Opening Doors of Opportunity in the Communications Age

© 1994, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.


Opening the Doors to Opportunity
Focus of the Institute
Goals of the Institute
Service and Education Partnerships
Helping The New Medium Mature
Building a New Age of Opportunity
What Is Interactive Communications?
Projects of the Morino Institute

The Morino Institute is dedicated to opening the doors of opportunity — economic, civic, health, and education — and empowering people to improve their lives and communities in the communications age. The Institute helps individuals and institutions harness the power of information and the potential of interactive communications as tools for overcoming the challenges that face them.

Opening the Doors to Opportunity

We are in the midst of a revolution in human communications that is changing how we talk to each other, how we work together, how we create and share knowledge. This revolution is already fundamentally transforming society, and its implications for individuals and communities are dramatic. The most important element of this revolution, and certainly the most powerful, is the new medium of interactive communications which is already linking millions of people around the globe.

This new medium offers immense potential for helping people address many of the challenges to their individual success and the vitality of their communities. Those who have experienced the richness of interactive communications understand its ability to empower individuals, inspire collaboration and facilitate learning. The power of interactive communications is people as the ultimate source of knowledge — not the physical mass of wires, or the complex networks, or the vast databases of information. It is people and their relationships, insights, spirit and expertise that are passed from one person to another that engender the magic of this interconnected world.

Interactive communications can be a powerful tool for helping people, but it is not in itself a solution. In fact, it could exacerbate many of the social problems we already face by further fragmenting our communities and posing new risks to our privacy. It can lead to unemployment by facilitating downsizing and shifting the patterns of regional economies. What’s more, interactive communications, like many technologies, is often billed as a panacea, leading to disappointment or disillusionment when overly broad or unrealistic promises are not realized.

Focus of the Institute

The Morino Institute works to find and cultivate ways in which interactive communications can be used to benefit society, empower individuals and create opportunity. This work is focused particularly in those areas where the empowering, collaborative and educational potential of interactive communications has the greatest chance to improve peoples’ lives:

In all these areas, interactive communications’ ability to change our patterns of access to people and information creates significant opportunities to raise the quality of individual and community life. Perhaps the greatest, is that this new medium can be a vehicle for bringing together groups of people to solve the interconnected social challenges that cross these areas. As the key to unlocking this potential, the Institute works to support affordable, ubiquitous access to information and interactive communications. This includes a priority placed upon broadening the awareness, knowledge and understanding which will enable people to use them constructively and effectively. This focus becomes ever more essential as we collectively experience the transformations of the Communications Age: the inevitable economic shifts, new roles for intermediaries, blurring of authority, leveling hierarchies and the new imperative for individual empowerment.

Goals of the Institute

The Institute measures its success by the positive benefit to individuals and communities that result from its efforts: the number of jobs we help create; the people who are prepared to succeed; the institutions which improve their service; the communities that become better places in which to live.

Our fundamental goals are to:

  1. Make people aware of the potential benefits and threats of interactive communications, especially to help them understand its implications for their lives, families, careers, institutions and communities.

  2. Advance new ways of using interactive communications that enable people to assume greater control over their future, make better informed decisions and become engaged in community problem-solving.

  3. Prepare people to realize the benefits of interactive communications, with particular emphasis on those who are already being left out: people who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, physically and mentally challenged, elderly and those in rural areas.

  4. Help public and community service groups to improve their assistance to individuals, families and communities through the effective use of interactive communications.

Service and Education Partnerships

In support of theses goals, Institute initiatives take two forms: service projects and education programs.

Through service projects, the Institute acts as a catalyst to encourage new models, public policies and programs that create opportunity or social benefit through the use of interactive communications. The Institute works closely with local groups, service organizations, businesses, educational institutions and government agencies who understand and respond to community needs. The Institute acts in full partnership with these groups, helping them define a problem, determine how interactive communications can help, create workable plans and develop effective solutions. Institute contributions may include financial assistance, in-kind services, connections to additional partners and access to an impressive array of experience in planning, management, implementation, communication and education.

In addition to helping people and communities directly, service projects support the creation of knowledge and models that can be applied by others to improve their own communities. As a result, service projects are also an important engine for the Institute’s educational efforts.

Education programs are in many ways the Institute’s most important work because they help many people learn from the knowledge and experience of others.

With education programs, the Institute transfers information, strategies, analysis, expertise, models and solutions through a variety of channels, including:

In keeping with its mission, the Institute’s service and educational efforts focus not on the technology of interactive communications, but on creating opportunity and helping people through its use. In the Institute’s work with the Virginia Chapter of the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC), for example, the challenge is not building a network, it is rather to apply enhanced communications toward bolstering the knowledge and support resources available to families. While creating an interactive communications network is part of the project, one of the Institute’s services is to put groups like ARC in contact with the right people who can provide expertise and training in the communications, information management and technical elements of online access.

Helping The New Medium Mature

For all of its growing popularity, and despite some marketing claims, interactive communications has to mature before its full potential can be realized. Many decisions about its nature, implementation, use and access are still being made. Many issues have not even been identified or defined. Research into how it can be used effectively and how it will affect our communication and learning patterns is just starting. The road leads well beyond the immediate technical and regulatory issues that are most commonly considered and bears directly on how well we will develop opportunity and social benefit using the new medium. For this reason, the Institute also supports service and education programs which:

Building a New Age of Opportunity

Dickens described the French Revolution as the best of times and the worst of times. That paradox applies to the Digital Revolution as well. While some children are learning to use computers, others are learning to use guns. While thousands of people connect with each other through networks, millions remain alienated and detached. While fax machines and cellular phones deliver more messages, the human quality of communication seems to be in decline. While the sheer quantity of information explodes, the useful nuggets become harder to find. While some online communities thrive, many local communities founder.

