Community Regeneration Network proposals - and how they developed

Proposals for an electronic Community Regeneration Network for the UK stemmed from ideas originally developed by Partnerships for Tomorrow and the Communities Online Conference at BT Centre in October 1995 . Initial proposals of December 1995 were revised in discussion with BT. The revised proposals of March 1996 led to development of Communities Online, an initiative which focuses on both local community electronic networking, and networking communities of interest like regeneration practitioners.


The proposal of March 1996

The proposal below, of March 1996, developed from an earlier proposal submitted to BT Community Affairs in December 1995. That earlier proposal contained a higher budget and proposals for an independent server running FirstClass conferencing software. That proposal was modified on the basis that BT would provide server space.


Strategy

The aim of CRN is to demonstrate how the Internet and other new media technologies can benefit urban and rural communities.

It will do this by helping develop and link new national and local online networks based on existing network organisations.

Its main audience will be professionals and activists involved in regeneration projects and partnerships. They will use CRN for information and discussion.

The main partners in the development of CRN will be national network organisations who currently support local action, and their local equivalents. CRN will build on their existing methods of disseminating information and facilitating discussion through print and meetings.

Throughout the project we will explore how to bridge the gap between those struggling to cope with the basic use of computers, and the expectations created by the enthusiastic champions of telematics.
We will root development in the realities of the day to day work of professionals and activists in the field.

Project plan

There are three strands to the plan:

- and then bring these strands together in a demonstration seminar in July.

Recruit the networks

We will confirm working arrangements with the current partners in our proposal: National Council of Voluntary Organisations, Urban Forum and rural team; Community Development Foundation; Development Trusts Association; Standing Conference for Community Development.

We will develop partnership arrangements with other networks that serve and represent local umbrella organisations: NACVS (mainly urban Councils for Voluntary Service), and ACRE (Rural Community Councils). We are already in discussion with both these bodies.

We will analyse their needs, which are likely to include support and training for members connecting to the Internet; designing information structures and resources; facilitating online discussion.

In addition to these national networks we will recruit local projects which are using or developing electronic networking for community benefits. These may include partnerships of local authorities, universities and voluntary organisations.

For the purposes of demonstration and evaluation we will aim to recruit, by the above processes, at least 100 professionals who will be actively involved in using and developing the system. Many more will, of course, be able to access the Web site.

Progress on the project will depend on the speed with which the network organisations can engage with the technology and relate it to their day to day operations. This will provide important lessons for future development.

Create the technical platform

We will work with BT Labs and our technical partners to create mailing lists, one or more demonstration Web sites and a demonstration bulletin board system for discussion groups.

The Web site will be the shop window for CRN, linked to other existing sites and to the sites we will develop with our network partners. We will undertake initial Web and BBS design, and discuss with BT Labs the scope for using their servers for public access.

Initial development will be for working demonstration purposes: that is, it will be fully functional for initial users, but not configured for wider public use. We will plan the further technical development of Web sites and BBS in conjunction with BT Labs and implement during the second phase.

We would like to explore the possibility of an Internet access package provided by the BT Internet service.

Develop the information content

We will work with our network partners to develop an overall editorial framework, and a structure which will allow updating both centrally and through partner organisations.

The content will cover social, economic and environmental topics relevant to community regeneration, and the processes of partnership, participation and organisational development. This will allow us to provide both file libraries of information on Web and BBS, and to develop discussion groups.

As with technical development, during the period of the project we will be able to provide a first range of useful material and discussion groups. Expansion of the system will be planned on the basis of first stage evaluation and second stage fundraising.

Programme

The programme will culminate in a demonstration seminar involving BT, partner networks and other potential sponsors and funders. It will provide the deadline for bringing all elements of the project together, and assist in second stage fundraising.

We have already started work on network recruitment, and outlining the information structure and technical requirements. The milestones in the programme are:

April

May

June

July

Budget

Network recruitment, overall project management
and evaluation £6000
Training workshops for network partners £1000
Editorial structure and initial content £3000
Web development and design £2500
BBS development and design £2500
Graphic design £1500
Workshops and seminar £1500

Total £18,000


We suggest that the balance of items within this budget ­p; for example between Web and BBS ­p; is reviewed after the meeting with BT Labs.

The budget is tight to cover the three elements of the programme: technical, network development and information. Throughout the first phase we will be seeking help in kind and ­p; where possible ­p; some cash contributions from network partners. We will also make bids to other potential funders and sponsors, subject to agreement with BT.

In order to ensure the longer term sustainability of the network it will be important that network partners recognise the costs of developing and maintaining Web sites and a BBS, and that we jointly secure resources for further development.

Sustainability

During the four month development period we will examine a number of options for the longer term business plan for the network. These are likely to include the following elements:

A key issue to examine will be whether to continue to treat the project as a testbed and demonstration for, say a year, or to attempt to move to wider service provision more rapidly. This decision will depend partly on the likely earning capacity of the project, and partly on the opportunities that it provides for BT to experiment with different approaches.

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Changes of course

The three strands of the original proposal - network development, technical platform, content - were developed on the basis that:

In practice these assumptions did not hold and other opportunities arose which led to a change of priorities.

These changes of course and the outcome will be detailed in the project report.

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The proposal of December 1995

Summary

This proposal outlines a development partnership between BT, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and Aston Charities Trust to create a new national charity called Partnerships for Tomorrow.

It sets out how these partners, and others, will develop a 'friendly island' on the Internet to demonstrate how new media technologies can benefit voluntary bodies and communities.

The initiative stems from development work funded by BT which culminated in a conference Communities Online at BT Centre in October 1995.

As a result of this earlier work the initiative is already supported by major national bodies working in the not for profit sector. These include the Community Development Foundation (CDF), Development Trusts Association (DTA) and Standing Conference on Community Development (SCCD). Our aim is to attract other key organisations from the public and private sectors to form a unique cross sector partnership.

The primary service offered by Partnerships for Tomorrow will be to provide a means by which private, public, and voluntary sector organisations can work together to promote, develop, support and evaluate projects for community benefit based on the use of new media technologies.

This proposal covers the first stage of a three stage process to create the technical platform, develop and test the information systems, establish 'real world' partnerships, and move towards a financially sustainable service with a year.

It builds on the pilot system demonstrated at the conference, where pioneer users have already started development of a Community Regeneration Network (CRN). During phase 1 we will:

This proposal makes the case for BT involvement in Partnerships for Tomorrow, not just as a source of financial support and expertise, but as a partner. We are seeking first stage investment of £24,600 plus a high capacity Internet link.

We are offering BT a key role in the first initiative of its kind to demonstrate widely and practically the potential benefits new media technologies can offer in the fields of community regeneration and social change.


As described above, these proposals of December 1995 were modified in discussion with BT. The budget was reduced to £18,000, and instead of a high capacity Internet link to a server provided by Intermedia Associates, BT offered space on their own servers. The implications of these changes are discussed in the project report.

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Prepared by David Wilcox
dwilcox@pavilion.co.uk October 4 1996
This page URL
http://www.partnerships.org.uk/crn/prop.html