In considering the greater need for information handling skills in communities it
is obvious that our
use of IT is never going to reach full potential if we do not appreciate the characteristics and
relevance of community information, and the skills required to manipulate it. This needs to be built
into community IT training programmes in terms of boosting the community's 'information
Kevin Harris defined 'information capability' as the level of information in an organisation.
It is the
sum of INFORMATION AWARENESS, ACCESS TO INFORMATION, EXPLOITATION OF
- access to resources
includes knowledge about resources.
- exploitation of
resources includes such skills as relevance judgment,
A community's information capability is its capacity to acquire and use information
for social and
economic development. A community with a high information capacity should have an array of
community groups and voluntary agencies, each being aware of information sources relevant to
their concerns. Individuals and groups should have established procedures geared-up to using the
information. They would be more inclined to make and take opportunities to disseminate
information about their own activities.
Community projects are often in subject fields where key information may be hard to
This may be because of the absence of the economies of scale of publishing, or because the
information is hard to generate in the first place (eg statistics relating to unemployment and health
on housing estates). .Users are are likely further to be at a disadvantage because information
awareness may be low, information needs unperceived and unclear, suitable resources
inaccessible or unknown, and information handling skills undeveloped.
Information awareness is a part of a community's information capability. It is the
recognise that problems may be solved and development (personal, community, economic and
social ) achieved by accessing and using information. This definition begins with the problem-
solving aspect of development, rather than the information. Information awareness amounts to
overcoming this difficulty by distinguishing between unperceived, perceived, and expressed needs.
Access and exploitation
Relevant information comes from a broad range of resources. It is often informal
or semiformal. It
may have a short half life. The need for information is not usually put as a prime objective in
community action. It is not regarded as a direct resource and its aquision is not costed into the
programme. These characteristics coupled with a narrow range of distribution of information from its
producers, frequently means that it fails to reach or attract the attention of particular users.
The level of information in a community is related to the kinds of information media
members are most accustomed to using. Usually the information acted upon is verbal. Other
modes of delivery such as broadcast, electronic and visual make little impact. It is worth noting that
a user's perception of information will be different when it is presented in an unusual mode such as
via a screen compared with when the same information is presented in say a library. To this we
need to add consideration of the role of serendipity, which is usualIy described as the art or habit
making happy discoveries. The potential to design information systems which actually promote
serendipity is often overlooked
Technology has a role to play in the second and third elements of information capability
Appropriate use of IT in these areas could greatly enhance an agency's information capability.
However, the first element, awareness, is a key aspect which can affect positively or negatively the
ability to exploit IT. Consideration of the effectiveness or IT use implies appreciation of levels of
In summary the concept of information capability does not address the questions of
problem or need for development is recognised and how people recognise that they have an
The importance of using the concept of 'information capability' is as a positive alternative
'information poverty'. When we speak of information poverty we are referring to low levels of
awareness, inadequate access, and undeveloped ability to exploit information. To speak in terms of
capability is to avoid labelling and to recognise that there is a capacity which can be built up.
Information handling skills are closely related to information awareness and confidence, and hence
to the general problem-solving capacity and development potential of' a group or community.