Month: February 2017

Remote Study Participation — A Logistical Challenge

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Amy Honisett, Public Training Librarian at Multnomah County Library.

Last month, we wrote about collaborating with colleagues to get help recruiting participants for a research study. But what happened once we recruited participants and began the study? It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but we did learn a lot about what’s involved in planning for working with the community.

In the beginning, we asked potential participants to complete a survey at the library and then invited those who demonstrated a certain skill level to take part in an online assessment. A few of those participants were able to schedule time to take the assessment at our home location (the library), but many of them preferred to complete it from home.

Scheduling time for participants to come back to the library to take the assessment took a great deal of time. Many participants never returned, so we decided to stop scheduling time, instead allowing them to take it from home or anywhere else they had internet access. A few participants did use the library computers to complete the assessment, but the majority of our first wave of participants took the assessment remotely.

However, remote participation caused some problems. We had to track who had begun the assessment and not completed it, and we had to follow up with those participants, sometimes multiple times. Some of the participants never completed the assessment.

Remote participation also made coordinating the payment of incentives more difficult. Because we believed that cash might better meet the needs of our participants, we incentivized participation with cash rather than a gift card. This meant we could not send the incentives through the mail and participants had to come back to the library to pick up their incentives.

As a result, we had to ask participants which library branch they preferred to use, send the cash to that branch, and ask staff to hold onto the cash until the participant showed up. Once that happened, the staff person needed to collect a signature so that we could reconcile our grant expenditures.

While this worked well most of the time, we did encounter problems when participants never picked up their incentive, when a staff person forgot to get a signature, or when the signature sheet got lost. We were able to work out these challenges by reaching out to the participants, but it took more time.

Overall, these processes worked well. Participants were forgiving of mix ups, and we collected quite a bit of data this way. Our second round of assessments was handled differently because we were doing targeted outreach. We’ll write about that process in a different post.

Lessons learned:

  • The fewer steps in your process, the less chance you will have of making mistakes
  • People are flexible and forgiving
  • Gift cards may be an easier way to distribute incentives than cash

Digital Equity Action Planning: Community Collaboration is Key

This post was written by Digital Equity in Libraries research team member Matthew Timberlake, IT Project Portfolio Manager at Multnomah County Library.

In June of 2014, a small group sat down at Portland State University to try to figure out how to foster increased digital inclusion in our community.

The City of Portland, Multnomah County Library, and Multnomah County became the founding members of the greater Portland area Digital Inclusion Network (DIN), which brought together more than 48 organizational partners from community non-profits, government, business, public schools, higher education and media to develop a Digital Equity Action Plan (DEAP).

We began by holding multiple focus groups with communities who often lack digital access. The results confirmed the research being done nationally: The cost of broadband Internet and the devices needed to use it, as well as the scarcity of culturally specific training, are barriers to meaningful Internet adoption for marginalized groups.

The DIN used the focus group findings as the basis for a series of workshops to craft a digital strategy. The resulting strategic plan reflects the many voices at the table: new immigrants, communities of color, youth, community-based organizations and nonprofits, local government, and telco providers such as Comcast and Google Fiber.

By including so many community groups early in the formulation of the DEAP, we’ve increased our participation and commitment to action. Organizations are working to meet commitments and reach milestones they helped craft.

The DEAP identifies several action items across the five Digital Equity Goals:

Access: Ensure access to affordable high-speed Internet and devices for those in need.

Training/Support: Provide training and support to ensure that everyone has the skills to use digital technology to enhance their quality of life.

Leadership/Capacity Building: Empower community partners to bridge the digital divide through funding, coordination, training and staff resources.

Connectivity to the Digital Economy: Create opportunities for jobs in the digital economy for underserved populations.

Policy: Build a policy framework that supports digital equity and meaningful Internet adoption, leading to better community outcomes.

In April of 2016, the Digital Equity Action Plan was unanimously approved by the Portland City Council and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and Library District Board. Work has begun by the lead organizations to meet our milestones for our first year, and we’re excited to see the results.