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.

Research Cited in CSR Report

Congressional Research ServiceThe Congressional Research Service is a department within the Library of Congress that has been providing timely research to the U.S. Congress that is “objective, authoritative and confidential, thereby contributing to an informed national legislature,” since 1914.

I am honored to share the news that my research on Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption published by the Benton Foundation was featured in a April 6, 2020 report by the CSR, titled “State Broadband Initiatives: Selected State and Local Approaches as Potential Models for Federal Initiatives to Address the Digital Divide.”

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Community Informatics Lab @ SLIS

I am excited to announce the launch of the Community Informatics Lab in the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science. The lab will feature community informatics research and projects led by faculty, students, and affiliates of the lab, as well as become the new home for The Journal of Community Informatics over this year. I look forward to providing further updates both here and on the new Community Informatics Lab website, located here: http://comminformatics.net

MLBN Explainer Video

Here is a fantastic video, produced by Carson and Jessikha Block, that provides an overview of our Measuring Library Broadband Networks (MLBN) project. It’s a wonderful description of our research, which is funded by a two-year grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (award #LG-71-18-0110-18). to learn more about our research, please visit our project website at http://slis.simmons.edu/blogs/mlbn/