OTI has partnered with groups around the world to develop the concept of Digital Stewardship, and hopes to refine it as more communities adopt and adjust it for local needs. Digital Stewardship is a principled approach to community technology that emphasizes self-governance and sustainability. Digital Stewards grow and maintain the technology their communities need to foster healthy relationships, build resilience, and increase access to critical information. OTI works with local partners to integrate the Digital Stewards approach into the group’s existing projects, missions, and goals.
OTI’s Field Team and Allied Media Projects first co-developed the Digital Stewards concept through years of community technology collaborations, applying it initially to OTI’s deployment of Commotion Wireless. Using a Digital Stewards approach, OTI has helped multiple groups around the world design, build and maintain mesh networks with broad participation from the local community. The following networks are adapted to address local needs, as are their associated Digital Stewards training programs:
- Allied Media Projects (AMP) in Detroit. The Digital Stewards program focuses on building neighborhood infrastructure as part of a citywide Digital Justice campaign. Digital Stewards are currently working in four neighborhoods to build wireless networks and develop local applications.
- The Red Hook Initiative (RHI) in Brooklyn, New York. RHI’s Digital Stewards program includes producing and hosting local content and serving as a job training program for young people in the community, and the Red Hook network proved to be an important local asset during response and recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy.
- CLibre in Sayada, Tunisia. CLibre built a wireless network with OTI as part of a participatory governance and open data initiative. The network was built to increase the civic mobilization around access to municipal information like the town’s budget.
- The Abaarso School of Science and Technology in Somaliland and Tamarind Tree School in Dahanu, India. Local Digital Stewards used OTI’s tools to work with students to build networks connecting classrooms, dormitories and public spaces to locally-hosted educational applications and shared files.
Many communities already have people who act as Digital Stewards, even if they are not called that. They are self-driven tinkerers or makers who are invested in their community and enjoy helping people learn technology. Even if they are not skilled with technology, they see its potentials and are motivated to help their neighbors figure it out. They are organizers, teachers, artists, technologists, tradespeople, and designers. They may already be working on digital justice issues in their community, or they may simply be open to thinking about how their skills can apply to the digital realm. Most importantly, they are good listeners with strong ties to their communities.
OTI often receives requests to hold Digital Stewards training programs for communities around the world. OTI serves as a resource center for local groups implementing community technologies, as well as convening workshops and holding or supporting trainings. We produce, test, and refine the tools of Digital Stewardship: participatory learning tools; research and assessment methods; new, open source technologies; and models for engagement and organizing. For example, OTI developed a collection of tools the Commotion Construction Kit to help communities build wireless networks. Digital Stewards programs can be organized around community networks or other communication technologies, such as public computer centers, SMS or voice-based blogging platforms, disaster preparedness tools, or even policy interventions or basic tech training programs. OTI encourages groups to explore the materials, find the Digital Stewards that are already working in their neighborhoods, and develop workshops and trainings to build technologies that benefit local communities.