Digital Inclusion Trailblazers are municipal, county, or regional governments that are paving the way and providing excellent models for digitally inclusive communities. They are intentional. They are invested. They are committed to advancing digital equity. The Trailblazers recognition isn’t just an award — it’s also a collection of valuable resources. The places selected as Trailblazers provide models to aspire to, demonstrating how local governments can support their own digital inclusion ecosystems.
Who Are Trailblazers?
Any local government may apply annually during the application window to be a Digital Inclusion Trailblazer, including:
- Regional governments
Individuals or organizations outside of local government, including digital inclusion advocates, should encourage their city/town/county to apply. Make your municipal leaders aware of this program, and encourage them to use the categories and resources to inform their own digital inclusion plans.
Please Note: NDIA is currently working with Tribal partners to design a program to recognize Tribes that are leading outstanding digital inclusion efforts. Please stay tuned and join the NDIA community for regular updates. NDIA also offers the opportunity for individual leaders to be recognized through the annual Benton Digital Equity Champion awards.
Purpose & Value
To uphold the spirit of the program and the prestige of reaching Trailblazers status, NDIA, with input from local government practitioners, established five guiding principles to illustrate the purpose and value of the program.
The Digital Inclusion Trailblazers program:
- Sets a national standard for excellent digital inclusion work. Backed by NDIA’s trusted expertise, Trailblazers is now the country’s benchmark for local governments.
- Establishes an honor roll that bestows prestige on local governments that achieve Trailblazers status
- Serves as a free and open knowledge database for digital inclusion resources and information tried and tested by local governments in their communities
- Promotes digital inclusion work and creates an incentive for local communities to articulate their digital inclusion efforts and make them official
The Trailblazers program sets a national standard for excellent digital inclusion work. This program is emerging as the country’s benchmark for outstanding digital inclusion work and leadership by local governments to empower their communities.
Striving for the NDIA Trailblazer indicators has helped focus and uplift our digital inclusion efforts while providing a wealth of insights from other communities to learn from. This program and our recognition have sparked new momentum and partnerships for digital equity in South Bend
Trailblazers Categories & Indicators
NDIA identified seven categories that exemplify how governments can take action and have outstanding impact on local digital inclusion ecosystems. Each category contains related indicators – local government resources and initiatives. You can find specific examples of documentation for each indicator in the application. To estimate the anticipated score of your application while applying, complete the Trailblazers Scoring Worksheet.
Click each category below to view a drop-down explanation of its indicators.
1. Dedicate Resources
Your local government allocates resources to digital inclusion in one or both of these ways:
A. Full-time equivalent (FTE) staff dedicated to digital inclusion
B. Dedicated local (non-federal) funding for digital inclusion
2. Fund or Aid Digital Inclusion Programs
Your local government funds or aids community digital inclusion programs either by administering programs directly or by financially supporting programs by other organizations. Digital inclusion programs may address three types of needs and span multiple categories, while digital navigators programs address these needs holistically.
A. Digital skills
B. Device access
C. Broadband adoption and affordability
3. Participate in Digital Inclusion Ecosystem
Your local government contributes to and participates in your local digital inclusion ecosystem by:
A. Funding FTE staff at a community partner organization
B. Meaningfully engaging as a member of a local digital inclusion coalition
C. Participating in a formalized digital inclusion coalition, committee, working group, or other initiative beyond the local community
4. Engage the Community
Your local government creates opportunities for meaningful engagement about digital inclusion with community members, demonstrated by:
A. Regularly engaging lived experts and communities impacted by the digital divide
B. Hosting community conversations focused on digital inclusion, such as public meetings, listening sessions, and townhalls
C. Hosting a public digital inclusion website or webpage
5. Advance Digital Inclusion Through Policy
Your local government encourages and enacts public policies that support digital inclusion efforts and advance digital equity by:
A. Participating in state and federal legislative and rulemaking processes to promote digital inclusion
B. Enacting policies that promote digital inclusion
C. Officially declaring support for digital inclusion
6. Use Data to Inform Digital Inclusion
Your local government collects and uses community digital inclusion data, including publicly available data and original data, using:
A. Community digital inclusion survey or benchmarking
B. Digital inclusion asset mapping
C. New or emerging digital inclusion datasets
D. Local internet speed tests
E. Secondary digital inclusion data (American Community Survey, FCC Mapping, Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollments, etc.) to guide decision making
7. Create a Local Digital Inclusion Plan
Your local government has published a digital inclusion plan or is making advancements toward a plan, demonstrated by:
A. Published local digital inclusion plan
B. Local digital inclusion plan underway or strategy document
Scoring & Evaluation
Trailblazers uses a points accumulation system to evaluate applications, with a maximum of 23 points possible. The indicators within each category are worth different point values, based on the level of effort required and their potential impact on the local digital inclusion ecosystem. You can find point values for each indicator in the Trailblazers application and the Trailblazers Scoring Worksheet. You may use any combination of criteria to accumulate the points needed for recognition.
Each category has a maximum point value, so if multiple resources meet the same indicator, they will not be counted twice. However, since the Trailblazers program serves as a public resource repository, local governments are encouraged to submit materials demonstrating as much of their digital inclusion work as possible.
Applicants may submit documentation for as many indicators as they choose. Applications are assessed based on the documentation submitted to satisfy each indicator. The NDIA team may contact applicants to clarify information or request additional documentation to validate indicators. We suggest, however, that you are careful to ensure that all documentation needed for the application is submitted within the deadline, so your local government can be recognized in the 2023 list of Trailblazers.
Starting in 2023, there are two levels of recognition possible for communities that meet certain thresholds out of the 23 possible points. Local governments that score five points or more are recognized as Digital Inclusion Trailblazers. This level of achievement recognizes excellent digital inclusion work, while keeping the program accessible to a diverse range of local governments, regardless of community size, type, or resources available. Visionary Digital Inclusion Trailblazers, scoring 18 or more points, are communities that have deeply integrated digital inclusion throughout their government. They are leading the way in digital inclusion innovation.
- Digital Inclusion Trailblazer: 5-17 points
- Visionary Digital Inclusion Trailblazer: 18 points and above
Trailblazers History & 2023 Updates
NDIA launched Digital Inclusion Trailblazers in 2016 to recognize innovative models at the local government level. Since then, Trailblazers has evolved into a national benchmark program for municipal, county, and regional governments to demonstrate their work in the field. In 2022, NDIA awarded a record 32 local governments with Trailblazers status at our annual Net Inclusion conference – nearly double the previous high of 17 from 2021.
For 2023, the NDIA team, along with a community affiliate working group, revised the Trailblazers categories to reflect our rapidly growing field. We updated all existing categories and indicators and added some new ones. We added details on digital navigators, asset mapping, and coalition-building to reflect emerging trends and to uplift the critical role these programs and strategies play in digital inclusion.
In December, we announced the full list of Trailblazer awardees. See the full list here.
The growing success of the Trailblazers program is wholly attributed to our community working tirelessly toward the goal of digital equity. Huge thanks to all Trailblazers applicants, local government staff dedicated to groundbreaking digital inclusion programs, and to the NDIA 2023 Trailblazers Working Group participants: Ryan Collins, Genesis Gavino, Rebecca Kauma, Patrick McGuire, Alonso Melendez, Leigh Middleton, Shannon Millsaps, Dana Nybo, Mia Purcell, Estefania Ramierez, Ricky Santiago, Mikhail Sundust and Jon Morrison Winters.
Without them, Trailblazers would not be possible.