Community Computing


Community Computing is a movement that seeks to provide access to community information to their community. Typically these organizations strive to make this access free and use computers to provide this access. For such organizations to work the community must be behind it (either by donating their time or actually using the system: if their is a demand most likely the system is required).

My Experience

For many years I was involved with Blue Sky Community Networks (BSCN) based in Manitoba, Canada. The main goal of this organization was to provide free access to community information to all Manitobans. To reach this goal, we provided a number of dial-up access phone numbers to people free of charge across the province, partnering with local community groups in addition, there were a number of free public- access terminals provided at libraries (where we also provided free training to users and Information Providers).

I was first a member of the Technical Services team and a member of the Board of Directors but through the years I eventually became the Chair of the Technical Services team.

At one time we had as many as 10,000 members across the province, however, most of these members were in Winnipeg, the most populous city (containing something like 80% of the population).

BSCN made it's presence known in various ways, appearing on a number of news items in addition to appearing at a number of public occasions (including the Computer Expo held in Winnipeg – BSCN appeared four times at this event). The Winnipeg branch of the organization managed to obtain the use of a large retail space in the middle of the city which was used for training and help line support.

BSCN is currently in limbo. In 1998 many of the assets of BSCN were seized due to mounting debts. Even though the organization no longer (effectively) exists, a component of the Technical Services team still remain maintaining the BSCN core system located at the University of Manitoba. Many of it's Information Providers still maintain information on this system and those that are left hope that one day someone will come along to take over the operation of this organization…One can always hope.


BSCN suffered from the very beginning with a severe over-abundance of bureaucracy and a severe under-abundance of active volunteers at the Board of Directors level. Much of the work over the many years was done by a small number (4-5) of individuals who, by the end, had pretty much worked themselves to ridiculous extremes and had left out of simple exhaustion and frustration. From a practical standpoint, there was no enthusiasm for one of the key areas of any non-profit organization: Fundraising.

Lessons learned:

  • Fundraising is priority number one: No money, no sustainability. This is an ONGOING long-term activity that should NEVER halt. If your income is less than your expenditure, you will not last long.
  • Do NOT Rely on Grants/Government: It is nice when the money comes, but it is a LONG time in coming and rules change so often, don't count on it. See about getting money from more diverse sources (do NOT rely on member donations: they help but not enough to keep any large organization running).
  • Volunteers are the Backbone: Without their support the organization has no one to perform the work required.
  • Certain Activities may Require Paid Staff: In our situation an individual was required for System Administration of the system, someone able to respond 24 hours a day to system problems. Who can expect the same of any volunteer (at least for any amount of time)? Similarly, the services of an auditor or book-keeper may be required.
  • Effective Board Members are IMPERITIVE: If members of the Board of Directors refuse to donate money towards the organization they work for you have to ask yourself if they are the directors you want running your organization. Board members should be the most active of all volunteers, serving as models for all other volunteers. The president is the most exposed member of the Board and as such should be the most vocal for the organization, again, serving as an example to all others.
  • Humans Make Mistakes: Especially when working with volunteers. Learn to accept this and move on.


Despite the seaming inpossibility of such an organization it IS possible. I have been fairly negative, but our organization worked, by and large (allowing for the falability of any person). I am convinced that, given the right people it is possible for such an organization to survive on a minimum of paid staff, dedicated volunteers, and donations.

Further Information

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