The Idaho Ecommerce Homesteaders Cooperative
"Doing for Ourselves, Together"
An Education and Economic Development Partnership
by Frank Odasz
Lone Eagle Consulting
Idahos rural communities are at risk for their continued survival. The immediate need exists to revitalize the pioneering spirit that originally created them to meet the serious challenges of their very existence. Rural Ecommerce strategies are needed to combat the impacts of a rapidly shifting economy. This proposal will create a proactive cooperative to help communities and individual families quickly learn how to stake out their new Ecommerce homesteads, identify niche global markets, and work collaboratively to become "sustainable learning communities." Unique training strategies and evaluation measurements will produce high value outcomes in the short term and will demonstrate a replicable model of fast-track measurable empowerment for rural communities in the long term.
An initial community networking pilot project is proposed to demonstrate a practical process by which citizens can learn to use the Internet to help one another build local human capacity as a natural resource for a stronger, more sustainable "learning" community. The opportunity exists to showcase new ways people can learn to work together to develop social and economic value. This project will demonstrate an effective fast-start community empowerment model that can scale quickly to meet the needs of all rural Idaho communities.
Homesteading this new electronic frontier requires more than just bringing faster Internet to communities. Communities need to understand what skills, practices, and levels of commitment are required to best utilize the potential of the Internet at whatever speeds are available. New broadband satellite solutions provide an immediate cost-effective, if perhaps short-term, high-speed Internet solution. Using new satellite and wireless solutions, international rural communities will soon be on an equal competitive level with Idahos communities. Satellite systems can serve to create the aggregate demand necessary to attract long-term fiber optic broadband solutions.
Wireless systems can deliver faster access than existing copper wire infrastructure to multiple homes and businesses at very reasonable costs. Pilot community projects are needed to validate these affordable satellite and wireless solutions.
Note: The word "regional" in much of the Southern Hemisphere means the same as "rural" in the U.S. and much of the Northern Hemisphere. The version of this article which uses the term regional instead of rural is at http://lone-eagles.com/montpelier2.htm
Addressing the Need
There is extensive and rapidly growing evidence that Internet infrastructure alone will not transform communities. To justify the investment in Internet infrastructure, measurement methods for defining and evaluating success are fundamentally necessary. There is an urgent need for defining the social engineering methodologies required to create measurably effective community networks. This process begins with imparting a realistic vision for participation to citizens and organizations regarding their specific roles, ongoing activities, and highest value applications. Specific short-term action agendas are required to validate in the minds of citizens the potential of Internet infrastructure for building collaborative capacity in support of the social and economic sustainability of the community.
Most of America's heartland rural communities are in economic decline, are losing population, and are questioning their sustainability. Due in part to their location, rural communities risk falling behind a changing world economy. The urgent need exists to identify a solution specific to rural communities' unique needs for full application of Internet communications capabilities to help them keep current.
Within the greater community, the need exists to bring together the specific sub-communities around a common purpose: the educational community, the economic development community, the healthcare community, and the faith-based and community-based organizations, as examples. As the community vision becomes initially tangible and the first measurable outcomes win positive approval, the process of growing a more and more robust community vision accelerates.
This process requires social mechanisms for encouraging and sustaining citizen participation. Social recognition is important and justified for those who contribute their time and content. Strategies such as friendly competitions can focus the community on identifying the highest quality resources and Internet applications that produce local benefit. Ongoing community goal-setting and self-assessment are fundamentally necessary if forward progress is to be achieved.
An Inevitable Reality for Communities Hoping to be Competitive
As broadband becomes increasingly commonplace, communities are beginning to compete on the demonstrated talents of an inspired and motivated citizenry. Visible demonstrations are a selling point for a community's ability to learn, innovate, and grow their cooperative vision.
The vigor of our communities, and in fact our nation, will depend on creating motivated lifelong learners, proactive citizens who are value-driven, innovative entrepreneurs (using Internet), skilled collaborators, and citizens who are both consumers and producers - both learners and teachers, all the time.
