Community Informatics

I just came across this piece from the New America Foundation on “The Rise of the Intranet Era”. There is a nice discussion of the emergence of the field of “community informatics” that addresses the socio-cultural dimensions of the diffusion of ICTs in communities. I think we need to be cautious about the over-use of the “diffusion” metaphor in technology studies but this is important stuff for public health and health practitioners to pay attention to in the present and future:

“Meanwhile, contemporary researchers are increasingly drawing from current telecommunications and regulatory deliberations, familiarizing themselves with new and emergent technologies, and immersing themselves in the communities they study. A promising development in communications theory since the late 1990s is the emergence of the field of community informatics (CI), which is particularly well-suited to address issues raised by Intranet technologies and digital media-production practices. Howard Rheingold underscores the importance of formulating a new field as a potential starting point for new communications theories that is “based on actual findings by people who have tried to use online media in service of community, then reported on their results.” He notes that “In the absence of such systematic observation and reporting by serious practitioners, public discussion will continue to oscillate between ideological extremes, in a never-ending battle of anecdotal evidence and theoretical rhetoric” (Keeble & Loader, 2002, p xx). Emphasizing the cross-disciplinary and emergent aspects of CI, Keeble and Loader (2002) define “community informatics” as:

…a multidisciplinary field for the investigation and development of the social and cultural factors shaping the development and diffusion of new ICTs and its effects upon community development, regeneration and sustainability. It thereby combines an interest in the potentially transforming qualities of new media with an analysis of the importance of community social relations for human interaction. (p.3)”

There is a discussion on closed and open technologies and architectures. This becomes extremely important when we work with policy-makers over “last mile health” efforts as well.

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