Easton residents network- project appraisal
From: Sam Rossiter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
As some of you will be aware I writing an evaluation of the project that you are running with the Easton Residents Network (ERN).
My methodology for doing this has been one of action or participatory research; what this means is that I have come to the project with no pre-determined theory that I’m out to prove or disprove.
In this style of enquiry there is no real distinction between the researcher and the researched (subjects in conventional research speak). The idea is that we are all defined as participants, and that we all have equal footing in determining what questions will be asked, what information will be analysed, and how conclusions and courses of action will be determined. The thinking is that you will know more about the project and the constraints that you are operating under, and so will know what kind of questions it is useful to have asked and answered.
This quote kind of explains what I’m trying to do.
One of the central goals of qualitative evaluation is to provide detailed descriptions of programs through the eyes of stakeholders, along with the insights of the evaluator, the place of the evaluator is to integrate the views of many stakeholders providing
feedback on those views so that everyone understands the program better than before. (Posovac and Carey, 1989, p. 236)
So far what I have done is to go and speak to the people who are receiving the computers in the ERN project and tried to get their take on what they will actually use the computer for, what they feel about the ERN project, and what kind of training they might want.
It seemed that this was the most basic level at which to begin my enquiry.
Where I have found uncertainty or scepticism I have tried to enthuse people about the advantages of Linux and of the potential of the internet generally to provide information and communication possibilities and I hope that in so doing I have already made a small contribution to the project.
What I’ve found is that most of the computer recipients already have some considerable computer experience and that there is a certain amount of (understandable?) resistance to using a completely new operating system. Although it should be noted that these are generalisations and some people are open to the idea of Linux and some have little or no experience with computers.
I have noted that the computers in the three sheltered housing schemes (Greenhaven, Millhouse, and Baynton) have a potentially larger user base than the other computer locations. The benefits for the elderly residents are likely to be significant if they are able to make full use of the technology. Some possible uses that have been raised by the
wardens or myself include:
- Researching genealogical information
- Locating friends or relatives
- Contacting friends and relatives who are geographically distant
- Making cheap voice calls overseas (is this possible on the wireless network?)
- Recording personal histories online
- Contacting or making friends in other supported housing blocks
- Ordering shopping online
- Finding medical information
- Finding information about council services
- Contacting service providers
Once the Greenhaven node is in place, I propose to spend some time speaking to and coaching the residents there in order to find out what kind of questions they have, and what they find the most interesting applications are. Hopefully this will lead to the development of a programme that can be applied to other sheltered housing schemes, as they become part of the network.
I realise that it is no small task just to get the technical details of a project such as this resolved and equally that most of the time that is committed is on a volunteer basis. Neither do I underestimate how many hours have been committed to the project as a labour of love and I hope that my questioning is taken in the spirit that it is intended – to prompt friendly debate and useful analysis rather than as any implied criticism.
Questions that have occurred to me whilst talking to people or hanging around in the lab have included:
- Are the three partners (Bristol Wireless/ ERN/ Linux IT) working well together?
- How could the information sharing between them be improved?
- Would a project e-mail list be useful?
- Have ERN got clearly defined project aims?
- Is Bristol Wireless in a position to try to clarify what it is trying to achieve?
- Who is providing training and help for these new Linux users?
- If training is not available can they use the more familiar windows operating system- or will this mean they are not allowed to use the wireless network?
- Can they help each other, if just a few champions are trained?
- Are there enough volunteer hours available to support the ten groups?
- Or do funding sources need to be found for trainers?
- Do you need to stimulate demand for internet connectivity?
- Or just service a pre-existing demand?
If you feel you have answers to any, or all of these questions, then please let me know your thoughts. Equally if you can think of better questions that I could spend my time investigating, then please let me know.