In addition, strategies will be proven which provide the highest citizen motivation to generate the highest levels of community benefit, requiring the least investment of time, money, and prerequisite literacy. Public measurements of success are designed to become a competitive measure validating those communities who most effectively combine caring and connectivity with common sense.
Methodology for the Project "Kick-off"
The "Ecommerce Homesteaders Cooperative" begins with a series of project "kick-off" presentations for the key communities, within the greater community, presented by Frank Odasz, president of Lone Eagle Consulting. Through this presentation series, the whole community will be shown specific ways to demonstrate how their various constituents synergistically identify a vision, create initial web-based content, and clarify specific applications to benefit the community. An initial community-wide presentation will present a broad overview for both the social and economic benefits on the Internet. The next step will be a special presentation for community leaders to review the issues and recommended solutions. Separate presentations will be offered specifically for businesspersons on how they can engage in Ecommerce and for aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to create new businesses.
During these presentations a very realistic and doable plan for identifying and realizing the highest levels of benefit possible will be presented. Proposed is a plan of engagement with a minimum of one major community event per month, but with the anticipation of many more hosted by the participating organizations. Low-cost, short-term community event models and community Internet awareness competition models will be offered to existing community organizations and Internet service providers to allow them to sponsor significant contributions in web-based content and community spirit without major financial commitments. The highly replicable nature of these events and competitions will prove to be self-sustaining.
The theme for this "bottom-up" Ecommerce Homesteaders Cooperative is "building a learning community" by showing how to get people productively involved. The degree of benefit the community will realize from Internet infrastructure depends ultimately on how well people have learned to apply the infrastructure. A unique outcomes measurement approach will provide the community with ongoing public self-assessment measures of its progress creating a true community network. The authenticity of this community network will be determined by the public self-assessment measurements of citizen participation, new skills and content development, and new entrepreneurial start-ups. Citizens will be asked for a minimum time commitment in return for free participation in workshops. The social recognition for individuals' participation is projected to be self-reinforcing and ultimately sustainable by the community.
The Ecommerce Homesteaders Cooperative begins with co-authoring the press release or guest editorial, which will be released as the final project component at the end of this project "web-raising" of a model community network. This public document is specifically designed to inspire communities to imagine what is possible when a community makes the commitment to do what needs to be done. In addition, full documentation in story form of the planned activities will allow Montpelier to literally "write the book" on how a community can pull together to bootstrap its own sustainability. As the original vision and story become reality through the actions of the community, there is a real possibility that this project can evolve into a cottage industry by which local citizens provide for-profit online mentoring services for citizens in other communities seeking to replicate Montpelier's success.
Draft of a Potential Press Release or Guest Editorial
The community economic development leaders held a meeting in May 2002 to seek participants for a community economic development "Web-raising" initiative. Supported by rural economic development initiative funding, local citizens and organizations created an innovative plan to work together to explore how to realize the untapped potential of the Internet for building a sustainable "learning" community.
Multiple community events were held to generate community Internet awareness, both offline and online. Citizens learned how to leverage the Internet to the benefit of all. As people became aware of what they could learn and share from the Internet, many new home-based Ecommerce start-up businesses were created. Knowledge of replicable Ecommerce opportunities were shared, excitement grew, and the stories of successes and new initiatives exploded.
Remarkably, over 200 citizens volunteered to offer their expertise online as topical mentors. Their collective expertise is offered to the community through the community Mentorship Database. Rapid sharing of new skills created new collaborations, resulting in new dramatically enhanced abilities of the community to share new knowledge and continually innovate using the Internet.
Furthermore, over 250 resource web pages were created, reflecting the best Internet content gathered by hundreds of citizens, totaling thousands of hours mining the Internet for the best-of-the-best resources by topic. The entire community benefited from easy access to the highest quality resources, such as replicable Ecommerce success stories. Exciting new jobs were created within the community for those who showcased the quality of their expertise through their volunteered resources.
A dozen community events, including web-based content competitions, were sponsored by local community organizations and businesses. Event sponsors enjoyed significant public relations exposure by creating opportunities for citizens to learn about the potential Internet applications and to show the community new capabilities. The social recognition citizens received served as motivation for sustaining their mentoring and web-based resource contributions.
