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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue
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Changing Policy and Philanthropy




Jan 27, 2001


Tracy Gray

Dear Friends,

Here is the draft of the section on Public Policy and Funding Opportunities. Please note that in the course of our discussion to date, some of these issues have been part of our dialogue. In the next week, our task is to move this discussion further along to clarify and develop these ideas. We ask that you address particular points listed below, expressing your support or disagreement. We urge you to offer alternative perspectives and examples that illustrate the points or principles being set forth. I would like to acknowledge the valuable input from Elliot Maxwell and Ben Hecht on this position piece.

The Public Policy listserv participants include:

Nancy Green, Markle Foundation
Ben Hecht, One Economy
Elliot Maxwell, formerly U.S. Dept of Commerce
Vincent Stehle, Surdna Foundation
Gary Walker, Public/Private Ventures
Mario Morino, Morino Institute
Tracy Gray, Morino Institute

My thanks in advance for responding to this demanding deadline.




In order for this culture of innovation to thrive there must be a fundamental shift in public policy, funding streams and public awareness to make this a reality. While we recognize the importance of access as a prerequisite for the broader use of the technology to improve people's lives, we know from a broad base of experience that universal access is necessary but absolutely not sufficient. We need both access strategies (community technology centers, home based strategies, etc.) and content strategies so products, services, and information that people need is broadly available and consumer oriented. To go beyond access will require a massive deployment of resources, partnerships and incentives in the public and private sectors.

There are many roles for public policymakers at all levels of government—federal, state and local. The most obvious role is one of funder--such as Department of Education’s $200 million expenditure for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, the Commerce Department’s $42.5 million for the Technology Opportunities Program and numerous other initiatives. But the present range of funding for technology is much too narrow. Presently, these funding streams are akin to silos that are funneled into specific programs rather than cross cutting functional needs of the consumer and community.

A program that illustrates the potential of technology to address a serious social problem was started by the Fund for the City of New York to address the issue of domestic violence. Using an online system, victims of domestic violence can answer a series of question and produce a protective restraining order that can be signed by a judge. This use of technology has reduced this process by days, if not weeks and provides a valuable social service to thousands of women who are in jeopardy of personal injury.

Government can also assist by employing the technology in its own delivery of products and services. A movement to e-government for provision of information and completion of transactions could serve to increase efficiency and encourage low income participation in this electronic world. There is much work that can be done to encourage and endorse the establishment of e-government activities that are customer centric and that bring together departments and agencies to meet specific and identifiable customer needs. For example, if e-government is going to be effective, it needs to be "intuitive" to the consumer not just convenient for the government. This means that government services need to be made available by function rather than agency mandate.

There are growing examples of innovative e-government initiatives and partnerships that establish a wide reach for technology innovation. For example, the U.S. Department of Treasury is examining different ways for people to have access to banking services using technology. Consideration is underway to provide incentives to banks in the First Accounts program to reach out to citizens to open e-bank accounts as a means to receive government benefits efficiently and effectively. The U.S. Postal Service now offers the option to buy stamps and conduct transactions online, as well as at ATM machines throughout the nation. And the IRS now offers taxpayers the opportunity to file their tax returns online. While these are relatively modest initiatives in the overall scheme of government, they have the potential to create a seismic shift in the use of technology.

A municipal program launched in Portland, Oregon illustrates an innovative use of technology that provides benefit to the community and the individual consumer using Federal, state and local funding. A city administrator developed a housing locator database that allows the user to identify affordable housing and other social services, e.g., child care, bus routes, job training programs.

These are all examples of using technology by function rather than by organization to improve lives, particularly those in the inner city. They illustrate how technology can be used to help the consumer and facilitate the delivery of government services. Along these lines, we encourage all branches of government to take a systematic analysis of how technology can be deployed to facilitate their respective programs. Rather than promulgating a whole host of new initiatives that will require them to move through the legislative process, it will be more efficient and effective to enhance existing programs with technology. For example, currently funded programs should be reviewed to see how they might indirectly support our efforts such to include technology centers and computers in the homes of low income residents or allowing federal institutions that acquire broadband facilities to make those facilities available after-hours for training.

In addition, utilizing its leverage capacity, the government can mobilize far larger private sector resources. Some people will do the right thing because it is socially just; many more will do the right thing if is serves their own interests. As a major funder of health care provisions, the government has enormous leverage to encourage or discourage particular practices through changes in reimbursement rules, etc. As the author and administrator of the tax code, it can effect where businesses locate, the relative amount of capital or labor, the amount and nature of relationships between for profit and not for profit entities etc.. We should be looking in each sector, such as education, health care, social welfare, and housing to determine those points of leverage, so as to encourage people to employ technology effectively and efficiently. And that is not limited to government. For example, private sector third party payers in the health care sector can play the same role.

Another example of leverage can be seen in laws and regulations such as the community reinvestment requirements as well as those that have emerged in merger reviews such as AOL Time Warner. In the final analysis, the focus has to be on the creation of incentives and partnerships to leverage both the public and private sectors.

Government also plays a critical role in funding research and disseminating information. We need to give serious consideration to the research agendas of various agencies such as NSF, HHS and HUD. Should they be examining the effects of technology for education, health care, economic development? What type of metrics should be developed to determine the impact of technology in these sectors? What role should the government be playing in ensuring that initiatives are catalogued and that results are disseminated to avoid duplication and increase the adoption of best practices? In a time when devolution to states and localities is being promoted, how can we build the most effective partnerships among public and private partnerships?

There is a clear relationship between public policy and funding. While we have identified several examples of effective programs, the issue of funding this broad-based initiative will require not only tens of millions of dollars, but more likely billions of dollars. This is not to imply that this should all be government funded but rather there needs to be a very different attitude--a fundamental mind shift to drive the thinking to a new level within government, business, philanthropy, and people in both low-income and our more prosperous communities. As we look toward bringing public and private funding together, we are helping to create these markets and there should be some ability to develop these markets.

In terms of the private sector, there are those companies who have made a commitment to establishing private public partnerships for the sake of bringing technology and access to skills to low income communities. The work of Cisco through its Cisco Academies is a clear example of a company that has taken its economic interests and fostered valuable youth and adult training programs. The key is to foster more of these types of programs and to identify incentives for other companies to focus on the needs of the inner city.

As we move from public to private sources of funding, there is a need to examine the funding patterns of the philanthropic community. There is general agreement that technology has been under funded as one of the critical components in grant making. Funders need to understand the true life cycle and total costs involved in bringing technology into an organization. This suggests that those who provide services to help organizations with technology, need to consider the managerial and organizational implications for their clients, as much, if not more, than the issues directly related to technology. To this end, grant makers such as the Markle Foundation have been doing some innovative work to help organizations assess their e-readiness. There has also been some good work done by several groups like CompuMentor and NPowerNY in conducting up front audits or assessments of an organization's readiness to deal with technology.

By doing more to provide organizations with the capacity to establish a solid technology infrastructure, the nonprofit sector will be able to achieve greater results with their services to the community. We all must ensure that the efforts of so many organizations and individuals -- regardless of their size – be nurtured, encouraged and supported -- for this is where the collective power of the many has such power. And, when harnessed, can be a social force to influence public policy and major resource providers.

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