Colleges apply tech creatively
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Nov 17, 2002
More and more, universities are playing a larger role in revitalizing distressed
neighborhoods through innovative technology programs, according to a new
report by a nonprofit community development group.
The report released Nov. 12 — "Opening the Door: Technology and the
Development of University-Community Partnerships" — follows up a survey
conducted earlier this year by the Structured Employment Economic Development
Corp., or Seedco. That survey found that few community development groups
use information technology innovatively, but when they did, it was through
"And that survey found that the most useful way to implement technological
strategy was with an institution or college, which led us to do these case
studies," said William Grinker, Seedco's president. Grinker refers to the
current report's in-depth profiles of programs sponsored by six universities:
the University of California-Los Angeles, the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, the University of Memphis, the University of Pennsylvania, Howard
University and Yale University.
Such relationships, he said, are "gathering steam mostly over the last
three or four years, encouraged by the federal government's interest in
implementing technological approaches to data gathering and programming
For example, he pointed to programs at the departments of Commerce,
Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development that encourage
the use of technology in improving economically deprived communities.
Despite a historically "high degree of tension" between universities
and distressed communities, the report doesn't provide any statistical measures
of such relationships, although Grinker said it is a "reasonably widespread
In some cases, universities have had a long relationship with their
communities, making it easier to implement such technology programs. "In
other cases, the university tends to initially provide education-related
services to school systems and then the community might come in later because
of the relation already there with the school system," he said. The report
indicated that universities serve a variety or combination or roles:
* Consultants to provide expertise and training.
* Catalysts to conceptualize, design and implement an initiative.
* Application service providers to host technology tools such as online
mapping tools or community information portals.
Grinker said the case studies show a "good deal of creativity" in using
"Most of the standard relationships talk about GIS mapping as a way
to provide resources to the community, and that's fairly standard at this
point," he said. "What I found interesting about these case studies was
the institutions moved beyond that and doing more innovative kinds of technology
For example, a Howard University project uses AmeriCorps volunteers
to integrate technology into community revitalization projects. UCLA is
collecting property-, tax- and disability-related data as well as providing
training and consulting services so community groups can use such information.
In Memphis, the university is a full participant in the city's planning
process, including workforce development, transportation, public safety
and social services issues.
"We see this as a very valuable way to enhance resources in these communities
and to use it as a way to also target resources more effectively in terms
of outcomes," Grinker said. "So we think this is an important area to build
on and sufficient examples at this point to perhaps consider a more national