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Why Information Matters

Torkild Retvedt
Photo credit: Torkild Retvedt

“The world of information and media is changing rapidly.”

For many around the world, accessing, producing, consuming, and sharing information has never been easier: internet connectivity, mobile devices, broadcast media, and other solutions keep us constantly connected and fed with news. We now have access to such an overwhelming amount of information that it may actually be more difficult to understand current events.

Yet, there remain parts of the world that are “information dark” – where people have never heard of the internet, are gaining access to mobile phones for the very first time, and still rely on trusted networks of family and friends to meet their information needs. In many societies, censorship, violent extremism, illiteracy, sociocultural norms, or underdevelopment systemically exclude many from participating in local information ecosystems.

“What is the best way to support communities with information they need to better address their own challenges?” 

In both of these extremes, and environments in between, the fundamental challenge is the same: what is the best way to support communities with information they need to better address their own challenges? How do we provide people with the information they need to survive, adapt, grow, and even transform in the face of change, so that they are more resilient?

For over 30 years, Internews has supported local media to ensure that individuals, communities, and governments have the information they need to make critical decisions. This experience in more than 90 countries has provided plentiful evidence that information not only supports the development and wellbeing of populations around the world, but that people empowered with the information they need are more capable of creating resilient communities.

Internews Process

While information is so fundamental to surviving and thriving within our complex global environment, it is rarely addressed directly, considered strategically, or integrated effectively across policy and planning for resilience. The information needs of communities, information flows, and factors of trust and influence are often neglected.

Informal information networks, perceptions about information from different sources and channels, and the impact of information transmitted through word of mouth are rarely considered in the design of information and communication strategies. These elements are critical to understanding the impact of media, communication, and various information tools and technologies on communities, cities, and larger socioecological systems.

Since 2011, the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning has been developing a broad and universal framework that emphasizes these elements to truly understand a community’s unique information obstacles, challenges, and needs. The information ecosystems framework is the first to conceive of information needs, information creation, and information distribution as multi-dimensional, dynamic, and fluid systems that adapt and regenerate according to the specific context of a given situation and community. Through research in Pakistan and Myanmar, the Center has continued to develop a deeper appreciation for the dynamics, flows, networks, and communication behaviors that characterize information ecosystems in environments of change and disruption.

With the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, the Center recently concluded a nine-month research project called “Embracing Change: The Critical Role of Information.” Drawing on theoretical literature, case studies, and primary field research in Jakarta and New York City, “Embracing Change” constructed an evidence base, theoretical framework, and practical guidelines for using information ecosystems to promote resilience. We believe that this body of work is not only a fundamental element of strengthening our support for communities around the world, but a valuable opportunity to bring our expertise to urban planners and others in the resilience space to collaborate and build a body of knowledge around the critical role of information in embracing change.

“Why Information Matters: A Foundation for Resilience” is a significant step toward demonstrating and building a body of evidence around the importance of healthy information ecosystems. This report maps out the Eight Critical Dimensions of Information Ecosystems, offers proto-typologies of information ecosystems, and presents findings from an Information Ecosystems analysis of flood-affected communities in Jakarta.

8 Dimensions of Information Ecosystems
8 Dimensions of Information Ecosystems

This report is intended to be the beginning of a conversation. In the coming year, the Center will refine this research in partnership with Internews teams and partners around the world, so that knowledge of the role of information in empowering communities to understand and adapt to different types of change is informed by insights and experience in the variety of contexts in which we work.

Through the Global Resilience Partnership, we hope to continue working with communities, policymakers, and other partners to identify strategies and techniques for strengthening information ecosystems as a core element of their social resilience strategies. We would love to hear from you.

“Why Information Matters: a foundation for resilience” is part of Embracing Change: The Critical Role of Information,funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the Internews’ Center for Innovation and Learning’s research on the role of information ecosystems in building resilience. Many thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, and especially to Sundaa Bridgett-Jones, Associate Director, International Development, for vital input and support.

View the Report

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