Using SciComm to Tackle Information Poverty and Digital Divides

By Kelly Tabbutt

photo of a person sitting on a bridge
Photo by Alex Azabache on Unsplash

SciComm and Information Poverty

SciComm is centered on bringing information to broad audiences in a way that is comprehensible, meaningful, and engaging. SciCommers gift in explaining complex topics related to science and technology gives it a unique and uniquely important role in the battle to bridge the digital divide and eradicate information poverty.

This blog is part two of a two-part series addressing the digital divide and information poverty. In the first part, I introduced the concept of internet information poverty and the factors that contribute to it. In this second part, I get into what SciCommers can do to address and overcome it, both on the small scale and the large scale.

How can SciComm address the digital divide and information poverty?

1. Lack of availability and access

Large Scale Responses

One of the most important large-scale responses that can be taken by SciCommers (and everyone) is to support organizations and initiatives fighting to close the information gap and the digital divide by building information and technology infrastructure, providing access to technology, and educating marginalized communities for technology and information literacy.

Two such organizations working in to defeat the digital divide and information poverty at the national and international scale are the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).   

Small Scale Responses

Beyond supporting these larger initiatives and to make a more immediate difference, SciCommers can address the digital divide and information poverty by simply creating content that is not technology/internet dependent.

Public (preferably free) presentations are a great way to reach a broad audience and those impacted by information poverty, particularly if you provide these presentation in rural and economically disadvantaged urban communities. To reach those communities that you may not be able to visit in person, creating pamphlets, magazines, books, and posters are another relatively simple option.

2. Lack of technology and information literacy

Large Scale Responses

If you want to be part of a larger scale effort to build information literacy and technology and internet skills, there are several options. You can bring information to communities that are most marginalized by rurality, poverty, and education inequality in presentation or written form. You could take it a step further and work to educate these individuals and communities in information literacy and basic computer and internet skills.

IFLA’s Information Literacy Section works create opportunities for information literacy across the world. Teach-Technology Organization, Inc. works to bring technological literacy to older individuals, bridging the age gap aspect of the digital divide. You can also work with local K-12 and higher education institutions and community organizations to coordinate public teaching events.  

Small Scale Responses

On the smaller scale one of the most important things any SciCommer can do to make information accessible across the digital divide is to make that information relevant and comprehensible to broad audiences. Specifically, creating work – or versions of your work – that is written at the most basic reading level (think elementary school) to reach those with limited literacy.

Further, including images, or better, creating content that can be comprehended by those who are illiterate (videos or infographics that can be understood without reading) is a great way to make your work accessible.

3. Lack of meaningful information

Large Scale Responses

The aspect of information poverty related to inaccessibility or irrelevance of information is more abstract that the other two issues discussed, and accordingly so are the large-scale responses to this issue. This issue derives largely from the dominance of Western, especially American, culture and society and access to and control of the distribution of information.

This issue certainly derives from and perpetuates the information and technology imbalance on the global level and between racial and ethnic groups within societies. Large scale efforts to address this issue require working to build cross-cultural appreciation and visibility and voice for marginalized communities across the world.

Small Scale Responses

It is vital that whatever you write include references (places, people, objects, ideas) that are relevant to your audience. Creating versions of work, or work with multiple references, that can speak to different life experiences is a great way to reach diverse audiences. Specifically, mind cultural context: speak to the norms, values, and practices of the communities you are trying to reach. Also, mind geographic context: don’t talk about building an igloo if you are writing to people who have only ever lived in Tahiti.

Finally, mind unconscious biases. This last one is very important but also very difficult since, by definition, we are not innately aware of unconscious biases. Question assumptions, heeding the feedback of various communities and incorporating diverse perspectives are the main ways to battle unconscious bias.

Conclusion

SciCommers are uniquely gifted and experienced in bringing complex and vital information to broad audiences with diverse backgrounds, varying levels of education, and various interests and concerns. The most visible face of SciComm seems to be the digital face but SciComm happens everywhere. SciCommers are also teachers, public researchers, and science literacy builders and activists.

On the larger scale, SciComm should stand behind initiatives to build technological infrastructure and bring internet access and literacy to disadvantaged communities. On the smaller scale, SciCommers should make their work more broadly available, comprehensible, and applicable– especially for those that are marginalized by the digital divide and who face information poverty.

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