MOSAIC NOLA:The Gentilly Project

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On the fifth day...

Today I was on a conference call for an interagency task force, one organized to focus on Katrina's environmental justice issues. There are a lot of federal agencies, programs, and departments related in some way to Katrina recovery. So many that it takes much work for them to coordinate with each other. Add in the other roles and departments at the state level. Then those of at the local level. Then community groups. That was the scope of the conference call.

On the call, I was fielding questions about the research proposal I'm developing with Dr. Beverly Wright of Dillard University. The project's goal is to develop a communications intrastructure that will inform on the environmental and housing isssus essential for repopulation decisions by returning and displaced NOLA families and others. Based on some of my studies of an Internet-enabled grassroots political campaign, this project further advances the notion of "open-sourced" organizing beyond software and content development. The proposed system will rely on GIS data applications and the social networks of returning residents, local volunteers, and others.

As usual, I spent some time answering the frequently asked question: "If you are developing a tool that's online, how will you reach people who don't have access to the Internet?" Later in the day, I received a good anecdote to help answer it. I was speaking to Rhonda, a displaced New Orleans resident in North Carolina who occasionally has Internet access. She apparently wasn't a heavy user of the Internet pre-Katrina, but she is now because she finds information she can pass on to others. She described receiving a cell phone call from someone physically situated in New Orleans. He didn't have Internet access, so he called her to look something up for him.

Most people have no idea how effective (or not) their organization's use of the Internet is. Years after the Internet started becoming "mainstream," it's still not too widely transparent who is visiting a website and how often. Even the most quiet website might be getting more traffic than you think, from people whom you might not expect. Including those whom you believe aren't getting access to the Internet.


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