What Is the Digital Equity Strategy Plan?
On March 9, 2017, Kansas City Mo.’s City Council adopted the Digital Equity Strategy Plan. The Plan focuses on three main objectives: to clarify the state of the digital divide locally and internationally, to describe the city’s work to date to close the digital divide, and to propose next steps to advance digital equity in the city. The ultimate goal of the Plan is to provide residents with the ability to bridge the digital divide and achieve economic success.
The Digital Equity Strategy Plan also highlights six areas of highest need for promoting digital equity, including:
1. Use of the Internet for the Consumer: Broadband Access, Computing Devices and Digital Literacy
2. Use of the Internet for the Learner: Education, Lifelong Learning and Distance Learning
3. Use of the Internet for the Digital Citizen: Digital Citizenship and Civic Tech
4. Use of the Internet for Employment: Computer Technical Skills, Workforce Training and Distance Working
5. Use of the Internet for the Entrepreneur: Business Creation, Job Creation, and Home-based Business
6. Collaboration Around Access to the Internet: Sharing and participating in digital equity strategies locally, regionally and nationally
How was it Developed?
The announcement in 2011 that we were selected for Google Fiber’s deployment really helped bring digital inclusion to everyone’s attention in Kansas City. Google did a study to assess where there were digital gaps in the community, and it was revealed that a quarter of our residents didn’t have high-speed internet access and 17 percent had no access at all.
The Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion formed not long after and partnered with Connecting for Good to address this digital divide. The Coalition attempted to identify what the city could do to uniquely address the digital divide, and how we could partner with digital inclusion practitioners to uplift their hands on initiatives. We engaged early on in national initiatives like Next Century Cities and NDIA, which supplemented our efforts.
Before the plan was finalized and brought to Council we convened five community engagement meetings through which we were able to gain input from members of the community to ensure that we weren’t just legislating down, but rather we were meeting real needs. We gained a lot of insight from the community about what resources and information were most needed. Meeting with the public particularly highlighted for us we needed to tackle both the lack of access and also the lack of awareness to access points in Kansas City.
To create the Digital Equity Strategy Plan, we collected data on the digital divide, the effect of our efforts to date (including our participation in organizations like Next Century Cities), the issues we still faced, and our goals to fix them. We then educated the City Council on the digital divide, and emphasized the importance of collaboration with public, private, and nonprofit partners. Our efforts gained momentum in the last year, and the more the Council heard the more they were inclined to do something.
Through the Plan we wanted to ensure that individuals have access to resources, skills training, equipment, and the opportunity to access better employment, business opportunities, and civic engagement initiatives. We created action items for Council to take to meet those goals, and across the board members were in support of the plan and enlightened by the information we provided. The plan was adopted by resolution through the Council, and we immediately began working to meet our goals.
What Has the Impact Been?
It’s a huge feat that we have raised the issue of digital inclusion to the City Council and that they are all committed to finding resources to tackle this problem. The city has also worked very hard to create a good partnerships, including with organizations like Google Fiber, and the results have been significant. For example, before deploying, Google Fiber agreed to connect anchor institutions in neighborhoods that passed a certain “fiber threshold,” but their study revealed that many of our lower income neighborhoods, which would benefit most from those connections, didn’t meet the threshold. Google and the community really stepped up to solve this problem, and as a result Google built out 94% of our city. Now, the vast majority of our citizens have access.
As a first step we are going to have a half-day summit with a panel of digital inclusion practitioners and some of the residents who have gone through digital literacy training. We hope to then use this opportunity to bring awareness to existing programs, sign up residents for classes and low cost service, and help them buy a low cost computer.
We’re also working to build a Community Learning Center Network that will string together locations that offer different resources such as 3D printers, digital literacy training, and other assets to create an ecosystem of free connectivity and training. Our goal is to have a public access computer available to every student in the district within a 3-5 block walk from their home. We’re also continuing to work on our digital upcycling program, which collects donated computers from regional and county governments, local businesses, and community members. The computers will then be refurbished and distributed to low income residents to ensure they not only have access, but also a device to utilize that access point.
The Digital Equity Strategy Plan calls for an annual review and update to make sure it is always current and meeting needs. As technology changes the plan will need to change as well so that we can make sure it is always actively working to close the digital divide. We’ll seek public comment regularly, and we will try to have the half-day event at least once or twice a year to keep the community engaged.
How Can Other Cities Learn From Your Success?
Keep doing what cities do best: public private partnerships. You can’t do digital inclusion all by yourself. Some cities have tried or are trying to do it alone, and it is much harder to successfully implement these solutions alone than in collaboration with community partners.
Identify what you’re already doing for your citizens internally as city government to help them access online tools. Make your tools and resources much more easily accessible. Focus on apps so that smartphone dependent communities can access resources easily. Increase your service level and decrease cost by having better digital services.
And of course, join Next Century Cities. Gain experience from best practices that other cities create instead of having to learn from your mistakes, and partner with other cities whenever you can.
About Rick Usher and McClain Bryant:
Rick Usher is the Assistant City Manager for Entrepreneurship & Small Business in Kansas City, Mo.
McClain Bryant is the Director of Policy for Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James