Just do it - letter from a US networker

Steve Snow was the the Director of the award-winning Charlotte's Web, and President of the US Association For Community Networking. Back in 1997 he wrote an open letter to UK networkers. Steve died on December 27 2008: more here about Steve's contribution to community networking.

Dear Networking Neighbors,

I suppose I could summarize my point of view about building community networks in three words: "Just Do It!"

How '90s. How American, aye?

Yet, I can tell you from experience that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to create even a small "electronic community", much less sustain one. So it takes a dash of "devil-may-care" to make it happen, a belief that the power and urgency of the concept demands that you do this.

Perhaps a less intense way of saying the same thing would be this: "Don't let anyone tell you you cannot do this."

And once you believe that this is right for your community, that the concept truly has value and honest usefulness, then you can begin to work on the details:

Make friends, forget enemies. Collaborate with any group that will have you and wants to work together. That will vary from community to community, so the model to copy is the process, not the organizations. Natural collaborations will surface. Make the most of them. Conversely, be nice to those who would undermine you but stay away from them; they will bring negative energy you can ill afford.

When you have some kind of critical mass to form an organization, be crystal clear among yourselves what each partner's role in the organization is -- what each brings to the project and what each is expected to deliver. When the going gets rough later on, as it invariably does, you can return to your initial agreements to help guide you out of the mess.

Open your arms wide to the community, but make sure those who volunteer for you can actually do both what they say they can do and what you need. Interview each volunteer as if they are seeking a paying job and hold them to high standards. They will be glad for it and your project will be better for it; anything less will lead to disaster eventually.

When you train people to help build the network, trust them to do most of the work, so it becomes *their* network, not yours.

Be on the lookout for unusual opportunities. Here in the U.S., we at Charlotte's Web are getting ready to develop some related businesses to generate money for our nonprofit corporation. We hadn't thought of that originally, but it will become increasingly an important part of our support.

Do not try to invent everything "new". Hundreds of groups have already tried what you are doing and most will be only too happy to share with you. The U.S. will launch its Association for Community Networking in 1997; this is a precursor to an *International* association that we hope can provide more coherence for this movement internationally.

Finally, let me offer a small caution and a great hope: take care of yourselves physically and emotionally as you build your community networks; know they are part of a matrix of things that will help make your community better, but do not let yourself get dragged into the "black hole" of the Internet. Overwork only hurts the movement in the long run.

My great hope is that we can work together to take electronic community building to new levels in coming years; and it is more than a hope -- I believe we can and will do it; we will do it for ourselves, we will do it for each other and we will do it for our communities.

If we in the U.S., especially here at Charlotte's Web (
http://www.charweb.org) can be of any assistance, please do drop us a note and let us put a shoulder to the wheel.

Steve Snow
Charlotte's Web

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