What is it? The ready availability of information is crucial for creating a healthy community. By examining the types and sources of data and the ways it circulates, an assessment can quantify and grade the availability of information and the capacity of the community to access it. The assessment process can be done in a number of ways, but usually includes local resident questionnaires. The process reinforces the value of citizen access and engages individuals in helping identify information barriers that public officials had not previously considered. Community members also comment data needed and accessibility preferences. Once the availability of information has been evaluated, local residents and public officials decide what needs to change and identify ways this might best be accomplished.
How has it been used? The Incourage Community Foundation in Wisconsin recognized increased community information needs. Before implementing changes, Foundation staff wanted to better understand community conditions, including the specific needs of residents. Foundation leaders discovered that area newspapers no longer provided as much information, and that local people were getting more information online, and from friends or acquaintances. Staff members concluded that information was either flowing in closed interpersonal networks or was inaccessible to those without internet access. Community organizations were seeking new ways to reach people but were not finding much success. With this new awareness, the foundation was able to direct their efforts towards better information availability. Program officers have focused on getting more information online and providing residents with the skills and access necessary to locate and use that online content. (Source: Incourage Community Foundation)