Summer 2003

Steve Wright: Community Technology Is Rarely about the Technology
by anonymous

Steve Wright

Steve Wright was a high school teacher and administrator for ten years, and has been at as the Program and Technical Director for a little over two years. “And I did a couple other things in between,” he says.

Current Work

My work with centers on community media. As I see it, there are two trends that make this work particularly important and immediate. First, the conglomeration of American media in the hands of a very few corporations has substantively locked individuals and communities out. The information that we get through the major corporate channels is run through an economic filter. Human stories and diverse opinions do not get heard. The second trend is the growth of technology and technology users to the point where it is now possible to produce quality media within a community for a local or a broader audience.

Specifically, has provided small community media grants to youth and community development organizations and then followed those grants with training and in person assistance to create quality, relevant media. To date, most of the work that has been produced falls in the youth media category. But, this is the easy part. The real goal of this work is to find audiences for the media. To do this we have built a web portal ( where much of this media is being streamed. It is our intention for this portal to become increasingly dynamic where content can be self-published and commented on by a broad audience.

Additionally, we are working with a group of community organizations in San Francisco to encourage our municipal leaders to hold Comcast accountable to the residents of San Francisco. This work has taken the form of community information meetings, testimony before the board of supervisors and convening of community media organizations to plan festivals and to trade resources.


Political will:
Community Media is inherently political, and I am not necessarily referring to the content. The process by which an individual can be heard is a political process. To create a truly vibrant community media environment, the municipality must be involved and active in advocating this idea to the city’s cable provider. Many city leaders need to be educated about the benefit of taking this position. In many communities, cable companies are the sole or primary providers of television AND broadband. Broadband connectivity over cable is regulated in a way that gives cable companies a lot of latitude to filter or “favor” content. It is important that the community interests are reflected in the cable company’s decisions. Additionally, funders must have the vision to support community media projects even if the content is not supportive of their worldview. Democracy and free speech are perilously intertwined.

CTC role in Community Development:
While this is a challenge, it is also the most exciting part about our field right now. CTCs are growing from their foundation as public access facilities into two additional tracks that I can see: 1) technology assistance providers to other non-profits and 2) social change organizations that effectively use technology. (This is also demonstrated in the CTCs as Catalysts for Community Change study done for the Ford Foundation.) Because of this development, CTCs are now finding themselves convening neighborhood residents with other public and private agencies for purposes like creating community media or other civic engagement reasons. While this is a logical extension of a CTC’s technological expertise and community trust, it is a new role for many organizations.

I think both of these challenges can be summed up in the idea that community technology is very rarely about the technology.

The Rewards

The opportunity to work directly with a broad range of people to help facilitate their vision for their communities is extremely rewarding.

Some Words of Advice

I guess I have different advice depending on who is asking. For intermediaries or funders, the most valuable lesson I have learned is to get out of the way. The mistakes that I have made have been around pushing too hard on my agenda and not listening well enough to the people who provide the direct services to the community. Due diligence is critical, but once you have found an organization that you trust and you believe to be effective, let them do the work.

For Community Technology or Community Development folks, my advice is to seek out partners that that have complimentary competencies. The technological expertise that exists in CTCs is, in my opinion, under-utilized by other social change organizations. In a world where technology is more prevalent and more powerful, CTCs can position themselves to provide a whole new level of access—access to the ability to publish, the ability to be heard. This is also a very interesting social entrepreneurship opportunity. CTCs can provide training, web hosting, technical assistance, even connectivity to other community non-profits. If not for income, these services can be provided as a way to offset the costs of broadband (T1) connectivity, high-end technology or professional development.

Looking Ahead

What the future holds is more of the same. The ability to create media will continue to be easier and the corporate media outlets will continue to work to have their content seen above all other. I see a movement within the CTC community to provide access to the ability to publish, via cable TV and the Internet. This will be achieved through civic partnership with community and city leaders, with public access cable providers and with other social change non-profits who need increased exposure.

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