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Communication as Infrustructure

A new white paper provides community information strategies for nurturing civic engagement.
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The less informed a community, the less engaged it will be.

The less informed a community, the less engaged it will be. /Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy

When discussing and writing about the Rapidian, we often use the words hyper-local, news and information, and citizen reporter. A few words I think we don’t reference often enough, are “Democracy” and “civic engagement”. But truth is, lots of diverse news and information in a community nurtures democracy and directly predicts how involved people become in the community.

A recent paper released by Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy addresses and documents the direct relationship between information and civic involvement. “Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication” is a weighty read, but the opening sentence, once broken down, really says a lot:

“By itself, information is inert. It needs interpretation, discussion, judgment, motivation, action, and production to become knowledge that is of any use in a democracy.” In other words, information has to be plentiful, diverse, shared and talked about. The paper shows direct connections between civic involvement and newspaper readership. The less informed we are, the less we engage with our community.

To me, the paper reinforces the position that communication opportunities should be thought of as necessary infrastructure: as important to a town, city or village as schools, roads and power lines. The commission’s five recommendations, listed below, give us a way to think about and measure our progress in this area, both here at the Rapidian and as community priorities are defined.

  •  Expand local media initiatives to reflect the entire reality of the communities they represent.
  • Engage young people in developing the digital information and communication capacities of local communities.
  • Empower all citizens to participate actively in community self-governance, including local “community summits” to address community affairs and pursue common goals.
  • Emphasize community information flow in the design and enhancement of a local community’s public spaces.
  • Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.

Hopefully the Rapidian provides a piece of this. But it is far from an entire solution. How can we, as community, encourage and promote these concepts in the work of strengthening Democracy and civic engagement throughout our region?

As the white paper says: ”by itself, information is inert.”

So here you go… ideas, comments, interpretation and discussion welcome!

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