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Developing Community Networks in Russia: The Russian Civic Networking Program

Natasha BULASHOVA <natasha@alice.ibpm.serpukhov.su>
Friends and Partners Foundation

Greg COLE <gcole@solar.cini.utk.edu>
University of Tennessee


The US-Russian Friends and Partners team based in Moscow and in Knoxville, Tennessee, has been working for the past two years to implement the Russian Civic Networking Program. The purpose of this project, funded by the Ford Foundation and the Eurasia Foundation, is to introduce the potential and relevance of local civic networks by developing model projects in the three Russian cities of Chelyabinsk, Samara, and Sergeiv Posad. These communities were selected from an earlier competitive proposal solicitation designed to choose those with the best likelihood of success.

While the project actively integrates and transfers U.S. experience and technology, it is directed and implemented by the Russian participants who have the vital understanding of local Russian community culture and telecommunications infrastructure. It is organized and directed by the Friends and Partners Foundation office in Moscow.

We hope the material presented may be of interest to others involved in community networking elsewhere in the world and particularly to participants from former Soviet bloc countries. The organization and process by which technologies, ideas, and experience are being transferred from U.S. participants to new community networking enthusiasts may be of interest as well.

More information about the RCNP program is available at the following Web sites:



In 1997, the U.S.-Russian Friends and Partners (F&P) organization conducted an eight-month planning grant funded by the Ford Foundation to study the concept of civic networking in Russian communities. Civic networks are based on the "community network" concept but with greater emphasis on involving public, private, and non-profit sectors. As a part of the planning grant, F&P sponsored a grants competition to identify Russian communities that could demonstrate broad community interest and existing technical/organizational infrastructure to help build model civic networks that could then be replicated into other Russian communities.

The planning project (which ended in November 1997) resulted in proposals from 23 Russian communities, the top seven presenting excellent plans for development of model civic networking sites. Funding limitations forced selection of the top three of the seven and F&P is now assisting in development of civic networks with new partners in the cities of Sergiev Posad, Chelyabinsk, and Samara. The recently established (legally incorporated) Friends and Partners Foundation in Moscow received (February 1998) a $255K grant from the Ford Foundation for this project. This grant also funds the new Friends and Partners office in Moscow that coordinates all activities on this project and on other F&P efforts in Russia such as MirNET (http://www.mirnet.org/).

Since our early work with broader community networking between Russia and the United States five years ago (see http://www.friends-partners.org/friends/), much has changed between our countries and with the Internet -- and one of the most significant for our work is the rapidly improving Internet infrastructure in Russia. It would not have been practical to talk of civic networking in Russia five years ago. Because of the development of a growing commercial Internet market, academic/public networks, government-funded networking projects, and access and training programs from various funding organizations, access to and use of the Internet in Russia is growing -- opening new possibilities and opportunities for Russian citizens to engage in local, national, and international communications and information exchange.

Thus, the basic infrastructure available now provides a practical opportunity to explore civic networking possibilities. By providing good models now, the RCNP intends to demonstrate civic networks as socially meaningful and helpful initiatives -- and perhaps build the case for a broader civic networking initiative throughout the Russian Federation and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) republics.

The growth of Internet-based civic networks in Russian communities is a relatively recent development but historical roots for the concept in pre-Revolutionary (19th century) Russia suggest strong cultural traditions on which to build. These are likely to be quite different from those in American communities -- reflecting local community culture and organization. But they will be similar in how they promote universal access to enabling information and communications technologies, help communities develop their own communications and information infrastructure, and encourage active citizen input and involvement in community life and community governance.

This paper begins with a discussion of the motivation for the RCNP and then moves on to the historical roots of community and "community networking" in Russian communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This subject was researched in an earlier Russian doctoral dissertation by one of the RCNP team members. The results of the initial planning grant from the Ford Foundation are then presented, in which the topic of Internet-based civic networking in Russian communities was explored and in which a competitive solicitation was conducted. Three cities were then chosen for work on a subsequent implementation grant by the Ford Foundation in Moscow.

