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Connecting the Dots: The Patterson Foundation’s Approach to Digital Access for All

Posted on September 30, 2020 by John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21
We have seen firsthand a monumental shift toward a digital society over the past six months. COVID-19 has laid bare the importance of addressing what is commonly known as the digital divide.

In-person activities, such as learning, healthcare, social services, and connecting with friends and family, have shifted to include digital elements, if not entirely to an online format. But what does one do if they can't connect, need an appropriate device, or don't have the necessary skills to navigate the web?

It is an unignorable issue and one that cannot be solved in silos.

The Patterson Foundation's new initiative, Digital Access for All (DA4A), is focused on exploring this complex issue—locally, regionally, and nationally—to better understand the entirety of the problem and to find answers to two important questions:
  • Who else cares?
  • What next?
From the very beginning of DA4A, our team has been keenly interested in systemic change. We have engaged in conversation with national and local thought leaders and others involved in this arena in various ways. We have come to understand the vast array of needs and challenges associated with digital access, and it is clear that no single solution exists.

Some inspiring efforts are happening throughout the country and even in our own backyard. Innovative stopgaps are necessary to provide affordable access and ensure that devices and support are available for those who need them. Resources are beginning to emerge, including hotspots, low-cost internet options, devices, skills training, and technical support. Still, it will take more than patchwork solutions to solve the larger issue.

Each community is unique in the challenges they face and their ability to address them. For this reason, TPF is focused on understanding the broader issues around digital access, learning from the efforts and experiences of others, sharing our learnings and findings, and figuring out who else cares. We intend to foster widespread participation and knowledge-sharing around DA4A. While we do not yet know exactly what that will look like, we are excited about the possibilities in store for our community as we continue to discover needs and explore solutions.

Yes, it is imperative that broadband, devices, and skills training—the three fundamental elements of digital access—are addressed expeditiously, but there also needs to be meaningful systemic change.

While many organizations are working on immediate needs, TPF's approach is focused on the long-term to embrace possibilities to create a new reality where there is equitable digital access for all.

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