Audience (formerly), JTM News, Projects, Seattle

Civic Communications Commons

This group proposes the development of a Civic Communications Commons (CCC) in Seattle and King County as a common civic infrastructure that connects virtual and face-to-face civic, community, and neighborhood spaces.

It’s proposal says:

“The CCC would be a common civic space in Seattle, growing from the many existing resources in neighborhoods, communities, the non-profit sector, government, and business. The Seattle Commons will be built by many hands with widespread ownership and responsibility.

“By envisioning the CCC as a ‘common civic space’ we mean, quite literally, the space in which members of a community do their work as participants in the public life of that community. This work includes:

  • The many small, informal, but important networks of everyday civic life (helping neighbors, building and maintaining community gardens, etc.) ;
  • The building and maintaining of “third-places” both on- and offline, and weaving the two together;
  • The civic work of young people, gathering and posting neighborhood and community stories, and building the commons itself;
  • The collaborative work of media: city- and county-wide, mainstream, public, and alternative; neighborhood, and micro-local to present a broad picture of the community and gather and disseminate the information necessary for public work;
  • The vital work of libraries as conveners, connectors, and providers of information and civic space;
  • Supporting grassroots participation by engaging and assisting lively community and neighborhood news and information centers.
  • Organization for a broad range of projects in urban design, arts, and culture;
  • Community members addressing and petitioning, but also collaborating with, government

“But it also refers to the work of building and maintaining that civic space itself, and that is what we are immediately concerned with here.

“A major assumption of the Seattle Civic Communication Commons is that citizens increasingly live their lives in both physical and virtual spaces. We live in homes and apartments or transitional spaces; we shop and find food; we go to or look for work using cars or public transportation or the Internet. It is easy in the midst of a real communications transformation to imagine that life is lived online, especially by those who spend a good part of their work and free time there. It’s harder to remember that for the public, much of the time, online space connects physical space and that is its most important potential function for civic and community life.”

The proposal concludes:

A regional Civic Communication Commons has the potential to expose and enhance the tremendous diversity, liveliness, and intelligence of place-based living in ways that would enrich and enliven our civic life. Such a change could transform our political life, making it possible for people who do not possess the economic means now used for political influence to truly affect the quality of life in their communities.

It could also facilitate locally sourced, place-based, news and storytelling in a variety of forms, enhanced by various forms of journalism, and delivered digitally. A further advantage of such a system would be that the community-based civic communications platform would augment and expand the reach of corporate generated common communications media: good for business, good for the community, good for the region.

Finally, such an endeavor could provide a model both regionally and nationally. Seattle – because of its legacy of distinct neighborhoods, civic engagement and entrepreneurial approach to both technology and neighborhood-based journalism – could be just the right place to undertake such a vital experiment.


The group is led by Rick VanderKnyff, Anne Stadler and Jeff Vander Clute. Peggy Holman and Mike Fancher, members of the JTMPNW Collaboratory are also involved. Lew Friedland, profesor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, UW-Madison, is serving as an adviser to the group.

VanderKnyff (Woodinville, Wash.) is a senior producer at Microsoft’s MSN web portal, focusing on local media initiatives; previously, he was a writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times, and a web manager for the University of California, San Diego. He is on the board of directors of the PCC Farmland Trust.

Stadler (Lake Forest Park, Wash.) is co-founder of Third Place Commons. She is a TV producer of documentary and special programs produced in collaboration with community leaders, and consults with organizations and people that want to open space for co-creative leadership and thriving communities.

Vander Clute (Langley, Wash.) is a serial entrepreneur and innovator at the intersection of online media and community, working to create livable spaces that bring together the physical and virtual worlds.

CCC and the Knight Commission

The aspiration for a Civic Communications Commons flows from the fidings and recommendations of the Knight Commission:

Information is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools, and public health. People have not typically thought of information in this way, but they should. Just as the United States has built other sectors of its vital infrastructure through a combination of private enterprise and social investment, Americans should look to a similar combination of strategies in developing its information infrastructure as well.”

Information is essential to community vitality. Informed communities can effectively coordinate activities, achieve public accountability, solve problems, and create connections. Local information systems should support widespread knowledge of and participation in the community’s day-to-day life by all segments of the community. To achieve the promise of democracy, it is necessary that the creation, organization, analysis, and transmission of information include the whole community.

In addition to the information necessary to participate in elections and civic affairs, people need access to information to better their lives. Where families struggle to make ends meet and many men and women work multiple jobs, free time is limited. Indeed, the path to active civic engagement may begin with fulfillment of basic information needs, including information about jobs, housing, taxes, safety, education, transportation, recreation, entertainment, food, shopping, utilities, child care, health care, religious resources, and local news.

The CCC idea also address several recommendations of the Knight Commission having to do with pubiic engagement:

Recommendation 13: Empower all citizens to participate actively in community self-governance, including local “community summits” to address community affairs and pursue common goals.

Recommendation 14: Emphasize community information flow in the design and enhancement of a local community’s public spaces.

Recommendation 15: Ensure that every local community has at least one high-quality online hub.

Finally, this initiative speaks to the Commission’s Recommendation 10, which says, in part:

Community-based technology centers can provide the training and equipment for citizens to take advantage of all the available media for creating and sharing community news and information. Enhancing the capacity of individuals to produce, organize, and disseminate information should not be limited to online platforms.

Links to:

CCC Proposal, including next steps (PDF)

Notes from first Seattle CCC Call

Notes from Second Seattle CCC Call

CCC Rough Draft Outline by Lew Friedland

CCC and Community News Centers by Anne Stadler

Contact Rick Vanderknyff

Contact Anne Stadler