The paper then discusses the development of the networks in these communities and the current plans to expand the program with a selection of another three communities. This paper describes the unique U.S.-Russian team approach to developing the networks, building on the experience of the U.S. Friends and Partners team (active for several years in community networking in East Tennessee) and supplemented by a U.S.-Russian conference on civic networking (organized by Friends and Partners and funded by the Eurasia Foundation) held during December 1998.

The paper touches briefly on the technical infrastructure being developed to support the program -- including a rather unique database system developed by the F&P team, which drives central Internet site and information services management.

Finally, the paper presents plans to broaden the program within Russia and to expand the program into other countries.

Why civic networking in Russia?

There are a wide variety of active projects in Russia now designed to provide Internet access to different groups and organizations. Most of these focus on connecting a large educational institution to the Internet or providing Internet access for non-governmental organizations. There are a few examples, in some of the larger cities, of initiatives to provide commercial "Internet-cafe" arrangements for the general public. What differentiates the "Russian Civic Networking Program" is the focus on planning and development of local and regional information and communications infrastructure by and for a broad cross-section of the local community.

The goals of the RCNP include enhancing local social/community life by extending access to the Internet, developing local community-based resources, and providing a base for training and support. Genuine value is perceived in encouraging various sectors of local communities to work together: 1) planning and implementing a local information and communications infrastructure and 2) dealing with other community problems, issues, and challenges that present themselves when a community has reason to draw together. While enabling technologies and services become a focal point to draw individuals and organizations together, the technology itself can be helpful in facilitating the communications and information exchange required for better community planning and local governance.

The following points illustrate the primary advantages of civic networking that we wish to help facilitate in Russian communities.

Civic networks in Russia should:

The Russian Civic Networking Program is a natural complement to the many Internet development activities in Russia now. We feel that the general and more broad-based nature of the civic networking project builds on and will support work performed by other organizations. They promise provision of useful infrastructure for such organizations as the Network for East-West Women, The Center for Civil Society, and myriad other organizations active in community development and civil society building throughout Russia. At the same time, the project looks to build on successful networking activities in the United States. For example, the software that we are developing for the RCNP will likely be incorporated into a future version of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Regional Network (KORRNet) and perhaps by other community networking projects as well.

Russian roots for civic networking

Many Russian scholars have researched the sociological, religious, ethnological, and cultural aspects of the Russian community. Dr. Sofia Slutskaya's useful overview of this research related to the general topic of community networking can be found on the CivNET Russia WWW Site at URL: http://www.friends-partners.org/civnet/historical/ It is available in both Russian and English languages. We summarize and quote from this material below.

It is apparently difficult to find the Russian equivalent of the term "community" although the notion of "local community" is similar to the Russian local lore movement in the second half of the 19th century. Dr. Slutskaya cites the Russian scholar and historian N.K. Picsano who described the concept of the "regional cultural family" in Russia. Numerous examples are available from the history of various regions of Russia, suggesting the existence of these "regional cultural families" in many areas. Just as in American "communities," the Russian local cultural families were characterized by specific regional qualities and by a set of more common features.

The Russian meaning of the term "regional cultural family" is supported by the concepts of self-identification and self-awareness developed in many regions. This mechanism was developed both by central societal forces and on the initiative of local forces -- various organizations uniting local intellectuals and individuals interested in the study and development of their region. These institutions include statistic committees of provinces, the amateurs of "place-studying societies," church archeological, and church historical committees and commissions.

However, the presence of the institutions that could themselves function as centers of a regional cultural life is not a sufficient condition to speak about the existence of "local cultural family." The other equally important feature is the active role of the local press and the peculiarities of local publishing activity.

Regional periodicals played a very central role in all regions, uniting local intellectuals and creating the original information infrastructure by which information could be shared between the authorities and the population, between the representatives of different societal groups of the population, and by which it became possible to conduct dialogue with the population on the most important events of local life.

Characterization of the research and publication activity of regional local lore organizations and determination of the role that these organizations played in the local community further supports the comparison between the philosophy of the American "community" and the Russian "regional cultural family." To support the idea, Dr. Slutskaya considers in detail the activity of organizations that were functioning in various regions in Russia before the revolution in 1917.

