The Digital Navigator ModelAdding Digital Equity to Our Social Safety Net
Who Are Digital Navigators?
Digital navigators are individuals who address the whole digital inclusion process — home connectivity, devices, and digital skills — with community members through repeated interactions.
Navigators can be volunteers, cross-trained existing staff, or dedicated new hires who offer guidance on connectivity, devices, and digital skills. Typically at trusted community-based organizations, digital navigators are familiar with their community’s resources that relate to digital equity, and they help residents learn to use critical online services. They recommend resources and check back with the client over time to ensure they are able to reach their goals.
With on-demand services or through appointments, digital navigators support both urgent needs and long-term goals. Most digital navigators provide general support, and some offer specialized support for specific topics, such as healthcare, and for specific populations, including people with disabilities, returning citizens, higher education students, and caregivers to K-12 students.
The model begins with asset mapping, continues with the development of processes customized to each site, and results in local communities with stronger digital inclusion resources. A trained digital navigator will be able to assess a community member’s need and competently guide them towards resources that are suitable both for their skill level and lifestyle.
The digital navigator model is a replicable framework for organizations already providing digital inclusion services or those entering the digital inclusion space to ensure that their constituents can connect with them online. NDIA is available for consulting about adapting the model to your community’s needs, existing social services, and to provide digital navigator training.
Digital navigators are trusted guides who assist community members in internet adoption and the use of computing devices. Digital navigation services include ongoing assistance with affordable internet access, device acquisition, technical skills, and application support.
Digital Inclusion refers to 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). This includes 5 elements: 1) affordable, robust broadband internet service; 2) internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user; 3) access to digital literacy training; 4) quality technical support; and 5) applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration. Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology.
What NDIA and Affiliates are doing to Develop the Digital Navigator Model
After fostering the inception of the Digital Navigator concept model in 2020, NDIA provided direct assistance to Rural LISC and the Salt Lake City Public Library to develop pilot Digital Navigator programs operating within their partner sites, and continues to provide consultation for digital navigator program development, management, training and technical assistance to community, regional and statewide programs. NDIA launched and directly supports 18 digital navigator programs in rural and Tribal communities in the National Digital Navigator Corps.
Many NDIA affiliates have implemented the digital navigator model in their own way and support one another as a community through NDIA’s Digital Navigator Working Group. The digital navigator resources shared below were developed with members of the working group and are freely available for use and adaptation by any digital navigator program. This living model is ever-evolving to meet the needs of communities. Learning from all, NDIA shares best practices from the digital navigator model as they are developed.
Digital Navigator Webinars & Panels
Tell us About Your Digital Navigator Program
Do you have a digital navigator program? Or does this program sound similar to something you currently offer? Whatever you call your dedicated community-based, technology outreach practitioners offering one-on-one support, we’d love to hear about them!
Digital Navigator Resources
We offer all materials under the Attribution-NonCommercial Creative Commons license. Feel free to remix, adapt, and build upon this work non-commercially. Please acknowledge the work that went into your new work by noting: “Framework provided by National Digital Inclusion Alliance.”
Created by NDIA working group
Use this form to collect general information about your community member’s technology needs.
To be completed after speaking with a community member to record details of the interaction.
The purpose of this form is to get a general idea of your community member’s comfort with technology.
To be completed with a community member at regular intervals as a matter of checking in, and also to record any growth in their learning.
A description of the steps in the digital navigator process using the template forms
One-pager on where digital navigators are placed
Slides that may be used to present an introduction to the digital navigator model
One-pager on how the digital navigator model works
Database maintained by NDIA
Tips for digital navigators assisting with Affordable Connectivity Program sign-ups, from NDIA.
Resources from NDIA for Affordable Connectivity Program advocacy
The toolkit offers a case study successful implementation of Digital Navigators in a public library setting at the Salt Lake City Public Library pilot program, delivered in partnership with the Urban Libraries Council with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Digital Navigator Frequently Asked Questions
Who can use the term “digital navigator?”
