Digest for 97-03-24 - Special Issue
We want to share some good news with you today.
Friends and Partners has just received a grant from the Ford Foundation
to help develop "civic networks" within Russia. We provide a description
of the project below - it is a bit lengthy but we hope that a quick read
will provide you with a helpful overview. We are very excited about this
project and hope that you will be also.
This project fits into a larger set of plans for Friends and Partners which
we would like to also share with you at our new "F&P Future" WWW server
which we announce today and which you can find at URLs:
We hope you will read and respond to the material presented here and
let us know your thoughts on how we can best proceed together with this
We begin work on the civic networking project in April. Around April 15 we
will be announcing a new WWW site devoted to civic networking and providing
additional material about this project.
If after reading the following announcement, you are interested in
participating with us, we invite you to join the email listserver that we
have established for this purpose (directions at the end).
We want to offer special thanks to the Ford Foundation - and especially to
Chris Kedzie who has made so many contributions to F&P over the last 3
years - for their encouragement and support of Friends and Partners and of
this project in particular. We will be talking much more about our work on
civic networking in the weeks and months ahead!
---- ANNOUNCEMENT OF NEW CIVIC NETWORKING PROJECT ------------------------
The "Friends and Partners" U.S.-Russian Internet service began operation
just over three years ago - started as a goodwill gesture between two
friends who shared a simple dream of introducing better understanding,
friendship and partnership between people in Russia and the United States -
using the emerging Internet as the communications and information exchange
medium. It is a grassroots effort that has grown beyond all initial
expectations and now includes many heavily used information services and an
active community of many individuals and organizations interested in
promoting cooperation, exchange and better understanding between citizens
of the U.S. and those from countries of the former Soviet Union.
Coincident with our work has been the steady growth of Internet
infrastructure in Russia, accelerating during the past year at one of the
fastest rates of any country in the world. Many citizens outside of the
primary communications centers in Moscow and St. Petersburg are beginning
to learn of and express interest in this global communications network.
Most do not have access nor any reasonable hope of access in the near
In other parts of the world - notably North America, Western Europe and
Scandinavia - the demand for access has been, to some degree, both fueled
and satisfied through what are called "community networks" or, as we shall
label them here, "civic networks". These are broad-based community
initiatives (generally organized as non-profit corporations) focused on:
(1) extending access to new information and communications technologies to
underserved populations by reducing or eliminating financial disincentives
to their use, providing public access sites, and promoting community-based
training, education and support; (2) extending ability to publish
information locally and globally to non-governmental organizations,
educators, health care providers, etc.; (3) enabling development of a rich
base of local information resources; (4) providing Internet-based
communications services to all citizens in local communities; and (5)
attempting to improve local community development and self-governance
through increased communications and information exchange between
citizens, local organizations, businesses and local government.
Successful civic networks illustrate how modern information technologies
can be used collectively and creatively to help strengthen democratization
and local self-governance by increasing communications and information
exchange between citizens and their governments, and by providing a vehicle
for more participatory government. This experience has particular
relevance to Russia's current stage of development as an open, democratic
society - with emphasis on engaging citizens at the local level in
community planning and self-governance and on raising their awareness of
and experience with enabling information and communications technologies.
At this still early but rapidly growing phase of network and information
infrastructure development in Russia we feel it is important to build
models which provide good demonstration of civic networking's potential.
We wish to make clear in our work that "web sites" about local communities
are not civic networks. While not discounting the value of these services
with regards to promoting local communities to the outside world, these are
not civic networks in the 'traditional' sense of the term and do not supply
the same value. By providing good models now, we intend to illustrate how
civic networks are social as well as technological tools - and help build
the case for a broader civic networking initiative throughout Russia.
The following text outlines our plans to further the Friends and Partners
initiative with development of civic networks in Russia - and with plans to
link these networks in such a way as to facilitate larger regional and
national networking - between educators, non-governmental organizations,
local and regional government officials, and individual citizens. And by
linking local networks - and their constituent organizations and citizens -
with similar organizations in other parts of the world, we will continue
working towards our goal of fostering cooperation across national
boundaries as well.
To accomplish this work, we will continue building upon the momentum of the
F&P effort, draw upon the myriad resources of the F&P community (including
our own excellent staffs in Russia and in the U.S.), utilize our
organizational and technical experience in local and global community
networking, and add some unique technical capabilities to support the
development of a robust information/communications "intranet" to help link
and "mirror" various services across the Internet.
