Inventing the Future: Guidelines for Online Communities

Decisions about development of the Internet and other new media technologies are likely to shape our local communities in the future - just as decisions about roads, parks, public and private buildings have in the past. For that reason it is important that there is discussion of the guiding principles behind the Digital Cities, Telecities, Virtual Towns, community networks and other initiatives now being planned.

In 1996 Communities Online Forum conducted a preliminary discussion of principles for local community networking development, facilitated by Debbie Ellen, which can be found as an article about factors for success in community networking.

These principles are being further developed by UK Communities Online, and also helped inform development work by Partnerships Online.

Some of the issues raised here were discussed in the publication Inventing the Future: Communities in the Information Society, produced by Partnerships for Tomorrow in January 1996 as a contribution to the formation of Communities Online.

They are likely to be addressed again in the Policy Forum for Sustainable Communities in the Information Society.


1 Community participation. Community networks and similar information and communication systems should be designed with the participation of the communities that they aim to serve. This should include offline as well as online methods to ensure awareness and encourage participation by the widest possible cross section of the community.

2 Social inclusion. Networks should be designed and managed to ensure that all sections of the community have access, and as far as possible there is 'something for everyone'.

3 Partnership. Community networks should be partnerships of public, private and community interests to ensure they reflect this holistic approach.

4 Content and communication. Network users should be encouraged to contribute as well as receive local content, engage with wider online communities of interest, and use the network to address and resolve local concerns.

5 Freedom of speech. Networks should include independent discussion forums which guarantee freedom of speech within the law.

6 Training. Programmes of training and support should be available for individuals and organisations so they can enhance their use of the network.

7 Evaluation. Networks should be designed with clearly stated objectives whose achievement is evaluated and publicly reported.

8 Sustainability. Unless networks are intended to be short-life projects they should be designed for operation beyond the start-up phase.

9 Interoperability. There may well be more than one network in a community, each developed for different audiences. These networks should be designed so that they can be linked to create an integrated communications platform.

10 Leadership. Local authorities should play a leading role in promoting these principles, and the mechanisms by which they can be implemented - but should not assume that they are the sole public network or platform managers: that may be the role for a partnership body.

Using the guidelines

Communities Online hopes that the guidelines will be useful for local projects - so please feel free to circulate them with attribution, and provide us with feedback.

For more information contact Michael Mulquin, chair Communities Online. Tel: 0181 519 2244, or David Wilcox. Tel: 01273 677377.