Coalitions and Digital Equity Planning

It was wonderful to be part of this year’s Net Inclusion Webinar Series, which took the place of this year’s Net Inclusion Annual Summit. On April 21st, NDIA hosted the webinar,  “Coalitions and Digital Equity Planning” moderated by amalia deloney of the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation with speakers Curt Williams (Cleveland Foundation), Sharonne Navas, (Equity in Education Coalition), Aaron Schill (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) and me.

The webinar will be of interest to those looking to start a digital equity coalition in their community or for those coalitions interested in learning more about what other communities are doing to promote digital equity during the pandemic and beyond.

To learn more about our research mentioned in the webinar, please visit our report titled “Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond” which was published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society in November, 2020.

The Necessity of Digital Equity and Care Work

HandsIn our 2017 article, titled “Creating Caring Institutions for Community Informatics,” Dr. Miriam Sweeney (University of Alabama) and I explored the potential affordances of applying a feminist ethics of care approach to public libraries and community technology centers–the places where people go when they are unable to pay for the Internet at home.

In our paper, we argued the following: 

“An ethics of care framework has several possible affordances for infomediary practices in these institutions, including highlighting the gendered power dynamics that define and shape existing practices; distributing care work and making existing care work visible; and envisioning a more holistic and ethical approach to engaging diverse publics.”

We translated Tronto’s (2010) seven warning signs for “bad care” in public institutions into seven positive guidelines for providing “good care” in public libraries, community technology centers, and other community-care spaces. We then contextualized these guidelines for the institutions that people rely on, and increasingly during the pandemic, particularly for those who cannot afford the high cost of broadband.

These seven positive guidelines include the following main points:

  1. All humans need and deserve care
  2. Needs are contextually and culturally defined
  3. Care is a process, not a service or commodity
  4. Expertise is situated and distributed
  5. Caring is a relational process wherein people may assume many, and simultaneous, roles
  6. Caring is a routine part of every aspect of professional practice
  7. Care work is a shared responsibility; the equal distribution of care work is a political act

As the Biden Administration, members of Congress, and the Federal Communication Commission continue to push important legislation and federal programs forward to address the digital divide, I believe there is an urgent need to develop new ways of thinking about digital equity that embrace some of the ideas presented above.

This work urgently joins more recent and growing calls within the fields of social work, public librarianship, and related areas that intersect with these fields that demand we consider the ways in which economic inequality and racial injustice continue to keep digital equity out of reach for millions of Americans. This is because, as we argued in our 2017 paper, “interventions that are narrowly focused on providing individual access to technology are inadequate for addressing the structural forces that continue to shape the allocation of resources along the axes of race, class, and gender,” and other social identities.

In other words, our feminist ethics of care in digital equity work must be intersectional.

Last year, Susan Kennedy and I argued the following in our article for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society:

“To inform this work, the next administration should develop a digital equity and racial justice task force that brings together social workers, public librarians, community organizers, and other community-care practitioners to develop strategies and tools to promote digital and racial equity in communities most impacted by the pandemic.”

Federal policymakers will not be able to address the digital divide without addressing its root causes, including economic inequality, racial injustice, and other systemic social issues.

The time is now to bring together care workers with digital equity practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to ensure that federal policies and programs connect to those who need broadband the most.

(Photo above by Brenda López Espinosa available under a Creative Commons license)

New JoCI Issue (Vol 16) Published

Journal of Community Informatics Vol 16

It’s wonderful to be able to finally announce the new issue of the Journal of Community Informatics! The journal is also now hosted at the University of Waterloo Library and sponsored by the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science (iSchool).

There are many, many people to thank for this new issue and the Journal’s re-launch, particularly during such an incredibly difficult year. Many of whom I have included in my Editorial. I would particularly like to thank David Nemer, Tom Denison, Eduardo Villanueva-Mansilla, as well as Jordan Hale and Graham Faulkner at the University of Waterloo Library.

I am also grateful, of course, to the authors of this new issue for their patience during this transition to our new home at UW Library. I also want to thank our wonderful Editorial Board and other reviewers who contributed their time and expertise to help make this issue so strong.

The Journal is also accepting new Submissions from researchers and practitioners in the field of community informatics. To learn more, visit our new Journal website.

New Report on Digital Equity Ecosystems

Benton reportI am excited to announce that our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University has authored a new report, titled “Growing Healthy Digital Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond,” which was published last week by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

In the report, my co-author, Susan Kennedy and I present findings from a survey of individuals representing a diverse group of organizations across the United States that have self-identified as being part of either a formal, informal, or emerging digital inclusion coalition. The purpose of their study was to better understand the role these coalitions have played in supporting what they are calling “digital equity ecosystems” in their communities during the challenges of the pandemic.

In our Digital Beat blog post announcing the report, Susan and I argued that based on our report, “we believe there are several federal policy recommendations that we can make moving forward. On their transition-team website, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have made it a priority to promote universal broadband. In order to achieve this goal, we argue that the new administration must connect its economic recovery agenda to its work to promote racial equity.”

We conclude the post by sharing the following four steps that the new administration should take to make their economic recovery and racial equity priorities a reality:

  1. Make broadband affordable for low-income communities of color.
  2. Support second chances for economic success through digital literacy programs.
  3. Ensure care workers receive training and support to help promote digital and racial equity.
  4. Make federal funding opportunities available for digital inclusion organizations.

Read the full descriptions of each recommendations in our full blog post on the Benton Institute for Internet & Society’s website.

Digital Equity Ecosystems

Digital Equity EcosystemsRecently, in our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University we have started a new research project to investigate what we are calling Digital Equity Ecosystems. This project builds on the excellent work of researchers and practitioners in the Digital Equity Lab at The New School, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Detroit Community Technology Project, and others. We define digital equity ecosystems as the following:

Digital Equity Ecosystems are interactions between individuals, populations, communities, and their larger sociotechnical environments that all play a role in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice.

Our research in this area seeks to understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and families without household internet access and how digital inclusion coalitions across the nation have responded in turn. The goal of the study is to provide data and evidence to help local, state, and federal policymakers in the U.S. develop more effective digital equity strategies nationwide.

Findings from the study will also be useful for key stakeholders working to promote economic and racial justice in communities struggling with poverty during COVID-19 and after the pandemic ends. This is because, as we know from scholars such as Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Chris Gilliard, Virginia Eubanks, and many others who have noted that, the digital divide is rooted in systemic injustices and structural inequalities in our society. Therefore, we are keenly focused on the social, rather than the technological, solutions to digital inequality. We believe that a social ecological approach using participatory methods rooted in community knowledge and expertise is the pathway forward in this approach.

The publication of the first phase of our research to be published in 2020 is supported by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.