"Community Informatics is a technology strategy or discipline which links economic and social development efforts at the community level with emerging opportunities in such areas as electronic commerce, community and civic networks and Telecentres, electronic democracy and on-line participation, self-help and virtual health communities, advocacy, cultural enhancement, and others." (Gurstein, In Press) 
Researchers and activists in fields concerned with community and economic development (e.g. urban planning, public policy, business and social welfare) have increasingly become interested in analyzing how information and communications technology (ICT) impacts neighborhood dynamics and dealing with equity issues such as the "digital divide."  The following bibliography is divided into several themes and can serve as a resource for people interested in this burgeoning area of inquiry. 



Community Networks are one way in which activists have tried to employ ICT for community and economic development.  Essentially, they represent attempts to build a type of "virtual community," sometimes through digital interaction or through access to services and information. 

First, here a few good introductory websites and references:

Association For Community Networking

  • This organization "is an educational nonprofit corporation dedicated to fostering and supporting "Community Networking" -- community based creation & provision of appropriate technology services." The site provides a good overview of the goals and lessons of community networking. 
Cisler, Steve.  "Electronic Public Space in 1998: Civic and Community Networks." Available at:
  • A short article on the promise of and challenges facing community networks. Argues that they are "part of an electronic public space." 
Designing Across Borders: The Community Design of Community Networks
  • This is a report from a workshop of the CSCW 98 (Computer Support for Community Work) Conference. It houses a number of interesting Position Papers. 
A Domain Where Thought Is Free To Roam: The Social Purpose Of Community Networks A paper that explores the role of community networks on creating a "Knowledge Society" in Canada. Hecht, Lawrence.  1999.  "U.S. Community Networks and the Services they Offer." Master's thesis, Georgetown University, Department of Public Policy.  Available at:
  • This paper presents a statistical analysis of a survey of 68 Community Networks from throughout the U.S.  The author concludes that the most successful community networks receive funding from multiple sources and that the management structure impacts the quality of services. 
Schuler, Douglas. 1996. New Community Networks: Wired for Change. New York: ACM Press. 
  • This is a classic work on Community Networks. The author is very active in the Activist and Research Network, listed below in the Research section. 
Next, here are links to a few community networking projects:

Cleveland Neighborhood Link

  • A guide to community services in resources in Cleveland. It includes demographic and other statistical information. However, it consists primarily of program descriptions and links. This site appears to be designed to help non-professionals find services information. 
East St. Louis Action Research Project
  • This is a project of various departments from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, done in partnership with community residents of East St. Louis. Following a participatory planning methodology, they have served as an informal planning agency for a city with no planning agency. 
Minneapolis Neighborhoods
  • Neighborhood descriptions, maps, HMDA data, and other planning related information about Minneapolis neighborhoods. This site appears to provide information for planning professionals and academics primarily. 
Neighborhoods Online
  • This site purports to be "an online resource center for people working to build strong communities throughout the United States." It provides links on areas such as crime, education, community development, health and the environment. Manages the Build-Com listserv that focuses on neighborhood issues. 
Oakland Community Networking Project
  • A community outreach program of UC Berkeley, this project "provides networking and information resources to the Enterprise Communities of Oakland by creating a networked system of communication among the University of California, City of Oakland, branch libraries, and community based organizations 

The following articles and books look in some way at the impact that new information technologies are having (or might have) on urban areas and neighborhoods throughout the world.  Unfortunately, because this is a rather new area of research, much of these writings tend to be speculative.  There remains a lot of work to be done in this area.  The Borja and Castells and Graham and Marvin books tend to take a critical political economy approach, while Mitchell's books are futuristic.  The rest of the articles and books tend to be more empirically based. 

Al-Kodmany, Kheir. 1999. "University-Community Partnerships: Unleashing Technical and Local Expertise." Journal of Urban Technology 6 (2): 39-63. 

  • This recent article reports on the experience of University of Illinois-Chicago's technical assistance work in community development. 
Borja, Jordi and Manuel Castells. 1997. Local and Global: Management of Cities in the Information Age. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd. 
  • An interesting book that looks at many aspects of how cities are changing in the current era.  The authors warn that the digital divide has exacerbated existing socio-economic disparities, creating "opposite and equally dynamic poles of the information economy" and leading to a socially-polarized "dual city" 
CTCNet. "Computer and Communications Use in Low-Income Communities: Models for the Neighborhood Transformation and Family Development Initiative."

CTCNet. "Impact of CTCNet Affiliates: Findings from a National Survey of Users of Community Technology Centers."

Doheny-Farina, Stephen.  1996.  The Wired Neighborhood.  New Haven: Yale University Press. 

