Digital Excellence – The 1st Conference – A Great Time!


” We must spread digital excellence across neighborhood and regional boundaries.” That sentiment, expressed by keynote speaker Dr. Nicol Turner Lee, informed the energy of Chicago’s first conference showcasing digital excellence in Chicago communities.

Chicago’s neighborhood technology experts, activists, leaders, and pioneers joined a dozen technology specialists from six (6) cities in a lively, high-energy series of workshops and roundtable sessions. The 1st Chicago Neighborhood Digital Excellence Conference and Technology Fair at Chicago’s DePaul University Egan Urban Center was part reunion, part think tank, part high-energy planning session, and part movement retrospective for the 80 or so participants.  The early feedback from conference participants? Here’s what Jennifer Hunt shared on the Digital Excellence Coalition Fan Page:

Thank you so very much for a wonderful conference! As someone brand new to the movement, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to such a wonderful community of experts, dreamers, activists, collaborators and stewards. I can’t wait to get to work!

For most of the attendees, in this reporter’s view, Jennifer Hunt’s energy and enthusiasm seemed to capture the info-sharing and learning experieces in the six (6) morning workshop sessions, luncheon and afternoon roundtables.

Here’s a wrtiter’s eye view of the conference from attendee Taran Rampersad:

Digital Excellence Workshop Participants

Digital Excellence Workshop Participants

Starting The Next Chapter


On Friday, melanoma October 29 we open the next chapter in the Community Technology, Networking and Community Empowerment Movement at the Digital Excellence Conference in Chicago at DePaul University:

  • Invitation — attend the most important event in the Community Technology/Digital Empowerment Sector in a decade – we’re rebuilding a movement – and we need your commitment and enthusiasm.
  • Invitation — spread the word – Let us know who is up and coming but who may have never connected to the national/global movement and Invite them! Help fund their travel! No one is late to the party!
  • Invitation — help us (re)build the movement in any way you can! If you are coming from out of town – let us know!

Three tracks:

  • Broadband: Expansion & Inclusion
  • Tools and Platforms
  • Collaboration Models and Community Building

Special Honorees: Carl Davidson, Julia Stasch and Rep. Constance Howard
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee


As a recognition of our common heritage, past members of the network are eligible for the early bird rate.

For more information or to donate/volunteer contact Pierre Clark. (312) 473-0373 or

Report from Cleveland

The Chicago Digital Access Alliance is working to connect Chicago neighborhoods. Our five-year initiative, anemia “Technology In The Hood”, more about and its campaign, “Connecting Chicago Neighborhoods To Digital Excellence”, focuses on bringing technology to neighborhoods and neighborhoods to technology. We have two projects under the “Technology In The Hood” Initiative: (1) Our CTC/PCC Development Program, under which we are developing and establishing thirty (30) new community technology/public computing centers; and (2) the 10,000 Digital Kids Campaign, where we are helping provide 10,000 urban youth with resources, training and software to allow them to create their own software development solutions.

On Monday, October 3, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. at the AKARAMA Foundation Community Center, 6220 South Ingleside Avenue, we’re launching our initiative with a focus on the AKARAMA Cafe, a 30-station community technology center which offers access to laptop computers and Internet technology, at a press conference where we will also introduce CTC managers from ten (10) different community technology centers who will share their stories and insights.

At 11:00 a.m., at the AKARAMA Cafe, seniors will participate in a digital literacy workshop presented by Connected Living Inc., a BTOP Award grantee which provides training and technology resources to seniors.

The thirty (30) community technology centers we are establishing will be located in ten (10) different communities on the South, West and North Sides.

We’re also partnering with community entities in establishing our CTCS, including Connect Woodlawn Inc. in Woodlawn, Digital Englewood Inc. in Englewood, and the Southside Technology Cooperative NFP in Brozeville/Kenwood.

For more information or to learn how to get involved, call us at 312-970-0249 or 312-473-0373.
June 27 and 28 brought program partners of One Community and other BTOP PCC/SBA grantees together at #CBAIS (Community Broadband Adoption Impact & Sustainability Conference).

Veterans of the movement assembled with new practitioners under the BTOP banner. The feel was very much reminiscent of the vibrant CTCNet conferences of old and underscored the need for us to work to rebuild and reboot the institutional capacity of the field. Toward that end numerous discussions are building upon the work of the Rebuild-Reboot retreat convened on the heels of the Digital Excellence Conference.

It has been slow going, men’s health
but we remain committed and are putting together a steering committee to advance this work on the national front, grounded in the long standing vision and legacy of our field.

Community TechKnowledge Foundation Grant Program

If you are inspired to wax poetic about your passion for technology and community technology access, ampoule the Community Techknowledge Foundation is offering you the opportunity to submit a 4-8 line poem and win cash for your efforts.

