Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Living Inside Networks of Knowledge

Nick Chrisman has an interesting article in ArcNews in the Fall 2007 issue (which just showed up in my inbox -- don't know how long someone else had been reading it). The article, Living Inside Networks of Knowledge, begins by discussing the history of the architecture of the Internet. He makes the point that:

The Internet was not unprecedented. Connecting a significant portion of the world's population to an integrated network of communication is something our society has done over and over again. The telegraph system was one such system. From its inception in the mid-19th century, the telegraph provided light-speed communications from place to place. It remained centralized, and the last mile involved boys on bicycles, but the overall increase in speed was enormous. The telegraph was followed by the telephone, bringing the equipment right into each house. In a sober analysis, the Internet, as most people use it, simply makes another transition in the details of the connection.

He argues for a transformation in the way we think about knowledge distribution. GIS, which is his subject, is still "living out the original dreams of the 1960s" – we're still using 1974 technology in File Transfer Protocols (FTP) to take a worldwide interconnected network of information providers and users and force onto it the centralized model of the telegraph office.

Here's the exciting part:

As long as the current distribution of geographic power revolves around being a gatekeeper, a custodian of data, the potential of the distributed sensor network is diminished. What is required is an escape from the "Prisoner's Dilemma." [Note: This dilemma comes from game theory: many situations are structured to disfavor cooperation.] And there are glimmers of hope in this regard. In the tightest of information economies, there are "Free Data Movements."

How do we make use of the real power of the internet? Reshaping the "data economy" is a human issue, not a technical one, he says. "Knowledge networks have escaped from the hierarchical structure." Spatial search is a step forward, but even Google Earth misses the social networking side. But the data movement is marching on.

One of the key elements of the technology is the empowerment of citizens to produce their own spatial information, then to present it publicly. This overthrows the specialist model of the centralized model from decades past.

If social networking is the transformative future of the web, then licensing/closed shop/restricted access to tools and data is standing in the way of progress. (You do remember that this newsletter/newspaper is published by ESRI?) This is an incredibly important message, and one that ought to be transforming the way we do our work in community indicators. How open is our information? How open source our software? Are we gatekeepers and presenters of data, or are we part of a network that allows for everyone to be part of both providing and using information?

The knowledge networks of the web contain their own challenges. How do we know which information to trust? How well do we provide metadata so that others can trust the information we provide? How collaborative are we in engaging to build networks of data users and providers?

Read the article at and then comment here. This conversation needs to be louder and more of us need to join in.


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