Community Informatics

Community Informatics

Larry Stillman (Monash University, Australia) and Randy Stoecker (University of Wisconsin, USA)
Copyright: © 2008 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-857-4.ch006
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Researchers and practitioners use a wide range of terms when they discuss community involvement with information and communications technologies (ICTs). Common (English-language) terms include ‘community networks,’ ‘community computing,’ ‘community information networks,’ ‘civic networking,’ ‘community technology,’ ‘community computer networks,’ ‘online neighborhood network,’ ‘virtual community,’ ‘online community,’ ‘community e-business,’ and most recently, ‘community informatics.’ Since the late 1990s, the term ‘community informatics’ has come into use amongst many academic researchers as an overarching label for the academic study of projects and initiatives which deliberately engage community groups and organizations with ICTs. Evidence of the term’s acceptance in academic and research circles is found in the titles of at least one academic journal and the language of its articles (the Journal of Community Informatics), as well as in community informatics conferences and workshops held in a number of countries, university research centres, moves towards an ethics statement, and an entry in Wikipedia developed collaboratively by researchers and practitioners in the field. While many still use the term ‘community technology’ or its variants when referring to practice activity, community informatics has definitely become embedded as an academic reference point.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Effective Use: The use of ICTs in conjunction with social and community development techniques.

Community Based Research: Community-based research (CBR), also called community-based participatory research, action research, participatory action research, participatory research, and a variety of other things, engages community members or community organizations in developing research questions that address community issues, designing research methods, carrying out the research, and using its results.

Sustainability: Sustainability is the extent to which an intervention lasts over time, and particularly after the main change agents who implemented the intervention are no longer present. The sustainability of community informatics projects is dependent upon several factors, including external and internal funding support for the cost of ongoing hardware, software and staff, the ICT skill base (paid and volunteer), the management of ICT-people interactions, and the degree of support for ICTs learning and innovation. More broadly, ICT sustainability in communities can be linked to concerns about environmental and social responsibility.

Social Capital: Robert Putnam, a key writer on social capital, defines social capital as the ‘connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them’ as a resource that can be drawn upon the rebuilding or strengthening of communities. (Putnam 1995). From a community informatics perspective, social capital should also be defined as a community resource that is developed in partnering, rather than exploitative relationships with communities.

Community Development/Community Organization: Community development, (also called community organization), is a range of practices which aim to work with local communities to improve the quality of life, ranging across many areas, including housing, employment, help, and social connection. Self-help and empowerment often associated with community development. Community development often works through neighborhood, block, village or other formal and informal structures.

Digital Divide: The gap between ICT haves and have nots, whether through lack of direct access to infrastructure such as computers of adequate connection, or sufficient skills and training to take advantage of ICTs. The cost of connectivity (computers, software, broadband, and support) is also a contributory factor to the divide. Disability or cultural and linguistic factors such as the lack of support or content in minority or national languages, can also contribute to the divide.

Community Informatics: As a practice field, aims, through the use of ICTs in conjunction with community development practices, to improve the life of local communities, though it can also work to create virtual communities as an adjunct to local connections and networks. As an emerging academic field, Community Informatics studies and theorizes the role and influence of technology in community settings.

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