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

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” 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:

http://www.knowprose.com/node/127

Digital Excellence Workshop Participants

Digital Excellence Workshop Participants

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, advice addressing and inviting all who have gathered to remediate Digital and Social Divides under banners of Literacy, case 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, then our conference is one you should consider attending. Here’s why.

BRINGING TOGETHER THE NEIGHBORHOOD TECHNOLOGY EXPERTS

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.

IS THERE STILL A DIGITAL DIVIDE?

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.

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE ELITE – AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE?

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.

OUR CONFERENCE CONNECTS YOU WITH THE GRASS-ROOTS EXPERTS

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.

THE CONFERENCE PROVIDES STRATEGIES FOR BUILDING A DIGITALLY-CONNECTED CITY

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, 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:  http://groups.google.com/group/rebuild-reboot 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

The Community Technology Movement – A History Of Digital Excellence

Erie Neighborhood House CTC

Erie Neighborhood House's Community Technology Center, established in 1995, is one of 600+ CTCs started by community non-profits and activists in Chicago communities in the 1990s and 2000s

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.

Digital Excellence – More Than Just A Catchphrase

The phrase emerged from an idea – to get beyond the sort of cryptic “digital divide” – in an age of PDAs, netbooks and smartphones, the notion that people couldn’t get connected if they wanted was attacked as outmoded – and “digital inclusion” – which was seen as another touchy-feeling condescending phrase cajoling those that had to give to those supposedly locked out.

“Digital excellence”, said Michael Maranda, the man who attached it to the CDAA’s 2007 Community Benefits Agreement, is a standard, a benchmark, representing where we want to go and how we, as citizens in a digital age, define how we use and master technology resources.

It was a standard, said Maranda, that we, as a community set, not one imposed on us. We want to be more than consumers of technology or users of technology, but masters of technology in creating a more open and inclusive society where digital technologies allowed us to connect and share when and where and how we want.

The idea caught on. Julia Stasch, VP of Community Development at MacArthur Foundation and Chair of the The Mayor’s Committee To Eliminate The Digital Divide, convened as part of the process to solicit builders for a citywide wi-fi network, embraced the phrase and the vision it represented. She asked the Chicago Digital Access Alliance to present its vision of digital excellence to the full committee, and on a cold first Monday in February (February 5) of 2007, we did just that, in a Powerpoint slide presentation called “Digital Excellence: The Vision”.

“Digital Excellence: The Vision” inspired and informed the groumdbreaking report, “The City That Networks:  Transforming Society And Economy Through Digital Excellence.”

At the official unveiling of that report, on June 15, 2007, in a speech given by Julia Stasch, Vice President of Community Development,  MacArthur Foundation, at the Community Media Workshop Media Summit,  Ms. Stasch acknowledged the long-standing history of neighborhood technology activism in Chicago and the conceptual framework – created by the community around digital excellence – that was the report’s platform.

“Digital excellence” became the conceptual benchmark adopted by foundations (the Knight and New America Foundation among others), cities pursuing digital inclusion strategies and most important, the Chicago neighborhood technology access community’s self-defining goal and standard.

Chicago’s city government launched what it called its “digital excellence initiative”, embraced and championed the “digital demonstration communities” framework, and presented them as the indicators of a consciousness about digital inclusion in Chicago that other cities could model.

The practitioners, meanwhile, continued to see “digital excellence” as an evolving measurement of a new, more open way of collaboration, information sharing and community development.

And so, three years later, the practice of open stewardship – of information, resources and initiatives – is gaining traction among those who have always practiced a collective not selective philosophy and those who see in the new paradigm an empowerment solution that may break the restrictive lines of suspicion, competition and mistrust that have plagued community efforts for years and decades.

“Digital excellence” – it began as a redefinition, evolved into a benchmark standard and now is the vanguard of an expansive movement. More than just a catchphrase.

The CDAA: Right Here, All The Time.

Digital Excellence Conference And Technology Fair FlyerWe’re back (so some would say)! But the news is, we never went away, we’ve just been going about our business without a lot of fanfare. Well, I guess that’s all about to change!

The Chicago Digital Access Alliance has news about some exciting and forward-looking projects it is hatching in  the coming months.

10-29-10: The Conference!

First, the CDAA is presenting our upcoming 1st Chicago Neighborhood Digital Excellence Conference and Technology Fair, Friday, October 29, 2010, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., at DePaul University Egan Center, 1 East Jackson Boulevard, Lower Level.

The Conference features a full day of informative workshops, round-table sessions, a news-making keynote luncheon and recognition ceremony, and a networking social hour with neighborhood technology-digital excellence movers and shakers. But if you want to be there, the time to register is NOW, as registrations will be capped at 200. Want to register now? You can register here.

THE CDAA – WORKING THROUGHOUT CHICAGO

The CDAA has been busy in Chicago – in Bronzeville, Woodlawn, Englewood, on the West Side, in Humboldt Park, on the  North Side, and more. We’ve been establishing CTCs, developing technology plans, and helping residents connect to resources and opportunities. Follow us here to stay tuned to all the latest!