Statistical committees of provinces were established in 1834, together with the formation of the Statistics Department at the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. Although the provincial statistic committees were officially subordinate to the Ministry Department, they were fully dependent on the provincial officials. The members of the local committees were all regional officials, known persons of the region, or the head of local clergy. However much of the real work was done by teachers, office workers, educated staff attendants, and, particularly, by young people who were enthusiastic about progressive ideals (Dr. Slutskaya suggests that this is very similar to the "work force" of community networks in North America and Europe).

The local statistic committees are known for their unprecedented work in Russian regional publishing activities. Their publishing focused on the issue of "memorandum books." These were regularly printed in all provinces of the Russian empire. The first part of these books included reference information and the second part represented statistical tables as well as articles on ethnography, history, archeology, and geography. The second part of these books serve, even today, as a source of information on these regions. Local authors also published in "transactions" of the statistic committees. These contained works on economics, meteorology, ethnography, and history and were written on the basis of information of the local area. The issues of "transactions" were not only sold but also loaned free of charge through archive commissions, church-archeological and church-historical commissions and the societies of amateurs of "local place studying." It is interesting that the same types of publications were produced all over the Russian empire.

Another method of local publishing activity was through the provincial archival academic commissions. These dealt with archive materials related to local history. The main goal of these commissions was to create provincial historical archives.

Another method of publishing was through the "Provincial Bulletin" -- considered to be the oldest and, for many years, the only publishing activity throughout all Russia. Each provincial bulletin maintained its own character and substance. The "Provincial Bulletins" were published beginning in 1830. By the end of the 19th century, the number of "Provincial Bulletins" being published was about 80. All editions were divided into parts -- official (formal) and non-official. The official part dealt more with government information and the non-official focused on plants, factories, mines, trade, fairs, market prices, state of the harvest, navigation, meteorological research, extraordinary natural phenomena, information on new education institutions, interesting historical news, obituaries, etc. Later, the non-official part included information of a scientific character including geographical, topographical, historical, archeological, statistical, and ethnographic studies.

The Russian Orthodox Church was one of the most active and important forces for promoting cultural information for provincial local communities. The main objective was protection of memorials, study of church history in the region, creation of historical descriptions of the local church administration, description of local archives, religious customs and rights, dissemination of archeological knowledge, organization of archeological exhibitions, and public lectures. These historical depositories also included non-church materials for explaining religious and moral life of local Orthodox residents.

The study of activities of various organizations that existed in pre-Revolutionary Russia shows many common attributes of their activities. The study also indicates the correctness of this conception of regional cultural family and the existence of true local communities in pre-Revolutionary Russia -- united not only by geographic locale but also with common ideas. These ideas include:

The preceding material suggests interesting parallels between the American notion of "community" and the historical Russian concept of "regional cultural families" that was well supported, not only organizationally, but had its own means of publishing information and also disseminating that information throughout the country. The existence of these traditions provides a local cultural foundation for the "Russian Civic Networking Program."

Initial planning project

The purpose of our initial planning project, funded by a $67,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, was to research the topic of civic networking within Russian communities and to identify those communities that indicated a strong interest and provided the best chance of success.

One of the most important activities of this planning project was articulating what "civic networking" might mean within Russian communities. We discovered a very genuine interest in the idea of community networking as well as enthusiasm for the Internet but very little previous experience using local information and communications resources within a community development context. A large part of the early work involved communicating by e-mail, by telephone, and in face-to-face meetings about the possibilities of civic networking as intended with this project. The primary means of articulating the vision of civic networking in Russian communities has been through the bilingual World Wide Web site "Russian Civic Networking Program." The site is located at the following URLs (in Russia and in the United States):



The Web site contains a sizable amount of information on such topics as the historical roots of community networking in Russia and pointers to information about Russian communities. There is also information about Russian telecommunications (including Internet service providers throughout Russia), information about public Internet access in Russia, and pointers to model community networks in other parts of the world. The site also includes the "Invitation for Partnership" with which we invited proposals from across Russia -- as well as the accompanying application and budget guidelines.

