Skip to main content

Digital Equity

DELL Blog Post Cover

Digital Equity Leadership Lab Case Study Published

By Digital Equity, Digital Justice, ResearchNo Comments
DELL Blog Post Cover

The CI Lab is excited to announce that the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation published our new case study of the Digital Equity Leadership Lab (DELL) today. The case study began last year with the following key research question: How might DELL serve as a community-based leadership training model to develop the next wave of digital equity leaders?

Through our interviews with DELL participants, outside experts who led DELL workshop sessions, and Deutsch Foundation staff, we discovered three key findings emerged from my qualitative analysis:

  1. bringing national policymakers and advocates together with community leaders is powerful and transformative;
  2. digital inequality is a social not a technological problem; and
  3. community leaders need access to a shared platform and each other to create change.

Following from these findings the following three recommendations were provided, particularly for other grassroots organizers, philanthropic organizations, policymakers, and other key stakeholders interested in promoting leadership in digital equity and justice initiatives nationwide.

  1. Capacity building and train-the-trainer models are important for community leadership development, but without access to policymakers and advocates on a national level, community leaders may lack a holistic view and understanding of the problems and community- developed solutions to these problems.
  2. Community leadership development programs to promote digital equity and justice must provide support systems for community leaders to come together through a shared infrastructure, including both platforms to share ideas and spaces to convene, to continue the work after the training is over.
  3. Digital inclusion work is vital to help those without access to computers and the internet. However, this work must be rooted in an understanding of how power, privilege, and oppression shape digital inequality, as well as how this knowledge can be used to address systemic barriers to social and racial justice.

Here are links to the Executive Summary and the Full Report.

The report was written by CI Lab Director Dr. Colin Rhinesmith with research support from Malana Krongelb and Jie Jiang. Many thanks to amalia deloney, Vice President and Director of Digital Equity at the Deutsch Foundation for inviting us to conduct the study.


New Issue of JoCI Published

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Public Libraries, PublicationsNo Comments

JoCI Vol 17The new issue (Vol 17) of The Journal of Community Informatics is now online!

There are several excellent peer-reviewed articles, including the following:


  • A study of community informatics and resilience in India during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • The role of public libraries in supporting digital inclusion in Sweden; and
  • A comparative study of digital equity plans in four U.S. cities.

There is also a paper in our “Notes from the Field” section on ethics in social design and a wonderful review in our “Book Reviews” section of Daniel Greene’s (2021) excellent, The Promise of Access: Technology, Inequality, and the Political Economy of Hope published by The MIT Press.



Six-City Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship Launched

By Digital Equity, Digital Justice, ResearchNo Comments

DEAR-Fellows-Slide-1024x575FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 8, 2021

Shaun Glaze (they/them)
Research Director

Colin Rhinesmith (he/him)
Benton Senior Faculty Research Fellow

Six-City Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship Launched
First-of-its-kind fellowship targeting digital inequities

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University, and Black Brilliance Research Project (BBR) launched the six-city Digital Equity Action Research (DEAR) Fellowship. The DEAR Fellowship is a participatory action research program for young adults, ages 19-24, that helps examine how digital inclusion coalitions understand and address the root causes of digital inequities in their communities. The fellowship started in November and will conclude with a celebration and community event in mid-January.

As part of this initiative, one organization in each participating city—Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Long Beach, San Antonio, and Seattle—will take part in the fellowship and host one young adult to serve as their Benton DEAR Fellow. The fellows and their host organizations receive a stipend for their work on the project over a two-month period. The end goal is to increase the skills and capacity for communities to identify and address the root causes of digital inequities while learning from peers around the United States. The fellows will do this through learning new participatory action research skills, an approach that brings together advocacy and research methods to create change.

“We are proud to launch this effort in collaboration with two research institutions, Black Brilliance Research Project and the Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University,” said Adrianne Furniss (pronouns: she/her), Executive Director of the Benton Institute. “We will continue to invest in research that aids data-driven policy decisions. We also understand the importance of participatory and community-led work in striving for a more just world.”