Proudly, local citizens created an enviable model community through their own spirit of determination, innovation, and generosity. Montpelier plans a new cottage industry providing for-profit online mentoring services for those in other communities seeking to learn how to replicate this outstanding level of success in their own communities.
"Combining caring and connectivity with common sense, and a plan of action, was all it took, citizens later reflected. It was time to take action to assure the sustainability of our community, and we simply did what needed to be done. We were amazed at how rapidly the vision and local innovations developed once we began efficiently sharing new knowledge online within the community."
In summary, this pilot has demonstrated that the Internet offers incredible capabilities and that a community vision for active participation is required to realize its tremendous potential. "We have learned that we can create a revolution at will by accepting that there are great things we can do together using these new tools, and by deciding to prove what We, The People, are capable of!"
The full story narrative of the evolution of Montpeliers Ecommerce Homesteaders Cooperative" will be available online.
A Key Pre-Planning Issue: Expectations Increase with Experience
As people learn more about the possibilities of Internet applications, "enlightened expectations" occur, where new possibilities emerge in the minds of citizens. This is a very real learning process, which needs to be recognized, implemented, and evaluated. Participants of all ages will initially draft short vision statements for how they think a community could use the Internet for self-empowerment, with emphasis on short-term implementation. Flexibility is essential in order to take advantage of insights as the project progresses. These initial visions will most definitely change and grow.
When a participating community has completed this project, success will be measured by the quality of all the web content and service products that have been created that are producing measurable benefit. Montpelier will demonstrate the obvious replicability of its implementation strategy through thorough documentation of the entire project, process, and products.
A key community challenge is the efficiency of the process by which citizens learn the most important Internet skills through short-term, non-threatening self-empowerment learning opportunities - ideally in association with existing community technology centers.
This defined process produces local online content, multimedia communications skills that are routinely used, and a collaborative dynamic that produces visible benefit through improved communications. Only through direct hands-on involvement will the skills and potential of online learning and online collaboration be understood and embraced by the citizens of the community.
Program of Work
Building a Self-Sustaining Learning Community - "Learn to Share"
Through individualized study and cooperative learning experiences both online and in person, participants will become empowered to become first self-directed learners and then to learn to mentor others. A recommended first step that is available is the course, Rural Ecommerce Strategies and Telework Strategies
is an online Internet course designed specifically for non-technical learners as a first online learning experience. This non-credit mastery learning online course offers ten two-hour lessons covering the basic concepts, skills, and trends for rural Ecommerce, Internet entrepreneurship, and Telework employability.
Rural Ecommerce and Telework Strategies
Hands-on activities provide for exploring many of the best Ecommerce and Telework training materials resources, and replicable models available from which it will be easy to determine the best resources for continued self-directed learning.
A certificate of completion will be awarded to those who complete the required assignments for each of the ten lessons. This certification will validate the acquisition of the essential Ecommerce and Telework skills. In addition, it will qualify for employment as paid mentors authorized to mentor others through this course at the rate of $20 per mentee. Certified mentors will be encouraged to create additional online courses for delivery via the Idaho State University College of Technologys customized training program.
This unique program will provide easy mini-lessons for the four most important Ecommerce and community-building Internet skills. The following four skills categories represent the specific skills component for the online Ecommerce course and will be the emphasis for the Ecommerce and Telework Readiness Certification. This empowerment matrix of skills will be available as online lessons such that those first "certified" will become online mentors for those to follow. This skills matrix will initially emphasize independent self-directed Internet learning skills in a classic "western individualist" context and will end with emphasizing how to apply an individuals skills toward the purposeful building and sustaining of rural Idaho communities.
Four Essential Skills for Ecommerce Readiness
Ecommerce Skills Level One Searching Skills
Successive hands-on experiences are presented to build the basic self-directed Internet learning skills for web browsing, cut-and-paste, and using search engines to learn anything from anywhere at any time.
Ecommerce Skills Level Two Creating Ecommerce Web Pages
Learn the basics of web self-publishing skills, creating and posting web pages with text, images, and hyperlinks.
