Breakout 1, Day 2: The Information Needs of ‘Your’ Community

Day 2: Calo & Langer

The Information Needs of YOUR Community Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008 Segovia Room

Leader: Bob Calo, University of California at Berkeley  Scribe: Christelle Langer, The Minneapolis Foundation

The discussion opened with an analogy. This is a wave…some of us are riding it, others are watching it come toward us, some of us will dive in to meet it, others will let it “crash” on the beach.

Much of the discussion was about how we not only bridge the digital divide, but also the generational divide? What is our role?

Perhaps there is a role for us in educating the community – including upcoming generations. The upcoming generations are radically different in the way they access information, but they may not be so different than we are in their interest and values. They already have had a major impact – in culture, elections, etc. How do we help young people think critically? How might we create a conversation with them, engage them?

But to be honest, we don’t want to cede power. There was a comment about the arrogance of the baby boomers – we’re used to being in control – but, we’re moving on.

We’ve seen our obsolescence.

So, how do we get in the same place/space?

There is an intersection of civility with discourse – part of information exchange is listening. Might affinity groups be part of the answer? Yet, an affinity group is made up of people who think like I do – people who will always say I’m right. So, what might the result be? Those who use the Internet – the tool, will have the most influence. So, how do we create the competence to discern – think or analyze critically.

What about community foundations? We have been a trusted source, but how can we still be a trusted source for less trusting, more informed, younger generations? They will look at the 990s (tax forms), they’ll see who we invest with, whose money we’ve received. How will they feel?

We will need to seek partners – for many reasons:

  • We don’t necessarily have the skills, or want/need to develop them. We can partner with someone who does – and that may be a younger, generation-bridging partner or a trusted source that we can fund.
  • Perhaps, the bridge is the issues that affect the community – or the defining issue that crosses the generations, i.e., global warming (New Hampshire is addressing this). Then ask who we want and need to engage, and then choose the tool – which may differ from audience to audience, and use it to get them engaged.

Here are some examples of what has been done:

  • The Community Foundation in San Antonio has funded the Alamo Area Community Information System, which provides bus schedules, etc. that people can use, and through tech centers, trains people to use and access it. Nevertheless, it is not really using the data and tools that reach and engage the Gen X/Y. But it does address the needs of community – which is how they see their role. But, this discussion, they say, may lead them to ask, “What else should we be doing?”
  • New York Community Trust utilizes its role is as a grant maker, and makes grants to organizations that use technology to disseminate information in medicine, the arts, etc., and provides training to kids. It has funded an effort that engages youth in community efforts, to research and provide information via the web and Internet to community officials, or in meetings.
  • Southwood County, Wis., has youth advisory boards, who vet their web site.

We need to be adaptive, said one participant. Every community and every community foundation is different. Somehow we have to find the places for discourse that serve us best to bring disparate voices/opinions forward.

How do we look at this as enormous potential? Baby boomers have some trust, but it works both ways.

And, there is tremendous potential in how we use media and identify other partners. We can engage the community through a collaboration between public television, community meetings, websites, etc.

Our challenge is to harness the excitement and technology opportunities and provide a forum, trusting that if we build it, they will come. And if we can ensure that it is compelling, if we have partners who share our values and can bring their public, if we understand the issue, and if we choose the right media – they will come.