The development of a "human network" within Russia and North America comprised of individuals who are interested in civic networking involved numerous meetings in our home communities, in Moscow, New York, and Washington and a rather large amount of e-mail and telephone communication. This work also included the development of a database of individuals and organizations with whom we have corresponded about the existence of the program -- soliciting both ideas, and later, proposals from communities who wish to work with us. We developed a database of nearly 700 individuals and organizations who we identified as having a likely interest in the subject and with whom we subsequently communicated about plans for the project.

The end goal of this planning grant was the preparation of an RFP (request for proposal) and issuance in Russian communities of an invitation to go forward with us on implementation. The development of this "Invitation for Partnership" and associated program and budget guidelines was completed in July 1997 and the solicitation disseminated across Russia (and elsewhere) in early August. The result of the solicitation was the receipt of 23 proposals, which we reviewed and made decisions to move forward with Ford Foundation support for three (Chelyabinsk, Samara, and Sergiev Posad). We hope to help fund additional sites during a later phase of this project. These 23 interested communities (and the three selected sites) are illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. RCNP Proposals and Selected Communities.

Implementation project

The following provides a brief chronology of activities that have been key to the development of the civic networking program since its official beginning on March 1, 1998.

Project activity began with the Moscow Project Director drafting agreements with each of the three recipient communities -- separate agreements for receipt of funds and for receipt of equipment. Office space was established in Moscow for the F&P Foundation and 2 Mbps Internet connectivity provisioned. Next, a fairly complete study of the Russian market for telecommunications and Unix server equipment was conducted. By the end of April, equipment had been provisioned for the central Moscow office and for the three communities. Equipment selected is described in the technical infrastructure section below. All agreements (mentioned above) were finally executed in May and initial funds transferred to two of the Russian cities (with the third transferred in June).

The U.S. and Russian teams submitted a proposal to the Eurasia Foundation in June for organization of a two-week U.S.-Russian Workshop on Civic Networking (this was subsequently funded; the workshop is described later in this paper).

Summer months were spent acquiring, testing, and then shipping equipment to the three communities. A study was conducted of community networking software packages; papers were presented on the RCNP at a wireless Internet conference sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation and at a European community networking conference in Barcelona, Spain. An additional trip to the '98 Internet Society Conference provided the opportunity to discuss the project with other interested organizations from Russia and Central Asia. The financial/banking crisis in August disrupted the project temporarily and forced some changes in how funds were to be managed and transferred for the remainder of the one-year grant.

September began with visits by the Moscow Project Director to two of the RCNP communities to assess program and technical development. Work began during this time by the U.S. team on organization of the December two-week visit/workshop.

Meetings and additional site visits (to Samara and Sergiev Posad) were held in October and November. Early discussions were held with the International Research and Exchange organization (IREX) about integrating activities from the RCNP with their own Internet and Access Training Program (IATP).

In December, eight representatives from the RCNP project (two each from Moscow, Sergiev Posad, Samara, Chelyabinsk) arrived for the two-week site visit and the U.S.-Russian Civic Networking Workshop. This workshop is described in some detail below.

Plans are currently under way for mid-March 1999 visits by U.S. and Russian project directors to each of the three Russian communities for participation in the grand opening ceremonies of the three civic networks.Plans are also being made to assist with some issues related to the new F&P database system (described under the Technical Infrastructure section below).

U.S.-Russian civic networking workshop

The motivation for organizing the joint U.S.-Russian workshop in December 1998 was to take advantage of the experience of the U.S. team, which had been involved in civic networking for years and to thus facilitate the transfer of necessary technology, ideas, and experience. The primary purpose of hosting the workshop in Knoxville was to take advantage of the wide base of community experience in the development of a large and successful civic network. Leaders from other civic networks in the U.S. were invited to give the Russian participants a wider exposure to ideas that have proven successful elsewhere.

Briefly, a rather enormous amount of material covered at the workshop, exposure to community networking projects throughout the United States, the extensive interaction with the local KORRnet community network, and the discussions among the U.S.-Russian Civic Networking team provided an experience that dramatically exceeded initial plans and expectations. The following will explain some of the highlights from the two-week visit and workshop.

