This report is the final of a two year evaluation of the project that focussed on the impact of the project on residents and the efficacy of the Wired Community@Collingwood public housing project in forming the basis of a sustainable social enterprise.
There is increasing evidence that the lack of access to information and communication technology (ICT) or the ‘digital divide’ severely limits education, employment and economic prospects.
The Wired Community@Collingwood project is based in one of the Victorian Government Neighbourhood renewal communities on the Collingwood Housing Estate. The estate is a public housing estate located around three kilometers from the Central Business District of Melbourne and provides low cost housing to people with a low socio-economic profile and recent migrants and refugees. Infoxchange, a not-for-profit community ICT provider with a mission that clearly states the direction of the organisation as establishing technology for social justice, led the partnership based on the success of a similar strategy at Atherton Gardens. The Wired Community@Collingwood project aims to provide communication, learning and employment opportunities through ICT to all Collingwood estate residents across approximately 950 dwellings.
The $3.6 million Wired Community@Collingwood initiative is the largest project of its kind in Australia and includes $1.9 million funding from the Victorian Government and $1.7 million from in-kind and philanthropic contributions. The network is part of ‘whole of community’ community building and economic development project utilising ICT as a tool to provide equal access for all residents to local community and worldwide communications, alongside education, skills development, improved health and well-being, better access to health and community services and employment opportunities.
This report is the final of a two year evaluation of the project that focussed on the impact of the project on residents and the efficacy of the Wired Community@Collingwood project in forming the basis of a sustainable social enterprise.
What is evident from this evaluation is how the Wired Community@Collingwood project has benefited residents and the significant impact of these benefits for many residents. It may be Jack talking about getting new recipes from the internet or buying DVD’s from Ebay, Anita articulating how important the internet was to her recovery from cancer or Joan speaking about her passion for the Chinese opera and how happy she is that she can now stream the opera to her flat in Collingwood. However individuals interpreted their needs and their community they were able to identify how the internet had made a difference to their lives by improving their connection to these things. Being on the wrong side of the digital divide in the twenty first century disconnects you from a part of a world that many take for granted. At Collingwood these participants are making those connections on a daily basis and are excited about the new possibilities of being a part of the available technology.
One of the key learning’s for this project is the importance of partnership, collaboration and organisational management. Where there has been an absence of these elements they have been identified as barriers to the projects successful implementation. To support change in communities that are faced with long term disadvantage it will require Government to consider how they do business.
The project required greater support on the operational issues of hardware and also from the community organisations on the estate. The project required each to be a partner and for Government to lead that partnership as opposed to managing the contracts. It is acknowledge that it is a difficult tension given the accountability requirements of allocating public funds. Nevertheless, large public investments require Government to invest more than their funds, it also needs their expertise, their advocacy and where necessary their political leverage.
Contributing to the sustainability of this project is still possible if the support to the Communities of Practice and resident groups is provided. It is acknowledgement that long term change requires a series of stages to be successful. Given the complex social and political dynamics on the estate, the three year implementation plan developed by Infoxchange was ambitious and was hampered even more so by the problems with connectivity, wiring, the purchase of bandwidth and the poor relationships between contractors involved in the projects’ implementation. Though the main obstacle, as identified, is the lack of collaboration and partnership that was evident with the stakeholders of this project funds to support the ongoing community development activities and further build the capacity of the fledgling networks would assist the sustainability of the project. Further funds that complement the community development role of the project will enable the project to continue to engage local services and residents.