On December 14th, we hosted our final Smart City Hub Meetup of the year with special guest speakers David Keyes (Seattle IT), Azmeena Hasham (Verizon), and Bob Akers (e-Stewards). Thus far, the meetups have been focused on emerging technologies such as broadband and sensors, connected & autonomous vehicles, blockchain, cybersecurity, shared mobility platforms and advanced data analytics. But last week, the conversation shifted to an even more critical aspect of any Smart City – people.
As technology becomes woven into every aspect of our lives, it’s important to ensure everyone has equal access to these new technologies. Because of the stark contrast between availability and accessibility, many cities and communities are making digital equity and inclusion a top priority. But what exactly is “digital equity” and “digital inclusion,” and what does it really mean?
Digital Equity vs Digital Inclusion
While there are various definitions, municipalities such as Seattle and federal documents such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Building Digital Communities capture the essence of these terms:
Digital Equity ensures all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.
Think of “digital equity” as the goal – and “digital inclusion” as the strategy to reach the goal:
Digital Inclusion is the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to, and use of, information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Here are some key general strategies on engaging citizens to achieve digital equity:
Working toward digital equity involves intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical barriers to access and use technology. In 2016 the Seattle IT Community Technology program released the Digital Equity Action Plan, which was developed in partnership with more than 100 community leaders, non-profit organizations, companies, and members of the public. The plan charts City focus and action on three goals for increasing digital equity:
Goal #1: Skills Training
Create and deliver educational opportunities for residents to gain technology skills, be successful in employment, entrepreneurship, lifelong learning, civic engagement, and use of essential online services.
- Expand digital skills training programs
- Prepare qualified trainers in tech centers
- Provide additional resources and support for community-based organizations
Goal #2: Devices and Support
Ensure affordable, available, and sufficient devices and technical support.
- Increase assistive tech (help those with different abilities) at community sites
- Increase support for device ownership programs
Goal #3: Connectivity
Ensure sufficient options for affordable and available internet connectivity.
- Improve high-speed internet infrastructure
- Improve internet availability to individuals
- Improve connectivity in public spaces
From population growth to rapid urbanization, communities are facing new challenges to maintaining high standards of livability, resiliency and sustainability. Verizon helps public-and private-sector planners increase economic development, drive citizen engagement and promote sustainability with their suite of smart city solutions. When it comes to digital equity, Verizon is delivering citizen engagement experiences by connecting people with their communities while providing critical security, transportation and wayfinding solutions as well as connectivity. Technology and data can play a part in exposing a problem, facilitating a response, or incentivizing a change.
Examples of citizen engagement solutions include:
1. High-speed internet access: Availability and affordability of high-speed internet access allows all citizens to realize the benefits of connectivity. Public Wi-Fi, low cost NG-PON2 (Next-Generation Passive Optical Network 2) and fast 5G Broadband are key to enabling connectivity to all.
2. Urban engagement platforms: Digital signage and kiosks provide engaging community technology hubs that connect, inform, inspire and support residents where they live, work and play.
3. Open data: IoT development platforms can help put smart city solutions to work faster. Cities can quickly take advantage of IoT/M2M technologies developed and customized for specific needs of the community. The platform’s web-based, open development environment helps simplify and accelerate the entire process by putting all of the tools in one place. This allows for creation of new applications that will help demonstrate accountability, seek citizen input, provide community information and notices, encourage participation through gamification and help improve the built environment.
In 2017, e-Stewards announced a new program to help overcome the digital divide and provide computers and internet access to low-income communities. The e-Stewards Digital Equity program is designed to combine the forces of cities, enterprise companies and e-Stewards Certified Refurbisher/Recycler to help solve the problems of the digital disadvantaged. This program, which will be officially launched on January 1, 2018, promotes ethical refurbishment for digital inclusion across North America.
The benefits of this program are significant:
1. Cities benefit by finally having low-cost, high-quality equipment.
2. Enterprises benefit from having their IT asset liabilities carefully managed while garnering excellent public relations.
3. e-Stewards Refurbishers/Recyclers benefit by expanding their market to another realm of asset management services while building fruitful community relationships.
4. The low-income recipient benefits by access to a New Device Experience at very low cost.
5. The environment benefits by lowering the carbon and toxic footprint from information technology use by virtue of giving longer life to resource intensive products.
We are at an intersection where the latest technology innovations and the creation of social impact efforts are being utilized by non-profit, enterprise governmental and entrepreneurial entities, holding great promise in benefiting underserved and vulnerable communities.
As stated by the City of Seattle, Digital equity can:
1. Offer better quality of life and empower communities through civic and cultural participation.
2. Create educational and economic opportunities that lead to economic success for all residents.
3. Ensure residents can connect through social networking and mobile devices.
4. Provide everyone the opportunity to use necessary health, consumer, legal, and social services.
5. Contribute to more self-sufficient residents, community-based organizations, and small businesses.
If you are interested in leveraging technology to accelerate social change in underserved communities, please join the discussion. While we’ve started off with this small focus group, we’d like to expand this to the community at large. Join us an share how your strategic, tactical and practical solutions will fit the distinct values, vision, mission for your local communities and help them towards a more equitable and inclusive future.
Check out the full video of the discussion below:
[NOTE ON VIDEO: On the web, the sound is being muted – It can be turned on by clicking the microphone icon at the bottom and clicking “Enable 2_USB_audio_codec audio”.]