Arthur J. Harvey
|Cambria County PA's
Civic Action Network
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.
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
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
For More Information
Check our project informational site located at www.pitt.edu/~comreach/CAN or http://continuing-ed9.upj.pitt.edu/can/
for more details. You may also visit the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Link-to-Learn
Infrastructure Investment site at www.testbeds.iup.edu/invest/awards/97040.html
to view an outline of the project. www.CIVICACTION.org
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.