The Report of The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy
Civic and social information is the information people need to “participate in all
the decisions that affect . . . the life of [a] community.” People need to know their rights and how to exercise them. They need to know how well public officials and institutions function. They need the underlying facts and informed analysis about the social, economic, political and cultural factors that shape the community’s challenges and opportunities. They need news. But, as Mr. Bustamante emphasized, democratic citizens also need life-enhancing information. This is information related to people’s personal welfare and
ambitions—how to protect and advance their health, education, and economic position. Members of underserved populations have a special need for information about available services that can benefit them and their families. Mr. Bustamante’s straightforward testimony made the point poignantly. Speaking of his own life in the United States, he said, “Personally, I feel like I wasted a lot of time trying to find information about how to reach my goals. I know that if I would have had access to information about how to get my GED or training opportunities for a better job, I probably would have continued my education rather than working in the fields for 12 years.” Many Americans share Mr. Bustamante’s experience or something like it.
Information Ecologies In terms of serving these two distinct information needs, every local community offers a specific information ecology. Its environment will include people interested in finding things out and sharing what they know. It will include people who know how to access at least some of the facts that community members need. The community will have formal and informal networks for people to exchange knowledge, ideas, opinions, and perspectives. It will have organizations that generate and transmit news and information. It will have institutions that help people sort through the overwhelming torrent of words, symbols and ideas bombarding them daily. Virtually everyone will be involved in creating and receiving information.
Every local community offers a specific information ecology.
But, as the Commission heard frequently, not all information ecologies are equally effective. Few work equally well for all community members. Some communities and their citizens are conspicuously better off than others.
Published on Feb 5, 2010