Community organisations need community tech

Three part series of short articles by Rachel Coldicutt, starting with Why community organisations need community tech, where she provides an overlook of the research her group has been doing. They were “tasked with understanding the challenges for community businesses, and whether they could be a catalyst for the wider adoption of community-owned technologies.”

Through a literature review and a series of qualitative interviews with community businesses, they explore why community organizations decide to create their own solutions, how they collaborate, and some of the differences between what they create for themselves and the business-focused solutions the software market sells.

In brief: without the profit motive and with a focus on the needs of each community, software ends up quite different, more appropriate to the problems, and better aligned with values.

[W]hat if some community organisations need different kinds of technology to businesses or governments? What if the growing critique of the social and environmental impact of corporate platforms makes adopting those products a moral and ethical dilemma for community organisations? What if there’s no one way of getting it right? […]

Community-to-community. Technology that is owned and/or managed by communities, that supports the delivery of their values and preferred ways of working.

In the second post, What is Community Hardware and Software?, Coldicutt goes deeper into what they mean with this concept, why embedding different values is important, and why alternatives matter.

[I]f you can access digital services without the onerous terms dictated by big tech companies, then there’s a space to build digital services with different values embedded, where you do not expose people to harms and risks along the way that we have just accepted with the mainstream options. […]

Creating alternatives to big, shared data sets and holding a space outside of surveillance culture is an important role for community organisations, and this is an issue that deserves greater engagement from policy makers, finders and communities across the UK.

In the final post, Community Tech in Action, we see some examples of community tech, why they chose to do it this way, and what the conditions for success are.

This confidence and ‘just enough’ knowledge is also distributed across the organisations that are creating community tech; there isn’t just an IT person dreaming up solutions in a vacuum, the whole organisation grows together in appreciating the potential of creating their own products. [Emphasis mine.]