Are your residents using technology strategically? Ask them!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with Otto Doll, the CIO at the City of Minneapolis. Also, and I add this because I know this will increase his street cred with many readers, Otto is the former CIO of South Dakota. Otto was instrumental in the success of the Minneapolis Digital Community Survey.

I wrote about the survey last summer when it came out. One of the things that really impressed me was the blend questions on access (from broadband to public computer labs) and adoption. It led to understating not just if people are using broadband but are they using it strategically and understanding the value. My 8 year old can use the heck out of broadband connection downloading a movie while uploading her acting debut – but is that quality use? This report looked at what folks were doing – and what they were missing by not being online.

Also the report looked at information on the neighborhood level. I’ll repost an image that I think helped demonstrate the importance of the granularity. Great to know about citywide access to computers in the home – but when you’re deciding where to place computers in libraries, isn’t it even nicer to know which neighborhoods need them? (And it sounds like the report is being used that way!)

I could dive deep into the report – but what I really wanted to know was how the Minneapolis survey could benefit rural communities. So I asked Otto what he would change if he were surveying rural South Dakota. His answer? Nothing!

How can rural communities survey residents?

The survey questions that they used in Minneapolis are available online. Otto’s background is in IT research. The questions are good. Other communities are welcome to use the survey.

In Minneapolis, the survey was available in four languages: English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong. I’d say if you contacted the number on the survey (612‐673‐3000.), you might be able to get the questions in these languages.

In Minneapolis they did multiple mailings of the survey to 165,000 households. They asked that anyone over the age of 18 in the household complete it. They distributed it throughout 86 neighborhoods and 32 regions. They had a college intern, with a statistics background, help.

How can rural communities use the survey results?

I have been so impressed with how the survey has spurred different activities in Minneapolis. There were a series of Community meetings held last summer. Notes from the meetings are posted online; here’s a summary from the notes:

  • Attendees were interested in the data, interested in what others are doing and how they can help, and appreciative that the survey was done.
  • Attendees were interested in the survey methodology, and suggested we dig deeper into the data and reference related research.
  • There are many community needs and ideas, which are grouped around access, collaboration, increasing awareness of resources and ways to engage.
  • It’s clear that collaboration is key – no one organization can tackle the needs on its own.
  • It’s important to the community that we meet people where they are, leverage existing relationships and communications to promote the value of technology, and as a way to engage people to try something new.
  • Connecting with residents is important in a variety of contexts: government, schools, teachers, neighborhood associations and businesses.

Otto mentioned that he and others have also been out talking to various groups about the survey and the results. They have talked with folks at the University of Minnesota. They have talked with the Digital Literacy Group in the Twin Cities. They have met with various policymakers. Otto meets with local CIOs at monthly. Minneapolis is able to present the info in a variety of formats. There’s a high level executive summary for the policymakers. The full results are available for folks in the field. And there’s an interactive map online – again for folks who want to dig to more granular information. Reaching people with the right format is so valuable!

I would encourage other communities to take a look at what Minneapolis has done and what they can borrow from Minneapolis to look at their own local strategic use of the Internet. Minneapolis is planning another survey in January 2013.

2 thoughts on “Are your residents using technology strategically? Ask them!

  1. Hi, Ann: I worry sometimes about judging whether broadband use is “quality” use. Your daughter is developing skills that she can use for other things that might be judged “more important.” People who watch You Tube or play games also are developing skills they can use for job applications, etc. Same for gamers, and they keep pushing tech forward at the same time. Plus, remember the guy at U of Washington who put gamers to work on the genetic issue? They solved in three weeks what scientists had failed to solve in years. Any computer use is good use, just like any reading is good reading or any walking/hiking is good hiking. Issues of “quality” have nothing to do with technology; they belong on another plane.

  2. Jim,

    I’m with you on gaming! Hours of downloading “Wizards of Waverly Place” – not as much. 😉

    But you bring up a good point. I agree I don’t want to value others’ use – but I would like to know if people are transferring what they learn using technology for entertainment to using it to make their lives better in other ways. Would my kid watch a video on YouTube to help answer a homework question? Or does she go online to create her Christmas Wish List?

    Of course another approach is – can we use the game approach to make some of the mundane tasks of life more enjoyable? That would be a great way to really get technology to work for us!

    Thx! Ann

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