Updated: May 18
Today’s world demands that we move beyond the decades-old narrative of the “digital divide” and embrace a new mindset to guide our investments in technology toward achieving an inclusive digital economy. We call this approach “Digital Advancement” and it is core to our work at Centri Tech Foundation. We often refer to it as the “fourth A” in the efforts to expand digital equity – Access, Affordability, Adoption, and Advancement. The ideal of Digital Advancement grounds us and drives us to pursue the vision of a future where everyone is connected and everyone thrives.
To measure cities’ prosperity in the digital economy
The Digital Advancement Municipal Index (Muni Index) measures a city’s overall progress toward achieving quality of life through the lens of digital equity. The Muni Index examines the interdependent relationships that exist among 16 indicators – grouped by Technology, Socioeconomics, Education, and Housing – to capture how 308 of the largest U.S. cities are performing against the aspirational goal of building inclusive pathways to prosperity in a digital economy. (Version 1.0 includes cities with populations above 100,000.) Why cities? They’re uniquely positioned to effect change. Indeed, since the onset of the pandemic, cities have demonstrated that local solutions to address digital equity are essential and they work.
To use data to shift the narrative
To shift a narrative and change behavior requires new language and new models. We created the Muni Index to gather and present data in a new context that could help leaders to prioritize and plan for digital advancement. The index provides a way for cities to hold up a mirror to look at how their decisions and actions are aligned with their economic development goals and their long-term strategies to build a strong future. Historic federal investments in broadband infrastructure and digital equity are influencing behavior at all levels to solve holistically and systemically for universal access. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act positions states to receive billions in public funding. To maximize this once-in-a-generation investment, states need to identify opportunities with the potential to yield lasting impact. And cities need to position themselves to receive state funding to further their progress. This tool can help.
To inspire change that benefits us all
While many indices tend to reward the best and shame the worst, the Muni Index aims to inspire a Digital Advancement movement among cities and promote healthy competition and collaboration. The goal is to lift all boats. We want cities to engage one another as peers and to see how their strengths can be leveraged to address others’ weaknesses and vice versa. We also were motivated by the need for leaders and practitioners to agree on how to measure digital equity. The Muni Index presents one model for how cities might begin to measure progress. Defining the metrics for digital equity in an economic development context matters to us, but more research and applications of data are needed. We want to collaborate and learn with others in that effort.