The seven Russian visitors arrived in Washington, DC on the evening of December 7th (the Russian Director had arrived a week earlier to prepare for the workshop) to attend the Community Networking Conference sponsored by TIIAP. In this conference the best practice of community networking (and similar projects) in the United States were highlighted. This workshop was a wonderful introduction to the "reality" of the community networking movement in the United States and allowed the Russian visitors a chance to gain a broad perspective on community networking efforts in the United States. Very importantly, it allowed the entire U.S.-Russian Civic Networking team a good means of beginning discussion, and in general, to get to know one another. (Before the workshop, very few of the team members had met each other.)

After a brief visit to Colonial Williamsburg, the group traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit with Steve Snow, the director of "Charlotte's Web." This is one of the first large community networking projects in the United States (and indeed, the first to receive funding from the U.S. government for community networking efforts under the TIIAP program). A nearly three-hour meeting gave good opportunity to learn about the history, development, organizational structure, and financing arrangements of the "Charlotte's Web" project. The discussion was much more in-depth than was possible during the TIIAP conference and provided a good opportunity for questioning one of the older American community networks on how it has achieved and maintained relevance in its local community.

The Eurasia Foundation-funded one-week workshop was jointly organized by the Friends and Partners Foundation in Moscow, the Center for International Networking Initiatives at the University of Tennessee (the U.S. base of Friends and Partners) and the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Regional Network (which Friends and Partners had helped develop four years earlier).

The workshop provided for an extraordinarily intensive week with many presentations and discussions, a few local tours, and the chance to interact directly with those who have leadership responsibility for the KORRnet network as well as those who work on the project day-to-day (and in nearly every capacity). It would be difficult to imagine a more thorough immersion into a local community network experience. Nearly all presentations were given in English although simultaneous translation services were provided for some of the participants.

We were very fortunate to have Doug Schuler, one of the creators of the Seattle Community Network (and the best-published author on topics related to community networking in the United States). Mr. Schuler traveled to Knoxville for the workshop and presented his experiences with the Seattle Community Network (SCN) and his perspective on community networking in other parts of the world.

While all participants found local community environments different between Russia and the United States, there was no question at the end of the conference that the ideals of civic networking are as relevant in Russian communities as they are in American communities.

One of the most important lessons of the visit was that the three communities chosen to participate in the first stage of the project were all developing their own unique models based on the local environment and key organizations involved. For one community, the primary emphasis is a strong technical one (based in the Chelyabinsk Technical University). The other communities will be able to benefit from their strong technical experience and the Chelyabinsk Civic Network will be able to gain from the less technically focused efforts of the other two community networks. The Samara Community Network is based almost entirely within a consortium of non-governmental organizations and thus has a stronger humanitarian focus. They have intentionally developed a relationship with the local technical university to assist with technical components of the project. Finally, in Sergiev Posad, although they are without a strong technical partner, they have very good relationships with different non-governmental organizations and with the local Chamber of Commerce, which enables them to develop a strong community base for the project (and subsequently strong technical base).

We feel that the experiences of these communities will mirror many other startup civic networking projects in Russia and, thus, the wider body of experience gained from working with these three cities should benefit others who participate in the Russian Civic Networking Program in the future.

Technical infrastructure


The equipment provided by the F&P Foundation to the three RCNP sites is identical to facilitate easier communication, coordination, and management of all technical work. The decision was made early in the process to use a superior and more costly (but still reasonably priced) Sun architecture, which has proven to be very popular, stable, and scaleable for large community networking projects in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The provisioning process involved a thorough study of local markets and various options for purchase, as well as reviewing many different configurations, including Intel PCs (running Linux or Solaris-PC), Hewlett Packard, DEC, and Sun. Sun servers were selected because of their high reliability, popularity in the Internet world, and the very good price that the Director was able to negotiate.

