Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age" -- Knight Commission


The title of this article, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, gives a good indication of the purpose of the article all on its own, but I will give some background information here. As Kate already noted, the Knight Commission has its own website, where a great deal of information, including the full Informing Communities report and the list of the Commission's members can be found.

The Knight Commission was formed in 2008 in a collaboration between the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute, as a high-level commission to examine the information needs of twenty-first century American communities. A major concern, which was instrumental in the ultimate creation of the commission, was the growing digital divide: the gap between those with ready access to the Internet and other digital technologies, and those who lack such access. The Commission's creators, according to the foreword to the Executive Summary of the study's findings, noted that those people with digital access had myriad opportunities that were not available to those without access, and the idea arose to form a commission to address this issue on a national level.
From this initial idea, "[t]he thesis evolved that technology was changing attitudes toward information in basic, critically important ways, but that free flow of all sorts of information continued to be as critical as ever to the core of democracy".[i]

As the findings can be seen to be a national call to action, the audience for the Commission's findings is generally intended to be community leaders and advocates across the United States, but also citizens in general.


  • Digital technologies are not serving all communities and all citizens equally

The study found that while some communities have access to a full range of information resources, ranging from radio broadcasts to easy Internet access, other communities (or populations within communities) were either underserved or completely unserved in these respects.

  • Digital technologies are not serving democracy fully

The study argues that only when citizens have a full understanding of the candidates and the issues can democracy fully flourish. Obviously a following point is that if some communities and populations lack access to this information, democracy must automatically suffer as a result.

  • Information access must meet the needs of the people

The study concludes that since it is in the nation's best interest, and the citizens', to have an informed populace that can engage with information in the new ways made possible by the digital revolution, then it is a national responsibility to provide and encourage access to those technologies and information resources for each and every citizen. To this end, the study calls for universal broadband access for all citizens, plus access to technology education and quality journalism.

Recommendations of the Commission

The Commission urged communities to pursue three broad objectives, as follows:

  • "Maximize the availability of relevant and credible information to all Americans and their communities;
  • Strengthen the capacity of individuals to engage with information; and
  • Promote individual engagement with information and the public life of the community."[ii]

The study also provides a series of guidelines for determining when a community is well-informed, as well as detailed suggestions for meeting each of its broad recommendations. It calls upon community resources as diverse as higher education, public libraries, and local and national media institutions to help citizens and communities meet the challenges of the new digital age.


The Knight Commission report has been cited numerous times for its advocacy of universal broadband access in the United States, as well as for its support of journalism as a means for informing the nation's citizens.

Additional Links

[i] “Foreword | KnightComm,” accessed February 22, 2014,
[ii] “Executive Summary | KnightComm,” accessed February 22, 2014,

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, "Executive Summary" in Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age (2009). 

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