Policy, Not Just Programs, Needed To Bridge Digital Divide

In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort, and they have shared their work with us. Leslie Scott gave us an update on her work with the Full Employment Council in Kansas City, Missouri.

Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Kansas City to go in the next 5 years?

I would like to see the City of Kansas City, Missouri adopt a digital inclusion strategic plan, hire staff to implement that plan, and become more involved with the funding of local organizations and programs to bridge the digital divide, much like model cities Austin, Chicago, and Seattle.

The lessons learned from ConnectHome KC could be applied to the broader community, as well. Public-private partnerships and collaborations could help those in the digital inclusion trenches do more with the currently available funding, resulting in a bigger impact on the individual and community levels as the business community increases its involvement. By donating more decommissioned devices for refurbishing and redeployment and getting more training partners to come on board, we’ll be able to widen and deepen the digital literacy skills of our residents who have been on the wrong side of the digital divide.

I believe our Digital Inclusion Coalition could be instrumental in programming and advocacy roles. I hope to see it evolve to be more of a local version of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), working to convene those in the digital inclusion space to collaborate on a shared vision of closing the digital divide in Kansas City and to influence policy decisions that move us closer to this goal.

What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?

Reach out to your fellow Fellows! We had an outstanding group of smart, resourceful professionals but didn’t leverage each other’s knowledge to the extent we could have. Everyone came to the Fellowship with a well-developed area of expertise, which varied from person to person. Get to know each other’s strengths and make the most of them to help you in your own organization and to make the biggest impact as a cohort.

What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?

I was somewhat surprised by how people working in the national digital inclusion space don’t interact in a more meaningful way. The NDIA is starting to help people working on digital inclusion connect. I think this is definitely an opportunity for growth in the digital inclusion community.

How have you grown this year?

I believe this Fellowship has earned me a place at the table for some important conversations about digital inclusion that are happening on both a local and national level. Because of my work, I am included in discussions with city officials about our city’s digital inclusion strategic plan and have been consulted by a doctoral student doing research on how technology is changing cities, with a special focus on Kansas City.

I’ve also had the opportunity to be involved with the planning of the national Net Inclusion Summit and served as a moderator for a panel discussion on digital inclusion research conducted by researchers at highly respected organizations such as Pew Research Center and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. This is especially exciting as these are the sources I drew upon to grow my body of knowledge on this topic.

I’m thrilled to be able to interact with these researchers, who have had such a significant impact on my work. I’m more confident that I can engage in high-level dialogue with these and other experts in the field as a result of serving as a Digital Inclusion Fellow.

How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?

I am a systems thinker, which made limiting my work to one organization somewhat challenging during my Fellowship. The digital divide is a multi-faceted issue and calls for a multi-faceted approach. I am interested in moving away from direct programming to policy work that enables us to attack this issue from many different sides. While I admire and respect the much-needed work done from the programming side, I believe I can be more effective by focusing on the ecosystem of digital inclusion and how I can connect the nonprofit and government sectors, as well as the private sector, to tackle this issue from a systems perspective. Now that I have a deeper understanding of the digital inclusion issue because of my time as a Fellow, I can be an effective advocate for policies that move us nearer to closing the digital divide.

Leslie Scott is currently working on FEC’s Tech Hire Initiative in Kansas City.


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Leslie Scott