Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
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Why Information Ecosystems Matter

Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard of the US on October 22, 2012. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the region, more than 23,000 people were uprooted and forced into temporary shelters and roughly 8.5 million households lost power. The Centers for Disease Control reported a total of 117 hurricane-related deaths, the majority of which occurred in New and New Jersey; the most common cause of death was drowning. Tragically, approximately half of the drowning deaths occurred in flooded homes located in areas under mandatory evacuation. A better understanding of how communities’ information ecosystems function can shed light on whether and how people received information to evacuate, how they evaluate it, and what led them to act on it (or not).

Information is as critical as the air we breathe. Without information, people can neither understand nor effectively respond to the events that shape their world. Internews’ experience for over three decades working with citizens and local media in more than 90 countries has provided plentiful evidence that information not only supports the development and wellbeing of populations around the world, but that people empowered with the information they need are more capable of creating resilient communities.

 While information is so fundamental to surviving and thriving within our complex global environment, it is rarely addressed directly, considered strategically, or integrated effectively across policy and planning for resilience. When information does appear in resilience literature, it usually has a minor role, and is often conceived as simple messaging to affected populations, or as a tool in coordinating responders and resources.  

Embracing Change: The Critical Role of Information, a research project by Internews’ Center for Innovation & Learning, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, combines Internews’ longstanding effort to highlight the important role of information with Rockefeller’s groundbreaking work on resilience. The project focuses on three major aspects to directly address the current gaps in resilience work related to information: 

  • Building knowledge around the role of information in empowering communities to understand and adapt to different types of change: slow onset, long-term, and rapid onset / disruptive   
  • Identifying strategies and techniques for strengthening information ecosystems to support behavioral adaptation to disruptive change; and
  • Disseminating knowledge and principles to individuals, communities, the private sector, policymakers, and other partners so that they can incorporate healthy information ecosystems as a core element of their social resilience strategies.

Drawing on theoretical literature, case studies, and primary field research in Jakarta, Indonesia, and New York City, Embracing Change has constructed an evidence base, a theoretical framework, and practical guidelines for using information ecosystems to better support resilience. Why Information Matters: A Foundation for Resilience maps out the Eight Critical Dimensions of Information Ecosystems, offers prototype typologies of information ecosystems, and presents findings from an Information Ecosystems analysis of primary fieldwork in Jakarta. The research methodology is iterated and the Information Ecosystems approach is further interrogated in Information Ecosystems in Action: New York. This report shares key findings from a Pilot Study in New York City that explored how information ecosystems changed during the disruption of Hurricane Sandy and the recovery afterward. It builds on Why Information Matters, to further test out the Information Ecosystems framework. Practical guidance for policymakers and planners can be found in a new tool, Mapping Information Ecosystems to Support Resilience. This Decision Support Tool offers a methodology of Assess, Analyze, Act, and Iterate to help decision-makers understand a community’s unique information obstacles, challenges, and needs and decide how best to support strengthening their resilience.