Expert Commentary

Community information and civic engagement

2011 survey by Pew, Knight and Monitor Institute on how information sharing can spur community engagement and satisfaction.

The degree of engagement in communities — from participation in the governing council and recreation committee to the school board and recycling program — can vary widely across the United States. Some towns see an activist spirit, while others see thin attendance at meetings and few volunteers for initiatives. Likewise, some municipalities have an atmosphere in which decisions, events and opportunities are publicized through both public and commercial channels, while other communities see little communication or news.

A 2011 study by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Monitor Institute and the Pew Research Center, “How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems”, surveyed three communities to examine the perceived availability of local-level information and news and how this related to civic engagement. Researchers focused on perceptions of civic information environments in Philadelphia, San Jose and Macon, Georgia.

The study’s findings include:

  • 72% of those who reported that their local government “does very/pretty well at sharing info” also reported that they feel people could have a “big/moderate impact on the community.”
  • 65% of those who reported that their local government “does very/pretty well at sharing info” said they were “quite satisfied with their community.”
  • 69% of Internet users said that the Web had made a major impact on their ability to learn new things; 34% said that the Internet had made a major impact on their ability to participate in their community.
  • Only one quarter of survey respondents who reported searching for local civic information on the Internet said they could always find what they were seeking. Moreover, only 37% said the information they sought was presented clearly.
  • 78% of residents said it was very important for communities to set up a website.
  • Many citizens approve of their local information systems even if they do not “have direct contact with or knowledge of some of the system’s features.” This may be because impressions are passed on second-hand from other residents.

The researchers conclude that empowering citizens with good communication and information can produce many benefits: “Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.”

Tags: technology, recycling

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