Spring 2003

An Illinois Consortium at the Digital Crossroads
by Layton Olsen

15 Members join Illinois Consortium to assist CTCs and to build statewide organization to promote digital literacy

In August 2002, 15 community technology networks—including CTCNet Chicago, Prairienet-Champaign, and CTCNet as a national organization—social service and settlement house organizations, and university community service programs from across Illinois signed an historic document to become members of a statewide community technology enterprise. The signing of the Illinois Community Technology Consortium agreement took place after two years of informal and one year of formal work together as a cooperative consortium to make the best use of $1.3 million over three years under a Request For Proposal (RFP) issued in September 2001. The Consortium name was adopted to reflect the state-level relationship with CTCNet. The use of the abbreviation "ILCTC" reflects relations with similar statewide affiliates of CTCNet, identifiable by two letters.

The RFP was issued by the Illinois Community Technology Fund, a nonprofit organization composed of community, public official and telecommunication parties created under the Ameritech-SBC merger in September 1999. The RFP requested services for professional development assistance to community technology centers across Illinois and the creation of a sustainable statewide organization. Given the extent of the services requested, the Consortium submitted an application in December 2001 to use the $1.3 million to help raise another $2.7 million in resources from public agencies, companies, foundations and earned revenue, to provide a total of $4 million in services. The consortium was awarded the grant in an announcement in April 2002 by Governor George Ryan. The "Connecting My Community" program formally began in July 2002 with a goal to provide direct services to directors, trainers, tech staff, and volunteers in five circuits which are the multi-county service areas used by the University of Illinois Extension.

In October 2002, these members working through four committees (member services, connectivity, sustainability, and management) met in Urbana to plan the startup. They met with members of focus groups of stakeholders (CTC users and funders) from across Illinois who came together to clarify the top needs of community residents for community technology services. All parties completed a Digital Literacy survey to determine the most important tasks to be achieved in mastery of computer skills and use of the Internet.

As Consortium members began the 3-year process of working together as a learning network — facilitated by the evaluator Julie Fesenmaier of the Laboratory for Community and Economic Development at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign — the keynote talk was on the usefulness, power and productivity in personal development and productivity of Social Networks.  The speech used the example of I-Know social network software, in tracking how individuals use their social networks every day to produce answers to problems by asking the question about who they can ask to help (In short, IKNOW will answer the following: Who knows who, Who knows what?, Who knows who knows who?, and Who knows who knows what?) For a copy of the initial report Measuring Outcomes of Digital Divide Investment to Community Technology Centers, January 2003, see "New Digital Divide Report from LCED."

The Consortium adopted the following vision and mission statements:

Vision: Ensure that all residents have the greatest chance of success through enhancing, improving, and equalizing technical access through a statewide network of Community Technology Centers.

Mission: Connecting My Community is an inclusive, statewide community enterprise that seeks to promote digital opportunity throughout Illinois.

We leverage and support the efforts of Community Technology Centers, educational institutions, and community-based organizations for technology access and community development.  We identify and provide resources for technology assistance, training, access and support services.

By November 2002, additional key staff persons were hired, including an Executive Director for CTCNet Chicago and a CTCNet Project Director for Illinois, funded under CTCNet Connections for Tomorrow HHS Compassion Capital Program, in which Illinois Community Technology Consortium is a matching partner.

In December 2002, the Consortium adopted its logo, completed its complement of committee members of full members and associate members totaling over 30 separate entities, and completed the first six months of work, especially in the area of sustainability. The Sustainability Committee is charged with working with each Consortium member to raise additional funds, in-kind contributions, and earned revenues. Communications with two-dozen potential funding sources (public agencies, companies, and foundations) have been developed.

See project and calendar activities on the Midwest Technology Access Group's website.

Horizon for 2003

For 2003, the Consortium will:

  • Launch the Closing the Gap RFP Assistance workshop as a pilot Community Network Forum role, hosted by State Representatives and Senator, sponsored by Far South Chicago Community Network, and CTCNet Chicago as an opportunity for CTCs to network with public and private funders with grants of $5,000-$50,000 for digital literacy and other CTC activities.
  • Support the outreach for the CTCNet Connections for Tomorrow program, including the availability of Technical Assistance small grant RFPs for at-risk youth and homeless persons community-based and faith-based organizations.
  • Expand the CTCNet Chicago board, committee structure (center development, advocacy, resources), membership recruitment among many kinds of CTCs , and host CTCNet Leadership Development Institute in conjunction with the C4T program in the high need communities of West Side Chicago.
  • Build the public identity of the Consortium, its Circuit Riders, and its planned portal in each area of the state, among CTCs, stakeholders, and other audiences.
  • Participate in digital access, empowerment, and e-government public policy and funding agendas at the state and national levels, including with statewide events at CTCNet Conference in Washington, D.C. this June.
  • Launch a statewide portal in all five Circuits to provide daily assistance to managers, trainers, tech staff, and volunteers of CTCs.
  • Host a statewide event in Springfield as part of the tradition of Tech Day activities and communications with legislators and public agencies in technology, computer recycling, telecommunication, and economic development fields.

In addition, the Consortium is consulting with public officials about the declaration of Paul Revere Digital Citizen Day on April 18, 2003 in Illinois, the 228th anniversary of the use of telecommunications ("One if by land, two if by sea,") in Paul Revere's ride, and the celebration of other leaders of community and social networks who have stepped forward in times of community need across the nation and throughout the world. As a committee of correspondence, we respectfully request the views of other communities about such day and events, and the informal Paul Revere Day activities begun in April 2001.

The members of the Consortium are IT Resource Center, CTCNet-Chicago, CTCNet, Erie Neighborhood House, Center for the Application of Information Technologies at Western Illinois University, IIT Digital Media Center, Southern Illinois University, Loyola University Center for Information Management and Technology, UIC Center for Research in Information Management, Homeboyz Interactive, Inner City Computing Society, GSLIS/Prairienet, Northern Illinois Center for Adaptive Technology, Southlake Policy Center, Midwest Technology Access Group.

Layton Olson is a Chicago attorney with over 30 years of experience in representing tax exempt and community development groups and in government relations advocacy in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Working with a cooperative of experienced and new groups, he helped put together the Illinois Community Technology Consortium, where he serves as chair of the Sustainability (fundraising and government relations) committee.

Post a comment

Remember personal info?

* Denotes required field.