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Most Change in Communities Comes from Local Opportunity

October 14, 2011

Today’s post comes from Whitney Soenksen, Communications Manager for The Hartwood Institute for Public Innovation and our previous External Relations Manager here at AmeriCorps Alums.

Solutions to the challenges we face don’t yet exist and planning alone won’t get us there. In communities, states, and the nation we need a different mindset – one of innovation.

The Aspen Institute’s newest white paper, implementing the Knight Commission’s recommendations, calls on America’s community members and leaders to adopt a set of useful strategies to assess the health of civic resources and infrastructure, to build up local news and information environments, and create engaged communities with the capacity and resilience to meet today’s—and tomorrow’s–most pressing challenges.

In the paper, Assessing Community Information Needs: A Practical Guide, Richard C. Harwood (pictured right) urges citizens and community leaders to go beyond “simply doing good planning” to develop a mindset and practice of innovation and Turning Outward toward the community in order to take effective action to solve common challenges.
Harwood is the founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, an organization recognized for their approach to breaking down barriers and empowering people to make real progress in improving their communities.

“In reality, most change in communities occurs through pockets of activity that emerge and take root over time,” notes Harwood.  “These pockets result from individuals, small groups, and various organizations seeing an opportunity for change and seizing it, often through trial and error. Seldom are the collection of such pockets orchestrated through a top-down, linear plan; instead, they happen when people and groups start to engage and interact.”

The Turn Outward approach allows community members to focus on relevance, re-building and re-engaging with each other as well as the schools, businesses and other organizations that contribute to the health and stability of a community. Harwood’s paper gives people actionable steps and support around what it takes to act on what matters most.

Assessing Community Information Needs: A Practical Guide will be featured Monday, October 17th from 12:30 to 3pm ET in a roundtable discussion among a select group of leaders, innovators, advocates and critics from the national, state and local levels at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.

We invite you to watch it live with us here and use #Harwood to discuss themes and findings.

Media who are interested in attending should contact Erin Silliman for details at or 202.736.5818.  The paper will also be released and available at on Monday, October 17.

Assessing Community Information Needs: A Practical Guide is the eighth in a series of white papers focused on implementing the 15 recommendations of the Knight Commission in its landmark 2009 report, Informing Communities – Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

The Knight Commission is a project of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation -please visit for more information.

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