Association of Library and Information Science Conference

Keynote Presentation

Community Engagement through the Right of Access to Information: Assuring Inclusion of Marginalized Populations

Wednesday, January 18, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm

Access to information is a fundamental right enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights. Information is the cornerstone of good governance, efficient and equitable public administration, and the exercise of rights. Importantly, access to information helps to ensure that citizens have a more meaningful voice for community engagement and decision-making. However, often in our societies it is the most vulnerable and marginalized populations who suffer the greatest due to limited access to information. Even in countries with statutory rights to information, it appears that regardless of socio-economic levels, women and marginalized populations are less likely to receive and access information. As various tools are applied to address the web of adversities facing marginalized persons and women - poverty, illiteracy, violence and inadequate opportunities for quality participation - insufficient focus has been paid to the power that information can play in confronting these myriad challenges.

Though recent years have witnessed a plethora of research and programming related to voice, participation and empowerment of marginalized populations and women, access to information has been implied rather than explicitly identified as a core ingredient for success. This presentation will focus on the value of information for community engagement and inclusion, the obstacles that marginalized populations and women face in exercising their rights to information, and some potential solutions – including the role of libraries – to bridge the gaps and more effectively reach these populations to ensure a meaningful right to information.

Laura Neuman is director of the Global Access to Information Program. She directs and implements Carter Center transparency and good governance programming, including projects in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Ms. Neuman developed the innovative access to information implementation assessment tool, which assesses the extent and quality of implementation of the law. Most recently she established the women and the right of access to information programming, which seeks to support women in overcoming identified inequities in exercising the right of access to information. Ms. Neuman also was responsible for the 2008 International Conference on the Right to Public Information and the follow-on 2009 Americas Conference and 2010 African Regional Conference on the Right of Access to Information.

Ms. Neuman serves as the civil society anchor for the Open Government Partnership’s Access to Information Working Group. She has written a number of articles and book chapters on the right of access to information, has edited six widely distributed guidebooks on fostering transparency and preventing corruption, and has presented at numerous international seminars on access to information legislation, implementation, enforcement, and use. She serves as a member of the International School of Transparency, the Transparency Advisory Group, an advisory member of the Open Democracy Advice Centre and; and has consulted to the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and a number of governments and civil society organizations. As part of her transparency work, she served as Executive Secretary for the Carter Center's Council for Ethical Business Practices.

Ms. Neuman also has led and participated in international election monitoring missions throughout the Western hemisphere. Prior to joining The Carter Center in August 1999, she was staff attorney for Senior Law at Legal Action of Wisconsin and is a 1993 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School.