Participatory Networks Event

Invitation to Participatory Networks Event

6th October 2014, Windhoek, Namibia

We invite you to learn about how communities can build telecommunications networks and services for themselves. At our Participatory Networks Event in Windhoek, practitioners will share their expertise in creating and sustaining telecommunications and Internet services for people in Africa, and elsewhere, who cannot access national cable and mobile services, due to their remoteness or access costs. They will inspire you to consider opportunities for network connectedness in, and for, southern Africa, equip you with the knowledge to build and sustain community networks and think about what participating in technology really means. Whether you work for the government, a private or non-profit organisation or are an interested student, researcher or citizen, you will learn about real-world practices in community networks and debate ideas about participating in these.

What are Community Networks?

A range of successful initiatives, globally, have provided telecommunications and Internet services to communities that cannot access national cable and mobile services. One type of initiative, offering great potential, uses a ‘Community Networks’ approach, where citizens self-organise, build and operate decentralised networks for themselves. Some Community Networks have sustained over many years, such as Macha Works in Zambia; some are huge, such as, which has over 20,000 nodes around Catalonia, Spain; some made vital contributions in indigenous communities, such as Rhizomatica in México; some have enabled high-impact educational empowerment programs, such as Wireless for Communities in India; and, some have recently started, such as Zenzeleni Networks, in South Africa. Other initiatives, such as My Digital Bridge Foundation, take a service-driven approach to establish network infrastructure over vast areas.

Learn How

If you would like to learn about the opportunities for local networks, how to set up networks in a community, or to teach people in communities how to do it themselves one stream activities in the workshop cater for you. You don’t need technical expertise – just enthusiasm.

Discuss the Opportunities for Participation in Namibia

If you are a decision-maker in government or private or non-profit organisation or undertake community-based research discussions on key issues in setting up community networks will benefit you. Our expert presentations, debates and workshop activities focus on concrete examples of failures and success, so opportunities and concerns are clear through reality. The success of locally-oriented networks initiatives around the world reflects the appropriateness of many different decisions in local political, legal, geographic, cultural and social circumstances. Every network involves design, management and operation within different layers, from the technical infrastructures to services and business models etc. Each set of decisions involves different stakeholders, different perspectives and different practices of participation. This leads to questions such as who decides the meaning and benefits of participation in decision-making in each level? How does participation in one level effect decisions in other levels? We tackle these questions in ways that are accessible to a wide range of people, from users to technologists to decision-makers, and foreground the real-world practice of getting things done successfully.


The event takes place at Safari Hotel, Windhoek. You may join for the panels and debates or register to attend for the full day (see schedule below). The full day includes all panels and debates, full workshop, refreshments and lunch: NAD500.

Please contact Prof Nic: 0813961909 or or

We are delighted to offer support for people in grassroots organisations. This sponsorship is kindly offered by the CONFINE project. A small amount of travel support may be available.  Please email Prof Nic if you would like financial support to attend the full day.


Event Schedule

09.00 to 10.30: Panel and Debate:

  • Experiences in Community Networks from around the world
  • Practicalities of participating in successful networks: real-world decisions and real-world rationales.

11.00 to 15.30:Workshop

There will be two parallel sessions:

  • Learn how to build and how to teach to build community networks: Group-based activities involving technical demonstrations and hands-on practice.
  • Discuss the topics and issues: Group-based discussions of case-studies will explore different aspects of participation and consider different ways to guide understanding and decisions within real-world situations.

15.30 to 17.00: Panel debate

Opportunities for community Wi-Fi in Southern Africa: from grassroots participatory practices to regulatory frameworks.


Nicola Bidwell, Dept of Computer Sciences, University of Namibia
Carlos Rey-Moreno, Dept of Computer Sciences, University of Western Cape, South Africa

Expert Attendance

We confirm the attendance of the following experts to lead the panel and workshop: Roger Baig of (Spain); Paul Rowney of My Digital Bridge Foundation (Namibia); Carlos Rey-Moreno, assisting Zenzeleni Networks (South Africa); and, Gertjan Van Stam, Macha Works (Zambia).

If you are involved in a community-oriented network and can attend the event, your contributions will be of great value to enrich our panel and workshop activities. So please email Prof Nic if you would like to play a special role in any of these.

We are most grateful for sponsorship by

Confine_logoThe European FP7 CONFINE project, which targets exploring and advancing the community networking model in providing the right quality of experience and sustainability.

University of Namibia, Faculty of Science

The event is co-located with the 13th International Participatory Design Conference PDC’14, which brings some of the world’s leading design experts to Africa for the first time and who can bring their insight into philosophical issues of participation to the real-world contexts of low-cost telecommunications.



If you are unable to attend the event we will discuss some of the elements the following day at Namibia’s ICT Summit.