By Ellen Martin
Last spring, a group of 100 people gathered at a public regional planning forum in Oakland, Calif., trying to figure out how the area could best absorb the 2 million people expected to move to the area in the next 25 years.
Where would they live, shop and work, they wondered.
The conversation was rich - but perhaps most importantly – there were lots of new faces in the crowd.
Community planning can often be an arcane conversation amongst insiders. With so much at stake, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation wanted to ensure that more people were informed about and engaged in the decision-making.
So the foundation, with support from the Knight Community Information Challenge, launched a community information initiative called YouChoose Bay Area. It centered on an interactive website that publishes region-specific information about Bay Area communities and hosts a series of exercises that allows visitors to choose regional development options and see the consequences. For instance, a user could prioritize things they value such as a “big house with a yard,” or “public transit within walking distance,” and receive a report on what the overall region would look like because of it and other factors.
The effort coupled the online experience with in-person meetings, making both more engaging. As the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s CEO Emmett Carson said: “Good information is a cornerstone of civic engagement at its best.”
We looked at Silicon Valley’s experience in a new report, Opportunities for Leadership: Meeting Community Information Needs, which we’re releasing this week at informationneeds.org. Read the full report here.
All three community foundations profiled in the series are investing in news and information to make an impact on issues they care about. Along the way, they’ve increased their own leadership in the community.
Yesterday, we wrote about the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, and how it has increased the impact of the environmental justice movement through a new information hub, GrowWNY.org. Tomorrow, check back here to learn more about how the Community Foundation of New Jersey’s support of a local news site has helped shine the light on critical, statewide issues.
Silicon Valley’s efforts helped bring more people into the community planning process – with some 15 percent of the 800 residents participating attending a regional planning meeting for the first time. In addition, the regional planning agencies were so impressed with the YouChoose Bay Area site, the groups eventually adopted YouChoose as a central component of the public planning forums.
In doing this work, the foundation has developed new partnerships with government agencies, nonprofits and even schools that allow it to reach more residents.
Good information helped bring them together.
This week, read the series, “Opportunities for Foundation Leadership: Meeting Community Information Needs,” at www.informationneeds.org.
To learn more about how community foundations can make an impact by investing in news and information, attend the session on Journalism and Media Grant making at the Council on Foundations’ Community Foundation Conference, at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday Sept. 21 in the Yerba Buena Ballroom.
Ellen Martin is senior consultant at FSG who authored the new report.