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The Four Levels of Community Networking
llected Resources and Thoughts from the
        2004 National Community Networking conference

          Co-sponsored by the Association for Community Networking

           by Frank Odasz, frank@lone-eagles.com
           AFCN Board member

Smart and Getting Smarter 

Rural communities and urban neighborhoods have innate common sense and are becoming increasingly aware how the specific applications for Internet infrastructure spell the difference between empowerment and wasted investment.

Five years ago we saw a rash of “smart community projects” promoting infrastructure as somehow naturally making communities smarter, which didn’t happen. Today, we’re seeing growing awareness that how we benefit depends on how effectively we employ the collaborative potential and intellectual infrastructure the physical infrastructure makes possible. Visions for what’s possible are beginning to reach a level of maturity beyond the simplistic and naive initial first visions. There is indeed a maturation cycle as communities peer over the back fence to view the successively more advanced and thoughtful applications of their peer communities and neighborhoods.

The Four Levels of Community Networking

Consider the learning curve of communities as the following four levels of Internet community applications.

Level One: Create a community information portal web page to promote the community. 
Presenting your community as you’d like to be seen can include announcing your community as “smart,” connected, and tech- savvy. One or more persons can create a one-way information page on behalf of community and maintain it at minimal cost. It is important for a community to develop the vision for how they’d like to be portrayed, but there’s more to being smart than announcing you are a smart community. Communities are realizing there are costs to not-knowing how to truly be a smart community actively engaging infrastructure at the highest levels possible in every day practice.

Level Two: Creating web pages for all businesses and organizations.
Many communities have encouraged all businesses and organizations to create web pages, but often these are not maintained and are not interactive so the real collaborative potential for ongoing sharing of information and development of new ideas has been minimal. There is a growing awareness that ongoing learning and development of web-based resources and collaboration results in new opportunities.

Level Three: Building a Learning Community
As understanding grows how better collaboration is increasingly instrumental to creating most modern success stories, it is being recognized that smart communities are the result of as many citizens as possible learning new skills to develop this powerful new collaborative capacity. Creating mentor rosters to facilitate sharing of expertise, gathering and posting locally the best online training resources from global sources, developing train-the-trainer peer mentoring incentives, and listing Ecommerce success stories - all serve to upgrade the status quo as to how people understand how they might benefit from Internet infrastructure - by working purposefully to grow their intellectual and collaborative info-structure. Community technology centers focusing on developing online self-directed learning and collaborative skills will logically result in effective online community networks leveraging the efficiencies of online collaboration and online knowledge sharing for everyone.

Level Four: Enlightened Expectations
Kate McMahon, past president of the Rural Telecommunications Congress stated “We all need to understand that the value of a network, and the collaborative capacity of a community, grows with the number of users. There is a big difference between having IT and using it effectively.”  As any knowledge-worker will tell you - global change is accelerating. Internet infrastructure is an accelerator for progress or for disorganization, depending on how it is used. Staying current is the difference between riding the crest of the wave of change, and being overwhelmed as the wave crashes over you. Acknowledging that “less is more” in the age of information overload requires effective collaboration with emphasis on the quality of online summative information. We find ourselves seeking resources that summarize key trends in order to stay current.

We can expect to see digital storytelling of community successes grow as the dynamic by which communities learn from each other which strategies are working and which are not. We can expect to see increasingly inventive ways that communities will demonstrate just how tech-savvy they really are. Consider what story your community would like to tell and how this story can begin to become your template for collaborative action. Communities will see that by sharing their innovations with others, we’ll all have access to all our knowledge. Creating “communities of communities” will become an important survival strategy.

AFCN can begin to be a true community of communities - for collecting and sharing these types of success stories...in increasingly advanced digital formats to maintain the evolving standard for sharing “the best a rural community or urban neighborhood can do for itself given modern infrastructure following the best models available.”

Stories of one developing model community, examples of digital storytelling, new resources from Lone Eagle Consulting, and captured great quotes from the recent Connect Idaho conference are at http://lone-eagles.com/connect-idaho.htm for your review.

Best Resources Collected from the National Community Networking Conference, Dec. 7-9, 03.

Dr. Ann Bishop, AFCN board member (abishop@uiuc.edu ) presented the easiest community network startup model yet developed where you check boxes for what community networking features you want and you’re ready to go. This is a great place to introduce the use of multiple collaborative tools to build collaborative capacity. We can expect to see a natural evolution of this type of easy-to-use community network incubator “The Community Inquiry Lab” at http://inquiry.uiuc.edu/cil

Ann’s powerpoint contained other URLs such as:

The Institute for Community Research
Research Partnerships for Healthy Communities

The Center for Urban Research and Learning

Appreciative Inquiry and Community Development

SisterNet: Participatory Design
A model project using the community inquiry lab above.

Puerto Rican Community Projects
This page describes how this group is using the community inquiry lab.

Another example of a library group using the community inquiry lab

Lastly, if you’ve not seen Ann’s longtime Prairienet project which is one of the most developed community networks on the web take a long look and prepare to be impressed. Over 1000 community organizations have received assistance to create their own web presence.


The University of Michigan School of Information has a Community Information Corps internship program

National Service Learning Clearinghouse

United Way’s Volunteerism Support Resources

Volunteer Match - Get Out, Do Good.

