Working with rural communities

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  • JC facilitating
  • Willow notetaking
  • Victor: computer, cell phone, tablet classes for adults.
  • Wendy: IT use in rural communities
  • Sylvia: interested in people who are hard to reach (intercity, lack of access)

How do people get information?

Each community is different, where they get there information (resource centers, local government, or no local government worth speaking of). JC works a lot in Watsonville to teach parents how to have basic computer skills because the school district decided to do everything on the web (grades, schedules, etc). But the school didn't have a lot of access in terms of computers. So we hosted classes. Parents could then email teachers, check children's grades, etc. While the library might be open, all the language was also in English.


Language barriers are the biggest thing holding back rural communities. Tactile things like iPads are easier to use. Hand-eye coordination with the mouse and the screen is super weird. Also come at a different cost. When writing an RFP to fundraise, think about that. But when writing those things, also focus mostly on the story and the people, less on the tools.

Lots of time invested in being on-foot. People get information from bulletin boards in laudromats, schools, groceries. Initially thought Facebook would be the organizing tool, but it's not. I was, but others weren't. Didn't get a lot of folk showing up. Had to go on foot. Nonprofits might be more (or differently) connected than the population you're trying to reach.


We're so empowered with tech that when we come into these communities, we need to think about security. We might think we're doing a huge service, but we're opening up new people to new theats. There are a few examples in rural communities where we trust big corporations like google docs. A rural youth community wanted to put legal statuses of students and parents on google docs. We think about trusting these big orgs, but we don't know how it works and we don't know their political motives. It took one subpoena to get all that information, and ICE was at the door. For these sorts of cases, we like to recommend more Open Source tools. The "source code" (how it was built) is visible to others. Big corporate tools hide how things work. We KNOW things are going to be hacked now.

Open Source

What is an alternative to google docs? I can give you alternative, but it's not going to keep you safe. We work at Aspiration at etherpad. You don't need a user login to use it, and the information going in is anonymous. Every computer connected to the internet has an IP address (like a license plate) to track its history and location. Etherpads are a good option. Pirate pads.

Working with a community

Getting people to show up for events has a lot to do with how you present yourself. Be respectful, follow the dress code, body language, localized language. Listen for a long time. Spend your first day hearing about what the community needs, then we see if we have a role there at all. If people want to interact, follow their lead. Manage expectations about what you can provide, what you can do,

Other hard-to-reach groups

Sylvia's groups use public libraries. People would like cell phones, but they get stolen. If we hit saturation, maybe they wouldn't get stolen.

Other tools where people make tool boxes (mostly Open Source and free) for different projects and communities.

AlternativeTo also lists alternatives