The Moscow office procured for each of the three communities a Sun Enterprise Ultra 5S and for the central Moscow server, a Sun Enterprise 450. The Moscow office also purchased a Cisco terminal server and an eight-line modem pool (33.6k US Robotics) for each of the three community networking sites. This process required an initial study of the Russian telecommunications market, learning what equipment works best with the Russian phone system, how many customers use products from different vendors, service plans offered, etc.

In addition to Unix server and telecommunications equipment, each site was provided with two PC HP Vectra VE5233 MMX (multimedia extension) machines for public access and public publishing stations. Each was provided with an excellent scanning unit -- a UMAX PowerLook II with Transparency (Slide) Unit enabling quality scanning for publishing of printed materials, for Web publishing, and for direct scanning from transparency slides (anticipating that some materials about the local community would be available in this format).

The selection of server and telecommunications equipment for the civic networks is a very difficult challenge involving often fiercely held opinions within the Unix community as to what comprises the most cost-effective and best-performing solution.

Database development

A large part of the work involved in maintaining a large community network project concerns problems common to large Web-site efforts. During the past two years, the U.S. and Russian F&P team members have developed a rather unique approach to Web-site maintenance and presentation, driven entirely by an underlying database and involving dynamic construction and presentation of all Web pages. It allows for much more dynamic information content (important for civic networking projects).

The system features extensions to support special requirements of large multicultural projects. These extensions include support for multilingual material, creation of pages tailored for specific classes of browsers (with special attention to simultaneous support of high-end and low-end users), automated support of multiple character set encodings (important for Cyrillic text), and accommodating some user control of overall graphic design and appearance of entire Web sites through the use a facility we term "Personalities." The integration of overall page layout and design through use of a special "Styles" database enables site administrators to easily modify overall site appearance. The object-oriented method of assembling web pages from discreet page elements also permits the introduction of random features such as random graphics, quotations, news updates, etc., into page construction.

Further, this system integrates the "Dublin Core" metadata model, enabling the system to maintain uniform information about local resources and the several thousand external resources we find relevant to project activities.

While the system is large and complex, it has greatly simplified our work in maintaining a quality information resource. We are particularly interested in increasing awareness of these types of capabilities to civic networking organizations who will find it increasingly difficult to compete with commercial organizations for providing quality information services to their constituencies.

Community progress

The following material provides an overview of the key achievements of the three communities developing civic networks. As mentioned previously, all three civic network projects are nearing the mid-March date of their grand opening ceremonies. The summaries provided below describe their efforts up to the December visit to the United States.


Because the Chelyabinsk Civic Network (CCN) is rooted in public networking activities of over five years' duration, they have an already well-established technical base for their efforts. The RCNP has enabled them to enhance this infrastructure with new equipment, an increased number of phone lines, and additional public access sites. But the accomplishments of CCN have been more focused on development of information services, training, increasing the number of users of the local network, and developing greater public awareness of the civic network.

Examples of their accomplishments over the first seven months of this project (June - December) include hosting more than 22 seminars and training more than 250 individuals on topics related to Internet use and Internet publishing. Another example is developing the primary CCN Web server with information about the CCN project, public access locations, training schedules, directories of local resources, and links to similar projects. Other accomplishments include maintaining the "Internet for everyone" public access center (funded by the IREX organization), which is open eight hours each day providing access, e-mail, and Web-publishing services to students, scholars, teachers, journalists, scientists, and NGO staff; providing special focus on increasing the number of NGOs online; and publishing two electronic journals concerned with important issues of local community life (one on local legal/government issues; the other on local cultural news and issues).

Project organizers have worked diligently to improve the local communications infrastructure -- establishing peering agreements with local Internet service providers (providing for better local network infrastructure), increasing network capacity from Chelyabinsk (to Moscow and the rest of the world), improving local equipment (both hardware and software), providing additional phone lines for dial-up access, adding wireless Internet connectivity to a local pedagogical university, and dramatically improving local public access infrastructure.

Planned activities for the next quarter of the project (January - March) include formally launching the CCN within the Chelyabinsk community and creating a better organizational structure for governance of the project. Also planned are the followiing: obtaining better involvement of local government and other local organizations in support of the CCN; increasing work with volunteers; developing more formal policy for user services and support; improving relationships with local commercial ISPs; and, very importantly, improving information content of the civic networking server.


