Sunday, 27 November 2011
Making informed decisions in an information society
Knowledge-based economy, information age, internet-era. These are all descriptions of our current society emphasizing the importance and abundance of knowledge. With the role of knowledge and information in our society reaching new heights, its time that we make more decisions that are informed and information-based. While the importance of informed and knowledgeable decisions applies in virtually all parts of our lives, community development and decision-making is a good place to start.
At a time when knowledge work and workers have overtaken the service and manufacturing sectors (Florida), when strangers are collectively creating free encyclopedias online, and events around the world are being documented and shared instantly, it's time to more effectively harness and apply this culture of knowledge and collaboration to improve our communities. Local decision-makers and community developers work hard to make the best decisions and create the most effective and appropriate development projects that they can. Their efforts can be hampered however, by the simple absence of information or due to the difficulty of using information that is available.
It's important to distinguish between expertise-based knowledge, knowing how to build a pedestrian bridge for example, versus more general knowledge and information. While it requires specialized engineering knowledge to know how to build a pedestrian bridge, community residents are the best source of knowledge for informing the look and feel of that bridge and for identifying who would use the bridge most often. It is necessary for all people involved to understand and appreciate the importance of both types of knowledge. While you wouldn't try to create a bridge without an engineer, the voice and input of the community should be considered vital as well.
Similar to community input and engagement, it is essential to make sure that community level facts and knowledge are available to make the best decisions. Continuing with the bridge example, having access to traffic and transportation information at the local level would be required to make effective decisions when building the bridge. Understanding resident commuting patterns and exercise habits would also be very helpful for decision-makers. It is the integration of all of these forms of knowledge and information that enables local decision makers and development practitioners to make the best decisions and design the most effective projects.
Unfortunately, local knowledge is not always available or taken advantage of. Many community projects suffer from not having the right information or having difficulty in using that data. Community input can be undervalued, community data often doesn't exist, and expertise is typically expensive. These are the challenges facing more informed local decision-making and these are the barriers that we need to address. Local decision-makers and development practitioners are doing great work and helping them to increase the availability of knowledge and information will make their efforts even more effective.