Access to relevant, high-quality information about the community is a key ingredient to a vibrant civic culture and, as the Knight Commission observed, a necessary element for fostering robust civic engagement. Finding that information can be difficult in a fragmented media environments that often fluctuate between extremes of too much or too little information, and when key institutions like government fail to facilitate access to public information.
Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action, a new policy paper by Adam Thierer, explores three scenarios under which community leaders and other stakeholders can work together to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities. Ensuring that every local community has at least one high-quality hub is one of 15 key recommendations made by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. (Download PDF or Read Online)
“Just as communities depend on maps of physical space, they should create maps of information flow that enable members of the public to connect to the data and information they want,” said the Knight Commission. In his paper, Adam Thierer takes a considered look at the many excellent online hubs already in place in American communities and explores how they can serve as models for online hubs in other communities. He proposes three general models for online hubs:
- Model 1: A Community Government Information Model, including such resources as government data feeds, civic information and events calendars;
- Model 2: A Community Connections Model, including all the information in Model 1 plus local forums and community e-mail listservs; and
- Model 3: A Community News and Commentary Model, including Models 1 and 2 plus local media and local blogs.
In addressing how to get these hubs built, Thierer cautions, “We should keep in mind the great diversity of local communities and realize that there is no one-size-fits-all, best approach to designing high-quality local online hubs. We should not assume that a hub model that works well in one community will automatically work for another.”
“Building effective local hubs will require coordination among local governments and universities, libraries and other community organizations, local businesses, local media and other supporters,” notes Thierer, who outlines specific tasks for each of these stakeholders. Notably, Thierer says that government’s role in creating high-quality online hubs “will likely be quite limited and primarily focused on (a) opening up its own data and processes and (b) providing limited funding at the margins for other local initiatives.”
Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action is the fifth policy paper released by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation aimed at implementing the 15 recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. (See other published papers on Rethinking Public Media, Digital and Media Literacy, Universal Broadband and Government Transparency). The Commission released its landmark report, Informing Communities, in October 2009 to help promote healthy informed communities across the country.
The Knight Commission Recommendation
Tempering Expectations: If You Build It, They Might Come
Scope Considerations for Local Online Hubs
Three Models for Online Hubs
– Model 1. Hubs Focused on Community Government Information
– Model 2. Community Connections: Local Forums and Community e-Mail Listservs
– Model 3. Community News and Commentary
Linking Hubs to Increase Visibility and Usability
Some Thoughts on Financing Online Hubs
Who Should Do What