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Information society becomes reality in local projects

Read a web article about the topic


Web Article 18 November 2004

The Finnish information society can be advanced on the local level with community learning and networks, online services and in everyday life. The important thing is to share experiences with all regional parties. The Learning Regions programme 2000 – 2004 – OSKU for short – is an information society programme launched by Sitra, aimed at developing local projects based on local needs.  The guiding principle was to look at the national information society strategy from the general public’s perspective. Did OSKU succeed in what it set out to do and what was learnt?      

OSKU applied the model first used in the Learning Upper Karelia project (1998–2000), that is, free Internet access points, a locally run community network and peer trainers. At best there were 250 free Internet access points at local residents’ disposal, and during OSKU, 40,000 people took a computer course. For example in the Turku Archipelago, eight hundred people took a computer course in one year, and the trainers made as many as five hundred house calls.

“Experience has shown that despite the proliferation of Internet connections, the free Internet access points were sorely needed,” says Kari-Pekka Mäki-Lohiluoma, director, of Sitra.  “They provided access to several services at once and were located in places where people would go anyway, such as shops and post offices. The Internet access points also helped patch the increasingly sparse network of banks and other services.”

 In the Turku region, the community network MEBBi has some twenty access points. “Service points with several computer terminals can also be used for teleworking,” says Micaela Westerlund, project manager. Westerlund thinks that the area’s small schools in particular have benefited from the community network, as they have been able to set up intranets within the network for exchanging information and organising virtual teaching. Co-operation between schools has increased significantly.

A Taloustutkimus survey commissioned by Sitra and soon to be published reveals that 54 per cent of the respondents had acquired an email address via the regional portal or community network.      

Development has taken different courses

According to Mäki-Lohiluoma, the regional progress of the information society proceeds in three stages. When OSKU was first launched, many regions were not even aware of what the residents’ basic information technology needs might be. Sitra is concerned that many local authorities still have no strategy for or vision of a regional information society.

In the second stage, existing models are copied and tested, sometimes only to be found unsuitable for the particular region. In the final stage, using information technology has become commonplace and the models are adjusted and developed independently.

Mäki-Lohiluoma estimates that the whole process will take four to ten years. In the early days of OSKU, the pilot regions were typically ones on the sideline of the progress of the information society, but during the project, they managed to bridge the gap and reach at least the average national level.  The next big challenge in Mäki-Lohiluoma’s opinion is to exceed the average level and create forerunners within regional information society development.

The earlier problem has not disappeared either: local development of the information society seems to be “everybody’s and therefore nobody’s business”. According to Mäki-Lohiluoma, “Another big challenge is to have decision-makers and service providers respond to the growing number of enquiries the general public now makes via new media, such as email.”

The OSKU project also showed that a strong regional identity creates lively community networks and innovations, as happened in Helsinki in the Nettimaunula project. Conversely, the lack of local identity impeded the progress of certain pilot projects. When evaluating how well the goals of the information society and projects for creating new jobs were reconciled, the targets were not always achieved within the given time.

Info packages on the local network and broadband

OSKU comprised eight regional projects: In addition to Nettimaunula and the Turku Archipelago pilots, these were the Kainuu, ePäijänne, Eastern Turku, Kehä 5–Ring 5, PiiSavo and Northern Lapland projects. In the Turku Region, the OSKU project will be continued within the scope of the rural development programme for Southwest Finland. The programme will be funded by EAGGF, European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund. The Kainuu OSKU project will also carry on till the end of this year as an EAGGF project, funded by the Employment and Economic Development Centre.

The Nettimaunula project built a community network and provided IT training and advice especially to the unemployed residents of the area, or those threatened by unemployment. “The media workshop is still up and running, only on a slightly smaller scale,” says Heli Rantanen, project manager for Nettimaunula. 

“The workshop was initially created and maintained by the residents themselves, while OSKU helped acquire new machines and software. The workshop is now run by the Maunula society, partly on a volunteer basis. The funding comes from a variety of projects, the City of Helsinki and nowadays also local businesses.” is now part of a pilot project of HELKA, the Federation of the Associations for Helsinki City Quarters, together with the areas of Vuosaari and Alppila. Rantanen thinks the biggest achievement of Nettimaunula was facilitating broadband for housing companies. The experiences of the HomePna-based, shared Internet connections were made available on the Web, where anyone interested in such a connection could read and learn more about it. The initial costs for such self-maintained networks are substantially cheaper than what operators would charge. Over a thousand housing companies in the Helsinki metropolitan area have chosen a similar network model. This year Sitra has also published a guide on community networks, written by Heli Rantanen.

Further information (the links take you to Finnish/Swedish language sites)
Publication: Local communities on the Web
The Learning Regions programme:
Turku Region community network:
The new website for the area of Maunula: The broadband project for Nettimaunula:  

By Elina Ranta, Verkkotie Oy