A new study provides some interesting, and surprising, data about how residents feel about the availability of information in their communities. As it turns out, when governments share more information, their transparency may have a cascading effect, offering a civic payoff for the entire community.
People who believe their government shares information well are also more likely to feel good about their community, their local government and civic groups ' and the ability of the average person to make a difference.
What's surprising, too, is that the study found broadband users are sometimes less satisfied than others with community life. That raises the possibility that greater broadband access could create a more critical, activist public.
The research, presented today at a Knight Foundation conference, is part of Knight's continuing look at how information affects community life. In 2009, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities articulated that our democracy depends on people getting information on important issues, and being able to act on it.
But how does a community go about ensuring that people get the information they need? The commission also outlined eight key characteristics, a sort of checklist for a vibrant information system. They range from universal broadband access to robust libraries, digital literacy training and strong local journalism.
In addition to the study, over the past year Monitor and Knight also have looked at how communities could assess those factors ' to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a city's information system, and design ways to improve them.
The result is the Community Information Toolkit, an easy to use, relatively inexpensive way for community leaders to improve their local media ecology to advance their particular goals for a better community.
This morning, we're presenting the toolkit ' Version 1.0 ' at Knight's Media Learning Seminar, a gathering of 350 plus community foundation and civic leaders interested in supporting news and information projects that keep residents informed and engaged.
The toolkit is in early stages of development, and we're looking for more communities to help test it. Whether residents are intent on improving their education system, housing stock or the environment, information is a critical element of all community changes. Today's study's show too that information helps people feel empowered to step up and make a difference.