Open Government is about Eliminating the Digital Divide (Part 5 of 5 of Series)

This may seem contradictory initially. Doesn’t Gov 2.0 enhance the digital divide by pushing government engagement further away from folks that aren’t equipped with a computer or web-enabled mobile device? The danger of focusing on Gov 2.0 only, considering the digital divide, is that certain populations will be under-represented in the governing process. We can do a lot of “cool” things with Gov 2.0, but some argue that unless we address accessibility we aren’t really transforming government to an equitable platform; we are instead making its operations more inaccessible to certain stakeholder groups. Closing the digital divide and encouraging Gov 2.0 are not mutually exclusive however. You don’t have to choose one or the other—choose both. In fact, some people think that the digital divide is a myth and only a perceived gap—that as cost of use decreases and ease of use increases, the ethnic, racial, and geographical internet access gaps will decrease on their own. (see “The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis or Creating a Myth by Benjamin M. Compaine) Furthermore, one could argue that Gov 2.0 will increase ease of use as open source applications allow tools to be customized by users so they become more and more useful through each version. However, this is a result that occurs over time and thus government programs should in the interim make sure to consider accessibility issues and prioritize digital equality programming in parallel with Gov 2.0 efforts.

It seems that those places that have had some success in bridging the divide are heavily dependent on programming at the local level. Boston has done some really interesting programming and tried to address the problem from a lot of directions through the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation. This is also a unique time where the federal government is financially supporting broadband technology expansion with stimulus funds and several grant programs including the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

As another intermediate goal, we should continue to encourage innovation through Gov 2.0, but also address digital divide issues in parallel through efforts like what they’ve done in Boston. One should not be sacrificed for the other—they just need to be balanced given limited resources. The good news is, a lot of the Gov 2.0 efforts are “free” or low cost compared to the infrastructure heavy investments required for certain digital divide programming.

(Note: Originally posted on the Phase One Consulting Group, Government Transformation Blog when I was an employee there.