This is an ambitious effort. Thus, we are proposing a 5 month planning
project in order to research community networking and its application in
Russia, to develop basic software and communications infrastructure, to
build a prototype civic network to be used for public evaluation, to build
public information resources on civic networking in Russia, and to widely
advertise and solicit participation on an initial community networking
project. During this period, we will also work to transfer knowledge,
organizational experience and technology from the American team, which has
been heavily involved - both organizationally and technically - in
development of civic networking in the U.S.
In this planning project, we propose 5 months of rather intensive effort to
lay basic infrastructure for a strong civic networking initiative in Russia
and to identify 3-4 communities in Russia in which local interest and
infrastructure provide fertile ground for development of solid civic
At the end of the 5 month planning project, we will be ready to begin work
on implementation - with hopeful continued partnership with the Ford
Foundation and other interested funding organizations - of these initial
community network sites and to help build momentum for a strong civic
networking movement in communities throughout Russia.
Civic networks in Russia should:
* facilitate diffusion of information technologies and new communications
media into broader population. Why is this important?
* at simplest level, it gives more people access to current
information and to enabling technologies
* it helps broaden base of citizens involved in infrastructure
development and ensures a "public voice" for broadening ownership
and management of communications networks which can otherwise be
made inaccessible. Civic networks can provide an effective
response to inaccessibility of new technologies due to issues of
public access, existing media dominance, and industry
* it can help speed up infrastructure development and ensure more
By enabling and encouraging broad use, civic networks serve
to broaden markets for higher end services which can then
be serviced by the commercial sector. But, also, by
providing lower end services at a very inexpensive cost,
they help to ensure a more reasonable cost model for all
* reduce or eliminate financial disincentives to use of communications
technologies and capabilities.
Appearance of global information and communications technologies
has great potential to further disenfranchise those without the
means to access them, further exacerbating the gap between rich and
poor in Russia. Whether through civic networks or other means,
something must be done to address wider access to enabling
* extend ability to publish information (locally, nationally, globally) to
non-governmental organizations, educators, health care providers, students,
individual citizens, etc.
One of the most significant features of the Internet is how it
facilitates the ability to publish to almost every user - reducing
the relevance of the old maxim "freedom of the press belongs to he
who owns one". Even with improved freedom to publish in Russia,
traditional factors - such as financial means, government
regulation, 'contacts', or commercial marketing acumen - still
generally determine who can publish information.
Providing a broad platform from which many without "voice" can
publish information -locally, nationally, and globally - will lead
to a more diverse set of independent information resources.
* enable development of a rich base of local information.
One of the most useful features of civic networks in North America
and Europe is the provision of information about the local
community - including government services (and responsible
government leaders and employees), community services,
organizations and events, community problems and issues, etc.
Unlike many 'web sites' about communities, information services are
not developed solely to "sell" the community to outside interests
(although they certainly have an important role in economic
development), but rather to provide information which is of genuine
interest and benefit to the local citizenry.
* provide local, national and global communication services.
The most important service provided by civic networks is providing
access to communications technologies.
By supplying citizens with an "account" on a network server, civic
networks supply a global identity and address by which each citizen
can correspond with others locally and around the world. Without
question, email is the most fundamental service provided by civic
networks. But, civic networks also provide additional
communications services such as access to global USENET discussion
forums, email listservers, local and global bulletin boards, and
on-line, interactive "chat" facilities. These new communications
technologies tend to "flatten" traditional hierarchies and make it
possible, practical and simple for any citizen to express concerns,
offer opinions, ask questions, etc.
By enabling and encouraging a "critical mass" of local citizens to
use such media for communications and by providing "public spaces"
on the civic network for discussion of key topics, these
technologies can help improve and magnify the quantity and quality
of communications within communities.
* provide new educational opportunities. These include:
* Civic networks are a natural fit for providing good training
ground for the use of information and communications technologies.
* Through their information servers, they provide "links" to global
educational resources - including libraries, reference resources,
distance education opportunities, etc.
* Civic networks usually maintain an extensive area for students -
offering links to various educational resources but also to local
and global communications areas - such as education-oriented Usenet
discussion forums, bulletin board systems, study opportunities,
* further community development by encouraging non-governmental
organizations, improving delivery of social services (by improving
education about their need and availability), enhancing 'sense of
community' and personal empowerment through improved and expanded
While the immediate subject of this proposal is a 5 month planning project
to study civic networking within Russia and to identify individuals and
organizations with whom we can work on a second, implementation, phase, we
wish to place this within the context of our longer term objectives of
creating a network of civic networks within Russia as a part of the overall
Friends and Partners "intranet". While we intend to learn much during the
5 month planning effort which will modify much of the following material,
we offer the following as our current direction.