Anyone can use the term digital navigator!
We request that NDIA is cited for the definition of digital navigator and any of the resources provided by NDIA under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International. The term “digital navigator” was developed in 2020 by NDIA to help bring together a community of practitioners doing similar work and provide a descriptor that was standard across many communities. Further the digital navigator model has evolved based on input and guidance from NDIA’s Digital Navigator Working Group and affiliate network.
We call ourselves something different, but do similar work. Can we participate in the digital navigator community?
YES! The term “digital navigator” is useful for describing this kind of similar work nationally and connecting with similar programs, but a different term may be better for your community. Even when the term was first coined, there were already programs doing this work under different names. The digital navigator model and community are available to everyone committed to serving their community’s digital inclusion needs through holistic, repeated one-on-one interactions.
NDIA’s community have shared what they use in Spanish to identify a Digital Navigator including: Navegador Digital, Especialista en acceso tecnológico, Asistencia Técnica Personalizada, Facilitadores de Acceso Digital, and Facilitadores Digitales. While Navegador Digital may seem like the most obvious translation, it is important to note that the term “navegador” also means browser. Let us know if you use a different term in Spanish, or join the Digital Navigator Working Group to discuss with other programs.
Is the term "digital navigator" ubiquitous?
Not necessarily. We have seen the term “digital navigator” used to describe trusted guides who assist community members in accessing and using the internet, devices, and digital skills in a wide variety of ways in a variety of settings. For one measure, we have over 400 people in our Digital Navigator Working Group currently and it continues to grow. We also know there are programs offering similar services under different titles. The term “digital navigator” is useful for describing this kind of similar work nationally and connecting with similar programs.
What kind of training do digital navigators need?
Digital navigators do not need formal training, and there are no education requirements for what makes an effective digital navigator. Successful digital navigators often have a background in customer service, interest and/or involvement in their community, strong communication skills, ability to be resourceful, empathetic and have a good sense of humor.
Generally, digital navigators should have some training in the following areas:
- Orientation to Digital Inclusion including an understanding of digital inclusion barriers and available community resources
- Data & Research
- Understanding of Community Groups being served & their Needs
- Digital Skills, Resources & Frameworks
- Internet Options & the Affordable Connectivity Program
- Asset Mapping & Resources
- Knowledge on how to assess what types of internet enabled devices community members need
- Customer service training
How is this different from what my public librarian does?
Digital navigators dedicate time and skill development to preparing for, and working with community members to connect them with low-cost and affordable home internet, appropriate devices, and digital skills instruction. Many public libraries provide similar services but those services are often for one aspect of digital inclusion, such as a digital skills class, or to meet a single immediate need, such as help resetting a password in a computer lab. Some library staff are cross-trained as digital navigators and tasked with providing those services. These services are characterized as having dedicated resources, staff time, and support, and are designed to allow repeated, one-on-one interactions for long-term support in all areas of digital inclusion.
Can we use volunteers as digital navigators?
It is important that digital navigators are trained and committed to provide excellent customer service and quality, consistent support. As with many programs, consistent and excellent service is more likely in a scenario where a commitment is required and fair compensation is provided. Some programs are successful using volunteers as digital navigators in combination with paid program staff.
How many digital navigator programs are there? And where can I find them?
Lots! There are more than 400 people connected to NDIA’s Digital Navigator Working Group and we’re learning about new programs every day. Tell us about your program!
There is no comprehensive national directory of digital navigator programs. Good places to look for existing digital navigator programs include NDIA’s Affiliate directory, digital inclusion coalitions, libraries, community action agencies, community health organizations, housing organizations, community colleges, workforce development centers, extension offices, etc.
I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. How can I build on the work of other digital navigator programs?
The DN community is very generous! You can start with the resources freely available on this page. The Digital Navigator Working Group members share many of their resources through shared docs and a listserv. Reach out to [email protected] to connect.