By providing new opportunities and empowering people to meet them, interactive communications can help make this the best of times for millions of people. However, it also threatens to create an insurmountable divide between those with access to opportunity and those without. The Communications Age will dictate vastly different and continually changing rules for education, community and competition. The challenge for all of us is to survive and succeed in this new world, and it is our responsibility to hold open the doors of opportunity for our families, friends and neighbors to pass through as well.

What Is Interactive Communications?

Interactive communications is the new medium that links people throughout the globe via networks of computers and telecommunications devices. The computers are intelligent mediators that manage, manipulate and store messages of various kinds — the written word, sound, pictures, movies — in a digital form which can be passed through telecommunications "pipes" such as phone lines, fiber optic cables, satellites and wireless. Technically it is referred to as computer- mediated communications. Casually it is sometimes called the information superhighway, but it is more than that. It is a truly new and revolutionary form of human communication.

With interactive communications, people have much broader access to information, in new forms, from new authors and through new channels. It makes possible a learning process whereby people can gather knowledge when they need it, either from the vast repositories of information and research or directly from the multitudes of individuals and experts who are connected through the networks. Perhaps most importantly, it presents the potential for dozens or even thousands of people to be brought together in collaboration to support a movement, solve a problem or fulfill a need.

Projects of the Morino Institute

Broadening a Child’s Horizons

The children of New Haven, Connecticut and East Palo Alto, California are separated by three time zones, but united by disadvantages they share with other inner-city kids. Put simply, they are losing out because, among the other challenges they face, they lack the facilities, training and support required for the Communications Age. Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), in conjunction with the Morino Institute and others, is helping to change that through the National Youth Center Network (NYCN) project.

NYCN has two primary goals: to help engage children through communication and to improve the delivery of youth services. Part of this effort includes the creation of a pilot network between the Youth Centers in New Haven and East Palo Alto with child service providers such as the Children's Defense Fund, the Urban Strategies Council, the Playing to Win Network and others. As the program matures, it will be expanded across the United States.

Andrea Schorr, a program coordinator for LEAP’s Computer Learning Center, observes, "I haven’t seen a single child who isn’t excited about talking to kids in faraway places, to see that they have things in common with others. It’s going to become increasingly important to kids’ lives and it’s an equity issue. Without this experience they won’t be prepared to function in the workplace of tomorrow."

Sharing Knowledge and Education

One of the most compelling aspects of the Communications Age is the way it has inspired grass roots civic, economic and public service efforts across the globe. Public access networking is a profound example of this, where communication and information services are delivered free or at low cost to local citizens. Because these are grass roots programs, however, there is often little opportunity to share knowledge and experience.

The Morino Institute helps connect these efforts through support of programs like the Ties That Bind Conference, co-sponsored with Apple Computers. This kind of knowledge and experience sharing is also the impetus for the Institute’s Directory of Public Access Networks which serves as a resource for community sponsors, public and community service groups, media, policy makers, grant makers and others interested in the emergence and use of public access networks.

Preparing A Vision for Regional Economic Growth

How will communities, regions — and for that matter, individuals — adapt to the economic and social changes of the Communications Age? To do so effectively, many will have to take honest stock of their strengths and weaknesses, preparing strategies and action plans that embrace both opportunities and threats. In Northern Virginia the Morino Institute is helping people come together around a vision for developing an industry in network-based information products and services. The strategy turns the region’s unique strengths in intellectual resources, telecommunications, and information bases into a foundation for entrepreneurship and job creation. The goal is to help people prosper in the face of trends that are altering the region’s economic environment; trends such as job migration, corporate downsizing, defense conversion and federal work force reductions.

This initiative is a product of the Northern Virginia Roundtable, a coalition of Northern Virginia business and community leaders. Founding members also include George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College, the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, GREDAC and the Northern Virginia Technology Council with assistance and support from the Morino Institute. The program includes creation of an information entrepreneurship and innovation program, a community-wide education campaign, and a regional online network. "What’s so exciting about the project is that it is truly an industry and community driven initiative," says Robert Templin, President of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, "involving local businesses — large and small — in partnership with many other members of the community. The Morino Institute has been a catalyst to help spark this effort and has been an essential part of helping us formulate the strategy and bringing people together behind it."

Unlocking Opportunity and Expanding Participation

In Nebraska, the Community Networking Institute (CNI) brings together local businesses and service groups throughout the state to help people in rural communities find economic, health and educational opportunities. A woman in tiny Wallace, Nebraska now teaches graduate courses to students around the world from her home. A rancher in Sand Hills developed systems to manage his herds more productively in collaboration with a colleague over 500 miles away.

According to CNI Director Steve Buttress, "The Morino Institute’s partnership and management experience was of tremendous value. They helped us ask the right questions and develop an effective operational plan to meet the needs of local people. Their continuing support in establishing contacts to national resources and in developing educational materials will help assure the success of this ambitious project."