Telecenter 2.0 and Community Building

On November 5th, 2008, I attended the V Encuentro de e-Inclusión [V e-Inclusion Conference], a meeting of telecenter administrators from all around Spain organized by Fundación Esplai.

If last year’s edition looked at the Web 2.0 as something new — I imparted then a seminar entitled What do they say the Social Web is? —, this year’s general belief was that not only the Web 2.0 is here to stay but that it’s impact on the way the Internet is used and on how communities go online has altered the whole landscape. Thus, telecenters should reflect on their own activity and, above all, their own role in this new participatory web. The session debated around three main questions, put down below.

The paragraphs that follow freely report the opening session of the Encuentro, featuring three conferences, Q & A to the conferences, two showcases and, lastly, some personal reflections on the whole session.

Telecenters 2.0 and community building
Ismael Peña-López (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

More information:


Training in ICTs and community building
Ricard Faura (Generalitat de Catalunya)

Telecenters achieving maturity: extensive geographical presence and intensively enhanced by new social technologies, the threat being long-term sustainability, both at the economical level and the conceptual (i.e. is there still a need for telecenters?).

1.- The evolution of the telecentre towards v2.0 and community building: utopy or reality?

The telecenter has to work in a network of telecenters, working and collaborating together.

The telecenter as a living lab: a place where tools are put at the citizen disposal, so that the citizenry can innovate, can take part in innovation.

The telecenter has to train and empower the citizen to benefit from social networks, by taking part in the community.

2.- How to build community through digital literacy?

Find and engage the social connector, the person that has to be activated to trigger a multiplicator effect.

3.- Challenges of community building from social initiatives?

Once the first milestones of an inclusion project have been reached, the public sector has to step aside and let the civil society lead. Community leaders – “shakers” – have to be the ones that drive inclusion projects.


Centros comunitarios de aprendizaje
Ernesto Benavides (Tecnológico de Monterrey)

1.- The evolution of the telecentre towards v2.0 and community building: utopy or reality?

Reality, not utopy: the Tec de Monterrey has 33 campuses, 37 campuses + 25 corporate universities in the Universidad TecMilenio framework, a virtual university present in 17 countries and the Instituto para el desarrollo sostenible with 26 social incubators and 1709 Learning Community Centers. Comunity building can thus be understood at many and different levels, the important thing being to act at al levels and in a networked way, sharing principles and resources, and adapting the procedures to the target population.

2.- How to build community through digital literacy?

Engagement is the answer. Let people take part into the whole deployment of projects, from design to evaluation.

Planting solid roots and setting a slow (but steady) path, with easy to reach milestones that report small successes.

3.- Challenges of community building from social initiatives?

Impact in the civil society:

  • infrastructures are a must, but not enough
  • open software and content are the next required step, but not enough
  • empowerment: the telecenter as a window to generate identity and build community

Impact in public policies: try and keep long run strategies (despite of political changes) and try and bring grassroots initiatives into macro policies.

Centros comunitarios de aprendizaje:

  • cut down poverty and marginalization throug social inclusion
  • bring alternatives of access to education, information and communication
  • promote productive projects for a sustainable community development


Q & A

Cesk Gasulla: Facebook is really successful, but is it useful for community building?

Ismael Peña-López: Facebook has been perfect to get people together, and there are plenty of interesting uses of Facebook, but it lacks the possibility (or makes it really difficult) to draw guidelines, schedules, milestones and goals or, in other words, to design, manage and implement a project, as it is difficult to separate one community from another, or different interests, as they live together under the same roof. There is too much “noise” in Facebook to engage in a quiet conversation led by an engaged coordinator without the danger of passerbys peeping inside the project. Probably, Ning is the answer to this need of a closed room for community building. Indeed, as Ning requires more effort to be set up and customized than i.e. an event or group on Facebook, it might probably be taken more seriously by their own promoters, that will commit more as they’d be expecting a return of their higher investment (of time, resources, etc.)

