What are Community Wireless Networks For?

Article/Op-Ed in The Journal of Community Informatics
Oct. 15, 2015

Practitioners and researchers alike have made various claims about the nature of community networks as hybrid technological-social systems with the potential to provide social goods such as opportunities for participation in civic, economic, and social activity. However, the process of framing research contexts and gathering data has presented researchers with categorical challenges. This paper analyzes four cases of research into the qualities and potential of community networks, and provides a current example of an “open-source” research method that could be appropriate to forming a more appropriate context for understanding the potential socio-economic benefits of community networks. Assessments of success and failure at achieving social impact goals are synthesized according to existing contextual frameworks, and a new approach is proposed for cooperative/participatory research to help networks and their publics self-define effective and informed social impact frameworks.