|Lessons Learned from TIIAP
Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure
This report presents the initial lessons learned from the Telecommunications
and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP) projects that were
funded in 1994 and 1995. The report offers a snapshot look at the community
impacts of TIIAP projects, and presents examples of how specific projects are
using advanced telecommunications and information technologies to provide better
services, to strengthen community ties, and to provide increased access to
information for thousands of Americans. Lessons learned to date from these
TIIAP projects include insights into project planning, the task of selecting the
appropriate technologies in a time of rapid change, the importance of developing
and maintaining productive community partnerships, and the challenge of securing
long-term financial support for the projects.
Material for the report was gathered from a workshop and focus group
sessions conducted with TIIAP project directors in June, 1996, and from a review
of TIIAP project reports and documents. The report is intended for
community-based organizations and government agencies that wish to incorporate
new information technologies into the services that they provide to the
community, as well as for those who seek to better understand the TIIAP program.
The TIIAP Program
The TIIAP program is administered by the U.S.
Department of Commerce's National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). TIIAP is a
competitive, merit-based grant program that provides seed money for innovative,
practical information infrastructure projects by state and local governments,
schools and school districts, non-profit health care organizations, libraries,
colleges, public safety providers, and other non-profit community organizations.
During the 1994 and 1995 grant rounds, TIIAP awarded 210 grants in 48 states,
the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Approximately $60 million
in Federal grant funds were matched by $100 million in non-federal funds. A
significant portion of the funding went to rural areas that are generally
underserved by information technologies; disadvantaged urban Americans also
benefited from a number of TIIAP projects.
The Impact of TIIAP Projects
Two-thirds of the TIIAP projects are still underway, but in discussions with
project directors and a review of project reports, a number of significant
impacts are beginning to emerge.
- Innovations in Education. Schools are using the Internet
to provide teachers with new teaching tools and students with new educational
opportunities. Many students in rural areas are using distance learning
networks to take advanced placement courses from teachers located hundreds of
- Increased Access to Lifelong Learning Opportunities.
Small rural public libraries are expanding their services, schools are using
networks to open their doors to their communities, and adult learners are
improving their job skills by taking courses through distance learning networks.
- More Responsive Public Institutions. A number of
government agencies, schools, libraries, and other community organizations that
previously had limited means of reaching their constituencies are now providing
information to these groups over the Internet.
- Enhanced Economic Development in Rural and Disadvantaged
Areas. TIIAP grants demonstrate that non-profit and public service
organizations no longer need to be bound by geography and time. For example,
several small rural businesses, many with limited resources and technical
skills, have now begun to market their products over the Internet.
- Increased Access to Health Care. Many groups that
previously had limited access to health care services, particularly those in
rural communities, have now begun to gain greater access through telemedicine
- Increased Sense of Community. Workers in government
agencies, students, health care providers and others are using e-mail and other
forms of electronic messaging to expand the network of people they reach,
improve service delivery, and increase their communication with others.
- Replicable Models and Strategies for Introducing Information
Infrastructure into the Public and Non-Profit Sectors. TIIAP projects
receive frequent inquiries from all over the United States and other nations
from people interested in learning how to implement similar projects in their
Some case studies illustrate these impacts.
- Plugged In of
East Palo Alto, California has demonstrated that young people from an urban,
low-income neighborhoods can become providers of information technology, not
just consumers. Plugged In operates a community access center that lets
youths and community members connect to the world of information technology.
Working in a state-of-the-art multi-media lab, young people create multi-media
slide shows about their community, conduct videoconferences with others around
the nation and world, and even operate their own computer services businesses
that create and sell Internet home pages for local businesses and clients around
- Technical Learning Centers and Schools. The
Foundation for Educational Innovation (FEI) created a Technical Learning Center
in a Washington, D.C. middle school and took students on "virtual visits"
to distant museums. Over the course of the project, the project team revised
its original concept for virtual visits to enable students to participate more
interactively. FEI developed a three-stage model for integration of virtual
visits into a science curriculum.
- The Tri-State Network
Project of Jackson, Mississippi, has shown that a community-based
advanced telecommunications infrastructure can help a community further its
educational and economic goals. The Tri-State Project is assisting
educational and economic development initiatives in rural regions of Alabama,
Mississippi and Tennessee.
