Fall-Winter 2002-2003

Community Technology in the International Arena
by Richard Civille

Global Congress on Community Networking—Montreal Conference

The third Global Congress on Community Networking , held in Montreal, Quebec October 7-12, was well attended by hundreds of international representatives of community technology programs from 37 different countries and agencies along with United Nations officials involved in the upcoming International Telecommunications Union "World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)" to be held in Geneva in December 2003.

With support from different ministries of the Quebec provincial government , notably from the Information Highway Fund , the Canadian International Development Research Center (IDRC), and many international donors, this year's event had a distinctively Francophone tone, as last year's meeting in Argentina emphasized Latin and South America, and the preceding Barcelona conference highlighted Spain and the European Union.  Funding for this year's event partially supported development of a new online knowledge base for this growing international affiliation of independent groups and organizations, The Platform for Community Networks .  The developing multi-lingual knowledge base is the result of a key concern about the challenges of using Internet mailing lists and other traditional online communication means to effectively bridge cross-cultural, time zone, and language differences in order to establish a focused civil society presence in the agenda setting process of the ITU's upcoming World Summit.

The organization of conference representatives was also a concern.  The Global Community Networking Partnership (GCNP) had been initiated in Barcelona, but this year in Montreal the GCNP secretariat decided to dissolve the earlier effort to establish an international organization in favor of developing an informal network model of affiliated working groups more consistent with their view of the GCNP mission.  A draft action plan for a transitional period was proposed following four face to face meetings , expressing general agreement among those attending the last session.

All these challenges were recognized during a special plenary featuring Adama Samassekou, the chief representative from WSIS (and the former Minister of Education of the Republic of Mali), and two senior assistants, Alain Clerc and Louise Lassonde.  Mr. Sammassekou outlined the three main objectives for WSIS:  (1) Create a consensual vision of information society, (2) establish "rules of the road,"and (3) establish a legal framework to protect both the private sphere and the sphere of development.  The connection between the upcoming UN Summit and this growing civil society global forums on community networking is important.  The panel described to the plenary the difficulty in establishing a legal framework to incorporate a diversity of civil society interests within the planning and agenda work in advance of the Summit, a charge given to them by the General Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.  Mr. Samassekou told the plenary:  "I feel a preoccupation and concern about the quality of civil society participation in WSIS.  It is part of the UN resolution for WSIS.  I guarantee total transparency, as long as I am there.  You, advocates of the Information Society, do not let your arms down, but remain optimistic."

CivicNet '02

As noted in this issue's editorial introduction, the ComTechReview co-sponsored a two week long international online form this fall.  "CivicNet '02: Building Local Power With Community Networks " was the third in a series of "Virtual CivicNets" that began in the late 1990s.  The original took place in 1997 and was the first salon style online conference devoted to issues of civic and community networking.  CivicNet '97 was the brainstorm of Lisa Kimball and Richard Civille joined by a multi-organizational production team, cosponsored by Apple Research Labs, with other co-sponsors, participants and exhibitors from HUD, AFCN, the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Global Telematics, the  Canadian Centre for Management Development, Helsinski University of Technology, Libraries for the Future, the Open Space Institute, and the Smithsonian Institute among others and publicized through the Public Policy Network, the People, Computers and Design discussion list, Red Rock Eaters News Service, Potomac Knowledgeway, the Nonprofit Online News, the Alliance for Community Technology, Net-Lawyers, and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, to name a few.

In 1998 the second Virtual CivicNet was convened: "CivicNet '98: Renewing Communities with New Stories." This fall, CivicNet '02 discussions centered on the practice of facilitating and moderating online discussions, the increasingly globalized environment for community technology initiatives, and emerging tools and technologies that have the potential to empower local communities in the future.

Richard Civille is co-editor of the Community Technology Review.

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