How Can We Improve Information Needs of Local Communities?

    by Mark Glaser
    April 21, 2009
    i-86e4fe83e2092b0151dc9397ecf0e300-knight commission logo.jpg

    With some fanfare, the Knight Foundation and Aspen Institute announced a new Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy a couple years ago, with the idea of finding out just what needs were being served — and what was lacking. The problem with many of these types of “commissions” is that a lot of important people go behind closed doors and decide what’s best for us, the public, and then we can complain afterward just how wrong they are. In this case, the Commission decided to do the opposite, and get input from the public in various ways.

    First, they held face-to-face public meetings to hear from people in communities about what their needs are. They have documented those meetings in videos and blog posts on their website. And now, they have a draft introduction to the report and are asking people to respond to that report — and answer 5 key questions — via PBS Engage. They say they will use that information to help shape their final report.

    I encourage the Idea Lab bloggers and our readers to participate in this process, and the resulting document could be important as a way to push governments, media companies and others to start considering how to serve the public with better information in the future. But I’m also curious about your own take on this over-arching question:


    How can we improve the information needs of local communities?

    And more specifically: What do you feel is missing in your own local community, when it comes to being informed, especially for news? How could government, non-profits and other groups step in and help as newspapers start losing ground?

    Please share your thoughts on this important question in the comments here or on the PBS Engage site, and I’ll be reporting back on MediaShift with a compilation of some of the more interesting takes from you and from other public forums on the topic.


    My quick take is that my information needs are scattered, and depend on the situation. Sometimes, I want to know what happened in a car accident I saw. Other times I want to know if street cleaning will still happen on a holiday. And still other times, I’m curious what will happen at the crumbling government-subsidized housing in my neighborhood. After much digging, I finally found this information online, in the newspaper, or through email listserves. What I really need is a community hub, a place that can aggregate all the information I need. A kind of super-charged EveryBlock that includes more news, more government info, more blog content, more content from listserves, and beyond.

    What about you?

    Tagged: aspen institute communities knight commission local information pbs engage
    • Mark, your “community hub” point is essentially our goal at EveryBlock. We’re including as much news, government info and pointers to blogs as we can find, and it’s a matter of continuing to grow it to add as much as possible.

      Regarding the “How can we improve the information needs of local communities?” question, one way governments can help is by publishing raw data to the public. A great example is in Washington, DC, where the city has put together quality data feeds and has made them available for free on its Web site. More cities should do that.


      P.S. The EveryBlock link is broken!

    • Link is fixed, Adrian, sorry about that!

      I do hope that you can provide all the info people want, but that will require the government and others to make their feeds better and more findable. What if the email listserve doesn’t have open archives? What if the local newspaper doesn’t have open archives? What if a local blogger gives up and closes her site? There should be a way to tag and feed that data in a universal way so that you or others can aggregate it easily, right?

    • The challenge that I see with aggregation models is that they’re hard to scale without consistent data models. I love EveryBlock, Adrian, but how will it scale to small towns and municipalities?

      We need to allow neighborhoods to curate and share their own information and discuss the things that our more important to them. More like twitter or Tumblr than Topix or Outside.in. Our take is that by enabling communities to centralize the discussion around local issues and share the news and content that is most important to them, you’ll get more interaction between neighbors, which leads to stronger more active neighborhoods.

    • We’re tackling a different aspect of the problem of local information needs by focusing on generating local PolicyOptions Issue Briefs. We’re using a wiki (see above url) and mobilizing college and university faculty/student teams to do the research. We’re piloting this in 20 communities. The goal is to organize existing information to facilitate community deliberation about local issues while providing a comprehensive range of model programs or policy options so communities don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”

    • Ted Stude

      I am trying to improve communication within a large (about 550 unit) homeowner’s association — particularly between property owners and the governing board. The association makes a lot of rules that affect how people can maintain their homes, and charges fees of around $3,500 per year for maintenance of common facilities. Despite the high level of impact on people’s lives, most do not have the time to attend board meetings to monitor all of the details of running the organization.

      I think that an on-line forum open to all property owners would be a good approach. But there is resistance by some who fear that it would become too contentious, and even that some board members might make comments that would be construed as board policy and lead to lawsuits. In my opinion, all of these risks are inherent in freedom of speech, which is as important at this level of government as at any other.

      One practical problem is that the association’s website apparently lacks the capability of supporting the input of comments that would be the essence of a forum.

    • Michael Duffy

      As long as big and small city governments tax at high rates (to pay the unions off) which always causes private sector job loss, then violent crime, which in turn causes tax base loss, ruined schools, housing deteriation the inner city neigborhoods will stay fourth world hell holes. This pattern has repeated itself over and over again in 100 cities small and large all over the northeast, midwest, west and south and it’s only going to spread under Obama. Peace, McD

    • Michael Duffy

      Where are the news cast on our two wars, where are the antiwar liberals. The only people protesting the wars are conservatives. See conservative antiwar.com. It is sad to see the antiwar liberals so partician they won’t now speak up against the wars. What a bunch of frauds. McD

    • EllisH

      I think everything government dose and says should be posted online for every citizen to read.


    • jayson

      hi ballah


    • hi ballah

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