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IIS, 2002: in Teesside, England—on “Community Informatics”
Pat Cook

The next conference of the International Institute for Self-Management (IIS) will be on “Community Informatics: A Network for Economic Democracy.” It will take place from Friday, 28th June until Thursday-Friday, 4/5th July 2002. This allows for arrivals on 28th followed by a weekend of socially based activities to get to know each other, with the formal conference beginning on Monday and finishing on Thursday or Friday, depending on how many papers we have.

The conference is being hosted by the University of Teesside in Middlesbrough; student accommodation has been arranged. Maureen Taylor, a founding member of IIS, hails from this part of the world and is looking forward to greeting old friends. She sends her best wishes to all. There are daily flights from Schipol, Amsterdam and Heathrow, London to Teesside airport which is a maximum twenty minute drive from Middlesbrough, and we hope to arrange a collection service on Friday 28th. Within a short distance, we are surrounded by moors, dales, hills and coastline and sightseeing will also be arranged.

I will send out more information as plans are determined and in the meantime, I would appreciate some indication of interest and numbers (without commitment at this point) so that catering, accommodation, costing, etc. can be worked on. The description below will provide a fuller idea of the theme of the conference; papers will be welcome from all.

The transforming qualities of informatics technologies (that is, the combination of computing power and communications technologies) are increasingly recognised to be of vital importance for economic competitiveness and social well-being in a rapid emerging global information society. Across Europe and in the world at large, regions and cities are attempting to harness the capabilities offered by the new Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’s), to create jobs, increase educational skills, protect the environment, overcome community and individual isolation, improve public services, enhance democratic governance and encourage citizen participation.

Howard Rheingold writes that ICT has “provided an opportunity to take more conscious control over something that has repeatedly, and radically, transformed the way people have lived for the past ten thousand years.” When the US Defense Department-sponsored project grew into the Internet, the first directors foresaw the emergence of on-line communities and forecast some of the social questions the phenomena would raise including the “digital divide.” Rheingold questions whether to be on-line is a privilege or a right if only a favored segment of the population gets a chance to enjoy the advantages of “intelligence amplification.” He points to significant experiments over almost ten years where people have acted online to adapt technology for community informatics purposes. Rheingold outlines several important points about Community Informatics:

• Citizens can use technologies in ways that can help increase social capital but this result won’t happen automatically; it is a function of human action, not of technology. Know-how, planning, support, and above all, co-operation are required.

• The internet empowers citizens and it also empowers those who would control and influence citizens. The internet is also a trap; surveillance and mind control are its shadows.

• The market is powerful, but not all powerful. It is only one manifestation of human co-operation and cannot produce all the public goods necessary for sustainable and democratic societies.

• “Civic intelligence” and “citizen technology”—two terms emphasised in Community Informatics—are not necessarily going to govern the majority’s decision making, unless a large number of people put the words into action. Therefore it is worth trying.

Members of my unit will be talking about their work at the July, 2002 conference; to develop increased awareness of ICT in the wider community; to develop long term partnerships with the social economy, information providers and the ICT industry; to provide the wider community with access to relevant training and education; to help communities utilise relevant technologies in their everyday activities; to evaluate the use of ICT’s and disseminate good practice; to participate in the development of the local, regional and national informatics strategies.

Note: Pat Cook (formerly Armstrong) is the Director of the IIS and is Community Business Development Manager, CIRA (Community Informatics Research Applications Unit), University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, TS1 3BA; Telephone #: 01642 342714.

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