This month, we mark three years since NDIA first introduced the “digital navigator” model.
The first NDIA Digital Navigator Working Group met in April 2020 and worked quickly, with the pandemic and lockdown fueling the urgency to solve digital inequities. By July 2020, NDIA launched the concept of “Digital Navigators” into the field, releasing open-source information and resources that helped build the model from on-the-ground digital inclusion work in communities.
Since then, we’ve seen an explosion in the adoption and adaptation of the digital navigator model. As with any community-created, open-source project, the digital navigator model has taken on a life of its own, expanded, and evolved further than we anticipated.
NDIA has provided support, training, and guidance to many organizations that piloted and grew digital navigator programs. From workforce development centers, libraries, financial opportunity centers, healthcare facilities, city governments, and more, hundreds of digital navigator programs are now embedded within trusted community-based organizations. We’re also thrilled with the opportunity of expanding far beyond the original urban model for digital navigators. Today, 18 organizations in rural and Tribal areas are part of NDIA’s National Digital Navigator Corps, expanding digital navigator services while also providing insight on best practices in the field.
The original Digital Navigator Working Group, initially comprised of about 15 digital navigators and leaders from the NDIA community, transformed from a rapid-response tactical group to its own sub-community of 450+ digital navigator-affiliated practitioners from all over the US (and some from around the world!).
NDIA still hosts monthly meetings to learn from experts in the digital navigator realm, share resources, create best practices, and build connections.
Some of our working group members shared their reflections on the community space:
“The connections I made with others in the Digital Navigator Working Group and the generosity of those folks and the staff at NDIA enabled me to more quickly move through the digital equity/broadband learning curve.
At every turn, I have had a supportive community to turn to to seek advice and information, and sometimes just to vent. Pay-it-forward seems to be the standard by which this collective group lives by, and we are all better able to serve our constituents because of that.”
“Two years ago, I didn’t know anything about digital equity. I didn’t know anything about Lifeline, device refurbishment, or digital skills. And I didn’t know anyone else was working on this. Since I came across NDIA, and especially the Digital Navigator Working Group, I have discovered that there’s a sea of people working on these same issues, enough to fill a conference center and more, and it has helped me to be confident as I look in my community for partners. So many people in our area have been doing this work all by their lonesome, and now I get to work with them.”
Digital navigators in the working group serve a wide array of diverse audiences, including older adults and community elders, unhoused people, people with disabilities, rural, urban, and Tribal communities, and are based in healthcare organizations, libraries, senior centers, nonprofit internet service providers, county governments, and more.
The working group has also led to natural working group spin-offs, such as explorations into healthcare and digital navigators, and deep dives into digital skills instruction best practices, offering time for digital navigators to share their expertise and niche knowledge.