An Executive Overview for Project Planners
on the Hard Questions for Community Internet Empowerment

                                         By Frank Odasz

It's Not Obvious!!

Over ten years of experimentation via hundreds of community networking and Internet projects have produced some important insights regarding producing measurable benefits as opposed to general good intentions. Too many projects have failed to engage enough citizens to achieve sustainability, or even produce measurable results.

A fatal flaw of many of these projects was presuming it would be obvious how a community could empower itself, given Internet access. It's not obvious, in fact even defining just what a community network is, or can be, has proved elusive even to professionals with longtime experience creating and directing community networking projects!

As dozens of Native American Community Internet Projects are beginning to get underway, their eventual success or failure becomes an important issue for 15,000 cultures worldwide who may soon also be connected via new high-speed two-way Internet satellite systems. How culturally appropriate introduction of the Internet can best create self-directed learners, and build learning communities that support traditional cultures, is the current shared challenge.

Define "Internet Empowerment!"

After years of development, has provided six rural communities with high speed Internet, funded telemedicine and GIS applications, and now the citizens want to know when they can consider themselves empowered! With, discussions are underway as to how to deliver a measurable model for community Internet empowerment to the U.S. Senate.

Is empowerment primarily attitudinal, or is it a measurable combination of Internet access, vision, motivationa, skills, equipment, and community applications, which produce a specific percentage of citizens involved at a requisite level of activity? Most emphasis in the past has been on establishing infrastructure, but communities who now have high speed Internet are realizing they don't have a clue how to turn access into community economic and social sustainability! It is NOT obvious!!

A Summary of Six Key Points:

1. "Measurements are the key to success."

You can't prove that you have empowered people without a measure of empowerment. Many projects plan to infuse their communities with equipment and Internet access, but, success or failure will rest on their ability to PROVE that communities are

1. Motivated, and engaged in active, ongoing learning

2. Delivering measurable benefits and skills to a known
number of citizens

3. Sharing a vision and consensus on where applications of this
technology needs to be headed, i.e.
defined processes for developing
local content development, local collaborative capacity, peer mentoring,
online learning and earning; job creation, etc.

The majority of past projects relied on anecdotal storytelling, which proved to be effective with attracting media attention, but did little to provide the community with ongoing self-assessment measures as to how they were benefiting from the Internet and the community network. Measurements DEFINE success!

2. "Technology changes the community politics of control, creating new
     winners and losers." Technology projects risk fighting the politics of community.

Technology changes how communities function, how decisions are made, and who has a voice. There may well be economic winners and losers as to who wields local power. Those currently in control must face the reality that they will now share power in new ways. It is easy to lose important forward momentum to hashing out the politics of who gets to control what, particularly when large sums of funding are on the table. Those in control may well be directly opposed to any change that shifts the balance of power. It is common for leaders to 'talk-the-talk' to win funding, but to not be fully committed to the necessary changes that come with 'walking-the-walk.'

Major economic damage to communities is likely if generational turnover is required for change to take place. World views and attitudes of both citizens and leaders may well have to change for true empowerment to take place.

Time is of the essence as thousands of global communities will soon share what is now a short-term advantage of American communities which have Internet. Most dial-up Internet is dramatically under-utilized despite proven entrepreneurial successes in most communities. The assumption exists that the solution is now faster Internet, despite major lack of innovation and use of existing Internet. There exists a genuine need for creative 'fast-track' strategies.

A model needs to be demonstrated for recruitment of progressively more important leaders as sponsors for community technology awareness-raising events and equipment. The challenge is to articulate a vision everyone can understand and support, and to provide robust social recognition for all project supporters. The United Way thermometer in full public view is one brief example.

America Online spends millions annually presenting a vision through the national media of the Internet as a shopping and entertainment service for consumers. There is little public advocacy for the grassroots self-empowerment vision for Internet applications where citizens are both consumers and producers.

Top-down builders of community networks need to partner with the bottom-up users of these networks in new ways to achieve authenticity which can only come from demonstration of wide spread, ongoing, community participation. This has proved to be the Achilles' heel of many past projects.

