Digital Inclusion Update
BeNeighbors.org—Creating more informed, active, and connected neighbors and neighborhoods.
A lot of words get bandied about to talk about how we can work together to co-create thriving neighborhoods through the E-Democracy Neighbor forums …and sometimes we get push back for some of them.
“Digital Inclusion? I don’t want to be part of anything racially motivated.”
“You’re focusing your efforts on culturally diverse and lower income communities? Why would I want to be part of that?”
The answer is, because it’s important. And we’re extremely fortunate to be doing this work—intentional outreach and online civic engagement targeting the full spectrum of community members—here in the Twin Cities. According to the Knight Foundation, “Ultimately, success at making democracy work and sustaining healthy communities requires engaged individuals, organizations, and institutions.”
Healthy communities are places where children and families thrive. Schools are good, streets are safe, parks are clean, wage-earners are employed at businesses that are prospering, people have the resources to support quality of life pursuits beyond meeting basic needs, and local government services reflect the will of the people who endorse a stable tax base. But how do we know the will of the people?
It used to be these conversations happened only at public meetings and local gatherings among a limited group of people with shared social capital: white, male, educated, upper middle class. Decisions were made by a few for the many.
But with the advent of the Internet it doesn’t have to be that way.
Steven Clift coined the term e-democracy in 1994 to refer to how we use information and communications technologies to inform the public agenda.
In 1998 the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) analyzing telephone and computer penetration rates that introduced the Digital Divide.
Since that time, we’ve evolved in our understanding of what it means to use online technologies to build thriving communities.
Getting Digitally Connected in the Twin Cities
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- The term Digital Divide refers to the differences between populations based on demographics and geography that have Digital Access. Originally used in a binary “on-off” way—either you had access or you didn’t—today, there are more variations from describing speed (dial-up to high speed), to equipment (desk top, lap top, notepad, mobile devices, etc.), to connecting points—at home, work and public facilities such as schools, libraries, and publicly accessible computer labs.
- Digital Tools and Digital Technologies describe the equipment, the desk tops, lap tops, notepads, and mobile devices previously mentioned, as well as the “Apps”—an acronym for the software applications developed to run the equipment so as to accomplish results.
- Digital Literacy refers to skills people develop to effectively use Digital Technologies and Digital Literacy Training refers to the programs created to deliver the training people need to develop those skills.
And as researchers further investigated the Digital Divide they began to talk about Digital Differences in terms of how people access and use the Internet and Digital Disparities to describe the Digital Inequalities between how different populations of people have that access and how they’re using the Internet for various purposes.
And yes, there are Digital Inequalities when it comes to how populations of people use the Internet to inform the public agenda.
According to the April 2013 Pew Internet report, 34% of all adults participated in online civic communication and 39% participated in civic communication offline in 2012, but:
- 47% of households making over $75,000 per year participate this way compared to 24% of households making less than $30,000
- And when looking at race/ethnicity, while 38% of Whites participated in online civic communication, only 23% of Blacks and 17% of Latinos did so
The racial gap in “learning about a political or social issue” is less than with other measure where 46% Whites, 38% Blacks, and 34% Latinos did so. However, “taking action” based on what was learned about an issue has an almost 2 to 1 gap by race with 20% of Whites taking some kind of action compared to 12% for Blacks, and 11% Latinos.
After nearly two decades, we continue to see that those who already “show up” dominating online community spaces.
E-Democracy seeks to demonstrate that all communities, regardless of income and diversity, can be part of an integrated neighbors online revolution. We focus on less represented groups within our most highly diverse neighborhoods to create inclusive online spaces where neighbors can collaborate to improve neighborhoods, spark community problem solving, and build healthy communities.
With the recent Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC) award we hope to build on and extend the Knight-funded inclusive engagement we’re doing in Saint Paul to promote the equity goals of the CCFC.
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