Lessons learned from using the Community Information Toolkit

L to R: Mayur Patel, Kathy Bisbee, Alicia Philipp and Kelly Lucas

This post is part of a series about the 2012 Media Learning Seminar, a gathering of foundations, news organizations and tech experts on community information needs. Watch the livestream Monday and Tuesday at

One year after the release of Knight’s Community Information Toolkit, foundations putting the guide to use say it has been critical in identifying community needs, creating collaborations and helping push for important change. The Information Toolkit is a five-step guide to helping communities take better stock of their community information flows. Where do people go for information? Where are the gaps and areas for improvement? And how can the data gathered help lay groundwork for action? The aim: Strengthening communities by strengthening their information systems.  “We should all think about ourselves as being in the business of helping communities have conversations with itself,” said Mayur Patel, Knight’s Vice President for Strategic Assessment. Patel led a panel of community foundations speaking about how the toolkit has helped advance their missions.  Some key insights:  The toolkit helps create connections, conversations and collaborations. Several groups using parts of the toolkit report that reaching out to assess community information has has helped connect individuals to each other and connect those individuals to larger community conversations.  The California-based Community Media Access Partnership adopted the toolkit to reach new audiences and identify information gaps they could help fill. Along the way, the partnership was able to build a broader dialogue around the topic of media access, educate folks about Media Access Partnership’s services (like public access television) and build new relationships with other services and organizations.  As a result, important conversations about emergency services, a need for an online community information hub and possibly a new television program to tout economic development have started. It’s laying the groundwork for more ahead. The toolkit can integrate seamlessly with existing foundation work. For the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, the toolkit became the third prong in its existing strategy to help improve information flow and quality of life in various low-income neighborhoods.  The foundation had already embarked on a two-tiered approach to better informing folks in Atlanta neighborhoods: the build out of a “Neighborhood Nexus,” a platform that pulls in government health and education data as well as research tools from Lexis Nexis, and a “Neighborhood Corner” that lets residents submit their own digital content and marry it with the existing data available on the Nexus. Now, the foundation is adding the toolkit process in six pilot locations to determine which types of information should be included on their neighborhood platforms. “It is about resident engagement,” said the foundation’s Alicia Phillip. “For us, it’s not about media. We want to let residents engage in their communities in a different way.” The toolkit can be adapted for topic areas within a community.  Consider adapting the tools to focus on a specific topic area, like education. For example, The Piton Foundation is in the process of deep-diving into the public education community. Using the kit, they are asking: how are parents getting information to make school choices? Currently, the foundation has ethnographers in the field to survey Spanish-speaking families about where and how they are getting school information. Is quantitative information being used at all in education decisions? Or are friends and networks more trusted sources? From there, the foundation is hoping to adapt the existing sources they offer to put better quality information in the hands of marginalized populations. “It’s really user-centered design, from my perspective,” said Piton’s Matt Barry.  “And the kit creates a way to get to outcomes, so we’re really excited to see how this can be used to get information about an issue.”

Elise Hu is covering the event as a freelance writer for KnightBlog. She is the digital editor of StateImpact at NPR.