We are currently working on a research project called Embracing Change: The Critical Role of Information, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The first step in the research process was to lay out what we mean by information ecosystems, trace the underlying theories, and articulate key questions that we want the research to answer. We now have a working definition of information ecosystems:
Information ecosystems are complex adaptive systems that include information infrastructure, tools, media, producers, consumers, curators, and sharers. They are complex organizations of dynamic social relationships through which information moves and transforms in flows. Through information ecosystems, information appears as a master resource, like energy, the lack of which makes everything more difficult.
The 8 critical flows of information ecosystems:
- Information needs: are they known to information producers? Are they known to information consumers? Are the needs of all groups being served? Populations’ information needs are diverse and changing.
- Information landscape: what are the physical and institutional infrastructures that support information production and flow? What are the characteristics of the information providers? What are the intermediary organizations: media, government, private industry, civil society? Are they robustly equipped to verify, filter, sort, and disseminate information?
- Production and movement: are a variety of types of information available (e.g. government services, community news)? Who are the producers of information and the owners of the means of production and dissemination? What is the role of word of mouth, social media, bulletin boards, and other local information hubs? (How) are rapid changes in internet and mobile media impacting the flow of information? What types of content are available and to whom? How does the perspective on these dynamics shift if information flows are framed as storytelling?
- Dynamic of access: What is the environment in which information flows (e.g. political, cultural, time, cost, and other factors)? How easy is it for residents to access, find, use, share, and dialogue about different types of information? What are the barriers to interaction and participation? What about the broader structures that influence access: governance, legal, political, economic, and infrastructural factors affecting access? How does the dynamic of access impact social inclusion?
- Use: What factors influence information’s relevance to people: content, medium/format, source, habit? What does the audience / users do with the information? How is it processed, disseminated, and applied? Does information facilitate civic engagement?
- Impact of information: How has information enabled or constrained individual and community opportunity, health, and economic development? Does information lead to behavior change? How does the community organize around different types of information? (How) has information informed community planning and action? How has information affected policy and implementation?
- Social trust: How do networks of trust influence the flow and use of information? How is trust built around information? What is trusted: the source? The medium? The content? Where are the disruptions in trust tied to information (or its lack)? What are the challenges in building trust around information flows?
- Influencers: Who are the people, organizations, and institutions that influence how information flows? Who builds trust and how? How do points of influence shift over time, especially during disruption?
The information ecosystems framework gives us a broad opportunity to understand what supports communities to adapt to change.
More research products to come soon; next, look for a review of resilience in policy and practice and the role of information ecosystems in these guidelines.