The digital equity team of BBR is led by Research Director, Shaun Glaze (pronouns: they/them) and Chris Webb (pronouns: he/him). Glaze’s expertise is Participatory Action Research and they facilitate dozens of community research projects advancing racial justice, particularly for Black, Indigenous, disabled, trans, and queer people of color. Webb is a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Business (STEM-B) department faculty member at Seattle Central College.

Glaze said, “Participatory Action Research (PAR) centers the wisdom, leadership, and expertise of those closest to the issues. Doing this work well means disrupting systems of oppression and creating spaces where communities can explore — and create — their own solutions. By listening to those closest to the issues, we’re not just listening to the problems created by digital injustice, we’re co-creating the solutions we need for Black and Brown people to thrive.”

Colin Rhinesmith (pronouns: he/him) is the Director of the Community Informatics Lab in the Simmons School of Library and Information Science and a Senior Faculty Research Fellow with the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. Rhinesmith said, “The DEAR Fellows are working to share their vision of what digital justice looks like in each of their communities. I feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity to learn from them and other members of our team while helping to facilitate our popular education workshops each week.”

Stephanie Martinez (pronouns: none) is a DEAR Fellow and co-designer of the DEAR fellowship. Martinez explained, “This fellowship means change for myself and the Black and Brown community. Not only does this opportunity enhance the knowledge of many young minds, but it also cultivates the gifts and talents of each participant, and creates liberating spaces where game-changing visions come into fruition. As a DEAR fellow and a team member of BBR, it has been an honor to learn, observe, and aid in this beautiful process as it comes to life each day. Youth leadership is essential to invest in because it gives us a chance to use our powerful voices, channel our focus on impeccable solutions, and break the barriers of effective communication, overall creating an unforgettable experience for this generation, and generations to come.”

Robert W. Deutsch Foundation is serving as a Baltimore partner on this project, supporting the fellowship funding for a DEAR Fellow at Village Learning Place. amalia deloney (pronouns: she/her), Vice President of the Foundation, said, “We’re longtime colleagues and friends of both the Benton Institute and Dr. Rhinesmith. When we learned about this innovative program, we immediately wanted to be supportive. We’re excited that Village Learning Place, whose work we respect, was chosen. We know that internet access is a precursor to social and economic inclusion and we’re happy that Baltimore, a city with 96,000 households, majority Black and Latinx, who lack internet, will benefit from the approach and thinking of DEAR.”

Fellowship partners include: Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, Black Brilliance Research Project, Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, East Cleveland Public Library, Long Beach Forward, San Antonio Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Village Learning Place.

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society: is a non-profit organization whose goal is to bring open, affordable, high-performance broadband to all people in the U.S. regardless of where they live or who they are. The Institute believes communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities, strengthen communities and ensure a thriving democracy.

Black Brilliance Research: BBR is a Black queer-led community research collaborative dedicated to changing the material conditions of the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. BBR’s goal is to explore and amplify community leadership and expertise. In 2020, BBR launched what is believed to be the world’s largest Black community participatory action research project, hiring over 100 community researchers from a wide variety of lived experiences with: racial injustice, incarceration, gender, education, immigration status, disability, language, age, religion, caregiving, national origin, healthcare, foster care, artistic expression, and professional research. Together with their local communities, BBR has been researching and implementing digital equity solutions through primary and secondary research and launching community networks in Washington State. BBR’s participatory action research and digital justice expertise offer DEAR fellows an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the leadership and direction of the work.

Community Informatics (CI) Lab at Simmons University: The CI Lab engages in digital inclusion research, practice, and policy to promote socially just and equitable communities. The lab is led by Dr. Colin Rhinesmith and is located in the School of Library and Information Science.

The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation: Founded 30 years ago, the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation (RWDF) invests in innovative people, programs, and ideas that improve the quality of life in Baltimore and beyond. The Foundation’s grantmaking focuses primarily in the areas of digital equity, community development, and arts and culture. RWDF believes the internet is a powerful catalyst for change; a job creator, an education provider, and a driver of innovation, creativity, and social change.


