Doing IT better – Victorian community IT project

I’ve just missed the “Introduction to Social Software” session today at the Duke Street Community House. It was a bit far to travel to Melbourne to attend.

The course is one of the early practical outcomes chalked up to a new project being run in Victoria, Australia. The Doing IT Better project is being run over the next three years within the Victorian Council of Social Services network (VCOSS).

The primary instigator behind the project is Larry Stillman, from Monash University (see my earlier post “Larry’s thesis”). As I was yarning with Larry a few weeks ago on Skype (sans video), he was shuffling papers as he prepared to submit his application to the ethics committee to take an action research, community-based approach.

Larry doesn’t just seek academic insights, he wants to see groups participating in the project better able to use ICT at the end of it. The whole endeavour is underpinned by a commitment to sharing and learning together. He outlines the philosophy behind his work on his blog:

A key guiding principle is that of ‘Open Knowledge’, as distinct from individualistic activity. The idea of Open Knowledge had appeared to me as one similar to that found in the Open Source movement, in that strength could only come about through collaboration, information sharing, and information distribution, in a sector that is used to this principle.

This collaborative approach has been instrumental from the very outset. People within the VCOSS network were invited to a one-day search confernce which tapped into grassroots views about what you think of such a project, its priorities, and strategies for action.

A steering group with community organisation representatives is shaping the project. Larry has proposed a series of case studies with community organisations to provide discrete and detailed knowledge about problems and solutions. These will a wide variety of different types of organisations including a community house in Sunshine western Melbourne, Travellers Aid and services working in alcohol and drug and domestic violence prevention fields.

Working alongside Larry is a dedicated IT worker within VCOSS. The project is being fully funded by a private philanthropist with a commitment to social justice.

As well as the training mentioned above, a whole raft of activities are expected to be organised. This includes:

  • training and support relationships with different public and commercial bodies on behalf of the sector
  • developing a skills and knowledge base though technology ‘champions’ in the sector, as well as an online resource base for the sector
  • steering technology research and development to meet sector needs in line with the collaborative ethos of the sector.

The philosophy behind the project and its three year duration mean that understanding of technology use in grassroots social organisations can move beyond the most obvious or basic factors.  It’s a rare opportunity to examine some of the deeper implications of technology use.  I’m personally confident that not only is ICT necessary, but can help bring advances for social justice. The research Larry is doing will help confirm (or deny) this.

I’m sure I’ll be in Melbourne at some point to mull over these themes. Larry is very open to sharing. In fact, he’s already sent an invitation to the project launch in early October. I might miss this one too.