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Community-Based Solutions for Digital Advancement
2022 Digital Integrators Pilot Program

In April 2022, Centri Tech Foundation (CTF) launched the Digital Integrators Pilot Program to foster community-led innovations in digital equity. The foundation awarded $195,000 to community development organizations working in five U.S. cities to connect digital skills to equitable economic development. Our aim was to highlight community based approaches for digital advancement that could inform local digital equity planning efforts.

The new program marked CTF’s first on-the-ground initiative to promote digital advancement, which we define as a new mindset to leverage investments in digital access and adoption to promote economic justice in the digital economy.

 

The Digital Integrators grantees’ pilot projects demonstrate how community based organizations can leverage broadband access and adoption to continuously improve and modernize workforce development and economic mobility programs. From deploying affordable broadband networks and connecting residents across public housing in the Greater Boston area, to building a pipeline for digital workforce development in Detroit, to modeling a 2-generation approach to digital skills learning for families in Washington, DC, the Digital Integrators grantees tackled a spectrum of challenges that cities face in the promotion of digital advancement.

2022 Digital Integrators Pilot Program

Digital Integrators are individuals and organizations that work to promote the digital advancement of their communities.

"Innovation and momentum for digital advancement must come from the ground up. We are proud to showcase these community-based solutions that are seeking to build an inclusive digital economy. The Digital Integrators’ pilots and the insights they provide are both inspiring and instructional for all leaders working to bring about transformative change for communities."

 

Marta Urquilla, President of Centri Tech Foundation

Centri Tech Foundation selected these organizations for their leadership at the national and local level, their commitment to expanding digital advancement for low-income communities as a strategy for increasing economic mobility, and the innovation of their proposed community-based approaches to address digital inequities in systemic ways. Together, the cohort tackled a spectrum of challenges that local communities face to promote digital advancement.

 

The Digital Integrators pilots included a range of solutions implemented in diverse contexts:
 

  • A regional planning approach that facilitated collaboration among three public housing authorities and community groups to deploy broadband infrastructure and test adoption strategies in low-income and immigrant neighborhoods in the greater Boston area.
     

  • Building a local talent pipeline for digital workforce development in Detroit by training residents as Digital Stewards to install community networks, developing a train-the-trainer curriculum and hiring alumni to provide instruction, and connecting graduates to local tech apprenticeships. 
     

  • Co-designing a 2-gen approach to digital skills training with community-based partners and families to provide ‘family digital literacy’ as a service in Washington, DC.
     

  • Deepening campus-community connections by hiring Digital Navigators from the neighborhood to promote digital advancement in Philadelphia. 
     

  • Embedding digital equity within an economic mobility coaching model to better support parents in the Bronx on their career and economic journeys.

Meet the Grantees

The 2022 Digital Integrators Pilot Program cohort included five nonprofit organizations in five U.S. cities:

Equitable Internet Initiative
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ExCITe Center at Drexel University
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LIFT-NY
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Metropolitan Area Planning Council
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Byte Back
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The program was evaluated in partnership with Dr. Colin Rhinesmith, Director of the Digital Equity Research Center. We are proud to share the findings and insights from that study.

 

Through interviews with directors and staff members of the organizations and observations of grantee cohort meetings, Rhinesmith identified three essential success factors and lessons learned. These are presented together as a Community Development Framework for Digital Advancement.

"Digital advancement is rooted in meaningful community development. By building intentional partnerships and centering the voices of those who are most impacted by digital inequities, policymakers can identify community-centered solutions to inform the creation of state digital equity plans."

 

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith, Director of the Digital Equity Research Center and Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Program Evaluation with Dr. Colin Rhinesmith

Insight 1

 

Meaningful Community Engagement, Intentional Community Partnerships, Strong Community Relationships are key to achieving digital advancement.

Insight 2

 

Digital advancement, rooted in meaningful community development strategies, promotes healthy digital equity ecosystems.

Insight 3

 

Centering digital advancement can help cities and states be more thoughtful and intentional in identifying digital equity barriers and co-designing measurable objectives with those most impacted by digital inequalities in IIJA State Digital Equity Planning.

Recommendations

1

Community-Based Organizations

Apply the Community Development Framework for Digital Advancement to local digital equity and inclusion efforts. Organizations can use the tool to guide program design, implementation and evaluation; partnership development and pursuit of common goals; and resident engagement that centers the “entire person.”

2

Intermediary Organizations

Provide strategic support for community organizations to design and adapt programs toward digital advancement. Intermediaries, such as regional planning councils and national organizations, can leverage resources, knowledge, and networks to strengthen local capacity, facilitate collaboration, and foster innovation.

3

Philanthropy

Support digital equity ecosystems. Funders can invest in programs for digital access, devices, tools, and skills. They can also fund digital equity planning and communities’ federal matching requirements. Funders can seed program innovation, support local coordination, and invest in digital equity leaders.

4

Government

Embrace digital advancement as a mindset for digital equity planning. In collaboration with their communities, local, state, and federal policymakers can identify barriers to equitable broadband access and adoption and co-design long-term strategies for digital advancement.

LIFT-NY member and parent learner Beverly (pictured, far left) joined Liberty Coca-Cola and the NYC Office of Technology and Innovation for LIFT-NY’s webinar, “Advancing Digital Literacy for Career Readiness”

LIFT-NY

Connecting parent learners to leadership skills and career pathways

 

As part of the Digital Integrators pilot, LIFT-NY increased its tech coaching and online learning support for Beverly, a parent learner and LIFT member who is completing a master’s degree in organizational leadership.

