Building Digital Communities: Pilot Project Update March 2013
The Pew Internet and American Life Project surveyed Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers. Fifty-four percent of the teachers said that all or almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools while IN school. Only eighteen percent said that all or almost all of their students have sufficient access to digital tools AT HOME. These numbers tell us that access to technology and the internet is a problem in schools, and an even bigger problem in homes.
Where do students go to use technology and the Internet after school? The library or a community-based organization with a technology center. Where do they go when those places are not open? McDonald’s and parking lots outside of open wi-fi networks. These are options only if they have their own mobile devices.
What are the resources an adult needs to apply for jobs online? The number of low-income adults online has jumped, in part because of mobile phones. Have you ever tried to complete a job application from your mobile phone? It is daunting, at best.
Those are just two examples of information technology access issues. Information technology use issues are just as important. Knowing how to watch a video online is a beginner-level digital literacy skill. Knowing how to assess the validity of a website is a digital literacy skill that is essential in today’s world, and far from intuitive.
Let’s broaden the scope and look at the big picture. Two out of 10 (1 in 5) Americans do not use the internet. Four out of 10 do not have home broadband service. Four out of 10 Americans not having home broadband is A LOT of Americans. A digitally inclusive community is important to economic and workforce development, civic participation, education, healthcare, and public safety.
At the most basic level, the solutions to these issues are clear. People need more home internet access, more public internet access, more tech support (trainings and one on one) to help people participate in today’s digital world. Federal and national involvement is crucial, but ultimately, the solutions are local. This is a community problem that requires a community solution.
Building Digital Communities: Pilot is an IMLS-funded project to support and document the efforts of local leadership teams in nine pilot communities who are leading local community efforts to increase information technology access and use. To support these communities and further the knowledge base, OCLC’s WebJunction is hosting resources online, developing a case study of the stakeholder engagement process in Rhode Island, and convening webinars. Recognizing that digital inclusion strategies must be community-wide and the need for information dissemination, all resources and webinars are available to the public.
Building Digital Communities: Framework in Action provides the guidance and structure for these pilot communities. The first step recommended in the framework is to “Convene Stakeholders”. Digital inclusion is a complex and community-wide goal. A coalition of local government, education institutions, libraries, community-based organizations, business and residents is necessary to achieve successful outcomes.
How do you know who the stakeholders are? How do you get them to the table? What do you do with them once they sit down? To help figure out the answers to these questions, the University of Illinois Center for Digital Inclusion, WayMark Systems and OCLC are working together on a digital inclusion stakeholder alignment process. Two of the local leadership teams will use this process to define stakeholders and gather data to determine how closely aligned the various sectors are on the spectrum of digital inclusion issues. The process will engage stakeholders and instigate a community-wide discussion. It will also help to uncover overlapping interests among stakeholders and create new relationships.
A month after the initial meetings, a community-wide summit will be held to share the graphical representations of stakeholder alignment and facilitate a discussion of a digital inclusion vision for the community. That’s just the beginning. The next step is to guide the communities to collaboratively determine how best to meet the needs of their particular populations and challenges.
The heroes of this project are the local leadership teams, consisting of representatives from the public library, local government, and a community-based organization. The first pilot location for the stakeholder alignment process is Dodge City Kansas, led by Cathy Reeves, director of the Dodge City Public Library, Jane Longmeyer, Public Relations manager at City of Dodge City and Greta Clark, professor and director of Multicultural Education at Dodge City Community College. They've chosen to call their project Digital Dodge City.
We look forward to sharing details about the engagement process and how other communities can benefit from these tools and resources.
To learn more:
- For a general understanding of digital inclusion, begin with the digital inclusion webpage on WebJunction. Be sure to click on Resources for more external data.
- View the recording of the webinar Engaging Stakeholders, the First Step to Creating a Digitally Inclusive Community. We discussed why Broadband Rhode Island decided it was important to create a process of engaging stakeholders in order to discuss technology access and use. Key collaborators explained their involvement, how various sectors were engaged, the impact of NTIA funded projects upon the stakeholder engagement process, and how policy recommendations were created and prioritized.
- View the recording of the webinar – Broadband Adoption Toolkit. The creators of the NTIA Broadband Adoption Toolkit and projects using innovative broadband adoption strategies discuss what they learned and how the broadband adoption pieces fit together. Topics included technology training, broadband awareness, low cost internet service and low cost home computers.