Following up on the Knight Commission's work and musings on "community information needs in a democracy", Mark glaser poses a much more targeted question which has yet to be fully addressed: "What is missing in terms of local community needs"?
Most of the discussion in this area focuses on what you and might want in our own communities - things like crime reporting, new local ordinances, and hyper local happenings and events on your block. As David Sasaki points out Everyblock and Oakland Crimespotting are great tools to address these needs.
But what about the folks that are not at and will likely never be at the table for such discussions on "democracy" and "information needs" of local communities. I'm talking low income and underserved communities. How can their issues be addressed in the frenzied and brave new world of media and information technology? Does it take more citizen journalists, more Google mapping projects, and other top down, technogeek solutions to bring everybody in? Or do we need a new bottom up approach that empowers local communities of every flavor and socioeconomic status to identify and develop their own tools and information needs?
I'll admit it. I am as guilty as the next talking head that attempts to speak on behalf of the so-called "voiceless", even though I like to think that many of my ideas (like Locobeat) have been inspired by what I have learned living and working in and around low income communities.
But that's not good enough. If we are really serious about democracy for EVERYONE, each community must speak for itself, design (technology tools) for itself, and have relevant conversations about and among itself.
So the questions then become...
How can we support (and understand) community-based empowerment without a top down, "let me help you" approach? One that's respectful and not condescending?
And how can we get creative tools and resources in the hands of people who can and will use them to directly answer the question of local information needs?
I don't have any great answers, but lots of great projects are already happening in an attempt to address these challenges head on. Things like Global Voices. And this is just the beginning. IMHO the next step is to let go and have communities themselves decide what their information needs are, who and how they will addressed....as well as how they can be sustained without handouts. Frankly, this will take a lot more than blue ribbon panels. and and more "commission" reports.
The tools and commitment are already here. The business and management models are not quite yet figured out. but the call to action has arrived and all of us - and I mean all of us - need to respond. So let's figure it out, together!
p.s. Some really cool mobile tools are emerging in the community empowerment space, many of which will be on display at this month's Netsquared conference in San Jose, CA.