Learning About Solutions for Digital Destitution Requires
Partnering with Communities

Recognizing the expertise of community leaders and the importance of community members’ goals, California Connects chose an original, adaptive strategy that sought to simultaneously strengthen program participants’ computer and Internet skills and collaborated with them in a process of discovery. Never before had a program with the size and scope of California Connects been undertaken, and its innovations have drawn a promising blueprint for planning and assessing future digital equality efforts.

The unique structure of California Connects programs allowed for the following successes:

  • Community service agencies and entire social networks were opened to the potential of broadband adoption as program beneficiaries shared their newly-gained knowledge and interest in learning about technology through the guidance of CC administrators.
  • Considerable lessons about what inclusion would entail were learned by working with local community institutions that could easily reach target populations through their existing connections and linguistic resources.
  • Community-focused programs were implemented, promoting responsive adaptations to the cultural backgrounds, life experiences, and interests of the people being guided to learn.

Building programs to fit within existing relationships and building new relationships with local entities allowed California Connects to quickly reach the digitally disconnected.

California Connects as a Case Study

California Connects collaborated with Dr. Blanca Gordo to lead an independent research and evaluation team at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI). The research team expanded theoretical claims about expanding broadband adoption among the un- and under-served low-income and low-literacy populations by studying the experiences and successes of the California Connects program. The case study made it possible to identify the social conditions, institutional policies, and community programs that most effectively produce benefit and empowerment from broadband technology for socio-economically disadvantaged populations. A thorough and thoughtful evaluation of California Connects provided an unparalleled opportunity for uncovering dynamic factors and methods for developing even more effective programs for the future.

The research team of the California Connects is laying the groundwork for evaluating flexible, wide-scale broadband adoption programs tailored for the disconnected by…

  • Establishing efficient methods for determining the priorities of a community and finding resources to support them.
  • Contextualizing the achievements of broadband adoption programs by creating accurate baselines of target populations and capacities of institutions.
  • Refining and improving methods of collecting both qualitative and quantitative data to assess wide-spread programs for communities with variable needs and resources.

The journey toward widespread broadband adoption and program evaluation requires identifying the challenges posed to target communities and implementing effective public policies that address those challenges.

Click here to read more about the research team’s conceptual framework…

Making the Most of Community-Based Programs

The pioneering efforts of California Connects demonstrated the benefits of flexibility, and the evaluation team’s extensive series of interviews, focus groups, and surveys allowed them to glean important insights into which and how complementary learning materials and guidelines for training could maximize program benefits. Creating ready-to-use resources tailored to the needs of new broadband adopters is an easy way to lighten the burden on community institutions and to extend the reach of California Connects and similar programs.

Some recommendations for future programs include:

  • Application-based curriculum modules that are relevant to community priorities and appropriate to the experience level of new computer users.
  • Friendly orientation documents for trainers that familiarize them with best practices for teaching adult computer learners.
  • Maintenance of an online network of resources and tools in relevant languages that have been tested in the classroom and evaluated by the research team.
  • Allowing graduates of training programs to continue participating in order to reinforce their skills and provide assistance and encouragement to new learners.

California Connects has raised awareness, initiated dialogue, and provided a variety of potential models for integrating new entrants to the online world through sustainable community-level interventions. Continued research, progressive development of key resources, and strengthening of community networks are leading the way to digital equality.