The newly-created foundation’s “Heart and Soul” Initiative offers $10, vitamin 000 in grants and technology resources for submissions between March 1 and March 28. Uniquely, the winning submission will be recorded in a song and presented at the April 14, 2011 Foundation event in Austin, Texas.

Here is the website information:

and here is the video describing the program:

Community TechKnowledge Video


Free Geek Chicago, 24 hours = Community

The great folks at Free Geek Chicago have put out a very nice video about the work they do and the role they play in the community technology movement in Chicago. Beyond the frames of Digital Divide and Digital Excellence, physiotherapist they see this as a matter of survival in the modern economy.

If you know anyone that needs a computer — make them aware that 24 hours of service at FGC will earn them their own refurbished machine, epidemic give them a new insight into the life-cycle of technology and should forge some great new friendships.

David Eads (featured in the video), generic one of the founders of FGC presented the CDAA’s Digital Excellence Advocate Award to Carl Davidson on Friday Oct. 29, at DEXCON2010. FGC is established at the location of Carl’s former TechTrain program.

Accelerate innovation and the movement – locally, globally

Charlie Havens recommended this video on the basis of the vision we have for Chicago and for a “working session to establish an organization and network in service to the field encompassing Community Technology, help Community Media and Community Networking, hospital
addressing and inviting all who have gathered to remediate Digital and Social Divides under banners of Literacy, traumatologist
Access, Inclusion, Excellence and Justice.” Local and Global. Can we accelerate the change we need? Chris Anderson starts his TED conversation (below) with a focus on the field of Dance. What deliberate changes can we effect in our respective fields? What would the conversation and sharing look like? How can we step up our game?

Why A Digital Excellence Conference For Chicago

September 2010 CDAA FlyerYou may ask the question: Why a digital excellence conference in Chicago and why should you attend?  Who are we who are presenting this conference and what relevance does the conference have for you? Our answer is: if you are a citizen of Chicago and if you care about Chicago’s future as a world-class digitally-empowered city, endocrinologist then our conference is one you should consider attending. Here’s why.


We organized the 1st Chicago Neighborhood Digital Excellence Conference And Technology Fair to bring together the people – tech activists, academics, government officials, non-profit staff members – who represent a movement to empower local community residents with access to today’s technology tools – computer hardware and software – and the skills to use those tools for job creation, information sharing and economic development. Our conference attendees are the grassroots experts whose often-times volunteer work every day with local residents empowers them with skills to use digital tools to improve their lives and create future opportunities.


It may seem quaint now, the idea of a digital divide where technology tools were available and usable only by a relative few. But a digital divide still exists, based on income and knowledge now more than mere access to the tools themselves, as you’ll learn at the conference.


When many of us in the neighborhood technology movement joined it,  computers were expensive devices that only a few understood how to use. We wanted our kids and neighbors to have access to these machines because we could see a future where knowing how to use computers to access and process information would be critical to our ability to find and obtain a job, pay bills, and connect with services.

Now $50 cell phones pack the power of yesterday’s desktop PCs. Networked desktop computers and laptops are, according to some studies, in 98% of our public and catholic schools. If you want Internet access, say the critics of the notion of a digital divide, you can get it through wi-fi, phone dsl, local fiber-optics, cable or mobile broadband wimax. You can watch TV-quality video on devices ranging from a cell-phone to a 24″ touchscreen monitor.

So why are we still talking about a digital divide? Because the things we want to do with technology tools today are vastly different than what we could do even a decade ago, and the power to do those things – to broadcast streaming video, connect with each other through social networking sites, attend classes online, shop for life’s necessities or tap into government info services – require the kind of broadband access that eludes many of us based on income and availability.

Karen Mossberger’s report says in part that a significant percentage of Chicagoans – as high as 25% – are disconnected from the internet and broadband access and cite income – ability to pay – as the reason. The gaps persist and are higher in many low-income Chicago neighborhoods.

According to Frank Olasz with Lone Star Consulting, as a nation the United States is 22nd in the world in broadband access and adoption. And James Carlini of Carlini Associates has consistently criticized the lack of the kind of high-speed broaband infrastructure – 1 gigabit versus the 54mb to 100 mb we have now – that is commonly found in other countries around the world and is essential to our competitiveness in the new world marketplace and ability to create employment and wealth-building opportunities.


In our six (6) morning workshops and afternoon roundtable sessions, we connect you with the experts – people like Denise Zaccardi, Sandee Kastrul, Rose Mabwa, Michael Maranda, Lowry Taylor, Licia Knight, Vincent McCaskill and many others – who are working everyday in communities on the front lines of the digital access movement, helping residents, non-profits and small businesses build their skills. You’ll meet some of the managers of the more than $21 million in federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funding received by Chicago to provide training for 22,000 residents and hundreds of public computing centers and find out their plans for bringing those training resources to your communities.