CI Lab and ATALM Receive IMLS Grant

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, ResearchNo Comments

IMLS LogoWe are incredibly honored and excited to announce that our CI Lab at Simmons University has received a two-year grant (award #LG-250043-OLS-21) from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to work with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums.

Here is the description that is available on the IMLS website:

“Simmons University, together with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, will examine how a participatory community informatics approach, guided by Indigenous ways of knowing about technology and an affirmation of tribal sovereignty, can support the digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure needs and aspirations of tribal libraries. The research team will work with tribal libraries to co-design the following: an update to the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums’ 2014 report, ‘Digital Inclusion in Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries’; a Digital Inclusion Lab ‘how-to’ guide for Tribal libraries; and a final report with findings from the research. The project also will gather broadband measurement data to inform federal information policies aimed at improving digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure in Tribal libraries.”



CIRN Virtual Conference Call 2021

By CFP, Conference, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, EventsNo Comments

CIRNCommunities, Technology, and This Moment 2021  

Virtual Conference | 8 – 12 November 2021
Call for Papers is now Open. Ends 30 June

Please see the website for more information on categories of papers refereeing process, conference committee, costs, conference publication and The Journal of Community Informatics, and how to submit an abstract.

The theme of the 2021 conference, “Communities, Technology, and This Moment” aims to bring together the rich knowledge, experience, and practice of Community Informatics, Community Archives, and Development Informatics with a focus on data justice, digital equity, and community informatics response to this moment in history. The 2021 CIRN conference will provide a virtual space to explore how researchers and practitioners ethically collect information, including what happens when community information is intentionally left uncollected, and how information systems can be designed in harmony with communities.

This year the CIRN conference will be online, and we propose a series of virtual events consisting of keynotes, presentations, and discussions. We hope that this virtual event covers a wide range of themes that reflect the richness and diversity of the fields of Community Informatics, Community Archives, and Development Informatics. #virtualCIRN. As an outcome, there will be conference proceedings, and selected papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Community Informatics in 2022. We also intend, as soon as it is possible to meet physically, to organise a follow up event in Prato Italy at the Monash University Centre.

We call for contributions for the following themes, that could be individual or multiple virtual sessions, depending on the response. Sessions will be offered at a range of times in support of participants from different time zones.


The conflict or tensions between the individual and collective use of ICT and the implications for design and security issues.

  • What are individual and community rights, responsibilities, and responses to the age of data breaches, manipulation, and social, health, environmental and other crises?
  • Who is left behind from the decision-making processes related to ICTs and information practices and uses?

Data justice and digital equity in the age of COVID.

  • What have the past two years (or more) shown us? How can communities have influence upon policy, design, and practice;
  • What will remain of privacy and work-life balance after the last two years of “smart” working? How can we ensure the rights of the digital workforce?
  • How does the pandemic affect different communities differently? Which existent social divisions might be intensified by measures such as lock-downs and social distancing? How can community informatics support people not only to survive but to live and thrive in a time full of uncertainties?

Action, agency and technology: Participatory design at this time.

The (new/emerging) relationship between face-to-face and action at a (mediated) distance.

  • Has the virtual replaced face-to-face and for what? Has much of our existence in fact become centered around virtual transactions? What has been strengthened? What has been weakened?
  • What happens when people are forced to interact through particular platforms, and the effects on unimpeded communication? What about surveillance?
  • The future of hybrid interactions where some are online, some in person. What are the advantages/disadvantages to hybrid setups, who is marginalized, who is enabled or disabled?

Religion, faith, belief.

  • What is the place of religion, faith and belief in the current digital area in the life of communities?
  • How do we deal with what can be  materially and socially damaging beliefs,  fake news, conspiracy theories and so on?

Environmental informatics.

  • Significant environmental actions and decisions are now made at different levels through generating environmental and ecological data and this continues in the COVID-19 era.
  • This is particularly important in the international development context, but in developing countries as well  What is the relationship with the community informatics agenda?

