People don’t know what they don’t know. This is a phrase that I’ve heard many times from colleagues who lament the fact that information is often not readily available to those that need it. Generally I hear it in the context of my work with professionals in child welfare but it also applies to other areas as well. For example, the general public is often ill-informed or not informed at all about legislation and current issues that affect their daily lives.
Getting information to the masses should be an easy task, in this ‘information age‘. However, that is often not the case. In fact, the ‘information age’ probably has made it more difficult to get accurate and contextual information that is necessary to fully understand an issue.
My solution to this problem was first conceived when I researched a document for the FRIENDS National Resource Center on Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention. (Best Practices for Maximizing and Sustaining Collaborative Efforts) Now that it’s had time to ferment, I see the potential of the lessons learned in one program discussed in the aforementioned paper (see page 7 of the Best Practices document). The program involved a neighborhood event (similar to a professional conference or community fair) where parents could get information relevant to parenting in an innovative and engaging way. The innovative part was not the activities so much as the pairing of activities. Short information sessions were offered for free, which people could attend and in exchange, earn ‘points’. These ‘points’ were like a currency that could be exchanged for services from local businesses, for example, manicures, coupons for free food or movie tickets, or massages. Similar to a community fair or conference, people mingled while obtaining information and services. There might be restaurants offering samples of their food or booths with information about area events and services, or carnival type games to entertain. The health field is one of several that have recognized the value of this type of approach. I recently attended a ‘health fair’ where people stood in line to get their blood pressure checked, learn about diabetes and heart disease, and watch healthy foods being prepared by nutritionists. The ‘hook’ included, among other things, ‘freebies’ of all sorts and sizes ranging from pens and pencils to tote bags and coupons for services. In order to score these precious items, attendees learned about health, wellness, and health care services in the area.
My 2.0 version of this would be what I’ll call (for now) a “Knowledge Swap Market”. Information would be provided about societal and politic issues such as the science behind climate change, foreign policy , net neutrality, public education, the role of government in child protection, and other relevant topics. A person could attend a 10-30 minute educational session to earn points, tokens, or some type of similar currency to exchange for, say, a massage. This strategy of offering incentives to seek out information on key issues has the potential of engaging persons from all socio-economic, racial, and generational populations. An app similar to Viggle or Foursquare could provide the tech savvy by rewarding users for participating in informational sessions and the election process.
The approach offers several benefits. The general public becomes more knowledgeable regarding current issues impacting their lives. This would lead to a better informed public at election time and will likely lead to increased participation in the election process and for some, more active involvement in elections and voting. Businesses gain exposure to potential new customers. Residents come together; interacting, reducing isolation, and increasing civic engagement and a sense of community. Of course, the ‘fair’, ‘expo’, or whatever it might be called would provide information on ways to become more involved in the community and important issues.
In my mind, this event might be hosted by a local college, library, or community organization. The value would be increased if the host agency provided other opportunities for residents to gain information periodically and the possibility of the formation of groups based on common interests or desire to gain more knowledge about a topic. The local college might be the best place for that to happen, because of the diversity of perspectives available and their perceived role in society as a portal for education and learning.
My invitation to readers is to consider advocating for something like this in your community. If you’d like to start something and need ideas, I have some additional thoughts on how this might be managed and promoted. As always, I welcome innovative thinkers to join me in the conversation about how to change the world, one idea at a time. Also, please consider visiting my entry of the Knowledge Swap Market on the Knight News Challenge website. If you think the concept has merit, add your ‘applause’ and/or your suggestions for making it better.
PostScript: To my child welfare followers, I apologize for my stroll down a slightly different path on this post. The idea started with child abuse prevention and grew!