Building Partnerships: Rural Development and Internet Education 

The Internet provides a unique opportunity for citizens to use new technologies in community and economic development.  The Internet offers new opportunities for citizens in rural communities to access information technology; thereby increasing prospects for meaningful information exchange related to issues such as educational programming, health care delivery, business and commerce and organizational development.  Rural communities still do not have equal access to information technology; yet rural citizens are striving to adopt this new communication paradigm to minimize their isolation.  The community network can be used to re- engage local citizens in their communities (especially in rural areas), allowing citizens and their "connectedness" to stimulate a new sense of "community" that strengthens local economies and social systems. 

The Building Partnerships project engages local stakeholders and promotes their collaboration with Community College staff from six Illinois institutions Illinois Eastern, John Wood, Rend Lake, Sauk Valley, Shawnee and Southeastern; the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service (CES); and the University of Illinois Laboratory for Community and Economic Development (LCED).  The project brings new opportunities to share information and ideas while using technology to pursue community and economic development goals.  Community Colleges have traditionally used information technology as an administrative tool; however, today information technology can change the way educational programs are delivered in rural areas.  Information technology can promote hands-on learning, the ability to experience new and different environments, allow information to be accessed on demand without being subject to restraints on time, and allow educational programs to be delivered to geographically remote locations.  This project focuses on human networks and the revolution in human communication that is changing how we create and share knowledge.  To rural communities, the value of this revolution depends upon how well community stakeholders are engaged in the process. 

The project team will continue to partner with local stakeholders as they pursue their own organizational goals those focused on meeting community educational needs.  These two strong organizations (the Community Colleges and the U of I) must continue to take leadership in promoting the collaboration among the local stakeholders.  The team can take the first steps toward providing training opportunities and services to help fill the gap where access does not meet standards.   As a follow-up activity to the training citizens and the project team will invest in building local organizational leadership capacity to help citizens in the planning process to strengthen their connectiveness and involvement in community development.  Communities might choose as a goal the development of a strategic plan to help them use the Internet more effectively.  In the rush to become part of the Internet, many communities use the Internet in ways that do not address local needs, and are not used by citizens.  Research and practice have shown that communities that don't have a comprehensive community presence are most likely to fail in bringing and sustaining the Internet to their community. 

The project provides an opportunity for Community Colleges, the U of I and CES to provide leadership in bringing Internet technologies to rural communities.  Via the Internet, the economic development staff and computer technology instructors from Community Colleges will bring new development tools to the communities they serve.  LCED staff have made a substantial investment in developing Internet-based community capacity building development tools.  CES can help build organizational capacity as CES Educators deliver educational programs tied to the community action leadership program.  A partnership of Community Colleges and the U of I can create a comprehensive institutional commitment to bring information technology to the forefront of community and economic development in rural communities. 

Project Goal: 
The project will foster a collaboration with Community College economic development staff and CES to help rural citizens create and implement community-driven web pages; and deliver, using information technologies, research-based educational programs. 

Expected Outcomes

  • Creation of meaningful community networks;
  • Enhanced partnerships between Community College staff, CES staff, and others at the U of I; and thereby increased communication, cooperation and collaboration on future projects; 
  • Introduce new stakeholders to the Community College educational programs and to CES resources for adult learners;
  • Improved "usefulness" of Internet tools locally, as Internet resources are used more effectively and more efficiently than ever before; and
  • The creation of a new framework for the delivery of educational programs via new technologies. 


This project will be organized into five major activities: 
  1. Community Building, during which Community College, CES, and LCED staff will help communities establish a community-based technology committee and develop a framework for collaboration to achieve their goals; 
  2. Understanding the Role of Information and Information Technology.  Focus groups and key informant surveys will determine the value of information and information technology for community and economic development; 
  3. Training Local Entrepreneurs, where community members will attend training at one of six community college campuses, where they will explore the Internet and begin to learn how this new and emerging technology will help their communities; 
  4. Creating Virtual Communities, during which Community College, CES and LCED staff help communities build an effective presence on the Internet that will enhance education opportunities, and community and economic development; and 
  5. Delivering Internet-Based Educational Programs, where communities will implement Internet technologies to deliver user-specific educational programs not bound by time or location. 
For More Information: Contact Julie Fesenmaier, Laboratory for Community and Economic Development, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, (217) 244-0433.  Visit our web site at: 

Funded by the Illinois Board of Higher Education -- Higher Education Cooperation Act, and the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service-USDA, Agricultural Telecommunications Program.

U of I logo Community & Economic Development
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Laboratory for Community and Economic Development

222 Bevier Hall
905 South Goodwin Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61801