I am particularly interested in how technology can help to engage low income citizens in community activities and political decisions. This group of people are easily marginalized in decision-making because they are unable to engage with policy-makers in the same way households with only one working spouse (or, for that matter, families where no one holds more than one job) are able to do. As technological capabilities have boomed with the advent of internet, researchers have found that lower income people (especially in other countries) have skipped over having internet on a desktop computer and but are likely to have internet access on cell phones.
I found an interesting initiative (and paper analyzing the success of the initiative, found here) called North End Organizing Network (NEON) that spoke to this fact. NEON created a mobile tool for residents of Springfield, Massachusetts to submit questions via text message and voicemail. I thought this approach was very interesting because it didn’t utilize mobile apps, which I think is the current fad. At first I thought this might be a negative in terms of engagement and management, but, on the other hand, this approach allows for older citizens who might not have smart phones to engage with their government. However, NEON found that many of their participants (including the older ones) have access to a computer with internet at home but few seniors owned mobile phones and had trouble even dialing the number for NEON. Many of the younger citizens suggested NEON use facebook to reach the community, but interestingly, many of their participants preferred traditional communication channels like radio and the newspaper. The NEON trial concluded that utilizing multiple platforms is essential when trying to reach many generations.