A resource kit for evaluating community IT projects
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action learning: involves a group of people coming together regularly to help each other learn from their experiences. The group works together on problems in their community, workplace or project, in order to improve the problem. The people involved increase their skills and knowledge by learning with and from each other, working on real issues or problems, reflecting on their experiences, and taking action based on group decisions. Values associated with action learning include respect for others, honesty and integrity, collaboration, and developing trusting relationships with others. (< back)

action research: aims to address both the practical concerns of people (in a community, organisation etc) and the goals of research through people working together on projects. Using methods such as workshops, action research is a flexible method of integrating research into projects, involving community participants, and generating action. This is essential for good planning and development. Effective action research depends on the agreement and commitment of participants. It is very useful for working on complex social problems or issues that need systematic planning and analysis - for example, a lack of training opportunities in a rural area. Action research involves an ongoing cycle of planning --> acting --> observing --> reflecting (and then --> planning etc). Critical reflection is an important step in each cycle. (< back)

aims: the broad, long-term goals of a project. For example, to improve Internet access by older people in a community. (< back)

brainstorming: entails an individual or group providing ideas and suggestions about a particular topic or theme within a short time frame. (< back)

community portal: provide an access gateway to the World Wide Web. Portals bring together local information and offer services like email and discussion forums to extend community activity and interaction. They integrate various information sources and services, such as search engines and directories, and usually enable users to customise the content, layout and navigation to suit their needs. Local needs and interests are central to community portals. (< back)

critical reflection: involves participants and researchers in an action research project thinking back over, then critically commenting on what has happened in the project, then using these new learnings to improve future activities. (< back)

email discussion list: a discussion group whose messages are distributed by automated, mass-distributed email programs. (< back)

evaluation: an assessment at a point in time of the value, worth or impact of a project or program. Evaluations can be conducted at various points in a project or at the end of a project. Some of the purposes of evaluation include:

  • to find out if clients' or community needs were met;
  • to improve a project of program;
  • to assess the outcomes or impacts of a program;
  • to find out how a program is operating;
  • to assess the efficiency or cost-effectiveness of a program; and
  • to understand why a program does or does not work.

While there are many forms of evaluation, two main approaches can be identified: 'open inquiry' and 'audit review'. The open inquiry approach aims to improve or change projects. It asks questions such as 'what's working, what's not working?', 'how could we improve things?', and 'what are the community's needs?' Methods such as focus groups and interviews are preferred. In contrast, the audit review approach involves measuring how well project objectives were met and the impacts of projects. It asks questions such as 'what did we set out to achieve?', and 'what are the signs that we have done this?'. Methods such as structured surveys are often preferred. (< back)

facilitation: coordinating rather than leading an exercise so that all group members are encouraged to participate in the discussion or activity. (< back)

feedback forms or feedback questionnaires: forms that gather information about participants and their assessments of an activity (such as a workshop), training course or program. (< back)

focus group discussion: a form of structured group discussion involving people with knowledge and interest in a particular topic and a facilitator. (< back)

home page or webpage: On the World Wide Web, a display that usually identifies and describes the page owner and contains buttons with links to other pages. Using a mouse, a user can click on a button to go to an associated page. A home page is like a hypertext table of contents. (< back)

inclusion: A focus on inclusion, together with a social justice perspective, is important to understanding the divisions between the 'information rich' and the 'information poor'. New communication technologies have mainly been available to empowered, educated members of the community. Those at greatest risk of being excluded from using IT are people on low incomes, women, residents in remote and rural areas, indigenous people and those from non-English speaking backgrounds, and people with low literacy skills. (< back)

inclusive approach: involves people and groups from diverse backgrounds (for example, women, young people, indigenous people and business leaders), and enables and encourages all participants in a project to be listened to and heard. Inclusive methods respect and recognise differences between people and take different views into account. This involves creating a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere, allowing ample time for participation, and avoiding the use of jargon or discriminatory language. This enables trust and understanding between people to be developed. (< back)

