Photo: Maribel Martinez

Digital Navigators and the Device Divide: Community Voices From Seven U.S. Cities

Posted on September 07, 2023 by Maribel Martinez, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
On August 6, 2023, Maribel Martinez shared the findings of her latest research, "Digital Navigators and the Device Divide: Community Voices from Seven U.S. Cities," during a national webinar with host and study sponsor Digitunity. This small qualitative research study aimed to understand Digital Navigators' experiences with procuring affordable computers for their clients. Seven Digital Navigators serving in full-time, part-time, and cross-trained positions from AL, CA, CO, FL, IL, NY, and VA within various organizations were interviewed.

Key findings include:
  • 50% of participants believed it was important to match the right device to a client from the start
  • 86% of participants were unable to procure a device for a client through the Affordable Connectivity Program's one-time device discount
  • 43% of participants qualified their experiences with sourcing large screen devices for clients as unsuccessful and often recommend clients visit large retailers to purchase a computer
  • 71% of participants said clients turn to retail when they are unable to obtain a large-screen device through digital navigation support
  • 43% of participants made negative comments about refurbished devices or did not know enough about refurbished devices to comment
Why is this important, and why does The Patterson Foundation (TPF) care? Data suggests a #devicedivide within the #digitaldivide, and it's only widening. Since technology moves quickly, it's challenging to keep up with how the field continues to innovate, let alone how those innovations insert themselves into our daily lives. Digital Navigators are trained to assist community members 1:1 with affordable internet, devices, and digital literacy training, but they are only as effective as the resources on which they rely.

TPF continues to support the Digital Access for All initiative and the Digital Navigator Program because area stakeholders recognize the importance of affordable internet, computers, and digital skills/support for people of all ages. TPF understands the region can evolve more inclusively with technology so residents can live, work, learn, play, stay healthy, engage civically, and prosper.

This research is significant because it may inform local stakeholder decision-making on ensuring people of all ages who need a computer can get one in the Suncoast. Since over 27,000 households combined in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties reportedly lack any type of computer according to the 2021 American Community Survey, and because the cost of new large-screen devices like laptops and tablets can range in price from about $300–$3,000, it is essential to solve the device divide in TPF's four-county region to close the digital divide.

It's also important to highlight that of the 57% of study participants who qualified their experiences with sourcing large screen devices for clients as successful, the data revealed repeated mentions of "partnerships," "collaboration," and "pipelines." More and more, digital inclusion evidence from across the country demonstrates the effectiveness of "device ecosystems" — multi-sector partnerships that create device pipelines to community-based organizations such as computer refurbishers, who can work with Digital Navigators to match the right device to a new owner.

Everyone, regardless of age, can make use of a computing device. In today's world, knowing how to effectively use a laptop or tablet in personally relevant and meaningful ways can mean the difference between connectedness and isolation, prosperity and poverty, opportunities and stagnation.

Learn more about the device divide. Access the full report or the summary.

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