Approach: Why Community Informatics?

Community Informatics (CI) is the application of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to enable community processes and the achievement of community objectives including overcoming "digital divides" both within and among communities. But CI also goes beyond discussions of the "Digital Divide" to examine how and under what conditions ICT access can be made usable and useful to the range of excluded populations and communities and particularly to support local economic development, social justice, and political empowerment using the Internet.

CI is emerging as the framework for systematically approaching Information Systems from a "community" perspective and informs the development of strategies and techniques for managing community use and application of information systems. As well, it is closely linked with the variety of Community Networking research and applications.

CI is based on the assumption that geographically-based (also known as "physical" or "geo-local" communities) as well as virtual communities have characteristics, requirements, and opportunities that require different strategies for ICT intervention and development from the widely accepted implied models of individual or in-home computer/Internet access and use.

CI also is an approach which is ideally suited as an element in overall economic and social development strategies in Less Developed Countries as a way of optimizing the use of scarce human and physical resources. CI represents an area of interest both to ICT practitioners and academic researchers and to all those with an interest in community-based information technologies.

CI addresses the connections between the academic theory and research, and the policy and pragmatic issues arising from the tens of thousands of Community Networks, Community Technology Centres, Telecentres, Community Communications Centres, and Telecottages currently in place globally.

What characterizes a CI approach to public computing is a commitment to universality of technology-enabled opportunity including to the disadvantaged; a recognition that the "lived physical community" is at the very center of individual and family well-being-economic, political, and cultural-and a belief that this can be enhanced through the judicious use of ICTs; a sophisticated user-focussed understanding of Information technology; and applied social leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity.

Issues addressed include how technology can enable communities to become more active, effective and secure in their use of ICT; the differing strategies required for urban and rural, low and moderate income, digitally literate and non-literate communities to become technologically enabled; strategies for "re-engineering community processes" for environmental and land management, cultural production, and democratic participation/empowerment; appropriate and sustainable business models for community based e-commerce initiatives; and the most effective methods of scaling/linking these processes laterally between networks of similarly enabled communities. Overall there is a concern for the sustainability both economic and institutional of local access--how it will survive once initial funding sources and volunteer participation are exhausted.