The project already has staked out the objectives to be achieved, it has a committee that will be in charge of turning the project into a reality, yet there are many things that are not clear yet, such as:
- Infrastructure and sustainability issues -- How is the center going to be operated, how much does the equipment cost, what has to be done first and which are the required activities?
- Issues about the tasks and services that the center should provide -- What are the ways or means of communication that can be reinforced with the access center, and what current community projects can the access center support?
To answer these and other questions that clearly define our project, it is necessary to address the following:
a) What are the alternatives? We know that we want an access center, but maybe we have never seen one -- or maybe we have, but we do not know how it works. Hence, in this first stage it is good to identify other experiences from communities who already have a center, to visit them and to ask questions such as: How do you connect to the network? Who is providing you the service? What are the requirements? How did you finance it? Where is the antenna installed and to how many people can it provide service? How much does it cost? Does it require particular care and maintenance? What are you using it for? Who supported you? Who trained you? And any other question that comes to your mind.
b) What do we have and what are we missing? With the knowledge of previous experience, we will be able to have a clear idea of what we need for our project. We will be able to order these needs in groups so it is easier to address and identify them. One possible classification could be the following:
- Connectivity Needs: All those related to the communication service, such as supplier or type of connectivity (Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, Satellite, Telephone, etc.)
- Equipment Needs: All those related to the equipment in the access center, such as computers, printers, cameras and all the other equipment required, depending on the use assigned to the access centre.
- Training Needs: All those related to the training that allows us to operate all of the aspects of the access center. Maybe not all of them can be attended to right away, but it is important that we keep them in mind so that little by little, we advance towards self-sustainability.
c) What are the available media in the community and how will the access center reinforce them? At this point it is necessary to identify the communication media that already exist in the community (radio stations, local newspapers, posters). Organizers can consider how the access center could contribute to their enhancement, or in the case of telephony, how it could make telephone calls cheaper. For example, the center can contribute by establishing the radio station online, uploading the local newspaper, designing posters, etc.
d) What are the projects or services taking place in the community and how can the access center support them? In other words, what are the information and communication needs of each of these projects and how can the access center address them. For example, there could be tele-consultation in the medical unit, creation of education courses in the school, investigation of market prices of the goods produced in the community, etc.
e) What training needs does the community have? Items c) and d) provide relevant information for defining the areas that need strengthened capacities. As previously highlighted, one must identify all the required abilities so that the center can become self-sustainable.
f) How will the centre be managed in order to be self-sustainable? Keep in mind what will be the operational costs of the center once it has been installed, how they will be covered and where the ongoing resources necessary for sustainability will be obtained.
g) Who can support the center? In order to perform all these tasks regularly, the center’s operators will need external support, which might be technical, financial or training-related. The first place to look is at home, within the community itself. Perhaps the community can create a savings fund or give in-kind contributions. For example, many of the telecommunications cooperatives in Argentina were born in this way. Later on, organizers must look for the relationships linking the community to others in the area so that they are easily connected. Last but not least, organizers must identify the national and international networks or agencies that can support the center.
The plan is ready. Now it is time to take the first steps towards its fulfilment.