Civic Hacking for Digital Inclusion Week

This article was co-authored by Rick UsherFounder and CEO of The Usher Garage LLC and Former Assistant City Manager of Kansas City, MO, and James O’Brien, Business Development Account Manager at co:census.

Civic Hacking for Digital Inclusion Week

The Covid-19 pandemic has exascaberted issues of digital access & digital literacy across the world, making digital inclusion a topic at the top of most governments’ agendas.  The first week or so of October is Digital Inclusion Week: an annual campaign where practitioners in the digital inclusion space highlight their work & host events to promote digital equity across our nation.  This year, the co:census team wanted to support these efforts by hosting a Digital Inclusion Hackathon.  Our event had a panel of practitioners in the space engage in a riveting discussion around digital equity, followed by event participants breaking out into teams to civic hack issues of digital inclusion that were presented to them. 

And the Winner Is...

The winning team chose to tackle the homework gap in Kansas City.  By leveraging mySidewalk’s KC Connectivity report as their open data source of choice, the winning team proposed an expansion of the KC Library’s Digital Navigators program as a solution to the presented problem.  The homework gap is defined as lack of home internet services for students; we know that pre-pandemic, 70% of teachers assigned homework that required students to have a home internet connection and a computer.  During the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools transitioned rapidly to distance learning and unfortunately, over 30% of the students in school districts where home internet adoption is low were unable to complete the 2020 school year.

Our biggest takeaways

With information that students across the KC region are receiving access to the internet via mobile WiFi hotspots and payment assistance for home internet services through a number of sources, including the Internet Access Support Program at KC Digital Drive and the Emergency Broadband Benefit at the FCC, the winning team has recognized the need for additional outreach and support efforts being provided in the KC Library’s TechConnect Hotline and TechAccess services.  The KC Library is part of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance team, developing and implementing Digital Navigator programs across the US such as the recent launch of the TechConnect Hotline which has shown success in closing the digital divide. 

Increased staffing in the Digital Navigators Program will enable more students to receive assistance in signing up for the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit or the Internet Access Assistance Program.

Digital inclusion initiatives seeking to close the homework gap ensure that students:

  1. have access to reliable, high-speed internet services;
  2. have a PC, laptop or tablet necessary for distance learning, and;
  3. have the digital life skills necessary to successfully use the educational services and resources available on the internet. 

The big takeaway from our evening of discussion & civic hacking is simple: there are a lot of people doing amazing work in this space & there are big problems in regards to digital inclusion that need to be solved.  Now, more than ever, it is extremely important for everyone to be connected and have the skills to navigate their devices & the internet.  To learn more about digital inclusion & how you can contribute to this important work, check out the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.