City develops plan to bridge digital divide

The City of Kansas City, Missouri, is promoting a Digital Equity Strategic Plan that highlights the path from digital inclusion to economic mobility and entrepreneurship as its central theme.

This path includes the familiar tenets of digital inclusion (connectivity, computing device, digital life skills training) as step 1, enabling residents to become consumers of the Internet. This traditional approach typically sets a goal of people being able to access the Internet to apply for jobs. However, KCMO is expanding on this base to support residents becoming learners, digital citizens, employees and entrepreneurs through the use of freely available online outlets and services such as Khan Academy and TED Talks. To that end, the City is curating an online Community Learning Center.

Photo by Colleen Doctorian
The benefits of this pathway already are being realized. Take Anna Hill for example. She’s a Kansas City mother with six children, including two high school students, who live at home and are using these tools to enhance their academic progress. “They love having the Internet at home, especially when it’s cold outside so they don’t have to go anyway,” Hill said. “The grades have gone up and it’s helped out a whole lot. It’s just much more convenient.”

Key to the City’s strategy is a strong digital engagement structure that includes stakeholders and partnerships that benefit from their participation. Mayor Sly James already has made a compelling call to action at TechWeekKC for corporate citizens to become deeply engaged in digital inclusion. The Mayor’s Office is leading the charge on Kansas City’s participation in federal initiatives such as ConnectHome, TechHire, and LRNG. An example of this leadership is the City’s partnership with The Surplus Exchange in the Digital Upcycling Program. The City has taken a collaborative approach to its involvement as a founding member of the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion, taking advantage of the ability to connect and convene stakeholders and new partners for the Coalition’s success.

Video Extra:

Rick Usher, assistant city manager, is diligently promoting this effort and serves as a linchpin, of sorts, connecting City resources with the non-profits also seeking to close this gap. “Digital inclusion is going to assist us in economic mobility if people now can realize that they can use the Internet not only to be a consumer, but to pursue educational opportunities,” Usher said. “We’re looking at entrepreneurship and home-based development. If we can show our residents how to not only become employed through online opportunities but become job creators, then the end goal is really economic mobility and growth of our neighborhoods.”

The City’s activities in digital inclusion ramped up with the initial efforts to submit a response to Google Fiber’s Fiber for Communities Request for Information in 2010. The City Manager’s Office facilitated the City’s response and quickly determined that this must be a collaborative effort in order to successfully submit information reflective of the community’s desires. In the end, 117 collaborators helped draft the response.

The City’s efforts in digital equity have led to participation in a number of national initiatives. These relationships create opportunities to share ideas with City, State and Federal agencies as well as digital inclusion practitioners. The City’s investment in these efforts has made it easier to learn from others and implement strong and effective programs. Some of these groups and programs include:

  • Founding member of Next Century Cities
  • Founding affiliate of National Digital Inclusion Alliance
  • White House/HUD ConnectHome Initiative
  • White House TechHire Initiative
  • Collect Shift/Fossil Foundation LRNG Program
  • KCMO has ranked in the top 3 in the Center for Digital
  • Government’s annual Digital Cities Survey since 2014