Improving Online Access

Online Access 2Purpose Statement

Important government, business, and community services are increasingly available exclusively or, most conveniently, online.  These services are easy to access for people who possess the necessary equipment and technology skills.  However, the people who need these services the most are often the ones least equipped to access them.  By creating conditions that make it easier for people to access online services we can ensure that people will be able to access the services they need.


Our goal was to convene a broad scope of organizations that serve individuals with limited or no computer access or require their agencies’ documents to be accessed online.  We also included representatives from the City of Omaha’s technology department and the Omaha Public Library.

Laurie’s View 

Initial Feelings –

  • Elation
  • Adrenaline
  • Satisfying

We had 22 people show up.  At least five other people wanted to come but had conflicts.  Not only were the numbers great, the participation was excellent!  Everyone was very passionate and wanted to be involved in improving online access for those who need it.

Really, this is what facilitation should feel like.  We didn’t have any conflicts or heated discussion.  We did have to remind them of the “one at a time conversation” ground rule several times for an item that sparked a side conversation.  Everyone was actively working toward the meeting’s goal.

The meeting on April 10th started out very quietly.  It didn’t seem like anyone knew each other before the meeting.  As far as we know, there is no one working on this issue.  Organizations have not gathered before to discuss improving online access.  We invited a wide variety of organizations that serve the homeless, refugees, seniors, low income, unemployed, underemployed, poorly educated, government agencies that provide benefits, an Omaha Public Library representative and the City of Omaha’s technology department.  Marvel did a lot of the research to get the right people at the table.  It paid off.

The attendees first completed the community engagement survey.  While the stragglers arrived, Marvel began with our opening statement.  Everyone became very quiet and attentive.  We then played Technology Bingo as the ice breaker.  We gave everyone a bingo card with a different piece of technology listed in each square.  Everyone was told to mingle.  They could ask another person just one question, “Did they have or know how to use that technology?”  If the answer was yes, they could write that person’s name in the square.  They then had to move on to the next person so that they got to know everyone better.  The room was soon buzzing.  In the Plus/Delta evaluation, one attendee asked if she could steal the Technology Bingo game.  We took that request as a compliment.

After the ice breaker, everyone introduced themselves by stating their name and organization.  We then asked who they serve and what services they provide.  We did a brief recap so that everyone in the room understood who was represented.

We started working on the challenges about 45 minutes into the meeting.  We broke into groups of 3-4 and discussed all the online access challenges.  After a broad range of challenges were identified, the attendees prioritized them with dots.  The challenge that received the most dots was getting improvements or finding solutions.  There was active discussion and brainstorming going on.  Many great ideas were brought forward that surprised all of us.  People were eager to take action and to get together again.  Many things brought up by individuals were not common knowledge to the group.  Many wanted the notes from the session, were interested in attending another meeting, and wanted to move forward to take action.

One man suggested that the group advocate for improving online access to the City of Omaha.  There were some short term solutions suggested about things already available that people are just unaware of.  One was free dial up computer access through a regular phone line.  One organization offers a “earning a free computer program” for immigrants.  There was a lot of innovative talk about problems with finances and access which led to some very creative ideas and information.

It was very exciting to facilitate a group where everyone was working toward a common goal even though many of them did not even know each other before the meeting.  I think a lot was accomplished just by getting them together.  We will be providing them the contact information for those who attended the session and the notes from the session.  They were excited that we are putting together a resource that organizations can give their clients and patrons for available computer access and education.  Although we had planned on doing this ahead of time, it was also a direct solution for the challenge of making people aware of resources that the group had identified.

Overall, it was a great meeting.  All the facilitation training, the planning, and the practicing for the meeting paid off.  When the Plus/Delta evaluation came up, they thought of many pluses.  They could only come up with two things to change- larger writing and a darker marker on some on the charts.  There was a good laugh when those comments were written in a smaller font with a lighter marker.

Marvel had been nervous and apprehensive when we started the project.  As we created the agenda, practiced, and rehearsed with other individuals and groups, she gained confidence.  Marvel did a great job at the meeting.

I needed more practice on flip charting, doing the ice breaker, and closing the meeting.  I gained confidence in carrying out those portions of the meeting.  Although we didn’t gain any experience in controlling a controversial group, it was an extremely positive experience.  The experience felt like a very productive and worthwhile meeting for all.

Attendees networked and spoke with us for about 30 minutes after the meeting ended.  A representative from DOTComm (Douglas Omaha Technology Commission) was able to provide some Online Access
expertise on what the City of Omaha is doing on the online access issue.  That individual plans to follow up on a question that someone asked about a committee that used to exist.

Marvel’s View

Laurie summed it up well.  After a few days, I still feel really good about the meeting mechanics (how we structured it and our roles) as well as the content.  I think the turnout was good (22).  The participants seemed to understand the issue well and had a personal investment in improving it.  I think the group learned a lot about the variety of services being offered in the community.   I know I was surprised by a few.  The ice breaker, Technology Bingo, was a real hit.  People were eager to play and had fun meeting one another.

I was very impressed with how this meeting went.  People contributed in a balanced way.  They also appreciated our bringing the organizations together.  The only “Deltas” were to write larger and use a darker pen!  I think they were being very gentle with us.  The attendees were encouraging that the meeting structure suited the conversation topic and the group.

I think a great deal of this meeting’s success was due to my partner’s diligence and organizational skills.  Laurie was attentive to every detail when I couldn’t be.  She recommended that we make our contacts by calling first and emailing later.  This was a bit intimidating for me.  I learned a lot about facing my fears by using this method.  The people I called were generally very receptive.  Following up with an email was a gentle way to remind them.  I think I was too scared to call first in my Pilot Project 1.  Having confidence in this topic and our purpose (plus a script that felt natural) really helped me.

We also practiced a lot.  We practiced alone.  We practiced with partners, Joanne Ferguson Cavanaugh and Mark Sorensen, as well as Matt Couch.  The feedback from them was very helpful.  I know that made a lot of difference in my comfort level at the actual meeting.

All in all, I was very pleased with Pilot Project 2!

Feedback from our post meeting follow up has been really valuable.  Here are some of the comments –

 “This is what I love about this community; by working together we can gain so much knowledge and information.  I enjoyed the exercises that warmed up the crowd, and got everyone involved and comfortable.  Great job!  Please keep me informed of any future meetings or events.  Thanks!”

“Thanks again for having put this together.  I’m looking forward to future opportunities to help strengthen greater computer access in Omaha.”

“I think the meeting was very well organized, the issue of discussion was very interesting. Everyone had something to contribute, great ideas. We should keep having this kind of meeting in order to see how we can contribute with the community in many other issues. Please if there is something else we can help to keep having this kind of community event do not hesitate to let us know.

I will appreciate if you can share with us the name of the organizations who participated in this event, in order to learn more about them. I think it will help when we want to refer clients looking for some kinds of service. Thanks”

“I’m hopeful that this was the first step of a task force to take action to make internet accessible to all.  Would like to see more action and continue to progress toward solutions.”

“This was a really broad topic and I thought you did an amazing job of reining it in.”

Posted by Laurie Hajek-Jones and Marvel Maring

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