Statewide leaders visit Salem neighborhood to experience a holistic approach to getting people connected
By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
Creating true digital equity is like putting together a puzzle: all the pieces must fit before you can see the big picture.
To achieve this, people need access to devices, Wifi and digital literacy training, certainly. But an effective adoption strategy is the key and final piece of the puzzle.
“Some people say that building the network is the hardest thing,” said Kate Machet, ECCF’s director of strategic initiatives and community leadership. “But it’s getting people to use it that can be the most challenging part of the work.”
In The Point neighborhood of Salem – where ECCF has worked collaboratively with the North Shore Community Development Coalition, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, Tech Goes Home and a host of other partners to install Wifi, distribute devices and offer computer training – it’s the digital equity ambassadors that have been crucial to connecting all the dots.
These familiar members from the community engage residents and small business owners, answer questions about the devices and services being provided and serve as a trusted face of the work. Cultural competency and effective communication with Point residents, many of whom speak a language other than English, have proven to be critical to adopting technology.
“It’s great to see people actually coming to us for computers,” said Felicia Pierce, chief program officer at the North Shore Community Development Coalition.
“All of the pieces of this work really come together in The Point,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s executive vice president and COO. “And this project can serve as a model for other communities because it’s really a holistic approach to digital equity.”
Because of the success seen in the Point, dozens of community leaders from around the state recently toured the neighborhood to get a first-hand look at the work. On Oct. 3, municipal leaders from communities including Quincy, Brockton, Lynn, Chelsea and others walked the neighborhood to view where network antennas are placed, a community room where digital literacy training happens and apartments buildings and small businesses where they could get a sense of how real people are benefitting from these collaborative efforts.
“Other communities are very interested in replicating what is happening in the Point, but they don’t know where to start,” said Machet. “This was a great opportunity for them to see how all of the pieces come together.”
The tour was organized by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute and state leaders for communities interested in seeing how funders, nonprofit organizations and technology companies are collaborating to support digital equity.
“ECCF is really proud to play a role in local work that is being held up as a potential statewide model,” said Lloyd. “It’s a testament to the efforts of so many people and organizations working together to make this happen.”