ASIS&T 2006 START Conference Manager    

The Role of Community-Based, Problem-Centered Information Intermediaries in Local Problem Solving

Joan C. Durrance, Dana Walker, Maria Souden, Karen E. Fisher

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Lobbying for school reform, cleaning up graffiti, installing traffic calming measures, and enacting noise ordinances are daily problem-based activities performed by organized citizen groups. These civic organizations – nonprofit associations, community groups, and neighborhood block watch programs – have operated within communities as a way for people to affect their community’s quality of life. Routinely in the course of problem-solving, these organizations—both formal and informal—seek out, interpret, distill, and re-frame information. But understanding information access and use in a community where a range of community-based, organized groups play the role of information seeker as well as information provider and facilitator presents a challenge to the researcher. In these settings, information researchers must not only address the context of the community, but also the multiple roles that the community-based groups play in the local information reality.

In this paper we argue that organized local groups are critical to the information landscape of communities precisely because they play important intermediation roles. Based on our field work conducted with community organizations in Hartford, Connecticut, we identified several broad strategies employed by problem-centered information intermediaries. First, they make information relevant for their constituents by distilling, tailoring, vetting, translating and compiling. Second, they use both formal and informal mechanisms to collect, share and refer information. Third, they prepare information for specific uses and disseminate information broadly to the community and locally to their target group. This constructed information role emerges out of the context and needs of the community. Moreover, these problem-centered information intermediaries are seen as trusted and credible knowledge sources among their constituencies. And though these civic intermediaries share characteristics with the broad information intermediary role of information professionals, they are different in their focus, purpose and even attitudinal perspective toward information.

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