This second volume of the Compendium of Community Informatics (CI) texts ("CI Open Text Archive") is devoted the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region.
The overall objective of this long-term global project is to create an open-archive, multilingual, peer reviewed/filtered "text", that will grow organically as Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) become ever more implanted as a means for enabling local communities in both developing and developed countries to develop and flourish economically, socially and culturally. The website of the project is http://ci-text.research.at.
Historically, it has happened that the first edition of the Compendium was also published in Russia, In the framework of the BIC2003 (Building the Information Commonwealth) international conference (June-July, 2003, St. Petersburg, http://www.communities.org.ru/conference).
Nevertheless, the first issue was primarily devoted to "international" (outside of the CIS) CI experience. This second volume is meant to provide material from the CIS which was absent from the first.text.
Since the first volume was published there have been a number of important CI-related developments around the globe. The first which should be mentioned is the formal establishment of the Community Informatics Research Network (CIRN), (http://www.ciresearch.net).
Currently there are some 300+ individuals and organizations associated with the Network representing all continents, and more than 50 countries, with research qualifications in Computer Science, Information Science, Social Science, Planning, Management, Development Studies, and Social Administration among others and including universities and colleges, NGO's, the private sector and governments and multilateral agencies. There are also CIRN affiliated research networks in Canada, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Africa and networks being developed in Australia, the UK and the United States among others.
That Community Informatics has achieved the recognition it has with such speed indicates that it is providing a useful response to some of the deep social economic, cultural, and technological changes that are taking place in contemporary societies as globalization and the ICT revolution continues to reshape the world, local communities are presented with an increasingly complex mix of opportunities and challenges. Many if not most of these challenges (training for new economy jobs, responding to pressures on traditional values, managing the results of economic dislocation) are best addressed at the local and regional levels by those locally who understand the needs of, and the factors affecting, particular communities and how and where technology may be most effectively used in response.
CI is an interdisciplinary approach to providing an answer to these long-term research, development and policy-making needs and the issues surrounding the applications and implications of ICTs. CI addresses the connections between academic theory and research, and the policy and pragmatic issues arising from responding to the Digital Divide as for example through Community Networks, Community Technology Centres, Telecentres, Community Communications Centres, and Telecottages. Emergent CI issues include: access, community economic development, social cohesion, and learning.
Thus, CI research and practice is based on a platform of locally derived information and experience combined with the means to link these to the specific local context and to the broad range of social and technical theory and application.
In response to a perceived social need in the most of developed countries significant programs have been undertaken in recent years to establish a contemporary community information infrastructure based on the use of modern ICTs and particularly the Internet and including for example, public Internet access sites in libraries, schools and other public places, websites providing access to public and governmental information, training programs in ICT use and application in various organizational and other contexts among others..
As for the post-soviet region, there is a wide spread hope that the implementation
юf an ICT-based development strategy is nowadays the most realistic foundation
for effective social changes and interventions at the local level in many Russian
and CIS urban communities.
At the same time, well known experts in the area have expressed the opinion that most of the CIS countries lack data and serious research about the consequences of implementing IC technologies in support of social processes, social development and social stability (especially at local level).
This publication is one of the first attempts to cover this absence. Authors in this publication bring together various aspects of the process of implementing ICTs in governmental and non-governmental organizations and communities. Particularly, we have tried to focus special attention on the theme of the involvement in the use of ICTs of different socially excluded groups (such as those with low incomes, low levels of education, new immigrants and national minorities etc.) as a way of highlighting possible opportunities for achieving through ICT use a radical in their economic and social situation, and as a means to overcome growing social injustice in the CIS.
Based on these principles, we have given space in this edition not only to,representatives of more "traditional" sociological and political sciences but also to "ICT-oriented" scholars and practitioners. We believe that this is an essential step in the development of a "CI agenda" for the CIS.
The reason for this is that it is widely known that, many of those "western-funded" projects which have tried to transfer well-recommended western social technologies and approaches to post-soviet world, appear to lack the capacity to survive and were unsustainable both socially and financially.
While serious research has been done in the study of the perspectives of Internet development in the region, there is practically no information or systematic research currently that provides multi-dimensional socio-cultural insight on a complicated picture of ICTs as "agents and sources of innovations" at the local level: how do various diverse community-based organizations (e.g. local administrations, schools, libraries, NGOs, business etc.) adapt ICTs for their needs; what factors can create an "innovation climate" in the territory; what are the social impacts of a new info-structure at the local level and so on.
Certainly, these are key tasks for the region. In the last years the Authors have collaborated (through participation and observation) on several R&D projects
directed to incorporating innovative community-based information systems such as community networks, telecentres, local e-health and e-governments systems etc. into the everyday life of local residents with an overall goal of stimulating community development through using new technologies.
Often however, we have met with significant difficulties in achieving the projects' goals due to a variety of social-cultural barriers, such as an unwillingness to use e-based service systems from local administrations (or finding that the goals of the systems are different from those publicly presented); a lack of local volunteers to support created systems (and, therefore a lack of sustainability) and so on.
Often it would seem that this results because many such projects are not based on the natural trends of social activity of local dwellers and appears to a large extent alien to their everyday concerns and wishes and thus the efforts don't gain the necessary support "from the bottom".
No doubt these factors create serious obstacles to the successful integration of the countries of the former Soviet Union into the global information society, leaving those countries on the wrong side of the so-called 'digital divide' with the on-going risks of economic and political instability.
We hope this edition will help CIS and international researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and others to understand the variety and multi-dimensionality of the current situation with community-based ICTs in the CIS and help to stimulate new developments in this area.
When the volume was in printing there was a new important step in development "CI-agenda" for the Russia and CIS: Research and Methodological workshop on the theory and practice of Community Informatics in the CIS countries that was held in the Instutite of System Analysis of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, June 23-25, 2004) with participation of number of leading specialists from both Russia/CIS and overseas.
One of the most important decisions was establishment of the CI Research Alliance for Community Informatics and Networking (RUCIN). More information can be found at http://www.communities.org.ru/rucin (I will make a webpage after the workshop).
M.Gurstein, S.Stafeev, V.Tischenko