Digital Inclusion Fellowship: Update and Milestones

The first cohort of Fellows began their placements in July 2015. Now, halfway through their one-year program and 6 months into our first administration of this new program, we are extremely proud of the progress made already and inspired at the potential to continue scaling and building out this valuable program.

There are community organizations across the country that want to tackle the digital divide, but don’t have the right resources or expertise to get started. A year ago, we partnered with Google Fiber to provide some of these groups their own in-house digital literacy experts to create new digital inclusion programs, in addition to sharing opportunities for the entire nonprofit sector to learn from leading practitioners about addressing the digital divide in all missions.

We helped recruit, train, and place 16 fellows in organizations dedicated to empowering their neighbors on issues varying from workforce development to technology consulting. Our first cohort of Fellows, who started in July 2015 in eight cities, have become digital inclusion experts and have linked up with a broader network of digital inclusion practitioners and advocates.

Here are some of the program milestones we hit this year:

Program Milestones

✓  Fellows Trained in Digital Inclusion

To start their Fellowship terms, all Fellows participated in a week-long orientation and training program that included project management, digital literacy training practices, awareness campaign planning and management, volunteer recruitment and training methods, best practices from digital inclusion research, and more. The orientation program connected Fellows with leading practitioners including Norma Hernandez with Everyone On, Blair Levin with The Brookings Institute, and Kami Griffiths with Community Technology Network, as well as staff from both NTEN and Google Fiber.

✓  Projects Scoped and Launched

All 16 Fellows have year-long program plans in place with regular support meetings on challenges and progress with NTEN and their City Host manager. To date, Fellows have conducted needs assessments, landscape and community analysis, pilot projects and classes, public outreach and awareness events, and launched computer labs and training classes. Fellows working on Train-the-Trainer projects have compiled curriculum, begun recruitment of volunteers and participants, and some are already underway with initial trainings. Fellows working on digital literacy, awareness, and local capacity building are making marked progress with partnerships, courses, and new recruitment efforts. As we pass the halfway point in their Fellowship terms, all Fellows are expanding the numbers or types of classes provided and creating opportunities for more community members to benefit from their work.

✓  Increased Local Funding for Digital Inclusion

All 15 City Hosts successfully raised project or program-based funds to directly support the implementation work of the Fellows. These funds were matched by NTEN, ensuring that all Fellow projects have a minimum budget sufficient to cover expenses related to program planning, expansion, and production.

✓  Raised National Conversation on Digital Inclusion

The launch of the Digital Inclusion Fellowship garnered a great deal of press coverage, and we were thrilled to see the interest sparked across the country around the role of digital inclusion efforts in various communities. We’ve archived articles on the website from the initial launch as well as ongoing media coverage.

Beyond local news coverage, NTEN wants to increase visibility of digital inclusion in the national dialogue, especially amongst the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. Of particular note are two recent NTEN publications, “Digital Inclusion and Technical Divides,” a collection of articles and interviews, and the research report conducted in partnership with Mobile Citizen, Digital Adoption Report with a companion Recommendations and Resources.

NTEN produces online educational programs open to the public each month, addressing various topics and specific barriers related to digital inclusion. These programs are free for Fellows and for City Host staff. Recent webinars include:

NTEN is also raising awareness of the diversity of digital inclusion programs by elevating Fellows’ voices on the NTEN website. Fellow-contributed articles highlight their observations and experiences in the field as well as stories directly from their programs.

In October, NTEN presented at Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide, sharing an overview of the Digital Inclusion Fellowship model and theory of change, to a very warm reception and many new potential contributors and partners.

Program Learnings

It can’t be said enough just how proud we are of this program and the individual contributions to real impact that the Fellows and City Hosts are making. As with everything we do at NTEN, we anticipated we would learn a lot during our work and find lessons we could share with others and opportunities to help us reflect these lessons and iterate on our model in future cohorts.

  • Focus on Critical Missions: We continue to believe (and have experienced) that digital inclusion needs to be incorporated into how every mission is accomplished. In order to better support both City Hosts and Fellows in a national program, we have identified the need to narrow the types of organizations included in the Fellowship. This is not a reflection on the work or specific projects in Cohort 1, but on the practical ability to meet the needs of cohort members. Feedback from our City Hosts and Fellows has helped us identify this need and will continue to help us shape how we create and deliver better support – whether that be direct training, mentorship, or access to information and resources – for all of them.
  • Increase Collaboration: An important component of the national program is creating ongoing connections across the network. We’ve seen new organizational relationships formed through this program already and want to better support these opportunities and reinforce their value. This includes supporting relationships amongst the Fellows between cities, facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration between City Hosts both locally and nationally, and more visibly bringing attention to both successful projects or models as well as areas of need to a broader community.
  • Narrow Fellow Project Scopes: Sure, individual projects have the nuance of the specific communities participating and the influence of the mission of the City Host organization. Lifting up a little, though, we can see similarities between larger outcomes and project goals between Fellows in different organizations and cities. Maintaining a level of focus at this higher level and being more intentional with Fellows that the scope of their projects are the same can better position them for cross-city collaboration, shared learning, and regular knowledge sharing.

Future Planning

With the successes from the current Fellows inspiring us, and the lessons we’ve gained through this first year of administration, we are excited to launch into formal planning for the second cohort of Fellows and beyond. In the coming weeks, we will be able to share the scope of the program for the next cohort, including the cities with City Hosts and Fellows and the timelines for those applications.

Amy Sample Ward
Driven by a belief that the nonprofit technology community can be a movement-based force for positive change, Amy is NTEN’s CEO and former membership director. Her prior experience in direct service, policy, philanthropy, and capacity-building organizations has also fueled her aspirations to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for all organizations. Amy inspires the NTEN team and partners around the world to believe in community-generated change. She believes technology can help nonprofits reach their missions more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively, and she’s interested in everything from digital equity to social innovation.