Panel Paper: Building Evidence for High Speed Internet Access Among Low-Income Families: Integrating Service Design Research Methodologies into Implementation and Evaluating Effects

Friday, November 3, 2017
Horner (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jean-Marie Callan, Ariel Kennan and Chisun Rees, New York Mayor's Office for Economic Opportunity

Compared to higher income households with school-age children, low-income families with children are four times as likely to lack access to high-speed internet (Pew Research Center, 2015). Lacking reliable internet access puts low-income students at a disadvantage for completing school work (the so-called “homework gap”) and disadvantages their families in accessing public services or other key information related to employment, education, and related needs. Recognizing this, ConnectHome was launched in 2015 as a collaboration between the federal government, private sector, and local communities to expand access to broadband, digital literacy, and technical training for low-income families across the United States.

Consistent with these goals, New York City launched an effort to install free, high-speed broadband in public housing developments, beginning with one large development of over 6,500 residents. The City is also partnering with community institutions to offer digital literacy and other broadband adoption supports. The initiative has integrated research methods into its implementation to inform the rollout and ultimately shape an overall evaluation plan for assessing the effects of providing low-income families with improved internet access.

This paper will discuss the Center for Economic Opportunity’s efforts to build evidence in support of this initiative and others like it across the country. First, the paper will address findings from a study by a third party evaluator examining how public housing residents are affected by characteristics of their surrounding neighborhoods. The evaluation includes a citywide quantitative analysis examining the effects of neighborhood income levels on key outcomes and an in-depth qualitative analysis of resident experiences. Key findings from the quantitative component include statistically significant differences in earnings for public housing residents living in different neighborhood types, with households in persistently high‐income neighborhoods earning an average of $4,500 more than those in persistently low‐income neighborhoods. Key qualitative findings include overarching themes like the importance of community engagement, as well as community-specific results describing how targeted public housing residents perceive and interact with their surrounding neighborhood. The paper will particularly highlight results from an ethnographic case study of the first development to receive broadband which has informed the rollout of the initiative in the development.

Second, the paper will detail how the Center utilized these evaluation results to inform integrating service design research methodologies into the implementation of broadband. The research, conducted by City government staff, specifically included scanning the landscape, identifying stakeholders, conducting interviews and workshops with residents, and prototyping and testing ideas for service design co-created with the community. The presentation will describe findings from this research and how they informed the design of the service, including a community website which contains information on resources in and around the development.

The paper will conclude by discussing how the cumulative findings from these research activities have informed the design of an implementation evaluation using community-based participatory research strategies and an anticipated impact evaluation of the broadband initiative. It will specifically address how the evaluation plan was designed to identify and measure potential outcomes, inform key performance indicators, and assess effects for residents.