Jon Lebkowsky and Ana Sisnett (Austin Freenet www.austinfree.net)  presented on new forms of individual and group self-publishing and collaboration:

Web Logs: http://blogger.com  http://austinblogger.com   http://crimsonblog.com

Ana’s personal use of web logs is at http://mangotree.typepad.com

And on group collaboration systems called Wiki’s http://wikipedia.com

Austin has a new city wireless network at http://austinwirelesscity.org

JulieFesenmaier, fesenmai@uiuc.edu, from the University of Illinois, presented on their new online community development assessment and evaluation tools and developing online toolkit. Anyone planning assessments, evaluations, or surveys will find these resources invaluable! http://www.communitydevelopment.uiuc.edu Watch for new resources soon at http://www.communitydevelopment.uiuc.edu/toolkit/    Julie is a member of the Community Development Society http://www.comm-dev.org

Gary Chapman presented on lessons learned from the TIF community networking initiative. A creative community index is being developed as well. See the Telecommunication and Information Policy Initiative site for these reports and more http://www.utexas.edu/research/tipi  

Last but not least,  was Tom Tate’s (ttate@reesuda.gov ) presentation on how 4-H youth are creating GIS maps for their communities and training adults on Internet applications. Tom is the USDA’s national youth leader for 4-H and also their Ecommerce guru. His web page is http://www.reeusda.gov/ecs/ace.htm and the 4-H GIS info and tech-teams info is at http://www.4-h.org (click on Technology).

Lone Eagle Update

“Authenticating Rural Internet and Broadband Benefits: A Reality Check”
http://lone-eagles.com/wings.htm Written prior to a keynote for an Australian government conference presented 10/06/03. The 12-day trip report including visits to multiple Aboriginal communities slated to receive broadband is at  http://lone-eagles.com/sparks.htm

A recent chapter on the history of online learning and community networking from a rural perspective. http://lone-eagles.com/history.htm To be published by Educational Technology Publications, 2004. Edited by Greg Kearsley (gkearsley@sprynet.com) as part of
 "Online Learning: Personal Reflections on the Transformation of Education"

The biggest news is the $3 million dollar grant that was just funded here in Montana.
"Montana Choice" will engage Lone Eagle Consulting to provide online Ecommerce
training to individuals with disabilities to generate self-employment skills. I'll be working
with this project for the next five years. Two Native American reservations are involved.
The press release description is below titled "Homesteading the Ecommerce Frontier."
The grant summary is at

Homesteading the Ecommerce Frontier

The Montana Job Training Partnership, through a new five-year grant from the US Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, will be sponsoring two-hour multimedia presentations in a dozen rural communities statewide titled
Making the Living You Want, Living Wherever You Want.

This timely Montana Choice project addresses the needs of Montanans to understand the many ways they can earn income through Internet Ecommerce and Telework strategies. One out of ten U.S. workers today is employed through telework. Ecommerce opens a global market and can start with something as simple as Ebay, an online auction site. Our rural communities are suffering out-migration of our youth, representing the loss of our future citizens and the vitality of our rural way of life. To determine our own destinies we have the opportunity to quickly learn the rural ecommerce and telework strategies which are already working for other rural citizens.

This project is redefining workforce education by addressing systemic change and is summarized at

Everyone interested in the latest opportunities to learn to use the Internet for self-employment and entrepreneurship is invited to attend. Individuals with disabilities interested in self-employment will learn of offers for exciting free online training opportunities. K12 educators, parents, and students will find exciting opportunities for youth entrepreneurship and online learning.

The workshop presenter will be Frank Odasz, President of Lone Eagle Consulting. The online course A Beginner s Guide to Profiting from the Internet requires minimal computer experience. Everyone interested is invited to take this $39 online course at http://lone-eagles.com/ecom.htm 

Extensive free entrepreneurial and community-building resources are available at

Native American and Alaskan Native Internet empowerment resources are at

Lone Eagle Consulting's mission is to provide the very best fast track online Internet training possible for rural, remote, and indigenous learners.  http://lone-eagles.com

 "The greatest freedom one can give to another is how to become a self-sufficient learner and earner, via the Internet. This site is dedicated to those who lend their wings to others."


Measurable Outcomes and Stories to Tell Within Six Months!

A dozen rural communities associated with the four Montana Choice project One Stops in Cutbank, Butte, Wolf Point, and Hamilton will receive motivational two-hour presentations in early February to recruit the first wave of clients interested in using the Internet for self-employment. By mid-February over fifty persons will be engaged in the ten two-hour online lessons covering an overview of ecommerce and telework possibilities and resources.

Telementoring Opportunities

In mid-April, hands-on essential Internet skills workshops will be conducted at each of the four One Stops where electronic resumes and web authoring skills will be developed. Those completing the ten Ecommerce lessons and mastering the essential skills will be invited to mentor others online to build up their online resumes with actual telementoring experience. Paid mentoring employment for the most effective mentors is one goal of the Montana Choice project.

The Montana Community-Builders Challenge

The first one or more communities with ten persons finishing the ten ecommerce lessons and the essential Internet skills workshop will be considered for continuing lessons to create a local community network where they will learn to develop community content themselves as a base for creating new income opportunities in partnership with the Lone Eagle Self-employment Incubator at http://lone-eagles.oldcolo.com . Pioneering people-centered knowledge networks are the means by which we ll all have access to all our knowledge to combat information overload and to preserve our cherished rural lifestyle. Engaged in fun, social, learning, we're doing for ourselves, together!