Ecommerce Skills Level Three Email and Listserv Basics
Learn about efficient uses of online collaboration skills. Includes many related resources for advanced learning.
Ecommerce Skills Level Four Building Online communities
Learn about using Internet collaborative tools for teaching, mentoring, group work, relationship-building, and customer support.
Description of the Strategy Behind This Four-Skills Model
Briefly, as Email skills are developed, citizens become more connected to the community. As searching skills are developed, citizens gain the ability to gather resources of benefit to themselves and the community. As basic web-authoring skills are developed, citizens gain the ability to share these resources with the community in a convenient public manner. As mentoring skills are developed, citizens gain the understanding of how to combine email, searching, and web-authoring skills to share knowledge effectively to make a real difference in the lives of others.
Finally, as value is demonstrated, the entrepreneurial potential of instructional entrepreneurship, as well as opportunities for traditional Ecommerce, will become dramatically clear. Whenever citizens achieve their demonstrated Ecommerce skill certifications, web-based recognition of their certification will be publicly displayed on the community Mentorship Database, which will be celebrated as a key measurement of citizen commitment and talent sharing. Local trainers/mentors will become the primary online mentors for local online skills development. Those still working on their certification will be supported by the community trainers as a priority for this community-driven mentoring program. An example mentorship roster is at http://www.vrd.org/locator/alphalist.shtml and mentoring models are listed at http://lone-eagles.com/mentor.htm
One type of participant will be the advanced scout, most likely to be the most motivated youth, who will be supported to learn at his or her own speed. This allows for rapid generation of local expertise. The second type of participant will be a citizen who works at his/her own pace to raise the percentage of the entire community developing skills via the easy-to-understand, self-empowerment matrix. Alert individuals can ideally learn as fast as they want, to scout the frontier, and to become local mentors. Meanwhile, groups can pace themselves to explore the collaborative potential and community-wide adoption of new knowledge-sharing skills.
Two Types of Participants Will Quickly Emerge.
such as creating composite images or advanced web page features, so a barter economy focused on local niche expertise becomes immediately viable. Also, skills such as knowing how to create a digital music sound file and posting it on a web page make better sense to be at least initially represented by someone who has achieved high levels of skill. This creates a role for multiple skills sets among multiple persons, easing the learning overhead of the entire community, while creating motivated local specialists for the higher tiers of skills in digital photography, art, video, and music. The social recognition for their showcased expertise is intended to motivate generous sharing of skills in the short term. The end goal is to create interesting local jobs for local citizens as they demonstrate that their new skills are indeed worth paying for!
Skill Sharing: Many skills don't need to be learned by everyone,
As the march of time is constant, nothing stays the same; a community is always changing, either growing or decaying. It is fundamental to every community's future sustainability to decide whether citizens will be motivated on the one hand to contribute to the growth of their communities, or on the other hand must acknowledge and suffer the cost to the community for their lack of contribution. With a core community group of more than 20 persons, participation in a measurable program would be required in return for participants receiving the free specific "Community Builder" training. The program will register those citizens willing to contribute their time to help others and will ask their help to record specific progress in return for free skills training, mentoring, and participation in project events. While this commitment is non-binding, this project will document the degree to which all individuals have contributed to the good of the community. Baseline information would be assessed in a simple pre-test and post-test survey format.
A Community Engagement Program with Explicit Outcomes
Consider: Community is the sum of what we give to each other.
Community consists of those to which we give of our time and talents.
Community Internet Awareness Events
The ideal community self-empowerment vision is that once Internet access becomes available, inspired citizens will immediately realize their opportunities by becoming self-directed lifelong learners, proactive entrepreneurs, and innovative skilled collaborators creating new social and economic value for their communities. Community Internet awareness activities/events can include a multitude of activities. Below is a list intended to stimulate the creativity of the local citizens:
Note: These sample event descriptions and others are listed in The Bootstrap Academy
: Local economic development organizations could sponsor a simple competition for the best web-based listing of Internet entrepreneurial successes that could be replicated locally. Web-based instructional opportunities related to Ecommerce would be emphasized. Winning entries would be judged as those best designed for appropriate use by local citizens. This strategy will quickly produce widespread participation creating local web-based content to benefit the entire community and sets the stage for yet greater local initiatives. See the "Ecommerce Start-up Training Resources" at http://lone-eagles.com/entrelinks.htm.