Internet: a huge worldwide network of interconnected computer networks linked via telecommunications cables that connect universities, government laboratories and offices, businesses, and individuals around the world. It is commonly referred to as 'the Information Superhighway'. The Internet provides file transfer, remote login, email, news and other services. (< back)

interview: a face-to-face or long-distance (such as by telephone) discussion between two or more people to collect information and the opinions of the people being interviewed about certain topics or events. (< back)

lifelong learning: a broad concept where education that is flexible, diverse and available at different times and places is pursued throughout life. Four 'pillars' of education for the future were identified by the Delors report (1996): learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together (and with others), and learning to be. (< back)

need: something that is wanted or required to increase a person's quality of life, general wellbeing or happiness. In relation to community IT projects, they include needs related to communication, information-access, participation in community life, and having affordable access to the Internet and IT training. There is an interrelationship between people's needs and values, and gender differences in needs and values have been identified. (< back)

online community network: a community whose members' individuals computers are linked in such a way that that they can exchange information and communicate with each other for a common purpose. These communities are not necessarily defined by geographical boundaries. Online communication networks are designed to create a sense of social ownership within the community. (< back)

review: an assessment at a point in time of the progress of a project or program. They can be formal or informal, broad or in-depth. Reviews and evaluations often overlap in practice. (< back)

sustainable: in relation to IT initiatives, sustainability is understood slightly differently by community, business and government. From a community perspective, sustainable IT projects are projects that can pay their own way, without reliance on government funding. They serve individual and community needs, are easily accessible and promote the social, cultural and/or economic development of the community (eg. build social capital and assist local business). The business perspective sees sustainability in terms of whether the project is commercially viable and profitable. The government perspective recognises that the government has Community Service Obligations (of which a Universal Service Obligation in relation to telecommunications is one example), and that market failure occurs, especially in rural, regional and remote areas where the costs of setting up and maintaining IT services can be very high. However, they also recognised that government funds are limited and that community IT initiatives may therefore need to become self-sustaining. (< back)

survey: a form used to gather a broad range of information about a population such as age, gender, employment status, marital status, use of public transport and access to the Internet. This information is usually quantitative (involving numbers or statistics). However, some surveys include qualitative information (written comments or opinions). (< back)

telecentre or telecottage: a centre, usually based in a rural community, set up to use communication lines to import and export work from other areas. They may also function as a learning centre to import education and training for members of the local community. Typical telecentres have computers, Internet and email facilities, two-way videoconferencing, photocopies, fax machines, printers and other equipment. (< back)

teleconference: a conference between people in two or more locations linked by telephone. (< back)

videoconference: a conference between people in two or more locations via a two-way interactive video using telephone lines or satellite. (< back)

website: a collection of web pages – documents accessible via the World Wide Web on the Internet. A website is often the work of one person, one organisation, or on a particular topic, or have a particular purpose. The pages of a website are accessed from a common root URL (Uniform Resource Locator), the home page, and are usually located on the same physical server. Websites are written in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) and are accessed using special software called web browsers. (< back)

World Wide Web: the graphics and multimedia component of the Internet. (< back)

workshop: a set of activities designed to promote learning, discussion and feedback about a topic or event. (< back)

Selected References

  • A Guide to Communication Technology Terms (1998). In Bridging distances: communication technologies for public health. http://www.phf.org/Reports/1003.html
  • Dick, B. (2000). Beginner's guide to action research. Southern Cross University, NSW. http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/guide.html
  • Dick, B. (2002). Action research resources: Papers on action research and related topics. Southern Cross University, NSW. http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/arphome.html
  • Lennie, J., Lundin, R., and Simpson, L. (2000). Development of a participatory evaluation, assessment and planning framework for sustainable rural community development that uses interactive communication technologies, The Communication Centre, Queensland University of Technology: Brisbane.
  • Lifelong Learning Council Queensland (2002). Lifelong learning and community-based learning. Background information paper. Brisbane: Lifelong Learning Council Queensland
  • Robson, C. (2000). Small-scale evaluation: Principles and practice. Sage: London.
  • Save the Children Fund (2003). Glossary. In Toolkits: A practical guide to planning, monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment. London: Save the Children.
  • Wadsworth, Yoland. (1997). Everyday evaluation on the run. (2nd ed), Allen and Unwin: St Leonards, NSW.

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