Can there be a community informatics response to this moment in history?

  • Is it possible to even think theoretically about this moment? Have all the previous paradigms fallen apart?
  • What has been the Community Informatics response to date?’

Sponsors: Monash University and Simmons University.



IN THE NEWS: Dr. Rhinesmith Appears on CBSN

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital InclusionNo Comments
CI Lab Director, Dr. Colin Rhinesmith joined CBS News political contributor and BluePrint Strategy founder Antjuan Seawright to talk with CBSN’s Lana Zak about the necessity of affordable internet access and President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

For more on the “Homework Gap,” I would recommend my colleague, John Horrigan’s excellent work in the recent Alliance for Excellent Education report, “Students of Color Caught in the Homework Gap” and Common Sense Media report, titled “The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide.”

For more information about the necessity of affordable access to the internet, please see my 2019 article, titled “The Ability to Pay for Broadband” for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society with my colleagues, Dr. Bianca Reisdorf and Madison Bishop. To learn more about the high cost of internet service in the U.S., check out the excellent “Cost of Connectivity” report from New America.

Finally, to learn more about the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, see this excellent primer from Next Century Cities and additional information and resources from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

State of Illinois Seal

NEW REPORT: Universal Broadband in Illinois

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

In a new report by John Horrigan (Technology Policy Institute), Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), and Colin Rhinesmith (Simmons University and CI Lab Director), the authors present findings from a study of broadband affordability for all residents in Illinois.

In the report, titled “Universal Broadband in Illinois: Studying the Costs of Providing Free and Affordable Service for All Residents” the executive summary states,

“This report presents findings from a study of technology and internet adoption in Illinois and includes cost estimates for providing free broadband access as well as the alternative goal of providing affordable broadband access to all residents in the State, including in areas with high poverty levels. This study is unique in that it not only examines what the State needs to do to promote universal broadband infrastructure; it also considers universal broadband affordability and adoption. In other words, this report recognizes that broadband infrastructure is only ‘one side of the connectivity coin, as Connect Illinois has identified in its strategic plan.”

A summary of the report with key findings can be found in this blog post published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.


Illinois Broadband Affordability Report

NEW REPORT: Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

We are excited to announce the publication of our new Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report, Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond. This report presents findings from a survey of individuals representing a diverse group of organizations across the United States that have self-identified as being part of either a formal, informal, or emerging digital inclusion coalition. The purpose of our study was to better understand the role these coalitions have played in supporting what we are calling “digital equity ecosystems” in their communities during the challenges of the pandemic.

We define “digital equity ecosystems” as the interactions between individuals, populations, and their larger socio-technical environments that all play a role in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice.

We believe the next administration, led by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, can benefit from understanding the community-based tactics, particularly in poor communities and communities of color, that have emerged in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In our new report, we show how digital inclusion coalitions have leveraged their communities’ digital equity ecosystems to address their communities’ broadband-related needs while facing significant barriers due to limited personnel, technological, and financial support for digital equity.

You can find the report and the related Benton Digital Beat article here.

Here is a summary of our main findings:

Digital inclusion coalitions established before the pandemic have responded to COVID-19 by focusing their efforts on information and resource sharing, networking, data collection, raising awareness about digital inequality, and developing new tactics to promote digital equity. These coalitions have worked to coordinate investments and develop new funding opportunities to support their existing work such as providing access to computers, low-cost internet service, and Wi-Fi hotspots for more vulnerable members of their communities. In our survey, 29% of respondents indicated that they were part of digital equity coalitions that formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These new and emerging coalitions have organized others in their communities, focusing on ways to provide access to the internet, digital devices, and digital literacy training for low-income individuals and families. Respondents described several factors that made it possible to respond in these ways, including: their existing relationships and collaborations, awareness of existing policy constraints, capacity and knowledge about how to best engage with key stakeholders (both inside and outside local government), as well as years of existing digital inclusion experience. Others cite new funding opportunities as key support for their response, with 52% of respondents indicating that their organization or community used CARES Act funding for digital inclusion activities.

