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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue
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Making the Case for Technology Within the Community




Jan 23, 2001


Bonnie Politz

Apologies for taking longer than anticipated to enter the "Making the Case" dialogue but Richard Murphy and I, at AED's Center for Youth Development and Policy Research (the Center), would like to add some thoughts.

As in most cases, there will not be 'one' approach that makes 'the' difference in making technology relevant for low-income residents. Just as there is not 'one' approach that works with middle class or high-income folks. Several respondents on this listserv have identified their efforts in the community-building arena which, in our book, are the way to go.

There are a variety of efforts underway in locales across the country that are tackling the issues of what it takes to build and sustain neighborhoods and communities; particularly, in low-income areas. The National Community Building Network (NCBN) operating out of Oakland, CA; the Center for Community Change in Washington, DC; Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants; national and community foundation initiatives...are already working with cross-sections of community players committed to re-shaping relationships, access to resources and measurable outcomes that track community success.

No reason to start from scratch. It would make sense to bring these players into this dialogue in order to learn from their vast experience and to have them as partners in "Making the Case for Applied Technology".

The Center can describe some (hopefully) complementary lessons learned from its efforts to identify and build local infrastructures for youth development in partnership with locales across the country. The issue of relevance for local stakeholders is high on our list of lessons learned; without it, there is little to no chance of success. Our forays into locales also reveal that positive baseline information on youth is often not available and, most certainly, inaccessible to the general public.

In some ways, the terms 'information' and 'data' have little to no relevance to large numbers of youth, parents and community members (no matter what income level they are in). No relevance until...they want to find a Girl Scout group or a chess club or a bowling league for their daughter or son to join. Or, they need to know the easiest transportation route to an interview in the suburbs. Or, they want to know the services offered by the local adolescent health clinic and the age group they serve. THEN, accessing information becomes relevant. The fact that this type of data can be retrieved easily via a computer makes people curious and interested in using the technology.

A specific example: Last week, several members of our staff met with a representative from Fairfax County, Va. government who provided an update on a Community YouthMapping and technology process that was initiated and implemented in partnership with the Center. This process, which has been underway for the past year, started with an initial presentation to the Fairfax Partnership for Youth that includes representation from the public, non-profit and private sectors. One of the outcomes of this process is a wealth of data collected by county youth who also created a database and a set of easy-to-read maps that begin to tell a story about the location and types of services, supports and opportunities available for youth and their families in Fairfax County. As they move into Phase 2 of this work, a stated goal is to make this data and the maps easily accessible via web-based technology to youth, families, neighborhood planning groups, the county council, municipal leaders, the media, the school board, etc.

How will the data be accessed? There are lots of options which a locale, such as Fairfax County, can consider; for example:

Neighborhood-based computer centers in schools, libraries, faith organizations, health centers

"Information ATMs" in supermarkets, banks, gymnasiums, bowling alleys, movie theatres, etc

A 24-hour Information Line staffed by high school and college-age youth with adult support, using a GIS-based system to access data on after-school programs, training opportunities and health and social services.

These types of technology linkages are underway across the country. How about asking youth and adults themselves what made technology relevant to them and use them as a core advisory group in this dialogue?

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