What kind of city do you want to live in? We’re in the second decade of the 21st century. What kind of life did you envision living in 2010? By most accounts, we’re in the third year of a world-wide economic recession that supposedly ended a year ago, but the effects of which are still rebounding through our everyday lives. Chicago as a city was in the running for the Olympics – but its infrastructure and use of digital tools and resources weren’t world-class.

At our conference, you’ll network, share with and learn from the grassroots experts who have a passion for building a connected Chicago, the kind of city the Chicago Digital Access Alliance envisioned when it partnered with the Mayor’s Committee To Eliminate The Digital Divide on the groundbreaking report, “The City That Networks: Transforming Community And Society Through Digital Excellence.”

We invite you to join us at our conference. To register, click here.

Rebuild and Reboot – Movement and Network

On October 30, purchase following upon the Digital Excellence Conference convened by the Chicago Digital Access Alliance, we are holding a working session to establish an organization and network in service to the field encompassing Community Technology, Community Media and Community Networking, addressing and inviting all who have gathered to remediate Digital and Social Divides under banners of Literacy, Access, Inclusion, Excellence and Justice.

We believe that a new way of working together is emerging and that our message to our communities is more pertinent than ever, and that we are stronger when we establish resources in common and share solutions freely across the network.

This is not a relaunch.  It is something more profound.  We honor the heritage of our field by finding a way forward, one suited to our present situation, one that builds upon what we have learned.

We have much experience in this community, and we are clearly ready to refactor, rebuild and reboot the movement and the network.  We will determine the functions, services and capacities we need and desire for the field, and we will coordinate efforts to bring them online in a manner that serves the field as a whole, building upon capacities already under development when possible and operating from a perspective of shared, open stewardship.

We’re looking to grow our field, and to demonstrate it’s relevance to every facet of community and civic life.  Many are engaged in the work and have not found us, their peer-community.  We’re looking to establish a way for them to find us as we found each other, and for all to find a way to take up a meaningful share of the work.

We would love for all who wish to come to be there.  This is an open call to everyone serving our field.   You are invited to join the working meeting on October 30, or to step up in any way that may support this effort.  (All are likewise invited to attend the Digital Excellence Conference, October 29.)

Many have already expressed support for this endeavor, but not all are able to attend.  For some, the obstacle is scheduling, for others there are fiscal constraints.  Perhaps we can find creative ways to address the latter.

There will be several channels for involvement leading up to and following the meeting.  

First among them is a discussion list: All who wish to attend or otherwise support the work should subscribe and participate.  Please signify on that list whether you plan to join us for the meeting or if you can support this effort in some other way.

Please also spread the word on this meeting and the conference.  Tell us who you think should be there.  Better yet, tell them.

Michael Maranda
Rebuild-Reboot Committee

2010 Digital Excellence Advocate Awardees & Keynote Speaker Announced!

BREAKING NEWS! All three honorees receiving the CDAA Digital Excellence Advocate Awards have confirmed their appearance at the keynote luncheon of the 1st Chicago Neighborhood Digital Excellence Conference and Technology Fair Friday, health system
October 29, 2010, at DePaul University Egan Urban Center, 1 East Jackson Boulevard, Lower Level.

Pioneer CTC creator Carl Davidson, Julia Stasch, Vice President for Community Development at the MacArthur Foundation, and State Representative Constance Howard will be honored with Digital Excellence Advocate awards at the keynote luncheon. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Nicol Turner Lee, VP and the first Director of Media and Technology of the Joint Center For Political Studies in Washington, D.C.

The Community Technology Movement – A History Of Digital Excellence

Erie Neighborhood House CTC

The history of digital excellence in Chicago is a history of community technology actors creating and distributing technology resources – from computers to training to internet access – that is now well into its 3rd decade.

Last month, Andrew Mooney, Executive Director of LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation)’s Chicago office which is the manager of the 7-year, 16-neighborhood New Communities Program, wrote an op-ed article in Crain’s Chicago Business in which he basically touted Chicago as Ground Zero for setting the pace in building digitally-empowered communities (U.S.A. 2.0, I believe he called it), citing the $7 million the city received from the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to provide training (digital literacy training) for up to 22,000 residents over two years in five targeted underserved communities.

The city has also received $9 million in funding from the same grant pool for providing hardware support for 150 CTCs (community technology centers) basically focused on libraries, parks and public institutions.

We applaud these grant awards. In fact, we are going to take a bit of a bow for tilling the soil and planting the seeds that allowed those grant applications to bear fruit,  because the vast majority of the ideas behind these grant awards came from a community-driven process led by the Chicago Digital Access Alliance more than three (3) years ago which coalesced into a groundbreaking work published by the Mayor’s Committee To Eliminate The Digital Divide, “The City That Networks”. (Download your copy from the City of  Chicago website and look on page 56 for the proof).

