Public Information Infrastructure for Workforce Development

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Greg Laudeman
Georgia Tech

Communities that wish to transition from a low-skill, low-wage industrial economy to a high value-add knowledge economy are faced with a critical “chicken or egg” skills problem: citizens need technology skills in order to quality for knowledge jobs, but without such a job it’s difficult to build technology skills. At the community level, without the jobs you can’t build the workforce, and without the workforce you can’t get the jobs. How can this “vicious cycle” be broken?


LaGrange, Georgia, is a community of approximately 25,000, located 70 miles southwest of Atlanta, just shy of the Alabama line. It has a twenty year history of community economic development, and has done some pretty innovative things. The City of LaGrange is a


The evidence suggests that where citizens take up the service actively, it does enable improved skills and greater communication. There may be significant barriers to both taking up and using the service, including: little existing interest, fear of the technology itself, fear that the technology will be used to spy on them, and disbelief that the service is free. Even for those who profess the positive power of the technology there may be no personal motivation to take up the service. Just because the technology is taken up, doesn’t mean it will be used. Again, lack of interest and fundamental skills may discourage use. The technology might not fit the subscriber’s habits, or it could have technical limitations and/or problems that discourage use. There are also questions about whether most individuals with use a technology without clear purpose or encouragement from an opinion leader.
Public information infrastructure such as LaGrange’s requires significant investment, a solid long-term strategy, and partnership with private sector entities. Internet TV would not have been possible without the historic precedent and preceding initiatives. While the Internet TV initiative shows some evidence of improving skills and economic opportunity, it is unclear whether those improvements are significant or systemic. Positive results from Internet TV might be intangible or long-term. And it would be nearly impossible to disassociate any clear results from a host of other socioeconomic factors. Regardless, contemporary social context seems to be making effective information management—and tools and skills needed for such activities—practically mandatory. In such an environment, information infrastructure can be argued to be essential for modern life, and characterized as non-rival and non-exclusive in consumption. This provides the conceptual basis for publicly provisioning connectivity, information, and information tools. The City of LaGrange has demonstrated that it can be done economically. This pattern suggests that some sort of public information infrastructure is necessary for a community to prosper in the 21st century.


The primary relationships in this pattern are local and public-private. This is an example of blurring, or at least flexing, the lines between industry and municipality, of both cooperating to meet a common objective. The locality of the pattern appears to be a necessary element of such efforts. Locality allows for longer-term efforts, of which Internet TV was but one. It also allows for focused, small-scale “experiments”, which can be scaled up or down with relative ease. Both of these situations support shared learning among participants. This is the fundamental value of locality: it facilitates repeated interactions based on shared needs, resulting in learning opportunities not only for the citizens, but for City officials and Charter, too.
The other relationship, implicit to this pattern, is that of individuals to information tools. Basically, this pattern is all about closing that distance, making the relationship closer and more meaningful. The man-machine relationship can be very chaotic and complex. Some people love technology for it’s own sake, but most don’t. Many appear ambivalent towards or fearful of computers. And it’s insufficient just to have ready access to technology. There can be huge psychosocial barriers to using what’s available. These barriers are overcome by relationships: with leaders, and to specific, highly valued goals or activities. Thus vital factors in public information infrastructure are locality, public-private partnership, widespread use by leaders, compelling uses for the populace, and social connection between the leaders and the populace by which usage habits can be transmitted.

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