Jon Darling
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Arthur J. Harvey
Barry Forbes
Fred Johnson
Mary Lester
Jon Darling

Cambria County PA's
Civic Action Network
Jon Darling , Professor of Sociology and Director of Community Outreach at the University of Pittsburgh, is director of the CAN management team which also includes Laura Bodenschatz, a community organizer with AmeriCorp and Lisa Matson, a computer systems expert from Dalmark Systems, Inc.
Jon Darling

The Civic Action Network (CAN) is a new social and electronic community network developed to serve the largely rural Cambria County, including the City of Johnstown - a city still officially defined by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as economically distressed -- and soon ten counties of rural and urban southwest central Pennsylvania. Thanks to start-up funding from a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Link-to-Learn Infrastructure Development Award, CAN is launching during the spring and summer of 1999.

CAN seeks to reduce resource and information fragmentation and other barriers to progress by connecting citizens to economic and community development tools and resources for individual growth. This network is free to the public and is accessible through any computer linked to the Internet (at home, in the office, at school, in libraries, in senior citizen and community centers, and at two CAN Community Responsibility Centers). The network leverages community resources (including businesses, schools, government, neighborhoods, and individuals) in order to facilitate individual growth, community and economic development, and other positive social change via computer technology and social interaction.

Development of the CAN project has been ongoing since June 1998. During the past eleven months, work has been focused on developing community based information resources. Consequently, we have already developed a high community profile and important stakeholders across many social constituencies.

In October 1998, and January and March 1999, we held numerous prototype review sessions at our Civic Responsibility Center site in downtown Johnstown. The prototype review sessions provided a large number of individuals from across the region with a preview of the Electronic Volunteer Center, the Electronic Community Calendar, and the Electronic Community Resource Directory. Following the sessions, we scheduled on-line pilot tests of these database components, working with a manageable number of organizations to test the functionalities and user friendliness of the database. Participating piloting partners entered real data into the database and carefully maintained detailed workbooks to chronicle their experience with the database entries. Immediately after the pilot test periods, we met again with each of the piloting partners to gather feedback allowing us to identify and fix database errors and other problems, and allowing us to gather suggestions for improving the site. By April 1999, we had held approximately 45 public sessions to guide database development. Collectively, these sessions involved approximately 450 individuals from across a wide spectrum of community infrastructure. This approach to knowledge engineering has proved to be invaluable to the project, and it has resulted in a high-quality, powerful, and very sophisticated database that represents a significant tool to support economic and community development as well as to support personal development for citizens in the region.

Where Are We Right Now?

The rapid prototype product production we have followed has been extraordinarily ambitious. The database is almost complete; however, it is not yet ready for a public release.

We have important work to finish related, for example, to developing database documentation, policy manuals, fixing java script errors, adjusting screen language, reviewing and changing site flow, and several other very important database functionalities. We are currently working to develop a time-effort-cost plan for completing the design work that remains, and to complete the planning needed for opening (in June) the Civic Responsibility Center public lab in Johnstown and the Community Resource Center site at NORCAM in Barnesboro. These sites will serve as free public access labs and places where people can receive training and support for using the CAN database. CAN is also affiliated with existing programs that offer at least an additional 75 free public access computers in community libraries, public housing projects, neighborhood community centers, and in area schools.

Public Launch Coming Soon

This summer CAN will first launch a sophisticated searchable Electronic Community Calendar and a county-wide Electronic Community Yellow Pages catalog of business and community services listings. Soon after the first launch, the CAN will deploy a sophisticated Electronic Volunteer Center, the first of its kind in the region, allowing volunteers to identify opportunities and service-learning experiences that meet both their needs and the needs of the community. Later in the summer, we will also deploy a powerful on-line interactive Electronic Community Services Directory, which is based on a nationally recognized typology of community services. Plans for the second year of growth include the development of a robust academic internship opportunities database.

For More Information

Check our project informational site located at or for more details. You may also visit the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Link-to-Learn Infrastructure Investment site at to view an outline of the project. is expected to be open to the public this summer.

The Civic Action Network is a partnership effort of the Greater Johnstown School District, Concurrent Technologies Corporation, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and the Link-to-Learn Program.