White Paper: Civic Extension for the Information Age*

Harry Boyte and Paul Resnick, with Peter Levine, Robert Wachbroit, and Lew Friedland

Draft of July 23, 2001 (pdf format). Feedback welcome

Executive Summary

Advances in information and communication technologies have created both new possibilities and new threats to the vitality of our communities and our democratic way of life. It is clear that new technologies are a powerful means of entertainment, and that technology training is an important element of workforce development. But can communities harness the democratic potential of these technologies to enhance public participation and accountability? Can citizens, acting together, create new forms of social, cultural and economic wealth that have community-wide benefits?  A broad campaign of experimentation, learning, and capacity building will be necessary if local communities are to mitigate the threats of the information revolution and take advantage of the opportunities it offers to create flourishing places, healthy local economies, and vital public life.

The following outlines a concept for a “Civic Extension Service for the Information Age,” aimed at renewing the historic partnership tradition between public America's public universities and local communities in addressing local problems in a collaborative fashion. It holds promise for helping to renew the civic mission of public research and land grant institutions, while helping communities take a proactive role in dealing effectively and productively with the technological revolution sweeping our world.


* This White Paper developed out of the E-Commons Conference sponsored by the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, and the Center for Communication and Democracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The E-Commons Conference was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation. This benefits from the discussion at the conference, Peter Levine and Robert Wachbroit’s working paper on The Public Telecommunications Service, and the early paper on The New Information Commons by Lew Friedland and Harry Boyte.