The Hidden Network: Digital Inclusion Superconnectors
A Note from Our Founder
This month I am thinking about connectivity. No, not the connectivity I always talk about - where having internet access impacts an individual. This is the connectivity between service providers. and perhaps more importantly, the connectivity between the services being provided to our communities and the data we use to administer those programs. You see, if we learned anything from the internet age, it's that the value of a network is directly connected to the number and quality of those connected to that network.
The next big thing that should be on all of our radars is partnership-driven data integrations. If all these great advancements we keep hearing about - from “the internet of things” (IoT) to “blockchain” are going to happen, we must first identify the aligning principals (the commonalities between different organizations missions) of our existing partnerships and the existing channels (the programs where we demonstrate these shared ideals) through which those alignments take place. Not only is this “hidden network” the way forward on many of these larger initiatives, it is an often unexploited resource for deeper understanding into the mechanics of our communities and resident populations.
Take digital inclusion for an example. Digital Inclusion is a program area shared by several otherwise highly disparate organizations - from housing authorities, to banking institutions, from healthcare institutions to workforce agencies - all these significantly different organizations all share an interest in ensuring that those they serve have basic computer literacy. There aren’t many other program areas like this. It’s unique.
Moreover, many of those providing these services in the various agencies know each other socially. This is an example of a hidden network. Its not formally identified, those in the network acknowledge the others and will interact around the programs they offer in common, but do not claim to “be a part of something”.
Unfortunately, this is a significant missed opportunity. Consider what could happen if data for these programs was integrated? Since all these organizations serve many of the same people - there could be an opportunity for a true case-management approach to service delivery. The shared data would be more reliable due to having more points of interaction (opportunities to update data). Information dissemination could be more effective - as messages could be reinforced through the network. Service delivery could be improved due to the ability to “warm transfer” a client to another service provider. And this is just the tip of the iceberg!
In the coming months - we are going to be releasing some resources for nonprofits to assist in doing this. We will continue to bring this conversation to the table at stakeholder meetings and will be presenting these concepts at upcoming conferences. Digital Inclusion providers are the SUPERCONNECTORS of the social service community. Are there others out there in a similar position? No doubt. But as we work to uncover more superconnectors, let's start working by leveraging this existing hidden network to catalyze the change we are all striving towards!