The pandemic has introduced several new challenges for digital inclusion coalitions and has magnified a number of existing challenges. These challenges include obstacles to getting sufficient buy-in from broadband internet service providers to support their efforts, as well as barriers to working with local elected officials to make free and/or low-cost internet access a policy priority. Some coalitions cite the lack of infrastructure in rural areas, as well as insufficient resources, staff time, and funding to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, respondents described social distancing rules as a challenge when many of their digital inclusion activities rely on in-person instruction and devices. Several respondents highlighted the challenge of balancing responses to the urgent, short-term needs that the pandemic presents—such as hotspot and device distribution for K-12 digital learning—with long-term, sustained investment in broadband access, adoption, and literacy.

Digital inclusion coalitions are finding ways to creatively solve problems to address their communities’ digital needs. These solutions include developing new and expanded partnerships, including partnering with community members; piloting new initiatives; collaboratively seeking new sources of funding; pivoting to online training in digital skills training and virtual tech help; sharing information and resources with their communities; and offering socially distanced, masked, and outdoor events. In addition, there are more stakeholders interested in digital inclusion initiatives than ever before, especially K-12 schools, health care providers, and local nonprofits. Two of our respondents indicated the importance of making connections between the COVID-19 pandemic, digital inequality, and racial injustice when developing digital equity solutions. Respondents indicated that several new tactics will continue even when the health crisis ends, including: virtual learning services; development of digital equity plans, expanding broadband infrastructure, raising awareness of digital equity work, prioritizing device accessibility and training in digital literacy, and promoting data-collection efforts.

Cities, counties, states, and national organizations have also played key roles in supporting local digital equity ecosystems. Cities, counties, and states have played significant roles in addressing digital inequality during the pandemic, such as making funds available for internet and device access, including free community Wi-Fi access points and free or discounted in-home internet access. Cities and counties have also worked with their public libraries to expand Wi-Fi hotspot availability. Statewide and multi-state coalitions have focused their efforts on the following: providing maps of free internet locations, compiling lists of low-cost internet deals, providing recommendations for COVID-19 task forces, creating online-resource webpages, informing people about digital equity, offering information on funding opportunities and state actions, and collaborating to share knowledge and resources. National nonprofits have worked to address digital inequality in communities across the United States through their work with local digital inclusion coalitions to promote literacy training in digital literacy, as well as device refurbishing and reuse.

Illinois Developing Broadband Leadership Series

By Broadband, Digital Equity, Digital Inclusion, Publications, ResearchNo Comments

On June 3rd, CI Lab Director Dr. Colin Rhinesmith presented at the fourth part of the University of Illinois Extension Developing Broadband Leadership Webinar Series, which focused on broadband adoption, affordability, and inclusion. This series was co-sponsored by the University of Illinois extension, the Illinois Office of Broadband, and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society. 

Alongside special guest Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton and speakers Gigi Sohn (Georgetown Law Institute for Technology, Law and Policy), Debbie Alfredson (Deputy Director, Winnebago County Housing Authority), Karin Norington-Reaves (Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership), and Casey Sorenson (PCs for People), Dr. Rhinesmith presented on his 2016 Benton Foundation report, “Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives.”

As Dr. Rhinesmith highlighted the research in the report intended to provide evidence to help inform initiatives such as the FCC’s Lifeline Universal Service program, which at the time was being reformed to help provide a broadband subsidy to low-income consumers. Research questions guiding the study included:

What are the key characteristics of low-cost Internet and digital literacy training programs for vulnerable populations?

What indicators do broadband adoption programs use to measure the success of their programs?

After visiting eight community-based organizations across the country, Dr. Rhinesmith identified a four-part digital inclusion strategy common to these organizations. Part of this strategy includes making low-cost computers available in addition to low-cost broadband and digital literacy training. The presentation concludes with the reminder:

The full webinar has been recorded, and you can view Dr. Rhinesmith’s slides here.

Close Menu

Join our newsletter!