can themselves manage their own services (i.e., not go through a central control).

    Interestingly, while information and communications services (as well as access to services on the larger Internet) are the primary product of a civic network , the experience of many civic networks relates that the real value of such enterprises is their requirement for broad-based community participation in creating and managing those services.

You always pass failure on the way to success. - Mickey Rooney

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Natasha Bulashova, Greg Cole
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Updated: 1997-08-

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