Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Breakout 5, Day 1: The Information Needs of 'A' Community

Feb. 20, 2008, 1:28 p.m., Posted by Robertson Adams

Day 1 Porter & Silverman

The Information Needs of A Community
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008
Prado Room

Leader: Vikki Porter, Annenberg School for Communication, USC
Scribe: Fred Silverman, Marin Community Foundation

Participants reflected a wide variety of interests, experience, and readiness for getting involved with new ways of engaging their communities through new uses of information technology.

There was consensus that communities could be better informed on and engaged in the issues that many community foundations are working on. These include:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Immigration
  • Housing
  • Land use (zoning, growth, info on planning processes)
  • Sustainability (green issues, water)
  • “Silent” issues, such as race, school consolidation, sexual discrimination, and school bullying
  • Criminal activity, safety
  • Homelessness
  • Have and have-nots (economic disparity)
  • Affordable housing
  • Food scarcity
  • Religious tolerance
  • Arts, creative class
  • How to vote, civic education on local issues and candidates, making voting more accessible, and making sure deadlines from government entities are widely disseminated
  • Communication with public officials on various issues: having a voice on public issues
  • (e.g., clickable maps)

People cited new technologies as tools to engage young people, to give them a voice.

Participants cited a range of challenges in their communities they need to wrestle with in order to move forward – and offered some advice to deal with them:

  • Given the individual and separate outreach efforts of various institutions, there is a need for a single dashboard.
  • There is a growing lack of local ownership of local newspapers, which leads to lack of local voice.
  • There is a lack of coverage of key issues (only when it’s perceived as “news”).
  • There’s no coverage of causes or underlying systems.

Someone asked if people need more info or dialogue around issues? And is digital media the right way to do this? How do foundations generate dialogue? Look at community radio as well.

Need to get away from: “This is who we are, this is what we do.” The world isn’t there any more.

Hard to decide what to do, and how to measure effectiveness.

Need to move boards from focus on asset building to community building.

Advice: Jump in. Start small. Talk to others to see what they’re doing.

Question was asked about motivation: bring credit to foundation, or desire to be civic leaders? Need to demonstrate a commitment to vision and mission.

Importance of collaboration (e.g., with local papers, TV stations)

Examples of what participants are doing:

  • St. Louis: Grants for community engagement around an issue (fatherhood for three years). Led to presentation to state legislature. (Suggestion from another participant: add community-generated documentation of people’s lives with digital cameras, interactive on web.)
  • Philadelphia: www.planphilly.com: Philadelphia planning exercises. Planphilly.com kept track of process and let people contribute and follow progress.
  • Also www.thenextmayor.com – grant to public TV station and papers. Identified issues and enabled people to follow them. Forced consistency among candidates.
  • South Dakota: focus on information dissemination (school board, commission meetings on local public access channel). A new public access TV program Ask the Mayor. Later added Health Matters. City, two radio stations served as collaborators. Topics included ballot issues, raising kids, etc. Legislators come on an hour a week.
  • Gulf Coast CF of Venice: social capital work. Had done lots of talking but no changes noted. Launchedwww.becauseitmatters.net – Theme was Civility and Democracy: to improve civil discourse and community.
    Activities in schools, work place, civic organizations, survey, speakers with workshops, podcasts, public TV, book, celebrity TV spots, stickers on newspapers. 100 people involved. Religious groups got involved. Produced printed piece called “Ten keys to civility.”
  • Silicon Valley: focusing on nine areas of interest. Forums on each one, with experts from the region. Developed issue briefs (on web, sent out). Expect initiatives to come out of them (e.g., brought donors together to hear about homelessness).