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  • Community information

    a white paper BY Peter Levine

    Five Strategies to revive Civic Communication

    Communications and Society Program

    A project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

    Communications and Society Program

    A project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

    Peter Levine

    C

    ivic Engagem ent and C

    om m

    unity Inform ation

    11-010

    Civic Engagement and

  • Civic Engagement and Community Information:

    Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication

    A White Paper on the Civic Engagement Recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs

    of Communities in a Democracy

    written by Peter Levine

    Communications and Society Program 2011

  • The Aspen Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invite you to join the public dialogue around the Knight Commission’s recommendations at

    www.knightcomm.org or by using Twitter hashtag #knightcomm.

    Copyright 2011 by The Aspen Institute

    The Aspen Institute One Dupont Circle, NW

    Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20036

    Published in the United States of America in 2011 by The Aspen Institute All rights reserved

    Printed in the United States of America

    ISBN: 0-89843-549-8 11/010

    Individuals are encouraged to cite this paper and its contents. In doing so, please include the following attribution:

    Peter Levine, Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication, Washington, D.C.: The Aspen Institute, April 2011.

    For more information, contact:

    The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program

    One Dupont Circle, NW Suite 700

    Washington, D.C. 20036 Phone: (202) 736-5818

    Fax: (202) 467-0790 www.aspeninstitute.org/c&s

    To purchase additional copies of this paper, please contact:

    The Aspen Institute Publications Office

    P.O. Box 222 109 Houghton Lab Lane Queenstown, MD 21658

    Phone: (410) 820-5326 Fax: (410) 827-9174

    Cover background graphic was created in part at www.wordle.net.

    A project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

    Communications and Society Program

  • Contents

    From report to Action ............................................................................... v

    executive SummAry ..................................................................................... vii

    civic engAgement And community inFormAtion: Five StrAtegieS to revive civic communicAtion, Peter Levine

    Introduction ............................................................................................ 13

    Strategy 1: Create a Civic Information Corps using the nation’s “service” infrastructure to generate knowledge .................. 16

    Strategy 2: Engage universities as community information hubs ...........20

    Strategy 3: Invest in face-to-face public deliberation................................25

    Strategy 4: Generate public “relational” knowledge ..................................30

    Strategy 5: Civic engagement for public information and knowledge ..........................................................................33

    Who Should Do What ............................................................................ 35

    Relationship to the Knight Commision Report .................................... 37

    References ................................................................................................ 39

    Appendix

    About the Author .................................................................................... 43

    The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program .............. 45

  • From Report to Action

    Implementing the Recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of

    Communities in a Democracy

    In October 2009, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy released its report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, with 15 recommendations to better meet community information needs.

    Immediately following the release of Informing Communities, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation partnered to explore ways to implement the Commission’s recommendations.

    As a result, the Aspen Institute commissioned a series of white papers with the purpose of moving the Knight Commission recommendations from report into action. The topics of the commissioned papers include:

    • Universal Broadband

    • Digital and Media Literacy

    • Public Media

    • Government Transparency

    • Online Hubs

    • Civic Engagement

    • Local Journalism

    • Assessing the Information Health of Communities

    The following paper is one of those white papers.

    This paper is written from the perspective of the author individually. The ideas and proposals herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Aspen Institute, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the mem- bers of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, or any other institution. Unless attributed to a particular person, none of the comments or ideas contained in this report should be taken as embodying the views or carrying the endorsement of any person other than the author.

    v

  • Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication

    Executive Summary

    Information by itself is inert. It begins to have value for a democracy when citizens turn it into knowledge and use it for public purposes. Unless citizens interpret, evaluate, and discuss the vast supply of data—everything from govern- ment spending to global temperatures—it cannot lead to civic action, let alone wise civic action. Thus, information developed and used by citizens creates public knowledge, which supports effective civic engagement.

    To create and use knowledge, individuals must be organized. Formerly, many Americans were recruited to join a civil society of voluntary membership associa- tions, newspapers, and face-to-face meetings that provided them with informa- tion, encouraged them to discuss and debate, and taught them skills of analysis, communication, and political or civic action. Many believe that traditional civil society is in deep decline.

    Today, different institutions have the resources and motives to perform civic functions. There are also new tools and technologies available that may help, although it remains to be seen whether the new communications media by them- selves are adequate to the task of civic renewal. One thing is clear: we must rebuild our public sphere with new materials, as our predecessors have done several times in the past.

    In its landmark report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy made five recommendations (recommendations 11–15) that specifi- cally address the goal of a reinvigorated public sphere. Toward achieving this goal and implementing the Knight Commission’s recommendations, this paper offers the following five strategies to revive civic communication.

    Strategy 1: Create a Civic Information Corps using the nation’s “service” infrastructure to generate knowledge. Take advantage of the large and growing infrastructure of national and community service programs by requiring all ser- vice participants to learn civic communications skills and by creating a new Civic Information Corps—mainly young people who will use digital media to create and disseminate knowledge and information and connect people and associations.

    vii

  • Strategy 2: Engage universities as community information hubs. Take advan- tage of the nation’s vast higher education sector by changing policies and incen- tives so that colleges and universities create forums for public deliberation and produce information that is relevant, coherent, and accessible to their local com- munities.

    Strategy 3: Invest in face-to-face public deliberation. Take advantage of the growing practice of community-wide deliberative summits to strengthen democ- racy at the municipal level by offering training, physical spaces, and neutral con- veners and by passing local laws that require public officials to pay attention to the results of these summits.

    Strategy 4: Generate public “relational” knowledge. Take advantage of new tools for mapping networks and relationships to make transparent the structures of our communities and to allow everyone to have the kind of relational knowl- edge traditionally monopolized by professional organizers.

    Strategy 5: Civic engagement for public information and knowledge. Take advantage of the diverse organizations concerned with civic communications to build an advocacy network that debates and defends public information and knowledge.

    The paper concludes with a list of specific recommendations for action by a variety of institutions and by citizens themselves. The following institutions are called upon to help revive the