Frequently Asked Questions1. What is the overall message of the report?
2. What’s the real, tangible difference between an initiative that focuses on access and one that focuses on outcomes? Can you offer examples of what you’re talking about?
3. The report is all about pursuing tangible “outcomes.” What outcomes are you trying to achieve in this report?
4. Pursuing “outcomes” is easier said than done. In practical terms, what does focusing on outcomes mean?
5. What is this report based on?
6. Are you saying universal access is bad? Are you saying it’s a waste of money to make sure every family has access to a computer?
7. What’s wrong with focusing on access? Isn’t access the key prerequisite to achieving outcomes? How can you achieve outcomes without access?
8. Are you saying that the majority of digital divide efforts have been a waste of time and money?
9. You say that public policy needs to change. What are your key recommendations for policy changes?
10. Who’s the audience for this report?
11. Why do you shy away from using the term “digital divide?”
12. What is the Morino Institute?
A: We believe that it is time to redirect and augment the energies that are being devoted to closing the “digital divide.” Although the United States has made major strides in expanding access to new information technologies, providing access alone has rarely proved to be as effective as it is well-meaning. Technology initiatives are more effective when people design their programs from the start with tangible economic, educational, and social end results – or “outcomes” – in mind.
A: An example of an initiative focused on access alone would be one that donated laptops to children in the absence of long-term programs of training and guidance, in the hope that the sheer power of the technology would open up doors of learning for the children. No matter how well-intentioned this type of initiative is, it’s based on the “if you provide it, it will be useful” corollary to the “if you build it, they will come” theory. The real world doesn’t work this way very often.
An example of an initiative focused on outcomes would be one that is designed from the start – and constantly supported along the way – to target a specific health need. For instance, because of a severe shortage of eye doctors in South Central LA, many people just wait until their eye problems become acute and then show up in emergency rooms. So, as we highlighted in the report, one doctor decided to start putting tele-ophthalmology clinics in local housing developments. When a patient arrives at a clinic, a technician takes images of the patient’s eyes, and the images are immediately sent over high-speed digital lines to a board-certified ophthalmologist at the King/Drew Medical Center, who can speak to the patient over a real-time video connection, prescribe a treatment, and schedule a more intensive in-person examination if necessary. Outcomes are as clear as day: It’s making people healthier. And it’s probably saving money in the long run, as well.
A: We are trying to influence the course of the nation’s digital divide efforts. We want leaders in government, industry, philanthropy, and community organizations to ask hard questions at every stage of their work with low-income communities: What is the social benefit we seek to achieve when we invest in technology? How, specifically, will our investments help people improve their lives?
A: Focusing on outcomes is the opposite of operating under the “Field of Dreams” assumption that “if you build it, they will come.” In the real world, helping people achieve meaningful changes in their standard of living takes much more than just good intentions and access to technology. It takes a laser-focused desire to help people meet hard and fast needs – for example, the need for a GED degree, English language instruction, job training, affordable housing, health care, small business loans, or job placement assistance. It takes a concerted effort to build good relationships with the local leaders who have already earned the trust of the people you intend to serve. It takes a careful study of what real-life outcomes today’s technology is best suited to achieve and what outcomes community members put at the top of their list of priorities. It takes a funding plan that provides at least two dollars for helping the organization apply and maintain technology for every dollar invested in hardware, software, and wires.
A: The report is based on:
A: Absolutely not. We strongly hope that someday every home in America will have a computer and Internet access, just as every home in America should have a phone. But our view is that universal access should not be the primary rallying cry of those who aim to solve problems facing low-income communities. If we could magically put an Internet-connected computer in every home in America tomorrow, would that really improve people’s lives? For a small group of people, yes. But not for nearly enough people. Technology is no panacea. Technology only becomes a transformative tool when people learn how to use it to meet fundamental needs – for finding jobs, for accessing health services, for participating in educational programs, for organizing, and for gaining a voice in government decisions.
A: Access is a prerequisite. But it is only that. It is not an end in itself. Access alone does not guarantee any meaningful improvements in people’s lives. For example, a comprehensive review of the educational technology literature by the Gates Foundation concluded that education technology may improve student performance if teachers are extensively trained, feel a sense of ownership, and have access to a high level of technical support. Without these conditions, computers may not have any positive impact on achievement. In fact, for some community organizations, technology can be an active impediment if it’s just parachuted in and plunked down on people’s desks without adequate funding for applying it, managing it, and supporting it. Therefore, we believe that the real rallying cry for those who are working to help raise living standards in low-income communities should be “outcomes” – not “access.”
A: Not at all. We think that the digital divide efforts to date represent a remarkable mobilization in a very short period of time. We believe it is now time for the leaders of these efforts to build on the very solid, very generous foundation they have created and rise toward the higher goal of helping community organizations and individuals apply technology in creative ways to meeting fundamental needs for things like jobs, quality health care, education, and safe streets. Helping people become comfortable with technology is useful. Helping them get a job, a small business loan, a safe place to live, or quality child care can be transformative.
We see a wide potential audience for this report – from Senators on Capitol Hill to community organizers in Boston’s Mission Hill, from high-tech executives in Silicon Valley to local grantmakers in Cleveland.
A: We think the term “digital divide” can be useful, but it also can be misleading. The digital divide is real. But it’s not the most important divide that confronts families in low-income communities. The digital divide is really a symptom of the much more fundamental disparities in educational and economic opportunity. Even if we could magically put an Internet-connected computer in every home in America tomorrow, would that really lift people’s lives? For a small group of people, yes. But not for nearly enough people. Computers only become a transformative tool when people learn how to use them to meet fundamental needs – for finding jobs, for accessing health services, for participating in educational programs, for organizing, and for gaining a voice in government decisions.
The Morino Institute (www.morino.org), a nonprofit foundation based in Reston, VA, was founded in 1994 by Mario Morino, the co-founder of the software firm Legent. The core mission of the Morino Institute is to increase the flow of financial, human, and technological resources to community organizations serving children of low-income families. Entrepreneurial ventures of the Morino Institute include Venture Philanthropy Partners (www.venturephilanthropypartners.org), a major effort to support the mission of nonprofit leaders through long-term investments of funding and management support; YouthLearn (www.youthlearn.org), which provides useful tools and resources to support “project-based learning” in classroom and out-of-school settings; and Netpreneur (www.netpreneur.org), which has helped to catalyze entrepreneurship in the National Capital region.