The primary strength of the Samara Civic Network (SCN) is in the broad coalition of organizations involved in its organization and governance. The key partners are the historical-eco-cultural association Povolzje and the Samara State Technical University (SSTU). The consortium also includes strong participation from the Samara regional administration, the Russian Engineering Academy, a local Internet service provider, a local federation of children's organizations, a local legal organization, a local NGO association, and the Open Society Institute (which is providing funds for small grants to attract/fund information resources development for the SCN).

The consortium has developed a shared leadership responsibility that assigns most of the technical and engineering responsibilities to the SSTU and more humanitarian/social aspects of the project to Povolzje. But, very importantly, the project provides a broader base of community participation in governance through an executive board of directors, a local user committee, and is currently forming a finance committee representing local government, local ISPs, and local business and financial organizations. Project organizers have reached out to local and regional government organizations to gain their participation and support.

The SCN has developed a sizeable volume of information resources of interest to the local community (including more than 100 articles for the "Samara Regional Ethnos and Culture" Web site as well as other resources on the local community and local life); has helped local nonprofit organizations develop and publish their content for the network; and has developed an overall structure and organization for the new SCN Internet site. Local information content focuses on local nature, history, regional industries, life and work of local artists and writers, theaters, museums, architectural and cultural points of interest, and local places of religious significance. A directory of local nonprofit organizations has been published as well. Organizers have already begun publicizing the existence of the SCN through distribution of two printings of an information brochure on the project (2,000 copies), a special publication for local NGOs, and through word of mouth at local meetings and seminars.

Four public access sites have been established (with a total of 13 workstations located in four different locations); a number of training activities conducted (with over 100 participants); and free access to the Internet and e-mail services provided to over 20 NGOs.

Project organizers have presented an aggressive agenda for further project development in the next 3-6 months. These include the grand opening ceremonies in March; increasing contacts with local non-profit organizations; improving relationship with local administration and gaining their greater involvement in project development; formalizing a financial committee structure; focusing special effort on fund raising and establishing a more solid financial footing for the project; establishing a series of regular (at least monthly) meetings for the local community; introducing special introductory courses on use of the SCN (and the Internet generally); opening new public access sites; dramatically improving local information content; installing additional dial-up phone lines; publishing information from the local government and increasing local NGO publishing activities.

Sergiev Posad

Of the three communities involved in the RCNP at this stage, the Sergiev Posad Civic Network (SPCN) has had to work the hardest to establish the technical and engineering elements of the project. Starting with very little technical experience (and almost no local Internet infrastructure), the SPCN has successfully installed all equipment provided by F&P, established local Internet connectivity (through a good partnership with a commercial ISP which sees the value of the SPCN to the local community), and is currently implementing local modem access to the SPCN.

The special strengths of the SPCN are found in its strong relationship to the local Chamber of Commerce and its efforts to involve government, non-government, and commercial organizations in the development and governance of the SPCN. The successful integration of both public and private organizations is encouraging to other RCNP communities and to project organizers. The consortium of local organizations involved in the development of the SPCN include the "Russia House" Foundation (a local migrant and social service organization), the "Golden Ring" tourism firm, the Sergiev Posad Chamber of Commerce, local libraries, hotels, and the Sergiev Posad Humanitarian Institute. These organizations participate directly in the governance of the civic network through their involvement in the central Council of Directors. However, the SPCN has made a special effort to reach a broader section of the community through their agreements with a local Internet service provider, the local mayor's office, the district newspaper, the regional newspaper, a local rescue service, a local university, a hospital for socially unsupported people, a union of invalid artists and craftsmen, and other units of local administration. This very broad outreach into the community (and to government, non-government, and private firms) represents a primary goal of civic networking.

The SPCN has provided four seminars and workshops for leaders of local NGOs and the mass media, involving 24 individuals. They have also established agreements with different NGO libraries and local government offices to open six public access locations. They have scheduled three more seminars from January to March, 1998.