- Charlotte's Web
, a regional computer network spearheaded by the Public Library of
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County of North Carolina, has demonstrated that
diverse groups such as schools, libraries, police and fire departments, and
community groups can work together to create a community-wide electronic
information system that residents will rely on and use. Through this
network, schoolchildren and their teachers use the educational resources of the
Internet and residents search through job listings, find building permit
information, access a comprehensive weather service, and discuss regional issues
- The Inland Northwest
Community Access Network (TINCAN),based in Cheney, Washington, has
shown that residents in rural, isolated areas can get access to local
information and to national computer networks without high costs. TINCAN
, a community computer network, is providing six counties in rural eastern
Washington state and one rural county in western Idaho with a local free-net and
access to the Internet.
- The United Neighborhood Houses has demonstrated that
a small social service organization with a tight budget can use the same
advanced technology information tools as large corporations to improve the
delivery of services and the efficiency of its workers. Through a local and
wide-area network, this settlement house organization allows workers to
efficiently store and share data.
- Telecommunications Uniting Native Americans to Develop Rural
Alaska (TUNDRA), in Bethel, Alaska, has demonstrated that rural groups
can overcome a core obstacle to the full implementation of the NII: the cost of
the "last mile" in delivering services. Working with a large
consortium of public and private organizations, TUNDRA has reduced the
cost of reaching a telecommunications network access point in western Alaska,
allowing the people of the Delta region of Alaska to access the Internet and to
communicate with other native Alaskan villages.
- SmartCities, a
project of the Kansas City Area Development Council, has demonstrated that a
regional development group can accelerate the deployment of advanced
telecommunications technologies to attract businesses and create jobs. Working
with a broad coalition of public and private sector organizations, the group
developed a blueprint for modernizing the information infrastructure in the
greater Kansas City area, thus contributing to the region's reputation as a
leading-edge area for doing business electronically.
Care for Tuberculosis Patients. In New York City, a project led by
Columbia University has demonstrated that the information infrastructure can be
used effectively to fight serious health problems, such as tuberculosis. This
consortium of health care providers and private agencies has established an
electronic sharing of TB case reports, automated protocols to detect new cases
of TB, wireless links between visiting nurses in patient homes to health
records stored at the hospital, and a touch-screen kiosk at clinics that
provides health information for TB patients. As a result, patients receive
better care and health agencies have greater control over the spread of
Making Healthy MUSIC. In New Jersey, a coalition led by the Newark
Public Schools has created an electronic community network that is helping to
revitalize an inner-city community by facilitating better communication among
its residents. The project is also redefining the relationship between
the local school and the community in order to foster higher levels of student
Successful TIIAP projects are usually the result of careful planning.
Planning helps to create a disciplined, business-like approach to the project
and fosters communication with other groups, often leading to partnerships.
TIIAP projects demonstrate how to plan the successful introduction of
information technology into a public service setting.
In general, steps in the planning process include:
- Gathering Information. A first step in the planning
process is gathering information about community needs, available assets and
resources, existing information infrastructure, end-user training requirements,
and related issues.
- Developing a Business Plan. It is important to have
a plan that defines project goals, describes the specific problems or needs to
be addressed, lists potential project partners and their roles, identifies
staffing requirements, outlines a marketing strategy, proposes a detailed budget
and timeline, and includes a transition plan that addresses how the project will
be financially sustained over time.
- Developing an Evaluation Plan. It is important to
have an evaluation plan that identifies project goals and desired outcomes, and
provides a means of measuring the extent to which such outcomes and goals are
met. Such a plan provides important feedback on key issues at periodic points
in the development of the project.
- Identifying Potential Sources of Funding. TIIAP
requires that projects receive financial support from multiple sources, which
may include corporate and foundation funding, third party in-kind donations of
goods or services, fees for services rendered, other Federal grants, or state,
tribal, local and/or non-Federal grants. Financial support brings legitimacy
and status to a project, often making the organization a more serious contender
for additional funding.
- Soliciting Potential Project Partners. Project
partners can play critical roles in providing advice, leveraging financial
support, and serving as powerful community advocates for a project. The best
partners are often drawn from local organizations, particularly those that
complement the talents and resources of the project group. Potential partners
include end-user organizations, equipment vendors, technical consulting firms,
and government entities.
