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COMMUNET  February 1996, Week 1

COMMUNET February 1996, Week 1

Subject:

Re: 1996: New Coalition, New Market, New Approach?

From:

[log in to unmask] (Richard R. Civille)

Date:

Thu, 1 Feb 1996 10:30:53 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (121 lines)


Steve Snow:

Thanks for your observations. I really do believe in the entreprenuerial
spirit when it comes to community networks.

Boy look at what we all do to keep going these days! As the body of
experience and work deepens and becomes richer, that sounds like
value-added to me, and that should translate eventually into more dollars
and political clout so we can all become more effective.

I'd suggested, and you'd said:

>>Can we describe this total market, the developers, who brings the
>> money to the table, who the customers are, and who pays?
>
>This is a more serious question, I think. I have a feeling it is one thing
>to talk about creating products and having an incubated way of supporting
>their development and sale. I have another feeling, though, that many
>communities want to grow their own; the creating of community networks,
>the act of developing applications that serve *your* community, is in
>itself extremely rewarding for those doing it.

I worked at a public radio station once on the west coast. We viewed
National Public Radio as "filler" and worked hard to minimize our reliance
on canned pablum from the east coast, prefering instead to "roll our own"
local programming. Tradeoffs? Time, labor and materials increase (overall
costs), but then so does local loyalty when it comes to cup-rattling time
(more money).

Yes, many community network developers want to grow their own. And I would
advocate support for small, local and unique organizations and businesses
that are cooking up useful and beneficial community-based information
products and services. Keyword here is "unique".

>Can you say more about how a coalition would be different from an
>organization, in your view, and what the merits are of a coalition over a
>more congealed organization?

I think a thoughtfully developed coalition can more effectively cut across
boundaries by lessening the turf tension that a single organization by its
nature often creates. Cutting across boundaries -- organizational, special
interest, and national -- will make a difference in promoting this
movement. It sounds like jargon, but there is  value in crafting a
"cross-sectoral" approach. It helps more people think outside of the box
and beyond whatever little stovepipe they live in. This stimulates
creativity. And it creates a true political voice that one organization can
rarely generate through a single membership base. This is one of the things
I admire in the Coalition for Networked Information, certainly in their
earlier years with the NREN legislation.

There are other downsides to a more "congealed organization". Most
organizations really need to build an institutional track-record to become
viable - or "congealed" to use your term. That usually takes between 3-5
years. Most fail after three years or so. I have concerns that we put the
community networking movement at risk by investing so much good will and
money in the hopes a new organization will somehow carry us all to the
promised land. I guess I'm not sure this is a realistic prospect.

The only way to create such an organization -- rapidly -- is with
substantial start-up resources, about $500,000. That has to come together
fairly quickly. If so it will not come from a broad range of sources, as it
should, and that's a problem. Of course, there is no guarentee the
organization will survive, indeed the odds are against it. EFF is an
excellent case in point. NPTN may well turn out to be another object
lesson. I would also venture to suggest that the Morino Institute is not
quite out of the oven yet either, though resources they have aplenty.

Notice however, that the coalitions EFF helped to organize around privacy
policy have a life of their own, through other organizations that carry on
the work. The Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conferences that EFF played a
founding role in along with CPSR, go along their merry way, year after
year. Also notice that the "community networking movement" can now produce
yearly conferences. CCN produced one in '93, Apple did two in '94 and '95,
now Taos Telecommunity is producing one. There is no central organization
there beyond managing the particular project, but there is an implicit
coalition already in place. BUT, this implicit coalition has not been
organized. And that is something I think we are all ripe to do.

This is a roundabout way of saying, that doing the cost/benefit and risk
analysis, I think a formal coalition has a better prospect of short and
mid-term success to further the movement's overall interests than forming
new organization would.

There are downsides to coalitions of course. Decisionmaking by committee is
probably the worst, though can be dealt with by creating executive level
authority within secretariats. Another downside is tension between
sponsoring organizations that limit the scope of coalition activity - which
harms everyone. The same type of problem will show itself in any partnering
situtation which a new organization will have to involve itself to survive
or get anything done.


>Perhaps it would be good to -- rather than debate
>individual idealized models -- brainstorm more about what people believe
>they *need* in terms of organizational and other support and services.

Let's do it! We're in the age of the virtual organization. Let's build one,
but I'd recommend that we first see if we can't use the capacities of
existing organizations, bound together by a set of coalition agreements.

- direct technical assistance
- research services for information requests
- clearinghouse of models and best practices
- health and small business insurance brokerage
- lobbying force in state legislatures, and national capitals
- regular communication with members through publications

What else?


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Richard Civille                         Center for Civic Networking
Executive Director                   P.O. 53152
(202) 362-3831                     Washington, DC 20009
[log in to unmask]
http://civic.net/ccn.html
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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