Knight Silicon Valley: Information Quality & Access

September 8, 2008 by

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, who is one of our guest bloggers today.

The other major theme in panel #1 was the problematic access to, and inconsistent quality and relevance of, information sources in the community.

Muhammad Chaudhry noted the “Lack of quality content for local information needs” as well as an opportunity for new “partnerships to disseminate info at a local level”

He also identified emerging social media — Facebook et. al. — as a vital means of that dissemination, and admitted that it was only because of his younger colleagues at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation that he knew about or was able to use such platforms in the first place.

Thus we are reminded of the importance of those in established power positions to pay attention to what’s happening on the ground — particularly among youth, in this case.

It’s happening at your workplace among the junior staffers, in your neighborhood playgrounds and romper rooms, in your schools. Kids are using new media, and what they’re doing with it and learning from it is instructive.

Gates & Gatekeepers

Judy Nadler of Santa Clara University reminded us of the importance of having trained, humble and engaged reporters and editors in place who understand civic issues, such as local government and bond measures, and who can explain these issues to the community in a meaningful way, rather than gloss over or dumb down their coverage.

But it’s about more than having better gatekeepers. There’s also a gaping need for improved venues for civic gathering and dialogue.

Indeed, the question of such venues is the question of access, and thus we return to the issue of fragmentation, which impedes dialogue across communities.

Nadler called for “New ways to engage people. They don’t know what’s in their community.”

Chaudhry spoke about organizing people around interest areas, and “pulling them in” to coordinated information sources related to those interest — something Walesh affirmed in her description of information hubs (such as the multi-city arts listing service that can draw likeminded people to a central online location.

But is this true commnity?

Hammer of PACT says one major hurdle is that “there are very few informal associations between people,” and that “most people don’t know their neighbors.”

In other words, there are three major progress points to consider when addressing information quality and access:

* Improved training and education services for the intermediaries who produce and present the information in question
* Establishing, improving and coordinating/connecting outlets that are willing and able to publish and promote that information
* Creating new dialogue and social habits around that information, so that people are not disparate consumers, but rather engaged participants.


Unmet Community Info Needs Roundtable: Kim Walesh

September 8, 2008 by

Kim is the Chief Strategist for the City of San Jose and spends a lot of time finding ways to engage the public and disseminate information for them.

Some major challenges they have experienced over the last couple of years:

  • Getting people to care about local community – almost a prerequisite to there being a need to gather information. As San Jose is the largest city in the Bay Area (went from 100k to 1 million in the last 30 years) – it has made it difficult for people to connect.
  • People view themselves as global citizens – see success contributing to global community not as much to their local community.  They also don’t seem to get information from local outlets, like the Mercury News, instead they source it via NY Times, Singapore News, etc. How people get information has complicated ability to engage the local community and made it more expensive for the media outlets. Experimenting with Peak Democracy and The Alliance for Innovation – using Art, employment networks, etc to connect wiht the younger generations (under 35) as they don’t come to ‘traditional’ news sources and seem separated.

On a positive note, San Jose has been a leader in putting the business of the local government on the web with public calendars, videos, archiving of meeting notes, etc. to help get information out there. Also done well in cultivating neighborhood networks, with 22 neighborhoods working to help distribute information within their own local community – solely to determine how they should use their human and financial resources (i.e. should they be buying more books, or more computer terminals for the library?)

This goes a long way towards serving the local needs and interesting to watch leaders and communication networks emerge naturally.

Unmet Community Info Needs Roundtable: Judy Nadler

September 8, 2008 by

Judy is a Senior Fellow in Government Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University whose focus is helping people disseminate the information provided to make better decisions.

She shares the power of ethics and transparency in government agencies and the need for civil engagement. A nice example she gave was around the San Jose, CA city government offices opening up their calendars to the public to show when they were meeting, who they are meeting with and why they were meeting – all in an attempt to educate the public on what was happening in their local community and how resources were  being spent. It is bringing more people to the town halls and getting the community better engaged.

In her eyes, ‘providing information to the public is not a luxury – it is a necessity’ and is critical to building and sustaining healthy communities.

Judy suggests more local news needs to be produced, using more friendly and easy to understand language. Journalists should have an understanding of how the government works, and the channels we feed news through.
As content and usability vary greatly from county to county (some use webcasts that are archived, others use blogs, many do nothing) these differences need to be addressedto ensure news is received by those that need it and they continue to find ways to engage the younger generation to ensure longevity of the media outlets and the strength of the community.

Unmet Community Info Needs Roundtable: Matt Hammer

September 8, 2008 by

Matt is from People Acting in Community Together (PACT), working with grassroots organizations to encourage every day people to get involved in civil actions. They help everyone from low income to the wealthiest families in the Bay Area.

