Creating Better Information Flow in the Black Community: A Discussion

This past Friday, 25 May 2007, I participated in a panel discussion at the Annual Blacks In Government Conference in Seattle entitled, “Say What? Keeping Information and Ideas Moving in the Black community.” The panel was moderated by K. Wyking Garrett, CEO of Remix Marketing and Communications, and included myself and Monique Carillo, Founder of Carillo PR.

The discussion, which was well attended by enthusiastic participants, grew from a general exchange on definitions of knowledge and information to an all-out brainstorming session on ways to communicate better with one another.

One problem identified with the current state of information flow in the Black community (both in Seattle and at large) is that information is very siloed. Small groups circulate information very effectively, within that group. However, that info seldom is effectively communicated to the people at large. For example, everybody at church has easy access to all of the church activities, either through word-of-mouth, the bulletin, announcements from the pulpit, etc. These activities are, more often than not, not communicated to people who do not attend that church. This fragmentation of information is exactly what we were meeting to address.

Wyking had a few good quotes, including the following:

Information is the beginning of action.”

Using this as a premise, we determined that in order to take the right action, we must have the right information. We need to then have good ways of aggregating this information so that it is easily accessible from a few, well-known places. So in order to communicate the right, high quality pieces of information to the community as a whole, here are some ideas we came up with:

  • Church Bulletin Board Network
  • Who’s coming through?
  • City of Seattle website

More on each is below.

Church Bulletin Board Network

Most churches have bulletin boards that have information about church-specific as well as community activities. However, unless a personal relationship exists between the leadership of two churches, it is very difficult to pass information between them. Monique pointed this out when she described her experience trying to publicize an event for a local minister.

The proposal here is to connect the announcements/communication personnel at each church, and have them all share information about activities and events. The benefits are obvious: greater advertising opportunities generally lead to greater participation. The costs are minimal, and mostly involve the time to communicate with one another.

Who’s coming through?

A lot of interesting and influential people visit Seattle, but often times people are unaware of these visitors’ presence, or do not find out until it is too late to see them in person. The example here is that less than half of the room knew that Barack Obama was going to be in Seattle Friday, 1 May 2007 (which is ironic for a conference put on by Blacks in Government). The problem is that there is not a good place to find info on who’ll be in town in the next week or month.

The proposal here is to compile a list of Seattle’s prominent visitors for the current and following month, and post this list on newspaper dispensers, buses, etc. We opt for the dispensers and not the papers themselves because everybody walking by will see the side of the dispenser, while significantly fewer people actually open it up to get & read a newspaper. We opt for the backs of buses because it is something easily read by pedestrians and fellow drivers. The costs for this include time & effort to compile the lists, a committee of people that will post them, and the advertising cost to buy space on the buses.

City of Seattle Website

It only makes sense to list the events and goings on of a city on that city’s website. The proposal here is to create a page on this site that lists activities of specific interest to the Black community. This can very easily be expanded/replicated to include events from other groups of people as well.

What is critical to each of these ideas is that they all have a technology component. While this is inherent in the 3rd proposal, the first 2 also need to have one as well. Ideas do not need to be technology-driven or technology-based in order to utilize technology intelligently. The Internet is a powerful tool that can be bent to the will of the information seeker and aggregator. This is one of the core tenets of my approach when doing technology consulting.

Perhaps one or all of these ideas can work in your area. Do you have any additional ones that you feel would be effective in your own communities?

One Love. One II.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

4 responses to “Creating Better Information Flow in the Black Community: A Discussion”

  1. Ellen says :

    Simple list serves, perhaps? People could email events to the list serve and they could then be emailed out. That was always a great way of distributing information on college campuses.

  2. Amani Channel says :

    I’ve been thinking of how we can create a more informed community. Though the Internet is the great equalizer, access of course continues to be an issue, but the fact remains, any information you’re seeking is on the Net. So I ask the question. How can we encourage more people to get involved or be informed through this medium? Of course schools, community centers, churches etc. The flow of information is being created though through blogs, non tradiitional news sites, and links.

  3. Ellen says :

    I agree with the last comment. I think the biggest problem the Internet presents is that there is too much information, especially for those who are less familiar with the way of the Net. The Internet also attracts particular generations more than others. It does present an interesting opportunity and window to channel today’s youth. I guess the big question is how do you get them tuned in?

  4. Garlin II says :

    Great comments Ellen and Amani.

    I purposely stayed away from presenting Internet-only solutions as part of this discussion because of the fact that it is still not accessible or utilized in this manner by our people on the whole.

    One good way to get people to start thinking about the Internet as a source of good information that is useful and credible (as opposed to being a place to simply goof off and/or be entertained) is by connecting the Internet to useful offline entities. In this case, those “useful entities” are to be the signs, bulletin boards, and bus posters/ads.

    The goal is to use these as something to draw people online for the purposes of finding useful, high quality information. We provide it offline so that there is no barrier to consumption. We provide it online to aggregate it in a meaningful way.

    I don’t think we’re at a point where email/the Internet can be the sole form of distribution. Hopefully this gets us there sooner.

    One Love. One II.

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