Ricard Faura: while agreeing with the former, we should not forget that Facebook’s main success has been popularizing and making easy to understand what social networking sites are, how do they work, etc. And this is something that other platforms have been having toughest and longest time to achieve.
María Eugenia Moreno (COGNOTEC (Red TIC Bolivia))

In Bolivia telcenters are (often) located inside schools so that they can supply the techonolgycal training that schools do (or can) not. Telecenters are also place in rural areas in order to provide access to these remote areas.

Two main areas of speciality of telecenters in Bolivia:

  • education: digital literacy, formal and long-life learning. Portals, community wikis where to upload any kind of content.
  • agriculture: e-commerce, etc.

How can web 2.0 contribute to telecenter development and community development? What’s the utility of social networking sites?


Milvia Rastrelli (Arci)

How to find the usefulness of ICTs, as a means, not as a goal?

Work with the youth, that have found clear uses of ICTs, in community building though these ICTs in the way they use them. By attracting youngsters with ICT applications that they are asking for (e.g. music sharing, video editing and publishing, etc.), next step (inclusion) comes naturally (or, at least, easily).

Work with immigrants, that again have mastered some ICT applications (e.g. radioweb) for their own benefit. But this has provided free information and in plural ways and approaches. Telecenters promote these actions to foster democracy, information, etc.

One of the most urgent needs for a telecenter is to identify who the dinamizator will be… and engage them in doing it.


Some reflections

I pick one of Cesk Gasulla’s quotes as the summary of the whole session: We should quit dynamizing technology, and dynamize people instead.

The reflections telecenters are making these days — and the Encuentro not only featured direct representatives form circa 200 telecenters in Spain, but somehow reflected also the philosophy of the whole network, which gathers thousands of them — are not about setting up some guidelines for the nearest future to come, but reflecting on the essence itself of the role and even need of the telecenter. This reflection is threefold:

  • Is there still a need for such a thing as a telecenter, when technology is made more affordable every day, and access is being incorporated in public policies at all political levels?
  • If yes, what is the role of the telecenter: does it still has to supply access to infrastructures? should it shift towards digital literacy and capacity building? should it instead switch towards community building and focus on the personal and social networks?
  • If yes, how should this be done? and what’s the role of technology in the whole (new) landscape?

There was quite a consensus that access is no more the primary goal of telecenters (though it still is a very important goal in many and many places around the globe).

And there was quite an acknowledgement that capacity building is neither the primary goal. Firstly, because the new 2.0 tools have made things easier to learn and build things on the Internet. Secondly, because there are several examples where newly digitally literate people saw no changes at all in their lives. What’s the purpose, then, in being digitally literate?

So it seems that, besides access and capacity building (remember: no one said it was not a need), telecenters should now focus on community building. There’s increasing evidence that after a first geeky wave of early adopters, the Internet is empowering already settled communities, strengthening their ties and broadening their scope and reach. The Internet has become a catalyst and multiplier of the social inclusion goodnesses of the community, the social and “real” network.

But, being a network as it is (made out of connected individual nodes), the only way to help the individual to weave their own network (offline and online… and back offline again) is being a part of the network too. No hierarchies, no top-down approaches will work for the telecenters to approach the community networks, but their own and sheer participation in them.

This is were the Telecenter 2.0 comes to place: how to be part of the network, speaking their own language, engaging in a conversation; how to find and trigger the community leaders; how to approach the excluded and get them inside the conversation, the network, the community. This is the real challenge of the Telecenter (2.0): the switch from a public service to being another citizen, another neighbour.


If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2008) “Telecenter 2.0 and Community Building” In ICTlogy, #62, November 2008. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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4 Comments to “Telecenter 2.0 and Community Building” »

  1. Pingback: V Encuentro de e-inclusión « TELECENTROS Y RECURSOS TIC

  2. Pingback: Comunitat Connecta 2.0 « La Mongetera

  3. Pingback: Web 2.0 para la e-inclusión, (sin perder el norte…).V Encuentro « Fundación Esplai blog

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