The project has successfully installed the technical equipment provided by F&P, has established the initial WWW site for the RCNP, has established public access sites (located at different sites in the area), and has begun developing local information content about Sergiev Posad and the surrounding region.

Next steps

These "next steps" are summarized below, in context of our "measures of success" established in our original proposal to the Ford Foundation.

  1. Active, functioning civic networks in each of three communities. As a general statement, each of the three communities now has a functioning civic network (more information below) although none has formally "launched" the network in their local community yet. This is to happen in March 1999. The following points give additional information about specific criteria that must be met before the first year's end:
    1. A regular meeting of directors and an active committee infrastructure for managing, growing, and sustaining the networks.
    2. Reliable, functioning communications server connected to local access points and to the greater Internet. Each community has a functioning server established to the Internet and to local access points. By the end of the first year, the reliability must be proved and knowledge of the public access sites made known to the local community.
    3. An active training and support program enabling an agreed upon minimum number of individuals to use the local information and communications network. Each community has already established training programs, although, again, these cannot be considered regular and widely available until the projects are formally announced.
    4. A diverse set of local and Internet accessible information resources representing a broad cross-section of the community. Each community has already established initial information for its Internet site -- although all admit an enormous amount of work has yet to be done for it to be considered successful. The Samara site is now sponsoring a "small grants" competition (with supplemental funding provided by the Soros organization) to enable local non-governmental organizations to publish their own material on the local civic network site. Chelyabinsk is considering a similar program.
    5. A sustainable business plan and an identified means of income to sustain the initiative into the second year and beyond. This was one of the most discussed topics at the recent U.S.-Russian workshop on civic networking. Each community has a better understanding now of how U.S.-based civic networks are maintained financially -- and each is exploring (within their community and with the other involved communities) how to establish a sustainable financial base for their project. Two of the projects have already achieved success in obtaining additional funding for their efforts. Samara has received supplemental support from the Soros organization as well as support via a project conducted with Project Harmony (with USIA funding). Chelyabinsk has just received additional funding from NATO that will, in part, assist this project. Sergiev Posad is seeking additional funding support from a partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce. The Friends and Partners Foundation will be submitting a new application to the Ford Foundation for an additional two years of support for the RCNP program. The first year of this additional funding will be used to select three new communities for participation -- but will also provide reduced funding to each of the three communities participating now. The second year will provide for a still yet-reduced level of funding to help the sites make the transition to their own planned method of financing. The final plans for sustainability for each community will be outlined in the final report to be submitted after the completion of the first year of the project.
    6. The successful implementation of at least one information and communications resource of interest to other Russian communities. This was discussed with all key participants during the recent visit to the United States. The services will be implemented during the next five months and described in the final report.
    7. Provision of an English language information service of interest to the broader "Friends and Partners" community. Each of the communities is developing a set of English-language Internet resources about their community, which will be shared with Friends and Partners.
    8. Publication of the results of a survey designed to sample local public opinion about the network and its success in providing useful services for the first year. The survey instrument is being developed now and will be distributed when the civnet projects are formally launched in March. Results from the survey from each community and collectively will be included in the final report submitted after the completion of the requested extension.
  2. Development of a body of experience and published information about the development of these model sites.
  3. A well-established staff in Moscow with active and intense experience supporting civic networking in Russian communities. Through an intense year of work, travel, and presentations about the project, the Moscow staff has gained enormous experience in supporting civic networking projects. This experience will be very useful as the project continues into a second and third year.
  4. Solid experience with hardware and software solutions for civic networking in Russian communities. After more than two months of market research, nearly a year of talking with civic networking pioneers in other parts of the world, and more than seven months working with the Russian communities themselves, a good body of experience with hardware and software solutions has developed. This experience will be documented on the CivNET web site for use by other interested communities.


The first seven months of the RCNP's activities has been encouraging beyond our goals and expectations. The overall project continues to grow and it appears likely that with continued financial support, the RCNP will develop activities with the initial three civic networking projects and will expand during the second year to include an additional three communities. Discussions have begun with additional organizations about integrating the RCNP project with other Russian Internet and community development projects.

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