Community Informatics – Defining an Ethical Framework

Paul McCusker and Kate O’Dubhchair


As a branch of the information systems discipline, community informatics extends the application of ICT’s to new areas and, in particular to the process of local decision making and strategic planning. In response there is a need for the lessons learned in private sector informatics to be refined or redefined.

In this paper we draw on the practical experience of the authors in both the private and community sector and considers the derivation of a methodology for community informatics.

A methodology differs from the simpler concept of a method by requiring the definition of an underpinning paradigm or philosophy. For example the commercial world proliferates with ‘structured methodologies’ for information systems design some based on the principles of ‘hard science’ or an objective view of reality and some on the ‘soft science’ or subjective view of reality. The authors question what is the appropriate standpoint for the design and implementation of community information systems and what are the ethical consequences for those who interface in this sector in a professional capacity?

These reflections are set in the context of the liberalisation of telecommunications, new possibilities of data mining and data warehousing and the reality of a growing information society. Practically, reference is made to the SHOW ME project, an ongoing collaborative venture in community decision support based in two abutting communities in the border region of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Designing decision support tools for community use falls in the arena of conflict and dispute resolution and involves the designer in an intimate relationship with a community and its identity and memory. Ethical issues that have arisen are discussed and a research agenda suggested.