Cost, Utility and Value

October 1, 2000

Dilemmas and Obstacles
1. How much the technology costs in real dollars
The financial outlay is substantial and includes the human as well as financial infrastructure. The new technologies often re q u i re a significant initial investment, additional monthly charges, a new and permanent line item in the operational budget, new staff, and a serious investment in staff development. Community organizations often survive on budgets that have little to spare.

2. Scarce resources and competing priorities
Groups often face difficult choices between pressing survival needs and longer-term community development.

3. Is it really better?
People wonder whether the new tools will significantly improve what folks do now with simpler equipment and personal interaction.

4. Conflicting values
The familiar refrain that technology eliminates jobs has a slightly diff e re n t ring among some of the community groups we interviewed. One group put off buying a printer as a more efficient way of addressing envelopes and getting out mailings because it would replace the labor of community members. They were also concerned that it would remove an important social gathering from the life of the community.

5. Concern about impact beyond the immediate
"Technology comes with a price," says Darrell Waldron, "and I think we need to take a look at what technology is costing us in natural resources. Part of the Indian philosophy is that when you make a decision for your future, you make that decision based on the seven generations of children who are not yet born. Will that decision be a benefit or a sacrifice for them?" Says Martín Espada from El Puente Community Center in Brooklyn, "There are certain devices that are totally great inventions-like the bicycle. But there are others that are completely inefficient, like automobiles, that are going to result in the world being paved. Looking at each, we have to ask, is it causing more harm than good?"

What Community Organizations Can Do
Careful reflection can help you figure out a reasonable course of action that supports your community's needs and values and enables you to make informed decisions about how to raise-and advocate for-the necessary funds.

  1. Start by identifying what you want, need, and value. Consider holding a community conversation to begin the process (see the Access by Design publication, Technology in Your Community: a Community Conversation Guide, for suggestions).
  2. Find people with expertise to offer.
  3. 3. Consult with advisors, visit other organizations, and ask questions
  4. Estimate and don't underestimate costs.
  5. Compare costs and benefits
  6. Find the money and planning for the future


Ellen Wahl