Community computing and citizen productivity

Grabill, Jeffrey T. (2003). Community computing and citizen productivity. Computers and Composition, 20:2, 131–150.

Through a critical reflective account of developing a community network in an Atlanta neighborhood, Grabill responds to a gap in models for research in community contexts. Further, Grabill stresses the need for information technologies – if they are to enhance the lives of people in the neighborhoods they live in – to be designed within those communities. Lastly, by pointing to the issues that arise through community computing initiatives, Grabill emphasizes the need for community networks to be sustainable. These initiatives, for instance, can be constrained by ownership of infrastructures and who retains power over networks. Publics are also not situated as being producers of information; instead, they are understood as consumers. In addition to the problems that arise through community networks, there are conflicting benefits of these “intelligence systems for local communities.”

While activists may view these technologies as powerful tools for participatory democracy, city leaders may not see the value of increasing public access to city information through open access infrastructures. The manner through which technologies facilitate environments for consumers can also be a constraint, one that will continue as technologies extend economic, social, political, and institutional ideologies onto users. Grabill demonstrates how community mapping of Mechanicsville led to an increased understanding of relationships sustained in the community. The most valuable aspect of this article is that Grabill demonstrates his process of engaging community members in participatory design of a technology to be used in and for that community.