Digital inclusion projects need to build trust to succeed  Thumbnail Image

Digital inclusion projects need to build trust to succeed

Understanding community culture is an essential step to building trust and successfully bringing digital equity to unserved or underserved areas of the country, a panel of digital inclusion practitioners said on Wednesday.  

“There is a lot of frustration on the ground,” said Joshua Edmonds, director of digital inclusion for the City of Detroit. He spoke Wednesday at the annual Mountain Connect conference taking place in Keystone, Colorado.

The subject of the discussion was Innovations in Digital Inclusion, and included Edmonds,  Paolo Balboa, senior programs and data manager at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Scott D. Woods, Ready's vice president of community engagement and strategic partnerships. M-Labs' Director Lai Yi Ohlsen moderated the session. 

Many communities lack trust in state programs, having been burned by them in the past.

Edmonds continued, “we are very, very skeptical, based on the historic flow of resources that continues to put private interest over public good.” 

He said that that community members often felt exploited. 

“There’s a trust issue here,” added Balboa. “When people hear that something is free, they immediately think that it is of lesser value.”

Human infrastructure, like digital navigators who work on the ground with people to help combat technical illiteracy, needs to come from the communities in which they serve. 

That's one way of gaining trust, said Balboa.

Woods spoke about his experience working as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's former director of the National Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives. He said that faith organizations also play a huge role in gaining communities' trust.

Faith organizations, he said, held communities together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Projects must involve this community if they expect to develop trust with individual communities. “We have gone places where, if the local pastor vouches for you, you’re golden.”

It is essential to understand what works culturally for where you are and take advantage of those cultural norms.

Communities have different cultures, but ultimately, said Edmonds, all communities need to see someone who represents them and their specific issues. 

Trust is developed when you’ve developed a “responsive ecosystem” that works in perpetuity. 

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