Lower income, disabled, and other historically disadvantaged peoples often find themselves excluded from the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Without the participation and feedback of target populations, social programs and service delivery resources fall short of their potential. This lack of involvement also impacts public awareness of social services and furthers sentiments of misrepresentation in disadvantaged communities.
In 1996, UCLA's Advanced Policy Institute developed Community-University Information Initiatives (CUII) to utilize Web-based technology and community mapping techniques. These initiatives promote minority participation by offering bilingual, publicly accessible community information. Two main initiatives, Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (NKLA) and Living Independently in Los Angeles (LILA), act as platforms for the two-way flow of pertinent information.
NKLA's original vision was to address the problem of residential divestment in low-income neighborhoods. Now, NKLA has expanded its capability, allowing it to offer real-time, current data on individual residences in a street-by-street format. NKLA exposes patterns of housing decay that city inspectors use to determine which residences warrant the most attention. Community organizations use the data for grant writing and the strategic use of resources and planning. In 1998, the Los Angeles City Council enacted what the Los Angeles Times called, "the most important housing reform in the city's history." The NKLA's efforts resulted in the inspection of 300,000 housing units, 90 percent of which underwent improvements.
Using a similar platform, LILA was launched in March of 2001. LILA is a community-directed online information resource, created in large part by local residents with disabilities. Residents can use this platform to contribute to, and receive information from, an interactive map of independent living resources. The site also provides an online discussion forum, event listings, links to disability and senior-specific Websites and channels for user feedback. LILA has also placed computer workstations, equipped with adaptive technologies, in Los Angeles' eleven independent living centers.
Both organizations have inspired replication. NKLA has provided the foundation for Neighborhood Knowledge California, which is the first community information system designed to serve both users and policymakers at the state level. The State Plan for Independent Living, using LILA as its model, identified the development of "a plan to achieve access to information for consumers through emerging and existing technologies" as its priority.
Although The CUII is not the first program of its kind, it is the first to demonstrate such a certain and extensive effect. By using a public university to act as a broker of community and government information, the CUII has begun to pinpoint minority phenomena. The effect has been an efficient re-inclusion of some of the city's most disconnected residents and the targeted improvement of impoverished neighborhoods.