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A celebration of digital inclusion forecasts the future

Forty community leaders from city and county government, corporations, universities, schools, and non-profit organizations met on June 5 at Queens’ James L. Knight School of Communication to brainstorm solutions to critical issues in digital inclusion.

They also took time to celebrate successes and predict the future.

Digital Charlotte organized the event to recognize the work of the previous year and to conduct community-based research to determine future needs. Led by Andrew Au, operations director at Digital Charlotte, participants engaged in a series of design exercises created to identify issues, gaps, opportunities, and potential solutions.

“In a 30-minute design huddle, leaders from throughout the Charlotte community generated more than 75 issues and 150 opportunities,” Au said. “We are now creating a plan for the next year, and these ideas will play a significant role in how we set goals and prioritize resources.

“Beyond this brainstorming and forecasting, the event presented the opportunity to recognize the great work in digital inclusion already being done throughout the Charlotte community.”

Participants recognized successes by Charlotte organizations in digital literacy educational programming developed for neighborhoods and public housing, non-profit organizations and the school system. One potential next step, they said, is broadening digital literacy education into new areas, including work with faith-based organizations, homeless shelters, senior citizens, and correctional facilities.

“As we move toward upper mobility in Charlotte we have to include digital equity,” said Danyae Person, program director of education for the CrossRoads Corporation for Affordable Housing and Community Development. “We can’t move forward as a city, as a community, when we have silos and when there are pockets of people who don’t have access who don’t have education and who don’t have the resources they need.

“As you expand you can see what works in different areas,” Person said. “If you’re working in a community or if you’re working in a school or if you’re working with a particular demographic, I think you can tweak the work from there. But I think the work is good and it just needs to be expanded.”

Initial digital literacy course offerings have focused on basic education in online accounts and laptop and desktop computing. John Peitzman of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s University City regional branch described a need to focus more on mobile technologies, including mobile phones and tablets, because these devices are increasingly the access point for tech newcomers. Additionally, librarians see a greater need for education in online financial security and banking basics.

“A lot of new things are moving to being online,” said John Peitzman of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s University City regional branch. “Banking, bill-paying, sending money to friends and family. When we mention it in our brief tech tutoring sessions at the library, a lot of people are like, ‘Well, I’m just scared. I’m not going to do that. I still walk down to the bank.’ But just getting people of how it works and how it’s actually secured, and what isn’t secure will make people feel more comfortable with it.”

Digital Charlotte’s “POWER” program has delivered digital literacy education to more than 110 parents at 10 schools. Regina Meeks, a development facilitator for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools who has been involved with the program since its inception in February 2018, said it may be time to extend the same kind of work for parents of school-age children in other areas.

“We need to do more in different communities,” Meeks said. “It could be in the faith-based community, it could be at a shelter. Yes, we’re in the schools. But that’s just a small part of it. How can we branch out and be available to more people who have the same need?”

Photo above: Bruce Clark and Katie Good of Digital Charlotte collect ideas from a June 5 design exercise with 40 community leaders at Queens’ James L. Knight School of Communication. In the background: John Peitzman of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.