TEDxWomen attendees at a lunch hosted by Knight Foundation. Photo credit: Michael Priest Photography
Does community engagement necessarily follow information? Has technology and the new ability to make connections within communities killed traditional roles of citizenship? If you could do anything to increase the pool of informed, engaged citizens, what would it be?
These were some of the questions discussed today during a Knight Foundation- sponsored lunch at TEDxWomen in New York entitled “Informed and Engaged Communities in a Connected World.”
The concept of community is constantly changing and paradigms for engagement are shifting dramatically, Paula Ellis, vice president/strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation, began the conversation. “People have less faith in institutions. They are looking for ways to bypass them, often using technology, to directly engage on new levels.”
Kiva Detroit, which empowers residents to be champions of local businesses through microfinance, is an an example of how people are eager to contribute and create their own solutions to local problems, Ellis said.
Moderator Liza Gross, executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, said: “The idea that information is the currency of democracy is not new. What we’re trying to do is define and evaluate the systemic changes we’re seeing in the ways in which people access information and the way it’s distributed.”
There’s no doubt that technology has affected citizenship, Carol Coletta, president of ArtPlace, added. “New online platforms like ChangeByUs use technology to help people with common interest find each other and tie people together in place,” she said. But that’s not the full picture: “Engagement doesn’t necessarily follow information. People need an invitation to be engaged. They need to be shown how it can work and it has to be made easy.”
In order to increase a pool of informed and engaged citizens, Katrin Verclas, co-founder and editor of MobileActive.org suggested we reexamine the education system:
“We have a problem in the way that we educate youth. What we need is a way for people to connect and know how to collaborate; to know how to lead at times and follow at others. We don’t necessarily know this coming out of the education system that we have. The way we operate in the world is less through organizations and more through a mutual aid model that existed a long time ago. As organizations, governments and institutions become less influential, we haven’t yet figured out how to connect effectively and get stuff done.”
As we head toward a world in which communities have more access to information, particularly through increased mobile devices and social networks, there is a significant opportunity to connect citizens and engage communities, panelists said.