- Planning for Sustainability. Planning for
sustainability is an ongoing pursuit that must begin at an early stage in
project development. Ideally, funding to sustain a project should come from
many sources, and should be in return for a variety of services.
- Determining Which Technologies to Use. Although
technology choices must be tailored to the specific needs of each project, the
current pace of technological change greatly complicates the task of selecting
appropriate technologies for a project. In general, project directors should
carefully follow technology trends, remain flexible, and be prepared to shift or
adapt to unplanned contingencies.
- Replicating Model Projects. A principal feature of
the TIIAP program is to support the development of projects that can serve as
models that can be adopted in other locales. A new group seeking to develop a
service like the model service should learn what happened in the model project,
extract the core elements that span specific social, economic, and technological
contexts, and adapt the model to the new context, taking into account the unique
social, economic, and technological context of the community where the
application must take root and grow.
TIIAP projects offer valuable and practical lessons about implementing new
information infrastructure projects in a variety of settings and about
transforming a plan into a working project. Among the steps identified as
necessary to set a plan in motion are the following:
- Hiring and Managing Staff. Before recruiting and hiring
staff, project leaders should have a clearly defined organizational structure in
mind, define staff roles clearly, and know what qualities are desirable in new
employees. Staff should understand and support the project mission, and be able
to interact with both technical and non-technical people. TIIAP project
directors recommended the hiring of local people, noting that college students
and volunteers can often be valuable sources of labor.
- Working With Partners. Although developing and
maintaining strong relationships with project partners requires significant time
and effort, such partnerships can be mutually beneficial when expectations and
responsibilities are clearly understood by each group. Working with private
sector partners requires an understanding of company goals, organizational
structure, and procedures. Working with non-profit partners often requires
making the project's service so valuable to that organization that it is willing
to adopt it and pay for it from their operational budget once initial funding
has come to an end.
- Marketing the Project. It is important for
non-profit organizations to think like businesses. Such thinking involves
researching potential markets, targeting services and products to clearly
defined groups, and following-up with strong customer service.
- Working With Equipment Vendors and Technical Consultants.
Selecting equipment vendors and technical consultants requires careful
research, knowledge of the equipment and services that are needed, a realistic
budget, and clearly stated expectations regarding timelines and delivery
- Managing Costs. Although some project costs can be
anticipated and built into a project budget, other costs are sometimes hidden or
can quickly escalate well beyond the initial project budget. This latter
category includes costs of training end- users, retro-fitting old equipment,
internal wiring, ongoing equipment maintenance, and network connections. This
report identifies strategies for dealing with and satisfactorily resolving each
of these cost issues.
- Working With End-Users. A project's ultimate value
to the community is based on how well it meets the needs and wants of the
end-users -- the individuals that must interact directly with the new technology
-- and the people that they serve. Achieving this goal can be challenging
because end-users often have had limited experience with new technologies.
Overcoming this obstacle requires training and time. End-users also want a
service that is easy to use and that quickly displays content that is useful,
timely, and well-organized.
Lessons learned to date from TIIAP projects suggest that TIIAP is serving
important needs in the community. First, the projects are helping cities,
schools, libraries, economic development groups, police and other public safety
departments, and social service organizations to become anchor tenants on the
National Information Infrastructure (NII) and thereby attract others to use the
NII. Second, the role of many government agencies, libraries, schools, and
other information agencies is changing from information repositories to
customer-driven service providers. Third, it is raising the level of
information technology skills in the community as TIIAP projects train people in
their local communities who in turn become trainers of others.
By seeding these projects across the country, TIIAP is:
- Helping to build a critical mass of users for the NII;
- Adding discipline to the process of planning local NII applications;
- Showing the private sector the feasibility of some telecommunication
applications that they might otherwise have passed over; and
- Helping to close the gap between the information "haves"
and "have-nots" by extending access to the information superhighway to
remote rural communities and inner-city neighborhoods.
In creating new telecommunications applications, the TIIAP projects are
building and strengthening local communities and helping people to work more
productively, to improve literacy and education, and to receive better medical
care. In this way, TIIAP is a catalyst for economic, educational, and social
development in communities through information infrastructure.
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Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Telecommunications and Information Administration
Telecommunications and Information Applications
Updated: 24 Feb 00