Craigmillar Community Information Service
- A community Development Approach to Cyberspace, by Dr Andrew
Rousseau, in his CONFESSIONS, sardonically mused that, "it is never
any good foreseeing the future," for he had, "never known how
to avoid it." Yet, in a world of rapid techno change, where the telematic
possibility curve is ever upwards, and where today's fictions are tomorrow's
realities, it would be unwise to sleepwalk blindly past the opportunities
presented by the Information Society.
Such recognition informed the thinking behind the creation of Craigmillar
Community Information (Society) Service (CCIS) in Feb 1994, under the auspices
of the Scottish Office's Urban Programme in conjunction with support from
Edinburgh City Council. The project has 3 full time members of staff and
is managed by an independently constituted management committee comprised
of local politicians, council officials, and reps from community groups.
Craigmillar itself, is an unlikely setting for a global communications project.
The area is a conurbation of council housing estates which are blighted
by poverty, social ills and economic decline. Indeed, Craigmillar is by
official recognition, one of the poorest parts of Edinburgh.
The CCIS, which has charitable status in Scotland, seeks to encourage community
groups and agencies to migrate to, and through, the so called super digital
highways. CCIS believes in the concept of civic networking and subscribes
to a low cost/high value approach to info communication technology applications,
services and networks, Further to this, CCIS provides access to the following
Additionally, CCIS is he European Super Hub (there are only 5 such hubs
in the world) for a freenet of 3 million users worldwide called OneNet.
Here, CCIS feeds 640 computer sites throughout Europe.
- Free Internet email accounts.
- Free in house, public WWW access on 9 terminals linked up to a 64K
- Free user support & training.
- Direct dial up access to the WWW for 20 local groups and agencies.
- Help with the creation, hosting & posting of Web pages for community
groups on our 3 Web servers (http://www.ccis.org.uk/)
- We also maintain two mail servers, an FTP server plus database and
portal backbone super hub gateway servers.
- Free dial up access to bulletin boards/newsgroups over ten modem lines
and a Craignet/OneNet server.
CCIS can reasonably claim to have established itself as an imaginative benchmark
for those voluntary sector groups, public agencies & community activists
who seek to exploit the benefits of infomatics for community advantage.
Signposts of success to date include:
- Currently, de facto, CCIS is the biggest FREE BBS in the UK.
- Being shortlisted in the BT/Sunday Times 'Towards the Superhighways'
awards in 1995.
- Winner of an IBM 'Community Connections' award in 1996.
- Cited in numerous press articles, journals and other publications
(see for example, DGX111's "Telematics & Urban Development",
- Short listed in the EC's Bangemann/Stockholm Challenge (winners to
be annouced at a ceremony, presided over by the King of Sewden, in late
- One of only 5 super hubs in the world for OneNet.
- Original signatory to the DTI's 'IT For All' initiative.
- First mainland UK project to be accepted as an affiliate member to
the US based Community Technology Centres' Network.
As suggested above, CCIS was created to develop access to telematic services
for the 'IT poor', or 'info have nots'. The core idea was that 'ordinary'
folk could do 'extraordinary' things with computers and electronic networks
and the like, if given ACCESS, training and support.
CCIS was established to develop a stretch of the digital highway for local
use and application and so harness the potential of the information society
as a 'public' good.
At the outset, the project team recognised that most community groups and
agencies already have ample IT kit. Certainly, in Craigmillar, where there
are at least 80 local groups straddling every functional typology one can
imagine, from the cradle to the grave', most groups already have computers,
telephone lines and fax machines. The trick was, from the earliest, to convince
projects that their pc should be deployed as something more than a glorified
type writer i.e it could be transformed with a modem into a vehicle for
surfing the info sphere and cruising the dataverse. Likewise, we found that
part of the 'battle of ideas' in getting people to accept electronic networking
lay in explaining to people that modems and fax machines are essentially
of the same genus and that the fax is an extremely inefficient mode for
sending large amounts of data (in contrast to FTP). Here, CCIS has registered
some success, with the local housing project indicating that they are saving
£30 per month by sending email rather than faxes.
Agencies in Craigmillar are increasingly communicating across a growing
digital community. Indeed, more and more Craigmillar groups are using the
Net to their advantage and making the most of a wide range of info benefits.
By way of illustration, we currently have Craigmillar Community Housing
Development Project on line, along with the Council's local housing office,
Edinburgh Tenants Federation, and TPAS ( a national tenants advisory group).
This not only means that these housing bodies can share ideas, experiences
and info over the Craignet, it means that their client group can have a
mixed economy of choice over who they have a dialogue with.
CCIS has linked together over 150 community agencies in Edinburgh. We have
a range of newsgroups moderated by local people. For instance, Christian
Net is overseen by an activist in Wester Hailes (another urban, peripheral
area in Edinburgh), while a local T&G official administrates a trades
union site. Most recently, Children in Crisis have set up a 'clearing house'
network where groups can find out about equipment that is up for grabs.
Finally, the Craigmillar Out of School Project is using the Net to maintain
& develop contact between children in Craigmillar and South Africa.
One clear issue that has become evident over the past two years plus, has
been the need for training in cyberskills. Here, CCIS teams up with the
local community high school and the Craigmillar Festival's Community Development
Project, to deliver training classes every 2 months or so. We have found
that, not surprisingly, people will not use the Craignet unless they are
confident and comfortarble with the basic skills to use it. Even then, we
have discovered that individuals prefer to write privately to one another
as opposed to sending messages to public areas of the board where they may
be exposed to challenges.
Another problematic is that some genuinely suffer impotence of the imagination.
Those that are afflicted with blunted senses simply refuse to accept the
case for harnessing of ICT's for community advantage. The 'unconvinced'
are, in my experience, a hard nut to crack. Such people tend to be partisans
of the past, locked into the paper based paradigm (in contrast to the cyber
paradigm of bits & bytes) and stubbornly refuse to open their imagination
to the unfolding future.
The Net has taken hold in Craigmillar and will continue to expand from there
in the coming years. CCIS subscribed to the view, perhaps sooner than most,
that the Net will increasingly shed its elitist and mystical garb to become
part of all our heritage.
In the meantime, CCIS will continue to promote computer networking as a
tool for community problem solving, economic development, info sharing,
democratic dialogue and discourse, and as a publishing tool with a potential
audience of 40 million cybercitizens.
In short, CCIS pledges to continue making the Net and its associated technologies
such as video conferencing accessible to everyone, not just the technically
literate. Ultimately, few things are more challenging.
Wordsmith@ccis.org.uk (Andy McDonald)
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