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Results Published for Nashville’s first countywide digital inclusion survey

7/12/2021
Pearl Amanfu

Digital Inclusion survey data made publicly available on Nashville Open Data Portal

The Digital Inclusion and Access taskforce, partnered with Metro Nashville’s Information Technology Services Department, Vanderbilt Peabody College and The Equity Group marketing and public relations firm, recently published the results of a comprehensive study to assess just how broad the gap is between those who thrive in the digital world and those who are left out. The Nashville Digital Inclusion Needs Assessment is the first of its kind in Davidson County.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the community came together to support school students and families moving to remote learning, and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) was able to obtain upwards of 71,000 laptops and 17,000 mobile Internet hotspots for distribution.

The co-founders of the taskforce, Dr. Fallon Wilson and Dr. Samantha Perez, presented two important questions: How will we plan for sustainability once the pandemic has ended, to ensure that everyone has the skills and support to succeed in digital life going forward? And where is the information about what residents need, to guide our long-term planning?

Over the past several years, Metro Government and local nonprofits have conducted various surveys around aspects of digital inclusion. But there has not been a comprehensive study to deeply investigate the county’s needs around digital inclusion, digital literacy, and broadband adoption.

Drs. Wilson and Perez assembled a group of leaders from various industries to investigate root causes of digital exclusion, identify specific points of need, and make recommendations for how to enact sustainable planning for digital inclusion in Nashville and Davidson County.

Metro’s Chief Information Officer, Keith Durbin, is a member of the taskforce advisory group and a long-time champion of Metro’s work around digital inclusion. “We are aware that we have a responsibility to design for inclusion.” says Durbin. “Without a good understanding of our issues, we can't work together as a community to find the right ways to remedy them. This survey provides information on what the community needs, the degree to which our residents recognize the potential benefits of technology, and whether they have the digital literacy and support to leverage available services.”

The survey finds that Davidson County has some notable strengths in these areas. Nearly 90% of survey respondents recognize the importance of technology in their lives, and 74% feel they have sufficient access to devices and connectivity to meet their needs. The taskforce hopes to address the gaps identified in the report.

“We’re continuing to analyze the data to investigate areas where we can do better,” says Dr. Wilson. “Nationally, there is a conversation about how to drive inclusive policy and infrastructure development. But in order to effectively move toward a state of digital equity, we have to lift up the tens of thousands whose most basic digital needs are not being met. This includes unserved and underserved areas in urban cities, in addition to rural communities, where barriers such as language, geography and income exist. Many in these communities aren’t even aware of the resources that are available, particularly at the federal level.” Dr. Wilson also serves on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment.

"Everyone knows about the digital divide," said Pete Bird of the Frist Foundation, one of three funding partners for the study. "It's one of many inequities that our community needs to address. The beauty of this study is that it helps us better understand who's suffering and where resources should be directed to close the gap."

The other funding partners are Google Fiber and the Nashville Public Education Foundation, whose director, Katie Cour, is also a member of the taskforce advisory group.

In addition to publishing the report on Nashville.gov, the group has made the data, which contains no personally identifiable information, available in the Nashville Open Data Portal. The taskforce plans to continue analysis through the summer, providing information and recommendations to support the work of local agencies that serve the community. The group can be reached at info@digitalinclusionnash.org.