Kara Harris
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Terry  Grunwald
Cary Williams
Lauren-Glenn Davitian
Seongcheol Kim
Dirk Koning
Sue Buske
Autumn Labbe-Renault
Pierre Clark
Fred I. Williams
Kara Harris

The Dawson Community Website Project in Austin, TX  

Kara Harris  is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. She will receive a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and an MBA in Information Management in 2001.

Kara Harris

It was 10 am on a Saturday morning in early March. Six people had gathered in the portable classroom at Dawson Elementary in South Austin to talk about connecting their community. The six were representative of the neighborhood association, a local business, the elementary school, and the neighborhood recreation center. They had never met before, although they all live and work in the same community.

As they sat around a table in chairs made for preschoolers staring at a prototype website, their minds didn't jump to issues of universal service or community access. They talked about ideas, their collective lack of computer experience, and how they could work with each other to let the neighborhood know what was happening.

Two weeks later, three groups returned for the first crack at the website. Volunteers from the Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network (MAIN) were on hand to assist the groups in creating their website. Kathleen, the neighborhood branch librarian, brought information on library activities and book donations. She talked to Jim who was helping organize the neighborhood garage sale and discovered that they had something in common; Jim had extra books and Kathleen needed donations. Connections like these prove that technology brings people together in more ways than e-mail or applications. By the end of that second session, Kathleen, who had never dreamed of creating a webpage, was moving pictures, formatting text, and learning how to pass this information on. To be able to take someone from the community like Kathleen and show them the tools they can use and help them realize their capacity to create, knowing they will continue to create, is overwhelming.

The key to universal service policy is that it must provide both access to the technology, and the ability to use it. While private industry has predominantly been tasked with providing the pipeline, communities must be responsible for the content. Over the past nine months, through the efforts of the Austin Learning Academy and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the Dawson neighborhood now has the chance to create content and they're taking advantage of it.

So far, three organizations have posted information to the site, and three others will be added soon. Eventually, other neighborhood entities that already have websites will also be linked to the site to provide a comprehensive listing of neighborhood information. You can visit the Dawson neighborhood at www.main.org/DNA/.

The Dawson Neighborhood website is not a masterpiece of design skill; it's not intended to be. It is the digital identity of a low-income neighborhood in South Austin, like so many neighborhoods across the country, that with the help of community based organizations, finally has a voice.