Colleges apply tech creatively

Seedco

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

university partnerships.

"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

activities."

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

effort."

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

technology.

"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

programs."

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

effort."

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