3. "A specific number of people need to commit to a specific community
      empowerment program to establish specific outcomes."

For a community to become empowered, a specific number of individuals need to commit some level of time and effort for training. Demonstration and assessment of their ongoing use, and benefit resulting from that training, must be part of this up-front commitment. A citizen engagement program, with pre and post testing, and evaluative metrics, needs to accompany Internet access or there may well be no real measure of any tangible result.

A common problem is individuals are privately asking "What's in this for me?" instead of "How can this help me benefit the whole community?" A detailed draft implementation program addressing up-front incentives, social recognition incentive methods, and evaluative metrics is at

The opportunity exists to create a program where social recognition is given to those who share new skills with others in a way that honors both learner and teacher.

Community is those to which we give our time.
Community is the sum of what we give to each other.

A dozen youth-driven, low-cost, short-term, local community Internet awareness events are described in detail in the Bootstrap Academy.

NOTE: There is a product model for individuals, communities, and corporations inherent in the ability to deliver measurable empowerment! Its just a matter of who and when.

4. "A step-by-step learning pathway (successive empowerment curriculum) needs to be defined;
          i.e. essential skills in order of importance."

Near immediate learning successes can create initial motivation, to be following by successive, small-step, continued successes, designed to sustain motivation for learning.

"Common Ground; A Cross-cultural, Self-directed learner's Internet Guide" was designed with this specific intent and has proven its effectiveness through use in online courses for teachers in remote and rural schools.   The Native American version "Echoes in the Electronic Wind" is at

Two online courses for educators, and three sample mini-courses for citizens, are listed among extensive cultural community Internet resources at NOTE: The author has been teaching online courses to teachers since 1988, originally through the Big Sky Telegraph network in rural Montana and Wyoming.

5. "Address the Local/Global Networking Dynamics and Differences"

Intranets focusing on community collaborative capacity, "inner-net," are fundamentally and significantly different in purpose, and intended citizen behavior, than simply providing fast global surfing via "Internet." A common mistake is not to differentiate between local and global applications when it comes to planning goals for a project. A "safe" local Intranet focuses on using web-based tools specifically for local communications and sharing.

Many assumptions exist which confuse citizens as to the direction forward. The phrases below summarize a few of the more important insights:

Human Bandwidth is not the same as Volume Bandwidth.

"People First, Technology Second"

Quality of information is not generally bandwidth dependent.

"Less is more" in the age of information overload!

"Value Pull, Not Tech Push"

This is the Relationships Age, more than just the Information Age. The Internet increases the quality and quantity of human relationships.

How best to meet specific individual information needs on an ongoing basis, in a world of accelerating change, is the question to be addressed.

6. True empowerment will occur when the technologies become transparent by becoming
    a part of everyday life.

If it were clear what specific steps needed to be taken, such as a written press release on what was to be accomplished, most communities could rally the local energy and commitment to make it happen. Most community networking projects have mired in feel-good generalities without producing tangible behavioral models, or outcomes, which the community could review, appreciate, and sustain.

There is an issue of selling the sizzle, and then backing it up with publicly recognized deliverables. When Tom Sawyer made whitewashing the fence look fun, he engaged his peers successfully in whitewashing the fence for him. Communities today are looking over the fence at each other to see who is having fun with successful Internet community projects. Successful communities may well have a cottage industry for years to come mentoring other communities on how to replicate their success! Transparent common sense applications integrated into daily life need to be showcased.


The fact that there are too few community network success stories serving as models to follow after ten years, and hundreds of projects, suggests the extent of the above challenges. Yet there exists the significant opportunity to literally create the first such model community initiatives which demonstrate a shared community vision and measurable outcomes resulting from concerted community engagement. The opportunities among Native communities are particularly rich due to their cultural emphasis on community. To be a part of creating such replicable models is the goal of Lone Eagle Consulting

Community Internet Empowerment Resources   and

Community Internet Empowerment Resources for Native Americans and Alaska Natives.