Does technology have a role in community development?

What is technology’s role in community development? That might sound like a stupid question, but for communities, answering this question may not be as easy as you think. That may be why a standing-room-only audience joined panelists from IBM, Create Hope, Fannie May and Intel to ruminate on the subject last May at the United States Chamber of Commerce’s Business Civic Leadership Center’s Corporate Community Investment conference held in Washington, DC. Intel Community Solutions was invited to share our unique approach to community development, one because our projects demonstrate novel ways how technology can be used to spur community development, and two, because we tend to develop projects that are, for the most part, self-sustaining. The question of technology’s role in community development stirred an interesting flow of opinions, sharing and ideas, focused less on the question and more on the challenges communities face when considering incorporating technology in community development, and in how to overcome them.

While more and more communities succeed these days at incorporating technology into their community development plans, the barriers still flummox some community leaders as they try to figure out how to drive return on investment (ROI) from Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions. And yet, more and more, technology is playing ever greater roles in community development allowing tech companies like Intel, IBM and others to implement CSR initiatives that both benefit community and support our business objectives. (As an aside, I know IBM has an suite of business tools and information that is intended to help citizens get a head start on building community through entrepreneurship).

Back to the conference: Making technology work in the community development context means overcoming questions that pop up the moment a community member thinks about technology and community development:

How can technology address our community problem?

How do we afford to pay for such a solution?

Once you’ve bought it, how do you afford to keep it up?

How do you replicate or scale the solution community-wide once you have a solution that’s working?

I’m not going to answer these questions in this post, but over time, I’ll share snippets of projects ongoing in Community Solutions that may provide some answers. We in Community Solutions don’t have all the answers of course. In fact, I’m hoping you can help answer some of the questions I have. I’d like to see this blog become more of a community, where CSR people are chipping in their ideas about how we can foster CSR projects that deliver benefits across communities and where appropriate integrate technology into the mix. So, How have you seen communities successfully grapple with these questions? Are they valid questions? Are there others? Do you have an innovative way to overcome the challenges these questions present?

I’d love to hear your ideas.

11 thoughts on “Does technology have a role in community development?

  1. I think information gathering and video processing is an area where Intel can grow. Specifically, assisting under staffed police departments with information gathering and processing.
    I believe Cisco is already ahead of Intel in this areas, having made significant investments.
    I’m very much against big brother, but where it doesn’t violate individual freedoms I believe technology can assist in the fight to protect people from harm.
    Why there are not more cameras with video processing abilities in every major city is a surprise to me. We can easily plot the areas where there are high rates of crimes.
    Why not simply create an initiative to educate local communities on how they can use technology to prevent crime or at least use it to determine who committed the crime.
    With the price of video cameras going through the floor thanks to cellphones and the price of multiple cores capable of handling image recognition on a similar trajectory it seems like Intel could be at the forefront.
    Intel could also promote use of their Wimax investments to connect these civic minded devices.

  2. Funny you should mention supporting law enforcement. One of the first Community Solutions projects underway in Oregon three years ago or so was engaging with law enforcement agencies to develop solutions that would do much of what you descrbibed in your post (minus the community cameras). The project didn’t go anywhere for several reasons, but today, first responder (police, fire, etc.) solutions are a big part of the whole Digital Communities concept Intel was largely responsible for launching about two years back(check out the latest developments here:

  3. My community-related concern is that most people can’t have a convenient access to the information they need using their cell phones.
    The mobile Internet is just not having a hardware platform that could be effective for a detailed presentation of information and a ‘seamless’ navigation through a Mobile Web site. A cell phone user has to do so much scrolling and switching between the pages to realize what is the whole structure of the mobile website and how useful it would be because he/she has constantly to distract attention from the main menu in favor of reading the content on the same screen. And when there are many opened websites as in the process of searching, this could be very difficult to organize it effectively in order to get the successful results.
    That’s why many people just don’t have so much time and patience to use mobile searching of information or just browse the Mobile Web. They use the first results offered by a network operator and more often it’s not always what they really need and the operator in turn can offer only the most frequently asked things. So users just don’t have enough choice of offerings on the market.
    This also the reason why mobile advertising is now just being planned in the most companies because advertisers don’t have the means as quality informative banners – users just scroll the existing small-size banners down in order to find the content.
    And exactly online advertising is what made the Internet successful a decade ago. And mobile Internet needs a standard platform as the desktop and notebook PC platforms to succeed.
    The idea of the hardware platform for mobile Internet is to add the second touch-sensitive display instead of the keypad of a cell phone with a standard clamshell design – and place all the menu items with headings and links in the cascading menus – in one place, just for navigation. The same space of the second display is used for showing the banners before a site’s menu or text advertisements in search results. And the main display is for showing the sections of a Mobile Web site, documents or search results. This concept could allow to implement the APIs of software applications as well.
    I have a thread on Intel Software Network forum dedicated to mobility for more information about the platform – Cell PC Platform.

