Digital Equity and Nonprofit Needs in Central Texas




On July 28, Mission Capital and the Digital Empowerment Community of Austin co-hosted an event on the topic of digital equity and nonprofit needs. Our goals were to connect more resources to the nonprofit sector, create a space for more people to connect to each other on this topic, and gain deeper insights about the needs of nonprofits navigating the digital divide.

We, of course, did not want the knowledge and resources gained through the event to stay just within the boundedness of the event itself. In this blog post, for the purpose of transparency, we will summarize the event and our approach, as well as share the high-level themes and next steps. During the event, we used Miro for attendee interaction and to share resources. To see those details, please check out the Miro board here:

The pandemic we are living in has at once elevated the awareness of the digital divide and simultaneously stretched the chasm even further.  

A Not So Inclusive Conversation:  

The intensifying of the digital divide was evident in our event as well, and we want to acknowledge the deep irony that this event is driven by a wide-reaching, critical inequity around technology and yet we had the event online and used tools (Zoom, Miro) that are far from ideal in accessibility. Knowing this challenge ahead of time, we committed to a follow up effort to identify partners and collaborators willing to work to make the digital equity conversation more inclusive.  

We will make this call again at the end of this post, but if you are interested in furthering this conversation and collaborating to help make this process more inclusive, please reach out to: insights@missioncapital.org or jesse.rodriquez@austintexas.gov. 

Who did we work with? 

After a few brainstorming meetings between staff from the City of Austin’s Digital Inclusion and IT Systems offices and staff from Mission Capital, the coordinating team also met with the larger DECA community for ideas and feedback. 

We recognized early on the need to ensure we were supporting ongoing efforts and reached out to leaders in the digital equity space to ensure their work was highlighted.

How did we produce this event? 

We settled on a 2-hour event, comprised of synchronous activities of two-panels and two breakout sessions, and asynchronous activities where attendees could visit and contribute to resource and data boardsWe also had a post-event half-hour of networking.   

We used Eventbrite to offer registration for the event, which helped us gauge potential attendance. The event was free, but after “selling out” of registrations within just a few hours of kicking off our marketing campaign, we had to extend our Eventbrite attendance threshold and increase our Zoom license to be able to host more people. By the close of registration, we had over 300 people registered.  

We had not facilitated an event this large using a highly interactive and participatory strategy before. We had used Zoom for events this large, but we had only used Miro for events with 50 participants or fewer. As the date neared and the registration numbers continued to climb, we started making pivots to our original agenda to try and make sure we could accommodate the possibility of a large attendance. Indeed, our peak attendance was 176 active participants. To help acclimate the attendees to the event, we created a pre-event guide and a “how to” video that was circulated a few days before the event.

See the event guide here.

What did we do during the event? 

The session was divided into 3 facilitated portions:

Intro panel on Digital Equity & Collaboration in the Nonprofit and Public Sectors
⦁ Breakouts to generate feedback and connect with others
⦁ Closing panel on Funding & Resources Available for Digital Equity
⦁ Bonus! Networking – we remained open for 30 min. for conversation

Panels

We recruited DECA members to participate in two panels that bookended the event. For the first panel, Michael Ward (President and CEO of the Austin Urban Technology Movement (AUTM)) and Nehemiah Pitts (Commissioner for the city’s Community Technology & Telecommunications Commission) shared their perspectives on digital equity and collaboration in the nonprofit and public sectors. For the last panel, Daniel Lucio, (Government and Community Affairs Manager, Google Fiber), Sara Ortiz Shields (Executive Director, Austin Tech Alliance), and John Speirs (Program Manager, Digital Inclusion Office, City of Austin) focused on funding and resources available for digital equity.  

You can find videos of the panels here.

Breakouts

For the first breakout session, we used the pulse survey findings and feedback from the DECA community to identify topic areas. We settled on 11 different breakout topics for attendees to vote on through the polling feature in Zoom. We asked attendees to use the list to answer the following question: What is the top challenge related to digital equity that your organization is dealing with today? Through the vote, we identified four topics to breakout into during the event.  

The four breakouts were: (a) Tech Literacy, (b) Hardware/Resources, (c) Internet Access, and (d) Training on work with clients in digital inequity conditions.  

Attendees were asked to change their Zoom name to their topic of choice and then were sorted into breakout rooms accordingly. Mission Capital staff and members of the city’s Digital Inclusion Office co-hosted the breakouts.  

After the first breakout, attendees were brought back and sent into a second, optional smaller breakout where they were randomly assigned into groups of three. Using the Miro board, the attendees navigated to their assigned “table” to discuss the themes they heard in the larger breakout and to answer the question: What additional needs does your organization have related to digital equity?  

During the second breakout, Mission Capital staff summarized the themes from the first breakout. When everyone returned from their breakouts, those themes were shared out and then we moved into our last panel, wrap up, and sharing of next steps, and then moved into thirty minutes of networking.

What did we learn? 

During the first round of breakouts, we asked participants to answer two key questions:  

1. What challenges or needs does your organization have related to this topic area in digital equity and inclusion? 

2. What initiatives, resources, or ideas have you seen or experienced related to this topic area in digital equity and inclusion? 

During the event, the breakout hosts identified top theme summaries from their sessions, which can be found directly on the Miro board in the third row. Following the event, the coordinating team reviewed all the stickies and further narrowed the top themes around four needs or challenge areas that nonprofits were experiencing related to the digital equity and technology: 

Virtual tech assistance capabilities 
Knowledge of platforms to use to educate clients 
Methods or best practices for virtual learning by targeted populations 
Raising awareness of programmatic options 

After identifying key themes, the coordinating team also then put together and reviewed “How might we” questions to help guide the next action steps by the group.

What’s Next? 

Even before we got to the event date itself, we identified multiple action areas to further collaborate on and seek additional partners.  

Increasing Access to the Digital Equity Conversation: In having to decide who our primary audience (social and public sector actors) would be for this event, we knew that we would need to work to increase access to the digital equity conversation we were hoping to catalyze across the sectors locally. With that in mind, we made a commitment to recruit additional partners and begin a broader effort to amplify and support efforts to make the digital equity conversation more inclusive of those who are being most directly affected by this societal pivot to virtual 

Digital Equity & Funders Convening: Mission Capital, DECA, UWATX, and Google Fiber, will be working to produce an event to bring more attention to digital equity in the local funder community.  

Following the event, we also identified multiple areas of “action steps” that we could collaboratively support in the short term (1-3 months) to address urgent digital equity needs identified during the event.  

Digital Literacy Training Series: Using “Lunch & Learn” series, we will identify local providers who can provide introductory level training for nonprofit staff and volunteers, as well as other direct service providers, on key knowledge topics to improve digital literacy. The series will kick-off with a training on digital literacy for nonprofits with Kami Griffiths, Executive Director of Community Tech Network. 

Historically Mapping the Digital Divide: Using participatory strategies, we will create a digital map to help get a better understanding of the historical and systemic impact of digital inequity in Central Texas. This map will hopefully provide additional insights into how institutions, organizations, and powerful stakeholders can get involved. 

Join Us!


If you or your organization are interested in collaborating on this work involving digital equity in the Central Texas nonprofit sector, please reach out to: insights@missioncapital.org or jesse.rodriquez@austintexas.gov.

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