One Competition Example
The themes of "Fun, Social, Learning" and "Youth-Driven Multimedia Storytelling" will leverage the opportunities to diffuse techno-anxiety barriers and bring people together around a common cause. The highest initial motivation will be achieved by sharing the social fun of learning exciting new technologies such as digital cameras, digital art, and digital music. See also http://lone-eagles.com/capacity.htm
Extensive resources to support these programs have evolved from the long history of community education presentations and workshops by Lone Eagle Consulting. See the following:
Lone Eagle Consulting http://lone-eagles.com/
Building Learning Communities Resources http://lone-eagles.com/teled.htm
Rural Community Empowerment Resources http://lone-eagles.com/ruralempowerment.htm
Hosting Rural Ecommerce Success Stories and an Electronic Newsletter
It is important to have an infrastructure that works for the community, whether that be local dial up, fiber optics or satellite options. Community participants will build their readiness to justify the costs for advanced infrastructure options.
Simplification of Telecommunications Infrastructure
and Community Technology Training Center Options
Some challenges that should be examined are listed below:
* Provide simplified cost and performance specifics for satellite, wireless,
cable-modems, fiber, and other Internet infrastructure alternatives.
* Provide simplified definitions, models, and best practices for community networking.
* Provide Email hosting, virus scanning, remote network monitoring, remote
network maintenance and more.
Complexity of issues facing rural communities include obtaining the necessary physical infrastructure, maintenance, assessing appropriate training required to deliver specific tangible benefits, and the appropriate community applications to justify the financial investment in physical infrastructure. These can be investigated with attention to the following:
New Economical Satellite High-Speed Internet Solutions
Information is now available on new alternatives for bringing high speed Internet to your community right away instead of waiting until expensive wired solutions for high-speed Internet finally reach your community and become affordable. For example, Fletcher Brown of Tamsco Corporation, http://www.tamsco.com, offers affordable satellite Internet and wireless solutions for communities and businesses. PH: 406-883-8500. Email: email@example.com A single high-speed 2-way satellite system can be shared with multiple businesses or locations via new wireless technologies to keep costs down. If you already have broadband access, the new wireless systems may be the least expensive means for distribution to homes and businesses. Wireless systems are capable of far faster speeds than existing phonelines. Free infrastructure assessments are available on request.
Satellite systems can present an immediate short-term solution providing Internet at high speeds at an affordable cost, particularly when costs are shared among multiple businesses and locations. When the preferred wired solutions become affordable and available - swapping over will be an easy task.
A statewide or rural multi-community initiative could use satellite Internet systems to initiate broadband access and widespread Ecommerce training programs without delay. Communities worldwide will soon become aware of this opportunity and there are real risks in waiting too long to begin the community training learning curve.
Partnerships for Awareness Raising to Generate Citizen Engagement
The Ecommerce Homesteaders' Cooperative is multi-faceted program with the goal of developing rural sustainable communities through citizens who have become self-directed learners. There will be many individuals and groups who will become partners in the shaping of how a community will look. Some examples of the potential partners are listed below:
Measurements Are the Key to Success
Like the United Way fund-raising thermometer, as citizens develop their skills and participate by mentoring and creating web-based content, visible progress will be displayed on both an online and offline. An initial goal of a specific number of contributing citizens would be set for this project. Record keeping will be volunteered via email, or via web-based interactive forms, as the specific means by which participants can demonstrate their support of the community and the success of this project. The project also serves as a public showcase for demonstration of high levels of community commitment, cooperation, and collaboration.
A Communitys Ongoing Self-Assessment Measures for Public Display
- The number of participating citizens with Email capabilities
- The number of participating citizens with searching skills
- The number of participating citizens hosting simple resource web pages
- The number of participating citizens volunteering as online mentors
- The number of local Ecommerce web pages
- The names and number of contributing businesses and community organizations
- The number of community events and the names of the sponsoring organizations
Additional Suggestions for Measures of Community Success
Initial and ongoing measurements are necessary for tracking availability of personal computers and Internet access, and how often citizens utilize specific public access equipment and community technology centers. Records are kept before, during, and at the end of the training period by citizens as a means of measuring project progress. Loaner laptops with leasing plans and recycling used computers are recommended as economical options.
