I have been thinking about and tinkering with new institutional models for the countryside myself.
I maintain this blog for a local community of colleague dairy farmers here in the Alentejo in South Portugal. I see the blog as a knowledge instrument for this tiny niche community. The niche in this case consist of dairy farmers in the Alentejo. Dairying is relatively new in the Alentejo. Maybe there are now about 100 farms in total, about half of them by emigrated Dutch farmers. I feel that such ICT supported networks might become an important model for learning and extension in rural areas in the future. I am looking for sustainable models, so such networks can be self-propelled and self-financed.
There are several options for financing. It could be charging for membership, but the drawback to this is that i feel the network should be open. I think the best option would be a combination of transactions based (charging for events or products) and charging commercial users for access to the platform. With commercial users i mean companies interested to gain access to the farmers or to their knowledge and information. The companies could sponsor blog posts or sponsor events or polls.
However, until now i did not manage to get much compensation for all the time and effort that goes into blogging and organizing events. Although in the case of “De Kennisclub” i see a growing interest of agri-business to gain access to the “platform” the blog represents, it seldomly results into contributions paid.
The work done in “netwerken in de veehouderij” by Eelke Wielenga and others, came up with the notion of a “free actor”.
In my understanding, a “free actor” is someone well familiar with the community issues, but also a boundary spanner. S/he plays a facilitator and process role, as well as matching and brokering with other sectors.
Could a “free actor” manage to earn a living, maybe not directly but then at least indirectly, if s/he would use the blog network model? With the Internet quickly becoming geo-tagged and therewith location based again, could this be a viable model for regional learning networks?
Today i noticed a link to this paper about Communities of Enterprise.
This paper proposes the concepts of communities of enterprise (CoEs) and virtual communities of enterprise (VCoEs) to describe business networking patterns in regional areas where there is no central organisational or industry focus and small and medium enterprises dominate the economy.
Design/methodology/approach – Based on analysis of the literature this paper builds on theoretical understandings of knowledge management, clustering and regional development.
information and communication technologies (ICT) creates VCoEs which provide added potential by enabling regions to expand their learning potential through innovation.