The Center for Digital Information

The Center's Mission

The Center for Digital Information's mission is to lead the policy research community — think tanks, foundations, government agencies, NGOs and educational institutions — in a fundamental rethinking of how it communicates its findings in a digital society.

While researchers currently rely upon an old model of publishing static documents online, CDI seeks to advance the field toward developing entirely new interactive modes of presentation that utilize the unique capabilities of digital media.

Through interactive production, collaboration, and leadership, CDI's goal is to ensure that high-quality research remains relevant, engaging and informative to both the public and policymakers as they consume information in new ways brought on by rapid technological change.

From Digital Distribution to Digital Information

The Center's approach is based on an important distinction between "digital distribution" and "digital information." Digital distribution is characterized by transmitting material via new media in forms borrowed from a pre-digital era: reports, white papers, articles, issue briefs, fact sheets, and press releases; distributed as static text and PDFs. Digital information is distinguished by communicating natively in new media, using the unique interactive capabilities of the technology.

Today, the policy research field — a vital multi-billion-dollar enterprise to inform policy debates and public understanding — engages almost exclusively in "digital distribution" as it has for the first fifteen years of widespread use of the Internet. A pilot study commissioned by the Center for Digital Information found that 98% of data posted online by the twenty biggest policy research organizations consisted of a text summary with a link to "download the complete report" in PDF form. Only 2% used any interactive features made possible by the technology.

In short, research organizations are speaking an old language in a new medium — a situation that threatens their vital informational role. In a society increasingly accustomed to information in digital form, credibility, authority, and relevance are attributes that will be reserved for research organizations that successfully adopt new interactive forms that are native to digital media. The Center for Digital Information was created as a like-minded, nonprofit, nonpartisan institution focused on this fundamental change in how information is communicated.

Digital Distribution vs. Digital Information