Feeling at home at CIRN Prato 2013

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Published on: 07/11/2013

Last week, I attended the Prato conference of the Community Informatics Research Network 2013. Being in the confluence of Community Archives and Community Informatics, made me feel a little like coming home, which I’ll try to explain below.

One important reason is that the presentations were very inspiring and covering a broad range of issues from various continents. During the 1st day keynote, it quickly became clear that community archives can be a “statement of existence” (Andrew Flinn) and as such sometimes even “undergird social action” (Anne Gilliland). Some other highlights for me were: Steve Thompson‘s flying mayor in Second Life, the Communication for Development presented by Rose Onwanma in the context of “Child Witchcraft” abuse, Rasika Dayarathna’s information system to improve happiness, the “unconscious need to share emotions” mentioned by Manuela Farinosi and the Information Continuum applied by Larry Stillman. Actually, all the presentations I attended were very interesting and they all had to do with social use of ICT and applicable research methodologies; the stuff that makes me happy. I wrote an abstract for another conference based on the inspiration I got.

The comments concerning my presentation, and my reflections on them later, also made me feel connected in Prato. In my presentation I told the audience about comparing 80 “local memory websites” (Kreek & Zoonen, 2013a). On these websites, neighborhood residents collect personal memories – mostly in text and pictures – about the locality they live in. Some of the cases are more than 10 years old and still going, although most of them live a static life. The ones with active online participation are claimed – but often also initiated – to, more or less explicitly, empower individuals, groups and the community as a whole. That’s where the next phase of my research will focus on: how do the online social dynamics relate to empowerment? Being at the conference made me realize that the local memory websites could be considered to be at the nexus of Community Archives and Community Informatics.

If I consider the explanation by Michael Gurstein of what Community Informatics is concerned with, I (now) see an obvious connection with the empowerment discourse about the local memory websites:

CI is concerned with these processes of communities adapting and transforming, networking and binding, responding to and becoming the authors in the unending and increasingly rapid flow of information within and among communities and between communities and the larger society. CI addresses this process of adaptation and transformation through a systematic concern with the “how” — the infrastructure, the devices, the connectivity of enabling and empowering; the “how to” — the training, the community and organizational development; the “necessary conditions” — the funding, regulatory environment, the policy frameworks; and finally and perhaps most importantly the “why” — the goals and objectives of enabling and empowering communities. (Gurstein, 2004, p. 2)

Looking at two definitions of Community Archives that Andrew Flinn (2010) explains, I also understand why these local memory websites could be considered to belong under the Community Archives umbrella:

By collecting, preserving and making accessible documents, photographs, oral histories and many other materials which document the histories of particular groups and localities, community archives and heritage initiatives make an invaluable contribution to the preservation of a more inclusive and diverse local and national heritage. (…) Community archives and heritage initiatives come in many different forms (large or small, semi- professional or entirely voluntary, long-established or very recent, in partnership with heritage professionals or entirely independent) and seek to document the history of all manner of local, occupational, ethnic, faith and other diverse communities (Community Archives and Heritage Group as cited by Flinn, 2010, p. 41).

Obviously, the draft framework Anne Gilliland (2012) has produced on voice, identity and activism within the context of Community Archives, is also right on this nexus. Our article on the social benefits of interventions with local memory websites attempts to achieve something similar, but then a little more towards the Community Informatics side (Kreek & Zoonen, 2013b).

To summarize: I will be in Prato again in 2014!


Flinn, A. (2010). Independent Community Archives and Community-Generated Content: “Writing, Saving and Sharing our Histories.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(1), 39–51.

Gilliland, A. J. (2012). Voice , Identity , Activism ( VIA ): A Community-centric Framework for Approaching Archives and Recordkeeping. Los Angeles: Center for Information as Evidence, University of California Los Angeles.

Gurstein, M. (2004). Editorial: Welcome to the Journal of Community InformaticsThe Journal of Community Informatics, (2004) Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 2-4.

Kreek, M. de, & Zoonen, L. van. (2013a). Mapping an emerging field: local memory websites. In L. Stillman, A. Sabiescu, & N. Memarovic (Eds.), Nexus, Confluence, and Difference: Community Archives meets Community Informatics – Prato CIRN Conference Oct 28-30 2013. Prato Italy: Monash Uiversity.

Kreek, M. de, & Zoonen, L. van. (2013b). New Directions in Research on Local Memory Websites. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice, 22(2), 113–130.



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3 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. Aldo de Moor says:

    Great summary, Mike! I also like your observation that “local memory websites could be considered to be at the nexus of Community Archives and Community Informatics”. I think you’re right. Keep exploring!

  2. Larry Stillman says:


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