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Community network analysis - bridging practice, research and policy in the network society
Despite some interesting developments in community ICT practice, policy and related academic research in recent years, many community informatics activities tend to be deterministic in nature. That is to say there is a tendency to focus on network technologies and economic expediency as the driving forces of community ICT services rather than making community need the motivator for the design, implementation and development of community ICT initiatives. This paper challenges this determinism by exploring ways in which local communities can be located at the centre of user needs identification and initiative design processes through participatory action research methodologies. Indicators in some policy circles point to the significance of community practice in the network society being slowly understood. A recent Whitehall discussion paper, for example, acknowledged the potential of ICTs in underpinning and sustaining local community social capital, especially through bridging links between diverse sectors of the community. Slowly but surely, the identification of community needs as a way of bridging the digital divide and addressing social exclusion in the network society is emerging as a policy issue. Reinforcing this view, a recent Community Development Foundation (CDF) report, underlined the significance of social cohesion through inclusive initiatives. The report indicates that support for achieving healthy communities is dependent on: 1) finding out what is going on, and 2) that in flourishing communities “both people and organisations would be well-connected both within and beyond the locality”. Grounded in collaboration between academic and community sectors of Brighton & Hove and Rockhampton, this paper will provide insights into the community information and communications needs and behaviour of geographically distanced and culturally different communities. It also reports on the planning stages of a longitudinal investigation adopting a participatory action research approach. The paper will outline 3 interrelated elements of the project, which for purposes of clarity are discussed separately.