Starting Community Area Networks


Really? Name it before we have it? Yes. Make it interesting. The technologists in the group love their silly acronyms. Run with it. For example, Madison, WI has a Community Area Network referred to as MUFN - the Madison Unified Fiber Network. This gives them a great excuse for pastries at each meeting. On a serious note, simply naming the effort creates some sort of identity that people can relate to right off the bat. People generally want to feel a part of something. If you can't name it, it doesn't exist in the minds of folks. It doesn't matter than you haven't invested a dime yet. Name it.


Start making lists of everybody you know in your community associated with a school, library, college, university, hospital, city, or county. Start with names, titles, organizations, and addresses (email and physical). Task somebody particularly organized to be the master of the roster of interested (and potentially interesting) individuals and organizations. Continue to revisit this list of people at each of your meetings. As new people come aboard, check in with who they know and the people connections they bring to your Community Area Network efforts. 


"This all seems too easy!" You are right. I guarantee, however, that once you leave that initial meeting - even with business cards of others in your community - you will probably forget to make a note of how to get back in contact with the others. Assign somebody the task of creating an maintaining and email list of all individuals in your community. Most organizations have some sort of solution for this. If not, a simple private Google Group will do. Take a few minutes to make this happen.


Last, commit to a next meeting. Feeling ambitious? Commit to a regular schedule of meetings. There's no need for weekly or even monthly meetings at the front end of this project. Failing to pick a next date will certainly slow things down and force one of those inevitable dreaded email chains of calendar death later down the line. Do it now. Take the opportunity to move the meeting around the community so that you get to know/experience what your colleagues work lives are like. Or make a lunch thing. People like food.


We love connecting people and strategies. At the WiscNet Future Technologies Conference 2015, our CEO Dave Lois talked about his vision for WiscNet as a Community Area Networks of Community Area Networks — what we call the CAN of CANs Initiative. He promised that the membership would hear from him after the conference, when the real work begins. 

Our offer is simple: if you would like, the WiscNet CAN of CANs Tour 2015 will bring us to your community to talk to you about your Community Area Network, regardless of your familiarity with CANs.

We’re serious about this offer. Some of you have healthy, successful CANs. Some of you have a CAN that stopped growing or evolving for some reason along the way. Some of you have nothing more than a seed of an idea. We want to meet you where you are and explore next steps in connecting people and strategies to move your community forward. 

CANs generally fall into 3 categories

  • New to the concept: You may or may not have existing assets to work with. You may or may not be familiar with people in other community anchor institutions in nearby communities (like schools, libraries, cities, counties, hospitals, technical colleges, private colleges/universities).
  • Developing communities: You have (or are in the process of) building connections within a community. Some of the community anchor institution representatives are engaged, others may not be. You are considering possibilities for growing the network and/or beginning to share services across the network.
  • Developed communities: You are pushing the boundaries (geographically or otherwise) of serving your communities. You are sharing services between entities, looking for possible new ways — either within the CAN or beyond the CAN — to make use of the network.

Our conversation will depend on which category your CAN most naturally falls into. We’ll talk about the bigger picture of CANs, and discuss the details — the whats and the hows and the whos — as well as the continual process of growth and WiscNet’s role in CANs. What we’ll bring: ourselves, our knowledge, and our ability to connect people and strategies. 

What we’re asking from you: a place to meet, a group of interested people and organizations from your community, and a name for your CAN (if you don’t have one, now is the time to bestow one).