An example given was in the 90’s when they went into the Oakland School District and through the Data Department were able to share test scores of every student to show all parents it was not just one child failing, it was a large percentage of the kids in the school. They were able to rally parents and the school to help push the No Child Left Behind programs to ensure everyone obtains a proper education.

PACT continues to find ways to get understandable information into the hands of everyday people. Traditional media sources made substantial cuts in staff, making it harder to share local news stories so the focus is on finding channels to communicate with the community at large and get them engaged for the betterment of the community.

Knight Silicon Valley: Communities and Fragmentation

September 8, 2008 by

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, one of the guest bloggers at the Community Forum held today at Google.

The initial panel was broadly focused on the topic of “unmet community information needs,” and showcased a diverse set of speakers, from local union and community organizers to city strategists, academics and community foundation leaders.

Chava Bustamante, a former SEIU coordinator, opened the discussion with a telling, if informal, experiment to identify where people are from.

“How many of you here were born in another country?” he asked. A handful of hands were raised — his own included.

“Howbout from another state?”

This time the response is overwhelming. Every hand, virtually, is raised.

“Now,” he says, with a bit of a grin, “How many of you are from here, from Mountain View, and went to the local high school?”

Not a hand was raised. Bustamante, a 40-year resident of the area, admitted that he himself was born in Mexico City, and came to America pursuing a dream of a better life.

“We are all strangers,” he said, and despite our individual and collective achievements as resettled natives of other places, his comment makes me wonder: Have we truly become natives of this new place, the San Francisco Bay Area, where we all live together, if we barely know each other?

This theme comes up again and again as all the other speakers take their turn.

There are neighborhoods, there are families, there are subgroups and subcultures and special interests — but what is it that brings us together?

More specifically, how can we engineer a communication infrastructure that can unite the divergent communities of Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area ?

Emmet Carson of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation spoke frankly on the overabundance of information sources — “too many,” he says — that enables people to pick and choose news and information according to their interests, and in doing so cut themselves off from relevant information outside of their specific “personalized” daily news feed.

“What’s useful to the individual is not always good for the common good and for all of democracy,” he noted.

While he expressed fondness for the an earlier era, when there were fewer, more narrowly focused news sources that spoke to a more broad civic agenda, he acknowledged that the old information economy did systematically exclude so many voices, including women, immigrant communities, etc.

“How do we blend and link all these diverse information channels?” he asked.

Abundant information technology is fine, but it requires us to conceive of new ways to “validate it and create discussions around it.”

He notes that this conversation is not something that takes place solely in the virtual environment, but rather, “it’s a place of personal participation.”

This theme of non-virtual engagement — of people coming together directly, in real life and outside of the technological circuit, and crossing the fragmented boundaries of our self-selecting, self-segregating information society — came up repeatedly.

In other words, what’s needed are physical gathering places to anchor the diverse conversations and inquiries of the many communities that make up a city, a county, a neighborhood, an geographical region.

According to Judy Nadler, one of the Knight panelists and an ethics fellow at Santa Clara University, that gathering place is the public library, which she described as “the new community information center.”

It was a resonant comment that anchored the high-flying ideals of the technological utopians to an earlier ideal of the public sector as a wellspring of civic engagement.

Public libraries embody both local commitment to public participation and access to information, and, thanks to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, are rooted in older American tradition of philanthropy in support of civic engagement and information self-sufficiency.

It’s unlikely, however, that libraries alone can heal the fragmentation between and within our communities — but the panelists have plenty of ideas about what else will be required.

Matt Hammer of People Acting in Community Together (PACT) spoke of the importance of getting “understandable information in the hands of lots of regular people, to help seemingly intractable problems get resolved.”

Kim Walesh, the chief strategist for the City of San Jose, described a variety of innovative municipal programs focused on engaging the “under-35 set” … and “connect the dots between young people and civic issues.”

The conversation turned at one point between media that “pushes” at people — direct mailers, for example, or traditional broadcast — and one can’t help but wonder about the value of some of that push media, which is often focused on advertisements and commerce, rather than civic information needs.

That tension, between “pushing” information at people, and “pulling” them towards civic information they need to see, remains a strategic challenge.

Each speaker presented such a diverse array of needs, methods and ideas about building and serving community, one can’t help but recall Emmet Carson’s dilemma of having too much information in the first place.

How do the threads come together? What is the weave by which we knit together this diverse, divergent democracy of ours?

Knight Foundation Silicon Valley: Set & Setting

September 8, 2008 by

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, one of our guest bloggers today at Google.

It’s an overcast Monday morning in the Bay Area, even down here in one of the most economically upbeat corners of America — Google HQ, in Mountain View, Calif., not far from the Shoreline Amphitheater.

The famed Googleplex is like walking around a giant college quadrant. It hearkens back to visiting a pal at MIT once upon a time, the architecture open and breezy and brightly colored, the interiors done up like a series of playrooms for brilliant pre-teens gifted with the world’s biggest box of Lego or Tinker Toys.