 

LIFT-NY’s partnership with Hostos Community College provided Beverly Microsoft Office training and a Chromebook. After serving as a panelist at LIFT-NY's LIFT & Learn event on Advancing Digital Literacy for Career Readiness, Beverly received mentorship and coaching from Liberty Coca-Cola and LIFT-NY on how to market herself to potential employers.

 

Beverly had set a career goal to shift from working as a case manager in the public sector to pursuing a private sector career. Liberty Coca-Cola and LIFT-NY staff helped Beverly identify transferable skills across a variety of roles, including procurement, relationship management, and project management.

 

Now, as Beverly approaches the end of her graduate program, she’s working with a LIFT coach to plan her next career move and secure a higher paying job.

Jaelen, the ExCITe Center’s first Digital Navigator hired from the community.

ExCITe Center at Drexel University

Centering residents in campus-community partnerships

 

College undergrad Jaelen thrives working in the community. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Atlanta, he moved back to his hometown during the pandemic. When an internship opened up at Drexel University in the neighborhood center where his grandmother worked as an outreach director, Jaelen jumped at the opportunity. At the time, the ExCITe Center was expanding its digital equity efforts, including a new initiative to hire neighborhood residents as Digital Navigators.

 

Previously, Digital Navigators were recruited and hired from within Drexel’s student body to provide digital access, skills training, and help desk support in the local community. Increased resident demand meant that the center needed to hire year-round staff who could establish trust with neighbors. Recognizing that the hiring model was neither sustainable nor aligned to residents’ needs, the ExCITe Center shifted its strategy to prioritize community hires. Jaelen’s magnetic personality and strong ties to the neighborhood were hard to miss, and he was soon hired as the center’s first-ever community resident Digital Navigator.

 

Jaelen hit the ground running. From training high school students to participate in digital equity planning to building a training-to-workforce pipeline for local youth to hosting FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks at the ExCITe Center, Jaelen is leveraging his community relationships to promote digital advancement for his neighbors while developing his own leadership and professional skills.

Neighbors attend a barbecue and Encanto movie night organized by the Chelsea Housing Authority at the Prattville Apartments

Metropolitan Area Planning Council

Co-designing regional digital advancement strategies 

 

When the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s (MAPC) digital services team set out to expand digital access in the Greater Boston region, they knew they could bring planning expertise and infrastructural capacity to the table. But achieving a sustained and positive impact among residents would require authentic relationships with community partners. Enter the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) and its supportive services manager, Matt Frank.

 

A lifelong Chelsea resident, former City Councilor, and City Council President, Matt has deep and longstanding ties to the community. With the full support and blessing of CHA executive leadership, Matt paved the way for trusted relationships between MAPC and Chelsea residents.

 

A series of barbecues organized with residents of CHA’s Prattville Apartments opened the door to MAPC staff, CHA, and residents working together to bring high-quality, affordable broadband, technology, and training to the community. This resident engagement approach was then replicated across the cities of Chelsea, Revere and Everett and served as the basis for MAPC’s Digital Integrators pilot to deliver home-based broadband access and digital literacy tools for residents.

 

As MAPC and partners grow and scale digital advancement efforts in the region, the experience of co-designing strategies with residents will ensure that future programs address language access and leverage community engagement and trust.

Community Stories

Resources

Preliminary Findings (PDF)

Full Report (PDF)

Centri Tech Foundation (CTF), along with a network of community development partners, seeks to connect low-income people to high-quality connectivity in the home and to resources that improve economic, health and livelihood outcomes in the digital economy. We believe digital advancement is a civil right. To achieve a sustainable future, one where everyone can fulfill their aspirations and thrive, requires an inclusive digital economy.

Colin Rhinesmith (he/him) is the Founder and Director of the Digital Equity Research Center at the Metropolitan New York Library Council, a Research Fellow with the Quello Center at Michigan State University, and a Senior Fellow with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. Previously, Dr. Rhinesmith was an Associate Professor and Director of the Community Informatics Lab in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons University. He has been a Google Policy Fellow, Adjunct Research Fellow with New America’s Open Technology Institute, and a Faculty Associate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Dr. Rhinesmith received his Ph.D. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Digital Equity Research Center (DERC) at the Metropolitan New York Library Council works with communities to better understand and co-design meaningful responses to local digital equity challenges. Toward this goal, DERC engages in community-based and participatory digital equity research to advance social, economic, and racial justice.

Kate Rivera (she/her) is Principal Consultant of Kate Rivera Solutions and Executive Director of the Technology Learning Collaborative in Philadelphia. She has extensive experience in digital equity and workforce development, and her career spans the nonprofit, higher education, and for-profit sectors. Previously, she oversaw a $17M project to close the digital divide that served over 5,000 participants in collaboration with more than 50 partner organizations. Ms. Rivera has an undergraduate degree in creative writing and an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship.

Laura Frances is a product and program developer focused on innovation and design principles in the public realm. Recently, she was a Program Director at Centri Tech Foundation, where she led the Digital Integrators Pilot Program and the Digital Advancement Municipal Index. Previously, she was entrepreneur-in-residence and head of product at Six Peak Capital. Laura served in the Obama White House, Massachusetts Statehouse, and European Parliament. She graduated from Northeastern University with a Bachelor's of Political Science and Economics and is currently pursuing a Master of City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Program Partners

For inquiries, email hello@centritechfdn.org