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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?