Digital Equity

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, more learning, supports and services are going digital. This has increased the digital divide within communities across the nation as many people still do not have the technology access, tools, or skills they need to work, study or connect online.

Why Digital Equity?

The more Calgarians are connected, the stronger the social and economic fabric of our community will be. Recognizing this and building on our Smart Cities and Resiliency work, The City of Calgary began work in spring 2021 and has now finalized a Digital Equity Strategy that identifies the guiding principles and values and builds a road map for how Calgary will reduce the digital divide. 

Our goal is to make lives better every day by reducing barriers that form the digital divide and helping Calgarians to access devices, internet connections, and the skills required for them to connect online the way they want to.

What’s been done so far

Public Engagement

We began by talking to service and advocacy groups both internally and externally to understand what systems and supports are currently in place for Calgarians. We gathered information on our city with a focus on:

  • what services or supports may be missing
  • opportunities to improve existing service or supports
  • what is working well

This information was used to paint a picture of Calgary’s digital divide during brainstorming workshops held with our community. These workshops focused on actions we can collectively take. These actions were later prioritized. 

Read the report on this initial engagement.

We then spoke with specific groups that were identified as more likely to experience barriers to digital equity. During these conversations we looked at specific barriers being experienced, the impact these barriers have on quality-of-life areas, as well as potential for technology to improve individual situations. In conjunction with targeted engagement, we held pop-up sessions at libraries, parks, and CTrain platforms. These sessions allowed Calgarians to speak with the Digital Equity team to get an understanding of the digital divide and provide their experiences with barriers they may have faced. 

Read the report from this engagement

Read the verbatim responses from this engagement.

Research Partnership

Alongside our robust engagement process, in 2022, The City partnered with The University of Calgary through the Urban Alliance to undergo research into academic and other jurisdictions to identify approaches that have been taken to address challenges and gaps of the digital divide. This research was over seen by Dr Tanvir Turin Chowdhury with the final paper entitled Addressing Digital Equity and the Digital Divide serving to:

  • validate and add depth to the barriers we identified through conversations with community members
  • identify subpopulations that may be more impacted by the digital divide
  • identify where Calgary sits globally on its current approach to reducing the digital divide
  • suggest solutions and help prioritize actions previously identified through local conversation

The accompanying protocol paper for this research piece has been peer reviewed and will be published on The Journal of Medical Internet Research. 

Bridging the digital divide together

The City of Calgary is working with support agencies and an advisory panel to determine next steps and build a roadmap forward to help make Calgary a more equitable place to live, work, play, and grow.

You can learn more about our advisory panel here: Terms of Reference.

If you have any stories you would like to share on how you, your clients or your group have been affected by the move to a more digital environment, please reach out to Erin Ruttan, Project Manager, Information Technology.

Programs and pilots

211 search tool

211 provides access to local community services in Alberta by phone, text, chat or web. A new subtopic was added under the Food and Basic Needs category for Public Computer and Internet Access, which lists areas Calgarians can go to access devices and internet. You can also find digital literacy and training courses through 211.

Digital Literacy Audit Tool

The Digital Literacy Audit Tool was developed by Calgary Learns with input from the Digital Equity Team. This tool is intended to support organizations in reducing the digital divide by acknowledging what an organization is doing well, revealing unintended barriers in online services, and supporting all levels of access and skill. The tool can be found here.

Center for Social Impact Technology

Newly emerged, the Centre for Social Impact Technology is a city-wide knowledge hub for nurturing dialogue, learning, and action on the convergence of social innovation and digital technology innovation. The vision of the Centre is to catalyze a trust-based, relationship-rich, diverse innovation ecosystem in Calgary around technology that is not only socially beneficial but socially transformative through convening, connecting, and curating as well as many other powerful partnerships. Learn more here.

User Testing Pilot for Digital Services  

In 2023, The City of Calgary’s Customer Service & Communications (Web & Digital), Smart Cities, Community Strategies collaborated with IncluCity on a successful joint application to the Equity in Service Delivery Fund for a user testing pilot of The City’s digital services. This fund focuses on reducing barriers for equity-deserving groups who use The City's services.

User testing with people is a standard best practice to find common usability issues. This pilot aims to identify usability issues creating barriers for equity-deserving groups accessing The City's digital services. 

AHA! Affordable Hardware Access

This pilot program works with Technology Helps and The City of Calgary’s Community Social Workers to provide municipal devices in good working condition to Calgarians in need of devices support. To be eligible for the pilot Calgarians must be participants of the Fair Entry program.

Beyond our city

Open North Case Study: In early 2022, the Digital Equity Team was asked to be a part of the Open North Case Study on Digital Equity initiatives being undertaken by various municipalities. The full article can be found here

Civic Tech Saint John’s: In late 2022 the Digital Equity Team spoke with Civic Tech Saint Johns about Calgary’s process for engaging our community and building a digital equity strategy.

Digital Equity Strategy timeline