  4. Very good points Michael and I hear there may be products coming that address some of the issues you’re highlighting. Sounds like you’re involved in looking into these issues. Is there anything you’re working on that will address these issues and help make it more effective to drive community development with these technologies? I’d love to hear about it…

  5. Yes, of course. International communications using the technologies I’m creating. Just take a look at the situation with earlier implemented by RIM and now promoted by SonyEricsson – SureType tecnology in the new models as – Blackberry Pearl, SE M600 and P1. Let’s say you live in Russia. You would get a device (that refers to SonyEricsson) that can provide only Russian alphabet on the keys. And say you’re an IT specialist (no matter, you just love communicating with people around the globe). How can you communicate with them not having an ability to type in English? And these are the flagships of the industry. Let’s take iPhone – it has 26 keys with letters (Russian alphabet has 33 letters). That’s the reason that two years ago I set myself a goal to create a keyboard that has the US-International layout. When I have created it I have seen that the possibilities of this design could really match PC functionality in all aspects the PC platform has. It’s my project of the cell PC platform. And my main specialization is AI-based expert systems for natural language processing – cross-language communications.

  6. Congrats on identifying what may be a real opportunty! Good luck in your efforts. I’ll look forward to seeing your product on the market!

  7. Congrats on identifying what may be a real opportunty! Good luck in your efforts. I’ll look forward to seeing your product on the market!

  8. Okay
    Livescribe has this pen that does amazing things. The pen can actually translate different languages. So, say you are in Spain & you want to taxi to a specific location. You can tell the pen where you want to go in English and the pen will translate to Spanish so the Spanish speaking taxi driver can understand your requested destination. Now, just imagine this technology fully developed. You speak English into the pen, the pen will translate your English into Spanish and then the taxi driver’s Spanish into English or potentially any language on the planet. It is an awsome piece of technology. You can understand and be understood in any languge in the world. Of course in this early stage of development not all languges are available, but the capacity is there. This piece of technology can change the world.
    With that pen I can go to a lecture take notes and the pen will make an audio recording of the lecture. Later, f I need to review a certain part of the lecture.I just tap the pen on that partiular part of my notes and the pen will play the audio part of the lecture that corresponds to the place I tap in my notes It’s just too much.
    I can also dock my pen across platforms and it will create a word doc of my lecture notes for me. The pen is affordable, I think under 200.00
    For educational purposes and facilitating communication in multlingual communities this pen could be amazing.
    Has anyone else heard of this technology?

  9. Hey Cheryl,
    Yes, there is a big movement underway to develop viable speech recognition and translation technology. Futurist and inventor Raymond Kurzweil was an early pioneer who contributed to the developer of the Phraselator ( which has been used successfully in many DOD expeditionary campaigns.
    That the technology has been reduced to a pen-sized object is not surprising. Kurzweil and others speculate such technology will very soon become implantable devices that also will allow us to be continually connected to the internet.
    It’s very exciting….

  10. Hello Perry and Cheryl,
    The thing is that modern linguistics describes *at maximum 5%* of real language. I’m Russian native speaker and I know only one source where real English on the mind level is spoken to provide linguistic objectivity and be interpreted for real translation – by Kelly Fox. I have been using it for four year for my expert system which I use for everyday translation of the texts from this site. *Literature as a common source for linguists* is biased and poor so it’s mostly useless for the purposes of regular work with the language. *Reality is needed*. The solution is a database that mirrors two languages – all the phrases and contruction based on all the meanings or its translations in this case of words. Any system that uses models of constructions generates nonsense unless it’s an electronic phrase book like a phraselator.

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