On my way down to to this event, I am struck by the diverse information services and stark social contrasts I experience en route.

* I logged on the night before to reserve a car through San Francisco City Carshare, and printed out directions via Google Maps.
* That morning I scanned for updates on local news and issues, but learned little about where I live, or the South Bay communities I was headed towards. The headlines were all about Hollywood, and sports, and local sensational crime, and the evicted tree sitters over at Berkeley.
* Cruising the highway as the morning rush hour flowed and pulsed, I listened to KFJC 89.7 FM, an LPFM radio station out of Foothills Junior College that specializing in unusual and noncommercial music, particularly of the local variety.
* On the way, their public service announcements informed me about an art space in San Jose, Space 47, that besides sounding genuinely groovy, made me realize there is a thriving, self-starting cultural community in Silicon Valley that is largely cut off from the main information circuitry of the region.
* My Google map is rife with wrong turns. I get stuck behind impatient commuters leaving the tree-lined boulevards of their Palo Alto suburban enclaves, make a few more wrong turns and like magic wind up the markedly lower-income city of East Palo Alto.
* Here, the buildings are not shiny, nor new, and are usually concerned with cheap food and automobile repair rather than software development and online commerce. This transition is abrupt, approximately 30 seconds total of driving time. I do a u-turn and finally spot the Four Seasons hotel that is my primary landmark, perched exactly between the two cities, gleaming like a beacon, guiding me back to the information superhighway.

Localized information sources CAN serve community needs … but only up to a point.

Information on about that San Jose art space is probably not turning up too often in the Mercury News. Those local bands on KFJC are most likely not getting reviewed in the major metropolitan newspapers of the region.

Similarly, I found a disconnect between what the panelists brought together by Knight are asking for, and what local media are providing.

In the following posts, I’ll identify some of those specifics.

But the question remains: What next?

Now, having learned specifically what communities — or at least some of the diverse communities of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area — are looking for, how will our media landscape change, here, to fulfill democracy’s articulated but unmet needs?

Unmet Community Info Needs Roundtable: Muhammed Chaudhry

September 8, 2008 by

Muhammed is the CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) shares a survey (need link) that provided mixed reactions – large percentage said more funding would lead to higher K-12 education while another percentage said major changes in the funding programs needed to be done to foster better education. How do you address local issues when so many inputs available to produce ‘news’, and many contradict each other?

How do you get citizens to take action? How do you mobilize? How do you have an added effect to that?

SVEF looking to become content producer to inform, inspire and educate population, and also looking to partner with media outlets to consolidate information on a localized level. Using Facebook to gather information and found they have been able to reach larger group of people they would not have reached beforehand – students, teachers, etc.

Looking at other ways to use the media to expand awareness.

Unmet Community Info Needs Roundtable: Emmett Carson

September 8, 2008 by

Emmett is the CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation and feels if democracy is the core, the media is the way we get information about understanding what those subject areas are – i.e. military spending, how much for disaster planning, etc. – and also how we legislate morality.

We have too many information sources. In prior times, we combined news outlets, so we knew where to go. They were not perfect, but at least it was a common basis to shape ideas and knowledge.

Communities are becoming fractured, people are focused solely on their own neighborhood – we need to get back to the ‘common good’. How do we link the channels to ensure there is a cross section of information to ensure you have all you need to make a educated decision.

Build democracy based on the common good.

Emmett is one of those people I need to sit down and have a deeper chat with.

Unmet Community Info Needs Roundtable: Chava Bustamante

September 8, 2008 by

Chava Bustamante from the SEIU starts off by asking how many people in this room were (1) born in another country (2) born in a other state, (3) born in Mountain View to get an idea of the diversity of the attendees.

Chava is working towards bring ‘strangers’ together and to find ways of how media can be used to foster democracy. He feels being part of a democracy is having access to all the opportunities in this society to achieve every dream possible.

Miilions of people live in poverty and don’t have access to the tools ot better their lives. Feels too much time is wasted to find information on how to get things like GED or training opportunities for a better job. Had he had this access, it would have allowed him a chance at a better education. Instead, he worked in the fields for 12 years.

Media can play a more active role by publishing more informtiton about programs and organizations that help people accomplish their dreams. News outlets should highlight roles organizations play in their communities.

Our lives are intertwined, we should work together to build a stronger society.

Welcome everyone

September 8, 2008 by

Things are kicking things off with Peter Shane, Executive Director of the Knight Commission, who is explaining the goals of the Forum, looking to get a more localized view of needs, challenges and opportunities of the community it serves.

The Forum is traveling to three locales to garner a diverse perspective. The first one is today, in Mountain View – then others coming to Philadelphia, PA on September 25th and the last one in Missoula, MT on October 25th.  All are being shared via a webcast.

The agenda can be found here, and I will be trying to live blog the panels where possible. They are also shooting video, so to capture the entire conversation, check out their feed.