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Regional Communication & Rural Sustainability

This weekend I am volunteering for an interesting project.   Community media practitioners from across rural Newfoundland are scheduled to meet at the Bonne Bay Marine Station in Norris Point to hold an unconference on participatory media called Network 11.

I happened upon this project through my work with the Ryakuga Collaborative,  a not-for-profit communications company specializing in the facilitation of participatory media events.  My role in the collaborative is “social networking administrator” (though I always prefer virtual community organizer as a title for such things).

Basically I have set up the Facebook, Twitter, and blog… and will attempt to coordinate participants’ social media activity during the event from Dartmouth, NS.  Augmenting the event with Facebook has a few purposes. First, it expands the reach of the discussion to those who want to participate but are not physically present.  Second, it creates a virtual community space for networking.  And third, it creates a reference archive of the event.

These purposes will be fulfilled, provided there is significant and diverse participation with the Network 11 participants physically present at the event.   I have suggested the following ways for them to participate

  •  invite people to this group who will be interested in participating from away
  •  share content (photos, discussions, music, etc) from the event in this group by uploading directly to it
  •  use docs to post information from report back sessions
  •  share links and external sources discussed among participants during the event
  •  create events of the workshop sessions as they emerge
  •  use group chat feature while on-air, incorporate it into on-air programming
  •  upload photos to your personal Facebook account and tag it with Network 11 or Ryakuga
  •  upload content in the group/on the page of your community/radio project and tag it with Network 11
  • tag locations and photos of people also on Facebook

The Newfoundland Rural Secretariat asked Network 11 participants:

How can regional communication be enhanced towards rural sustainability in NL?

I responded.

Social capital has been identified as an important resource towards sustainable development in both rural and urban settings (see work from Robert Putnam, Richard Florida).  However, from the rural perspective, geography remain a significant factor in sustainable development.  Distance still remains a barrier (see work from Looker and Thiessen).

Distance between rural communities often leads to the bonding of social capital to isolated networks inside the community, rather than bridging it to other networks outside the community.

Studies have shown that bridging between social networks has positive effects on economic development, for the individual (see Beugelsdijk and Smulders “Bridging and Bonding Social Capital: Which type is good for economic growth?”) and for a region (see Knudsen, Flordia and Rousseau “Bridging and Bonding:  A Multi-dimensional Approach to Regional Social Capital).  A certain level of bonding networks is necessary for bridging to have lasting effects. However, too much bonding within social networks can have negative effects on economic growth.

A regional communication infrastructure is important for the creation and conversion of social capital in communities.  In NL, regional communication has been taking place in the form of participatory media events.

Successful communication infrastructures have emerged within communities, however, there still lacks an important element for it to start yielding convertible social capital – connectedness.  While “bonding” networks have formed within communities, the focus now should shift to “bridging” those networks across rural NL.

When it comes to the communication infrastructure in rural NL, these are suggestions towards bridging communities together towards the common goal of regional sustainable development:

  • create a central network of all of the communication groups using social media
  • follow the model of informal organization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_Organization)
  • ensure the infrastructure remains citizen owned and operated
  • engage in practices of mutual promotion of community activities
  • share knowledge, resources, skills and technology (perhaps a technical library)
  • gather face to face regularly to reinforce connections made between members as mediated experiences (rotating unconferences in communities)
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