INFORMATION RENAISSANCE
ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS
HOT
WHAT
WHY
HOW
WHO

Information Renaissance is a nonprofit corporation that promotes the use of the Internet to support the public interest.

Our goals, as discussed below, are access, empowerment and inclusion: using technology to enable people to participate more fully in their communities and in the democratic process. We do this by:

  • Fostering meaningful, high-level, interactive exchanges between informed members of the public and their government. Our Online Dialogues and Public Participation in Rulemaking activities are two examples. Objectives of these projects include:
    • Public education on the issues under discussion
    • Well-informed discussions
    • Opening lines of communication and building trust
    • Support to governmental entities in working with the public
  • Seeking to provide appropriate and sustainable technology for underserved communities. This is implemented in our programs Technology for the Community and Neighborhood Networks.

Access

Over the last decade the Internet has moved from a technological curiosity to an essential feature of modern life. Individual access to the net has exploded during this period, and initial disparities in terms of age, sex and racial groupings have diminished, if not disappeared. Concurrently the Internet is becoming an essential means of accessing information and resources and a key route to government services. This makes it inadmissible to shut any groups out of access to this resource. Not only is simple access to the Internet critical, but also questions of disability access, user interfaces, language, and presentations that are accessible to users with different levels of sophistication must be addressed.

Second, as the technology has moved forward, the definition of basic access has begun to change. Although a majority of households now have dialup access to the Internet, many content providers are developing components that require broadband access for adequate service delivery, but broadband access is much less uniformly distributed than dialup.

Info Ren believes that the traditional model of telecommunications access bears re-examination in light of the dramatic service improvements and cost reductions available with fiber infrastructure. Indeed, it is unclear if the incumbent service providers are capable of deploying needed new infrastructure or if basic network transport should be provided through a public utility, with service providers layering individual services on top of this common core.

Empowerment

We have spoken of access in terms of technology and information, but access without empowerment and inclusion is meaningless. One type of empowerment comes with the ability to take elements of the technology and build them into larger systems. This involves a transition from being a user of the technology to becoming a provider of services that use technology. Similarly, there is an important difference between using the network to access information and services and using the network (and other resources) to synthesize acquired information into knowledge that can be applied for effective action. To this end Info Ren seeks to identify systems that can be placed in the hands of individual users or groups of users and to help groups create resources they can control, develop and maintain. Other types of empowerment are heavily related to inclusion, as discussed below - being able to take part in policy discussions, and, importantly, having the information needed to take part as a more equal partner in a policy discussion. The Briefing Books we use as a part of online dialogues and the background material we advocate for rulemakings reflect this goal.

Inclusion

The Internet is a two-way street. Although most commercial sites on the net use network interactivity primary for the selection of goods and services that they are selling, the possibilities of the net are much richer. Info Ren encourages the development of resources that allow a much broader range of individuals and groups of individuals to compete in the marketplace of online services. And we seek mechanisms that render existing services to more inclusive audiences.

A particular application of this philosophy is in the area of electronic government. Info Ren has worked for a number of years to encourage governments to expand their electronic presence beyond online services, such as drivers' licenses, electronic permits or tax filing, to online participation in government. We see the Internet as a means of generalizing the concept of a public hearing or a public comment process. This generalization would allow more people to take part in governmental policy-making and can enrich the level of public discussion on these issues.

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