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The University of Washington Information School, a Communities Connect Network (CCN) partner, recently prepared a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) Grant End Report. Within the report, individual subrecipient accomplishments are highlighted as well as recommendations for the future of CCN. Below is the executive summary.
Executive Summary: Washington State BTOP Grant End Report
The Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) provided grants ranging from $18,938 to $50,288 to 22 community technology centers (CTC) located in the state of Washington. The grants provided support for hands-on technology access and training for low-income and underserved residents. The BTOP grant also provided funding for activities related to capacity building for the CTCs and for the Communities Connect Network, a project which seeks to help community organizations expand access to technology across Washington State. At the completion of the grants, significant progress in digital inclusion has been made through the efforts of the community technology centers and others involved in the project.
During the two-year grant period, the twenty-two community technology centers (CTC) awarded funding made significant improvements to the community technology services at their organizations. Grantees purchased and installed new computer equipment, made connectivity upgrades, developed and refined curriculum, offered new classes, improved websites, purchased new technical equipment, and hired staff. With these upgrades to their centers, these organizations were able to significantly increase access to community technology across Washington State.
As a result of these activities, clients using CTC resources were able to engage in important online activities, receive training, and experience significant improvements in their lives.
Care was taken with the grantees to help them improve the sustainability of their programs. All of the community centers were provided with a needs assessment, evaluation, plans and other capacity building activities through consultation and training provided by the University of Washington. They were also provided with training in evaluation and fundraising.
In addition, grantees made efforts toward sustainability of their programs by engaging in resource sharing, partnering with other community organizations, and increasing the visibility of their public computing centers through outreach activities. Outreach activities include staff presentations to schools and other community centers, attending community events, local news media promotion, and creating brochures promoting services.
The Communities Connect Network grew out of a program begun in 1999 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a way for community organizations to receive funding for using technology to help community members improve their lives, increase their knowledge, and meet basic needs. It was created as part of a vision for a self-organized, self-sustaining network for those who were interested and passionate about community technology efforts.
Through Communities Connect Network, a celebration of digital inclusion was held to spotlight the BTOP grant accomplishments in the community. Communities Connect Network also led the Washington State Digital Inclusion Summit to bring leaders and providers together to discuss and share ideas about digital inclusion efforts.
In 2013, the Communities Connect Network conducted a survey of community technology centers in Washington to learn about those organizations and how Communities Connect Network can best serve them. The survey is a continuation of a survey conducted in 2006 and provides a comparison of community technology in Washington over time.
The survey found that the CCN resources community technology centers most were most likely to use are the online directory of other community technology centers across the state, sample curriculum for digital literacy classes available for downloading, and webinars for technology center staff or volunteers on providing digital literacy instruction.
Since no other organization in Washington offers support for community technology centers, we recommend that additional resources be found and invested in the CCN to allow it to continue to operate. Without CCN, community technology centers are very limited in their ability to leverage resources, develop new partnerships, and engage in planning and evaluation activities that will promote their sustainability.