Assessing the change in methods of use, and access, can showcase how many citizens purchased home computers as a result of being motivated by the training, or became motivated enough to seek out regular access to public access points. Shared use of home systems is also something to monitor with social recognition given to those who help provide access and mentoring to others.
Simple surveys will be used to monitor the initial and ongoing levels of self-confidence, motivation, and vision. Note that this overall project will indeed depend on the effectiveness of motivating citizens for sustained participation during the training period and beyond.
To finish the project with accurate measurements of increased motivation, self-confidence, and vision of the potential benefits could be important for future fund-raising. Demonstrating the effectiveness of the project's strategies for engaging citizens in producing tangible outcomes will inspire the reliability potential for future similar programs in other communities.
The project will begin with a defined number of initial "Kick-off" presentations followed by single monthly community events, which will be publicly recorded with the sponsors, number of attendees, measurable content outcomes, and the local assessment of the effectiveness of each event. Included will be a brief note on any new short-term or ongoing resulting collaborations and the creative events which proved to be the successful incentives for these new collaborations.
The value of the public relations benefits are expected to far exceed minor financial investments for sponsoring additional community events and web-content competitions; thus sustainability for sponsoring future events is viable. Furthermore, the ability to publicize many additional "community-generated" events will be important for future community fund-raising.
Exciting activities begin with the very first event of the project. Stories and anecdotes will be publicly shared on the project web site, testimonials documented, and new innovations and initiatives recorded and published appropriately.
The narrative of the progressively greater interest and innovation demonstrated by the community in expanding upon the original project plan can make a compelling story about how citizens can learn to participate directly in leveraging the public good - electronically. This story will ultimately be each communitys most powerful promotional vehicle for the "for-profit" online mentoring services offered to other communities.
Simple surveys will be used to measure the initial skills of all project participants, and subsequently, the new skills that were developed. Records will be kept on public "electronic portfolios" on who mentored whom (both offline and online), what skills were shared, and documentation of the effectiveness of their mentorship.
Elegant documentaries of the successes developing new skills across the community - and particularly the success of local mentors in developing new skills in others - will be a key motivator for mentors by providing them with social recognition for their generosity as well as their effectiveness. Future employability opportunities for offering "for-profit" mentoring services will require proof of one's mentoring effectiveness as documented by their "electronic portfolios."
The need exists to demonstrate those community applications which best justify the considerable financial investments required to provide community-wide broadband, and to distinguish these from the best applications of low-bandwidth Internet access, such as local dial-up services. An accurate initial assessment of the best dial-up applications will be necessary to make a clear case for the needs and roles for broadband services.
A common mistake is to presume that the value of the community Internet applications is directly related to the level of bandwidth. On the contrary, other factors, such as human bandwidth, play a vital role in determining the level of realized end benefit, regardless of electronic bandwidth. Years of experience with Internet training of teachers in schools have shown that if each dollar invested in infrastructure is not matched with a dollar spent for Internet training, the resulting seriously under-utilized infrastructure will devalue the infrastructure investment.
A specific emphasis on showcasing community applications of Internet broadband (high bandwidth) such as community self-publishing of art, music, video, graphical information systems (GIS) and more, may be necessary economically to justify the value of broadband connectivity.
The product of this proposal will be to have a clear plan to motivate widespread citizen participation in support of tangible community goals. An evaluative measurements model will demonstrate success of the plan. This "seed" project can be expected to inspire many related local initiatives once the model of motivating citizens and measuring beneficial outcomes has been demonstrated.
Extensive articles, guides, and resources are readily available in support of the above proposal and will be demonstrated and shared during the course of this project. The unique interests, assets, and personalities of Montpelier will be guides for the final project implementation plan.
Current Status -
The story of our progress thus far http://lone-eagles.com/montpelier-story.htm