As we’re at the buzzer with our final reporting for this project, I wanted to share a couple of the thoughts I’ve had about doing this work. Intense engagement with digital inclusion for the past year has been transformative on many levels and I’m grateful to have been have been a part of the important work that the National Digital Inclusion Alliance is doing.
There is no stool
As a metaphor, the “three-legged stool” of digital inclusion is misleadingly simple. Identifying that affordable broadband access, Internet-capable devices, and training to use both, are interdependent components is a great framework for starting the conversations about the digital divide(s) and taking real steps towards change. However, digital inclusion is inherently about social justice, and can only be grasped through indirect observation.
Trying to do the work in a space that eludes definition can feel quite disorienting. More often than I’d like to admit, the enormity of digital inclusion as a social justice problem was overwhelming to the point of anxiety. The only thing that really helped me was to reframe that lack of a clear definition as an opportunity to try a lot of different things and see what worked. When we get stuck trying to figure out what digital inclusion looks like, we forget that that it doesn’t actually look like anything. To needlessly quote from The Matrix, I’ve started taking on the perspective that there is no spoon. I mean, stool.
At the end of the day, you won’t really have a choice but to take small steps towards an elusive goal. It helps to try to set out a roadmap for yourself, but brace yourself for the fact that it will always be shifting. Use the formlessness as an invitation to take chances.
Use your connectedness to benefit those who are disconnected
One of the best parts about this year has been getting to hear from many different types of people. “Convening diverse stakeholders” may sound like office jargon, but the reality is that it is the only way get that critical community buy-in. It should also be a constant activity rather than a finite pursuit as amplifying the voices of everyone–especially those groups who have historically been excluded or overlooked–is what makes digital inclusion work impactful. Gaining multiple viewpoints helps us to better understand the importance of this work and how to strategically direct our actions.
Expanding your own network takes time, support from others, and sometimes just sheer dumb luck. I benefited from being connected to a wide network of amazing people through my connection with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Arizona State Library. In addition to better understanding the complex nature of digital inclusion through hearing the stories of others, I was able to connect with partners who could collaborate on the the work I wanted to do in the space. At best, we can use our connections to figure out how to bring more perspectives to the table and demonstrate how everyone has a stake in digital equity.