The Digital Literacy Alliance wants to lessen the digital divide in advance of Census 2020 - Generocity Philly

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May 14, 2019 7:46 am

The Digital Literacy Alliance wants to lessen the digital divide in advance of Census 2020

This is the first census that will be conducted almost entirely online. Here's how the 19-organization coalition hopes to address the challenges that presents through its grantmaking.

Difficulty accessing the internet and completing the form online will impact who is counted in the upcoming 2020 Census.

(Photo by The Gender Spectrum Collection, via Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This article was written by Tom Beck and appeared in full at Technical.ly Philly.


It’s almost the year 2020, which means the federal government’s constitutionally mandated decennial census is just around the corner.

To date, there have been 22 censuses since the first one in 1790. But there’s going to be something different about next year’s: For the first time, the census will largely be conducted online.

It’s a logical next step for the 21st-century census, which will now only require 50,000 fieldworkers instead of 150,000. However, allowing the opportunity for U.S. citizens to respond to census questions online presents various obstacles that’ll need to be addressed, such as the possibility hacking; Australia learned this the hard way when its inaugural online census was hacked in 2016, causing a $21 million setback.

But the online census poses another issue that’s on a much smaller and more local scale. The problem is that lots of people across the country have difficulty accessing the internet, oftentimes due to a lack of resources. This is especially true for Philadelphia.

“This is no secret, but Philly has challenges with rates of online access, internet access and adoption rate,” said Andrew Buss, the City of Philadelphia’s deputy CIO of innovation management. “It’s largely tied to poverty.”

It poses an essential question: How are we going to get the nearly 30% of Philadelphians who don’t have internet access in their homes to respond to the census survey? Buss’ Office of Innovation & Technology (OIT) has an idea.

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OIT is just one of a number of entities affiliated with the Digital Literacy Alliance (DLA), a 19-organization collective born out of the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia that gives grants for digital literacy initiatives. The past two years, DLA has funded projects focusing on a variety of technology-related issues in the city, ranging from spotting fake news to tablet training sessions for senior citizens. In the past, DLA has allowed applicants to pitch their projects so long as they were tied to one of a few subject areas the DLA was offering grants for.

But this year, there’s only one subject area: the 2020 census.

“As the group thought about its grant cycle for this year,” Buss explained, “we were looking for an issue of importance and timeliness. Obviously the census came up and that seemed like a really good thing to focus on.”

As a result, DLA announced yesterday that it will divvy out $200,000 this year to worthy recipients who are looking to help under-resourced Philadelphians complete their census surveys by way of the internet. The individual grants will be between $10,000 and $25,000 for individual organizations. If multiple organizations team up on a proposal, they can be allotted up to $40,000. (See the full grant guidelines here.)

“That’s generally the range we’ve used in past cycles,” Buss said. “It’s pretty good as far as giving some of the smaller organizations a meaningful amount of money they can do a nice program with.”

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