Technicity Times
    Issue 2• February 2003

<<BACK

Community Technology Advocates Make an Impact in Civic Participation
A voice, not just a vote

By James Lau

National, state, and local elections offer a valuable opportunity to raise the public's and policy makers' awareness about pressing social issues. In California's November election, community technology advocates made an impact through activities that involved polling candidates on where they stand on community technology issues and implementing an e-government demonstration project. (These activities were described in the November 2002 issue of Technicity Times; see http://www.technicitytimes.com/Nov02/yourvoice_nov_02.html.) As a result of these activities, elected officials committed themselves to policies and stances important to community technology and community technology programs positioned themselves as viable e-government service providers.

Candidate Survey

To learn where candidates stood on issues, The Children's Partnership, in conjunction with the California Community Technology Policy Group and Policy Link, issued a survey to all candidates running for elective state or federal office from California. The survey queried candidates on many issues relevant to community technology. The responses to the survey were posted on Web sites so voters could learn where candidates stand. In addition, the survey responses will be used to hold elected officials accountable to their campaign responses over the months ahead.

The responses by the candidates were extremely rich. All respondents agreed that technology literacy is extremely important for youth and a skilled workforce; how to achieve this goal widely varied. Proposals included dedicating funding for community technology or increasing funding to schools; changing the educational system to require teachers to be trained in technology, schools to offer computer courses, or youth to pass a technology literacy test as part of graduation; and distributing laptops to youth or building out the telecommunications infrastructure to make Internet connections possible.

Just as important as the responses is who responded. The respondents included candidates from all parties and candidates running for different levels of offices, from Governor to the state Assembly to Congress. Many who responded were eventually elected to office. In addition, the survey revealed who supports community technology. Community technology advocates can use this valuable survey information to pursue community technology policies and remind elected officials of their campaign commitments. (See http://www.techpolicybank.org/candidateresponses.html for responses, the candidate survey, and other information tools used in this education campaign.)

E-Government Demonstration Project

Complementing this activity was an e-government demonstration project carried out by about a dozen community technology programs across California. More specifically, These programs used the state's on-line voter registration Web site to help residents register to vote. They also provided links, including links to the survey responses, for users to learn about candidates and issues. Although the programs lacked a system to monitor how many people participated in this project, anecdotally, program staff felt it was a worthwhile endeavor.

This project demonstrated that community technology programs have the potential to offer e-government services. Community technology programs already have the infrastructure and capacity in place, - mainly computers, and Internet access and staff trained to help users. Moreover, the programs witnessed an interest by the community in wanting to use these services. With a little outreach, programs could provide e-government services to an even larger audience.

Furthermore, the project demonstrated community technology's long-term potential for civic involvement. With community technology programs helping residents participate in the electoral process, both users and candidates can begin to view community technology as critical civic institutions. Also, programs began to demystify civic participation through on-line tools, guiding residents through the process of registering to vote and casting a vote. Finally, programs are perceived as trusted institutions where residents can seek information, which can also include civic participation.

This demonstration, combined with other efforts, such as the upcoming Advocacy Day (slated for March 25th in Sacramento) and voter outreach, can build even greater awareness among policy makers about community technology. In the meantime, community technology centers and advocates should continue to find ways to offer e-government services and increase its visibility with candidates and elected officials. Moreover, community technology advocates can build on the experiences of this recent effort and make a bigger impact in the next election.



James Lau is technology program manager for The Children's Partnership. jlau@childrenspartnership.org .

<<BACK