Public Engagement through Information Technologies explored the potential of new media and technology to engage and educate a large, diverse population on issues of social and individual importance.
Markle began its Domestic Digital Divide Initiative in June 2001 to address inadequate and unevenly distributed access to technology among low-income families as computer and Internet usage became more prevalent across all segments of US society. This initiative had two central goals. The first goal was to identify areas for research and experimentation that would encourage the development of content and services relevant to low-income users. The second goal was to find individual organizations with whom to collaborate, and pursue their ideas for developing content and services.
Markle made a 3-year commitment to collaborate with The Children’s Partnership to develop content for the Domestic Digital Divide Initiative. This partnership began with the release of the report Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: the Digital Divide’s New Frontier in March 2000. The study found that insufficient local information, language and literacy barriers, and a lack of cultural diversity on the Internet posed the greatest problems for disadvantaged populations. With Markle’s support, The Children’s Partnership developed a comprehensive online information portal called ContentBank, a critical resource for staff of community technology programs, after-school programs, libraries, and other technology help centers serving low-income populations.
Markle supported the Martin Luther King After-School Program, a pilot program designed by the Educational Netcasting Foundation to introduce low-income youth to basic computer skills through high-quality educational content regarding black history and culture. The pilot site for this program was the Azusa Christian Community, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The program installed 10 computers at the school, trained teachers, and introduced young people to Encarta Africana 2000.
Markle teamed up with One Economy, a national non-profit organization that uses affordable housing as a delivery system to provide low-income and low-literacy individuals with the information and tools they need in order to help them overcome economic and social divides. Markle assisted One Economy in developing a scalable, comprehensive network of low-income housing landlords who provided at-home Internet access to their residents. The goal of this project was to encourage the creation of products and services for underserved communities by illustrating that providing necessary information, goods, and services to underserved areas can be profitable.
Markle worked with the Freedom Channel to develop Youth-e-Vote to involve young people in the electoral process, encourage students to become future voters, and to stimulate higher parent turnout on Election Day. The program sought to provide access to computers to underserved populations and make technology interesting and engaging.
Markle supported the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) in the development of a program to educate and activate the nation’s leading civil rights groups. The program was designed to expand the base of groups committed to closing the digital divide, develop a leadership forum on the role of technology in democracy, and to connect technology policy issues to the agendas of LCCR’s member groups.
Understanding USA was designed to increase public awareness of civic issues through the book Understanding USA by Richard Saul Wurman. This compendium covered topics such as Social Security, the national debt, education, immigration, the environment, and crime. Markle provided the resources to acquire 10,000 copies of the book for distribution to high school teachers through Center for Civic Education, library systems, foundations, think tanks, universities, corporations, journalists, government officials, and new media professionals. Markle later provided additional support for the development of the online version of Understanding USA.
Markle joined the Web, White & Blue initiative in 1999, specifically to focus on readying and planning the Web, White & Blue activities for the 2000 presidential election. The goal of Web, White & Blue was to build on the 1998 success of the project, which enhanced the election experience of many individuals and demonstrated the ways in which a diversity of organizations and industries can create important Internet services for the public during an election. Web, White & Blue offered a central Internet site with links to other sites that provide non-partisan information on issues, candidates, and platforms.
Markle assisted Internews Network, Inc. with the development of a license application and strategy for a 24-hour, live channel dedicated to quality, international affairs programming on two major Direct Broadcast Satellite systems. The channel used digital, interactive technology to inform and engage individuals in new ways.
In May 1999, Markle assisted Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools (MOUSE) to develop a Web-based online resource that would enable educators and administrators to use technology in schools to share their expertise and experience. MOUSE served as a best-practices model, effectively integrating technology into the curriculum, helping administrators design and implement technology plans, and providing a volunteer-staffed online resource for educators needing technical support.