  • This book charts a useful course between the two extreme views of technology's impact on society (i.e. "technotopia" and "technophobia").  The author critiques "the communitarian vision" of may proponents of community informatics, pointing to past un-realized dreams (e.g. public access cable television).  Yet he maintains that communities can put new technologies to good use if the maintain a "healthy dose of constructive skepticism." 
Graham, Stephen and Simon Marvin. 1996. Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Places. London: Routledge. 
    This is perhaps the first serious, and to date most comprehensive, inquiry of how new information and communication technologies (what the authors refer to as "telematics") are shaping and changing urban areas.  The authors tend to take a critical view of these changes, examining such diverse areas as economics, society and culture, the urban environment, transportation, and urban form.  The book contains an extensive bibliography and an appendix guide to further reading. 
Mitchell, William J. 1995. City of Bits: space, place, and the infobahn. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

Mitchell, William J. 1999. E-topia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

  • Mitchell, the Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, presents a futuristic look at the impact of information technology on urban planning, architecture, design, and urban life in these two recent books.  Much of the language is speculative and positive, though it is a bit more tempered than other futurists such as Negroponte and Toffler.
Nunn, Samuel. 1999. "The Role of Information Technologies in Community Development Organizations." Journal of Urban Technology 6 (2): 13-37. 
  • This article is largely speculative, providing a laundry list of potential ICT applications that could aid both the internal management and external work of community development organizations.
Schön, Donald A., Bish Sanyal, and William J. Mitchell, eds. 1999. High Technology and Low-Income Communities: Prospects for the Positive Use of Advanced Information Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 
  • This book resulted from Spring 1996 colloquium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Urban Studies and Planning.  The impetus for the colloquium came from faculty members in both the computer technology and community development concentrations of the department.  The academics who participated in the colloquium painted a rather grim picture of the impact of ICT on cities, outlining how it is - and likely will even more - increase social and economic disparities between the information "haves" and "have-nots" and debunking hype of "digital utopia."   Community activists, who had traditionally been skeptical of technology's role in community planning and development, also participated in the colloquium and were surprisingly optimistic about the potential role of ICT in community building.  The editors of the volume attribute this optimism to the activists' realization that "at a time of declining government funding for inner cities, communities lacking electronic access to resource announcements will be disadvantaged in competing for scarce resources" (Schön et al., 1999, p. 374).  Moreover, the colloquium gave the activists an opportunity to hear about innovative ICT projects that are increasing governmental transparency, creating space for grassroots participation and collaboration in planning, and providing cutting-edge educational opportunities for inner-city youth. 

There is a lot of popular rhetoric on the potential for "electronic democracy" by using information technologies such as the web to increase citizen participation in politics.  The following articles investigate the prospects for this, finding that it is much more complicated than simply allowing people to vote over the Internet. 

Drew, Jesse. 1995. "Media Activism and Radical Democracy." In Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, edited by James Brook and Iain A. Boal. San Francisco: City Lights. 

  • In this short article, the author argues that there is a need for "a theory of communications technologies as tools for social progress."  Highlighting how activist uses of the media and new technologies (e.g. Paper Tiger TV, community radio, computer subculture) have been both successful and frustrated, he concludes that they will help democratize society only if they are part of a "popular movement for social change." 
Neice, David C. "Information Technology and Citizen Participation." Available at:
  • This article argues that the Department of National Heritage in Canada should work to ensure that technologies will increase citizen participation and democratization.  The author attempts to "elucidate a balanced perspective" in "the holy war between the prophets who hold that technology is the messiah, and those who preach that technology spells doom." 
Sclove, Richard E. 1995. "Making Technology Democratic." In Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, edited by James Brook and Iain A. Boal. San Francisco: City Lights. 
  • This article gives a brief version of Sclove's argument for democratizing technology, which he outlines more fully in his book Democracy and Technology (1995).  He argues that technology has had a role in the disengagement of citizens from politics.  Technology will be democratic only if people are involved in its design, and he provides several examples of how this "participatory design" (e.g. by the Amish) leads to more democratic uses of technologies. 

A relatively new area of research, there are several research centers and networks related to studying the impact of information technologies in communities and social settings. 

The first two represent a Community Informatics approach:

Activist and Research Network

  • This is a new activist + research network devoted to community communications systems. You can see a list of who is involved, as well as a description of the purpose of the network and links to relevant research. 
Gurstein. M, ed. In press. Community Informatics: Enabling Community Uses of Information Technology.  Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing. 
  • This book will include chapters on a variety of topics related to Community Informatics, including urban planning, international development, economic development, and democratic participation. 
The following represent a more general Social Informatics approach, being more tied to the field of information studies than community development or planning:

Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations -- University of California, Irvine

Center for Social Informatics - Indiana University

Community Networks and Community Information Systems - University of Michigan

Social Informatics Home Page


Last modified: 15 December 1999
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