Many of the tools described on this website are online. So what about people without internet access?
Boards deal with unequal access to online tools, and varying levels of participation for other reasons.
Many New Yorkers do not have access to the Internet, or do not use it as a source of information. Community Boards’ communication efforts through websites and emails do not reach the entire population of New York City. This inequity in access to the Internet is a problem for visibility and outreach efforts of any public entity – it’s commonly called the “digital divide”.
Of course, reasons for not getting involved in local issues are not just digital: levels of participation differ between neighborhoods, depending on local character, relevant issues that bring people together, and so on. Language is also a barrier to participation – for residents themselves and for Community Boards in their effort to engage the community.
So how can online tools help?
The tools we suggest in this report don’t fix all the problems of engagement. Talking face to face is obviously still very important.
However, online tools can be useful for residents who are able to use them. For local organizers and engaged residents, using the tools can make it easier to connect with more people and bring their voices to the Community Board.
Some of the ideas we discuss don’t need internet access, like using SMS to keep in touch.
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For more about the digital divide and state of public participation via online tools, read the Pew Internet & American Life Project.