Community ICT projects: do they really work? Reflections from the West End Connect project one year on.
Partridge, Helen L., McAllister, Lynn, & Hallam, Gillian C. (2007) Community ICT projects: do they really work? Reflections from the West End Connect project one year on. In 4th Prato Community Informatics Research Network (CIRN) Conference 2007, Community Informatics--Prospects for Communities and Action, 5-7 November, Prato, Italy. (In Press)
The West End suburb of Brisbane is an example of a socially, culturally and economically diverse community in Australia. The suburb has traditionally been home to Indigenous and migrant populations as well as being a refuge for many of Brisbane’s homeless people. The demographics of this suburb, however, are being significantly altered by new property developments with wealthier residents choosing to move close to the city. West End is rapidly becoming a digitally divided community. In 2004/05, academics from the Queensland University of Technology, worked with staff from the State Library of Queensland and the Ethnics Community Council of Queensland, and members of two West End community groups – the Women’s Ethnic Network and the African Women’s Network on a community Information and Communication Technology (ICT) project. Twelve community members from the groups participated in a ten month project that began with focus groups to discuss how ICT was used in the daily life of participants and what they perceived were their personal training needs and the training needs of the larger community group they represent. Training sessions (i.e. Beginning Email) were delivered based on these focus groups. Three months after the sessions, participants were interviewed about their ongoing feelings with ICT; whether they had shared their training experiences with other community members and what impact they felt the training had on their life. All participants reported that the training had a positive impact on their lives and their community. This paper presents the results of a focus group with the participants one year after their initial training experience to determine what ongoing impact, if any, the training had on their life and their community. The study is limited by its small sample size. Nonetheless, three observations can be noted: Firstly, ICT and ICT training does empower and change people’s lives. Secondly, ICT training for community groups should be provided via specialized learning environments that will allow the group members to learn and grow at their own pace and style. Thirdly, ICT training that directly involves only a small number of community members can still have considerable impact on the larger community group through shared narratives and support by the training participants with the other community members. Drawing upon the researcher’s experience of conducting the West End Connect project from beginning to end (and beyond), and having consulted the existing literature in the field of ICT projects, the following literature based recommendations (or is that predictions?) for future community ICT projects are offered: (i) community ICT projects should identify and utilize ‘communities of practice’; (ii) community ICT projects should be inspired to be community ICT initiatives; and, (iii) community ICT projects should use community leaders or educators.
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