“Informing Communities” Sustaining Democracies in the Digital Age” has been published out of the US by The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. The Commission was assembled in 2008 to recommend policy reforms and other public initiatives to help American communities better meet their information needs. While a great deal of report focusses on media and information, there is a substantial section on engaging the community, which includes a number of recommendations. My personal highlight is Recommendation Number 15: Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.
Given the volume of information on the Internet and the infinite diversity of user interests, it is not possible for any one Web site to aggregate all of the online information local residents want and need. Just as communities depend on maps of physical space, they should create maps of information flow that enable members of the public to connect to the data and information they want.
Communities should have at least one well-publicized portal that points to the full array of local information resources. These include government data feeds, local forums, community e-mail listservs, local blogs, local media, events calendars, and civic information. The best of these hubs would go beyond the mere aggregation of links and act as an online guidebook. They would enable citizens to map an effective research journey by letting people know what is available and where. The site should leverage the power of new forms of social media to support users in gathering and understanding local information.
Where private initiative is not creating community online hubs, a locally trusted anchor institution might undertake such a project with the assistance of government or foundation funding, or support from those who also support public media.
Photo credit: workplace democracy by Becki Scott