Using Technology to Reach Low Income People

Submitted by Ali on Fri, 03/30/2007 - 7:18am

The success of your work depends, in part, on making sure you deliver services in the ways your constituents want and can use. Joyce Raby, a Program Services Analyst with Legal Services Corporation, knows that technology is often the best and most efficient way to deliver services, and that you need to look at technology differently when your services are targeted to low income people.

Read on for a quick look into Joyce and her work, and learn more about this topic at Joyce’s session “How Low Income Individuals – Your Clients - Use Technology” at the NTC on Thursday. April 5th, at 1:30 pm.



Why is the use of technology in program delivery important to nonprofits?
“Without meaning to sound flip, because it is the wave of the future. Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet and American Life Project has discussed what he calls "digital natives," or kids born in 1985 or later when personal computers were just turning 10 years old. People born in this era have never known a world that does not include computing and telecommunications and they have an intimate relationship with these technologies. That relationship has fundamentally shifted their expectations.

“Our clients of tomorrow will expect to be able to contact and communicate with social service providers of all kinds using these technologies. The cell phone is a great example: according to the CTIA (The International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications industry) almost 75% of individuals in the US over the age of 15 have a cell phone, and that number is across all income levels. So while not all technologies are available to all people - nonprofits need identify and incorporate what technologies their clients do use into how they plan on communicating with and serving their constituents in the future.

“Digital natives are moving into their middle twenties and some of them will need new or continuing services. And they will expect to learn about and obtain services they need using technologies they already know. Just like we make accommodations for the elderly in terms of how we provide services, we need to make adjustments for digital natives.”How did you get interested in using technology for nonprofit program delivery?“I currently run a small grant program for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) www.lsc.gov. LSC is funded by Congress to provide civil legal services to low income individuals in the US and its territorial protectorates. LSC does this by funding 138 programs around the country to deliver services - we call them our basic field grantees.
“In 2000 Congress gave LSC $15 million over three years to competitively award funds to our programs to use technology. This is the grant program I run. It is a separate program called the Technology Initiative Grant program or TIG. TIG endeavors to use technology to help our basic field grantees use technology in two broad ways; 1) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their programs, and 2) to use technology to delivery services.

“Congress has continued to fund this program in varies amounts for the past seven years. This year we have $2.1 million to give away. Our basic field grantees submit applications during our grant competition and we select and fund the best out of that pool. To aid that effort, TIG tries to stay abreast of current research around not only technology but also how our client population interacts with technology. Disclaimer/Caveat: TIG can only provide funding to programs that are already funded by the Legal Services Corporation to provide civil legal services to low income people.”


How did you get interested in using technology for nonprofit program delivery?

“I currently run a small grant program for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). LSC is funded by Congress to provide civil legal services to low income individuals in the US and its territorial protectorates. LSC does this by funding 138 programs around the country to deliver services - we call them our basic field grantees.

“In 2000 Congress gave LSC $15 million over three years to competitively award funds to our programs to use technology. This is the grant program I run. It is a separate program called the Technology Initiative Grant program or TIG. TIG endeavors to use technology to help our basic field grantees use technology in two broad ways; 1) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their programs, and 2) to use technology to delivery services.

“Congress has continued to fund this program in varies amounts for the past seven years. This year we have $2.1 million to give away. Our basic field grantees submit applications during our grant competition and we select and fund the best out of that pool. To aid that effort, TIG tries to stay abreast of current research around not only technology but also how our client population interacts with technology. Disclaimer/Caveat: TIG can only provide funding to programs that are already funded by the Legal Services Corporation to provide civil legal services to low income people.”


What do you think is the most surprising finding about how low income individuals use technology?
“There are two - the number of low income individuals with cell phones, and how hard low income individuals work to get onto the Internet. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Internet and American Life Project, low income users are getting Internet access at home (in some cases using a disproportionate percent of their income to do so), are going to their kids schools to access the Internet, are going to libraries, community colleges, all the places that we typically think of but sometimes we fail to remember the effort required to get there.

“There is a higher "transaction cost" to going online for low income users than for higher income users that can simply go into the living room or home office. Low income users must get to a location, during hours when it is open, and then learn how to use it when they get there. The fact that the trend continues upward - more and more low income users are making this extra effort - says to me that they "get it". They know information and the web has power and they are looking to tap into the power for themselves and their families.?


What do you think is the biggest technological trend to watch in nonprofit program delivery?
“Web content, purchasing, and sadly advertising on cell phones. With the proliferation of cell phones and the use of cell phones in other countries already demonstrating advanced functionality - the wallet phone in Japan and Norway's Opera mobile web browser - will push into the United States over the next decade if not sooner. I read somewhere on the web the other day that soon pornography will be available for cell phones, which may make riding the Metro here in D.C. just a little weirder. And I certainly don't want to comment on what it means for cell phone users who drive.

“I would also like to see more municipal wireless networks established specifically to provide low cost, in-home access to low income communities. I don't know how Congress or the phone/cable industry will deal with this issue but the more tools we can put in the hands of low income people the better.”