In our efforts to build civic networks in Russia, we propose to build upon
work done in partnership with "Friends and Partners" in the local community
of Knoxville and Oak Ridge, Tennessee with KORRNet (http://www.korrnet.org)
in providing a large civic network for the East Tennessee region.
One of the primary purposes in organizing KORRNET was to broaden access and
use of local, regional, national, and international information and
communication services to the local public who might not otherwise have the
possibility of such access. But, of equal importance, was the ability of
community networks to offer the same public the ability to publish
information. This has proven to be of vital importance in giving "voice"
to such groups as non-governmental organizations, educators, government
agencies, senior citizens, etc. These are the same motivating objectives
for our work in Russia.
On a technical level, we wish to help communities develop their own
information services and supplement this with software for constructing
interactive bulletin-board systems, email listservers, interactive chat
sessions, etc. The community networks will provide software which will
allow access to basic Internet services such as email, World Wide Web,
telnet, ftp, etc., but to also make possible the easy construction of a Web
accessible version of the network using the same software we use for
KORRNet. This software will support multiple language content and will
provide the same services as the larger Friends and Partners project for
handling different Russian encodings.
An additional challenge, important to our work, is to make the content of
each community network accessible to other communities in Russia via the
Friends and Partners 'intranet' of mirrored information servers. The goal
is to extend the ability of local communities to publish easily in other
communities in their own country and in other locations of the world.
There are several components of this ambitious work.
1) To provide software which will make it easy to build and maintain
community networks in different locations;
2) To provide the software which makes it possible to mirror specified
parts of the community networks in other locations;
3) To provide software for those users who would use the community network
for email as well as Internet browsing (we have already modified and
installed such software for our own community network - it will only need
to be modified to support the Russian language);
4) To provide basic server and telecommunications hardware (i.e., 'modem
pools') for establishment of the community network and to make some level
of public dial-in access available to local citizens and organizations;
5) To provide continuing programs of training and support - for system
administrators, for community development activists, and for the end users.
6) To develop a "community network" among local community network
developers, system administrators and users for facilitating indigenous
development of community networking throughout Russia.
One of the reasons that we are proposing an initial project of three or
four community network sites (instead of investing more resources in a
single community network) is to begin to lay the foundation for a community
of individuals and initiatives involved in Russian community networking.
There is little or no tradition for such in Russia. By helping create
several community networks simultaneously, we can take advantage of a wider
body of experience which should prove useful for subsequent effort.
Of course, this creates additional challenges for project management. To
help make it manageable, we will encourage the use of identical hardware
and software platforms; will provide some good software tools for Web
authoring and management, other tools for listserver management (and other
communication services such as chat rooms and bulletin board systems) and
will provide a web site and communications services to support the network
of community networks- with specific services for system administrators and
others for community network activists.
By taking care of many of the technical problems on the front-end, we will
try to ensure that technical issues do not dominate the community network
deployment; we can instead together focus on what is required to make
community networks successful in terms of broad-based community interest,
support and participation.
By 'mirroring' each community network at each other site, making local
access quick and easy, each community network can stay well informed about
what the others are doing - taking advantage of good ideas and building
upon them. To further collaboration among the various participants, we
would like to propose that each site develop at least one resource that is
of genuine interest and benefit to all other community networks. For this
we are suggesting that each create and maintain a 'topical' community
network focused on a discipline or interest area in which local
participants have interest and possibilities of contribution. By doing so,
we hope to encourage collaboration across the entire network of civic
While the technical requirements of this project are non-trivial, the most
important part of this task will be identifying individuals and
organizations in a representative set of communities who are ready to
invest local time and resources sufficient to make this initial phase of
the project successful. In order to do so, we must prepare and broadly
issue an RFP and then evaluate submitted proposals to identify communities
where there is genuine interest and enthusiasm for community networking and
where local infrastructure provides good chance of success.
Please join the moderated, digested email listserver we have established to
help facilitate dialog and information sharing about civic networking in
Russia. Just send a one-line email message to:
(for non-NIS subscribers)
(for NIS subscribers)
consisting of a single line:
subscribe civnet-russia firstname lastname
(just substitute your name for "firstname lastname")