Re-imagining the Internet: Lessons from Our 2015 Seed Grantees

In 2015, the Detroit Community Technology Project and the Open Technology Institute initiated the Community Technology Partnership to provide seed grants to 11 global civil society organizations that are using digital infrastructure to strengthen their communities. We worked with each of the grantees throughout 2015 to adapt the community technology practices we developed in Detroit within these global contexts.

We are excited to report back on the best practices and lessons learned from this international work! From community radio stations to youth-built infrastructure and pop-up networks for large festivals, these projects have approached community technology in innovative and collaborative ways.

The 11 organizations that were awarded seed grants are:

  • AlterMundi, Argentina
  • Alternative Solutions For Rural Communities, Chin State, Myanmar
  • Collective of Community Radio and TV in North Kivu (CORACON), Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Falanster, Belarus
  • Fantsuam Foundation, Kafanchan, Nigeria
  • School of Computing University of Namibia (UNAM) and Glowdom Educational Foundation (GEF), Connecting Eenhana, Namibia
  • Janastu, COW (Community Owned Wireless) for Devarayanadurga, India
  • Maria Luisa Ortiz Cooperative (CMLO), Mulukuku Micronet, Nicaragua
  • Nuvem, Fumaça Data Springs, Brazil
  • Radio Maendeleo, Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Santa Unipessoal, Maubisse, Timor-Leste

zine
Diagram of CowMesh wireless network from (Re)Building Technology Zine Vol. 2

Community Technology Retrospective: 2015 Seed Grants Report

At the beginning of this year we released the report, Community Technology Retrospective: 2015 Seed Grants. In this report you can learn about the unique purposes and goals of each seed grantee, our grantmaking process and proposal review criteria, and find interactive resources such as a project goals and metrics worksheet and monthly reflection questions.

Read the Report

(Re)Building Technology Zine Volume 2

In addition to the report, we produced a zine, (Re)Building Technology Zine Volume 2, which is a compilation of practices and stories from the 11 global community technology grantees, including "10 Community Network Lessons," facilitation exercises, diagrams of the network designs, and more! We hope you can use the zine as an educational tool to inform your own community technology projects.

rebuilding technology zine

Purchase a copy of the zine on the AMP store or download the pdf.

Read the “10 Community Network Lessons” from the zine in full below!

10 COMMUNITY NETWORK LESSONS

Based on the successes and lessons of our projects and partner projects, we offer the following suggestions:

  1. Community networks should be led and built by the people they intend to serve. Too often outsiders initiate projects to help a local community build a network. Outsiders can serve as supplemental technical support, or provide other expertise, but should not initiate or lead a project.
  2. Begin projects with open, participatory community meetings, where everyone can be involved in the initial planning and learning. Shared ownership and responsibility are best built from the first moments of a project.
  3. Focus on the community process at least as much as the end result. The promise of community networks is only met when they are actually built and governed using an inclusive process. How are users becoming leaders or experts? How are people engaged in the decision making process?
  4. Are you providing a service (as an internet service provider), or organizing people to build infrastructure? Either model is valid, but it is best to be clear about the goal, and establish your organization and strategy accordingly.
  5. Choose the simplest technology or even non-tech solution to get the job done. For example, a lot of energy in community wireless has been dedicated to creating open source mesh firmware; however, in some cases a simple point-to-multipoint network will be more resilient and easier for people to understand. Similarly, a community radio station, an outdoor bulletin board, or two-way radio system may fit the need better.
  6. Be sure the project is not technology in search of a problem. A network should not be the goal--but a means to an end. It should be clear that the project serves a critical need articulated by the people most impacted. It is easy for people to get caught up in new technology and never get to the point where the technology is serving its intended function.
  7. Incorporate art, media, music and storytelling. Content is at least as important as the network infrastructure, especially for drawing diverse people into the process and keeping them engaged.
  8. Involve other groups, organizations, and movements even if they seem unrelated. Using a shared visual language and participatory planning process can help involve a wide range of groups.
  9. Invite kids to everything. Similarly, make sure community elders can participate, provide input, and give feedback. Ensuring that the process is accessible to everyone strengthens the project.
  10. Make sure there is a cycle of learning and teaching included in every aspect of the project. Learners becoming teachers will help ensure sustainability

Have you built a wireless network or other digital infrastructure project in your community? Do you have tools or resources to share with us? Email us at communitytech@alliedmedia.org and we can add them to our collective resource kit on Github.