While the city’s grant awards tout 22,000 potential trainees, the five communities targeted initially as “digital excellence demonstration
communities” (combining two terms we coined – digital excellence and digital demonstration communities) – encompass 10 wards with a total
of more than 600,000 residents.

While the grant award to the city for CTCs focuses on mostly public institutions, within the city limits are more than 600 CTC/PCC’s
serving tens of thousands of residents a year, created by grassroots community residents and organizations with not a single dime of city
or foundation money (although some state and federal grants were involved in a minority of cases).

Statewide including Chicago, there are more than a thousand CTCs, again the majority opened and developed by grassroots organizations and groups without any funding at all (although the state DCEO Eliminate The Digital Divide Program funds about 170 CTC’s a year).

That program itself emerged out of activism by a community-driven coalition around securing the first funding  – $4 million – from the SBC-Ameritech merger in the late 1990’s for neighborhood technology programs.) That activist process, spearheaded by a coalition of activists and lawyers including Don Samuelson and Layton Olsen, came together at the 1999 CTCNet Conference at McCormick Place, attended by 400 people, which I organized for Chicago along with Executive Director Holly Carter of CTCNet.

There are two wireless networks in Chicago neighborhoods (one in Lawndale and one in Woodlawn) and two more in development. None of them were funded by city money or grants awards. (The city, according to a Medill News article, may spend up to $21 million for setting up wireless networks. Will they also fund the networks that are already established?)

There are at least a hundred community-based technology training programs in Chicago where residents learn everything from basic digital literacy to computer troubleshooting to web development to network design, offering certificates and professional certifications to residents, most of them offered free of charge. Outside of two programs offered by two city colleges (at Kennedy-King and Malcolm X) to my knowledge, none of them is funded by the city or foundations (I said to my knowledge, if I am wrong please send me the proof correcting me).

I was at a meeting at IIT in 2000 or 2001 where David Weinstein, then working with the Mayor’s Council of Technology Advisors, and a fellow names Sean Lapp of a company called Iworks, stated that the city would create 1,200 CTCs within three to five years. Here we are nearly a decade later and I defy anyone to show me where any of those CTCs were created (unless you want to count CTCs in the Park District locations which were almost entirely funded by outside funding).

The grant awards given to the City of Chicago don’t propose to fund any of these groups or programs.  This is a very different scenario than the BTOP grant awarded in Philadelphia with help from the New America Foundation.

So my question is: how can a claim to make Chicago the innovation leader for digitally-empowered communities be made without acknowledging the community-driven process that created and implemented all the ideas on the ground and has done all the work for the past two decades?

The neighborhood technology movement in Chicago has created a wealth of community-driven programs and established the standard – digital excellence – by which future programs will be measured, all without any city support at all, that are the envy of the nation. (Ask the Knight Foundation, which created a 5-year, $25 million Institute For Digital Excellence based directly on the content of the Chicago report).

Despite what people may think from reading this, I am not living in the past. As Mike Ditka says, “Only cowards live in the past.” But as
Frederick Douglas observed, “Those who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it.” We in the neighborhood technology/digital excellence
movement are mindful of history.

The history of neighborhood technology in Chicago is filled with activities from men like Carl Davidson, who directly created or helped start a hundred CTCs in Chicago and trained dozens of residents in computer troubleshooting repair through his groups Chicago Coalition For Information Access, Networking For Democracy and Techtrain (which I named and helped start). It grew from the community activism of  Rev. Lewis Flowers (13 church-based CTC/PCCs), Walter Gillespie (14 sites currently in operation), George Gilmore (who championed HUD ‘s Neighborhood Networks Program with over 40 housing-based CTCs in Illinois, the ITRC/Lumity Digital Accelerators program (more than a dozen CTCs established), and the work of the Chicago Digital Access Alliance, CTCNet Chicago, (with more than 90 Chicago CTCs in its membership) the FaithTech Network of church-based tech ministries, and many others.

We know that the only way that the city can showcase itself as the innovative USA 2.0 touted in Mr. Mooney’s op-ed piece is to do what
the city has not done in more than 20 years: actively engage and work with the grassroots technology movement that has led the way on its
own, from the bottom-up.

We support the principles of open democracy, open data, open collaboration, community interoperability and open stewardship that will bring our underserved communities forward in a new community development paradigm.

If anyone wants to interact or engage with the grassroots technology leadership in Chicago that is making and continues to make things
happen, come to the 1st Chicago Neighborhood Digital Excellence Conference and Technology Fair, Friday October 29, 2010, from 8:00
a.m. To 6:00 p.m. At DePaul Egan Center, 1 East Jackson, Lower Level. Come join us. We’ll share the history and the future of digital
excellence with you.