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Investing in Sustainable, Community-Based Device Ecosystems

Posted on December 07, 2022 by Digitunity
Digital inclusion, as defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), relies on five key 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
  5. Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration
All of these elements must be present and working together to achieve digital equity. However, intentional planning for the acquisition and distribution of free or low-cost internet-enabled devices (number two in the list above) in a community is often overlooked.

As a national leader with over 40 years of experience in advancing digital equity through device ownership, Digitunity strives for the seamless end-to-end connection of a consistent supply of free or low-cost devices to the distribution and use by the people who need them. We leverage our knowledge and unique national perspective to help states, cities, coalitions, and practitioners develop long-term, sustainable solutions for expanding device ownership.

Everyone who needs a computer should have one. We believe that the best way to achieve that goal is through a sustainable, community-based device ecosystem. An ecosystem allows for a diversity of individuals and organizations to work collectively within an interconnected system. This allows the activation and engagement of those with computers (manufacturers, retailers, businesses, organizations, individuals) with those in a community who need computers, through a clear and culturally sensitive pathway to device ownership. An ecosystem breaks down silos, drives better awareness, provides more effective distribution of devices to constituents, and ensures a variety of viewpoints are engaged, increasing the inclusivity, consistency, and sustainability of the solution.

In ecosystem thinking, this distinction is critical to recognize: it’s process over product. While the number of devices distributed in a community may be an obvious measure, it’s about far more than sheer numbers. The device supply, distribution process, relationships, and overall environment are the keys to ensuring an equitable, long-term solution.

Key stakeholders within a device ecosystem include those most impacted by the digital divide and those who support them, along with multi-sector organizations and institutions. Collaboration is essential among coalitions, government, philanthropy, business, and goes far beyond the typical “digital inclusion” folks. The ecosystem must include organizations from the housing, food, healthcare, education, and transportation sectors as well as actors throughout the technology supply chain. Finally, it requires strong leadership, with key players standing up and saying, “let’s make this happen.”

The path to long-term impact requires investing in the development of sustainable device ecosystems. Purchasing a bunch of computers, for example, is a band-aid, a moment-in-time fix. Instead, an ecosystem allows for a regenerative community-based model, pulling in national resources as needed, that collectively addresses and builds deeply into institutions and organizations systems and processes that ensure a transparent, human-centered system of acquisition/supply and distribution. The acquisition and distribution of devices need to be planned for, intentionally, as part of the digital equity equation. This is a solvable challenge.

We are in a watershed moment for digital equity, with $65 billion from the recently passed infrastructure law being invested in closing the digital divide through broadband infrastructure, affordable connectivity, digital skills training, and device access. Let’s use this watershed moment of federal funding to design and build device solutions that support community members long into the future.

About: Digitunity
Since the 1980s, Digitunity has advanced digital inclusion by connecting donors of technology with organizations serving people in need. Our mission is to ensure everyone who needs a computer has one, along with robust internet connectivity and digital literacy skills. To learn more about our mission, please visit digitunity.org.

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