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NYC Tech Office Unveils Plan to Enhance Digital Literacy

New York City Office of Technology and Innovation recently released its strategic plan that looks to improve the city’s overall posture in the technology space — starting with an effort to improve technical literacy.

A book and laptop on a light background.
The New York City Office of Technology and Innovation's (OTI) new strategic plan, released in October, outlines the city’s forthcoming approach to technology advancement with a notable emphasis on improving the technical skills of constituents and staff alike.

The office has made some significant investments in broadband expansion in its larger effort to connect every resident to Internet access, most recently with Big Apple Connect. For those in urban areas, digital literacy is one of the biggest obstacles to connectivity and advocates in this space are increasingly calling for digital inclusion programs.

New York City Chief Technology Officer Matt Fraser says digital equity work resembles an old adage: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. In the digital equity space, the fishing pole and water represent access to devices and broadband, and the knowledge about how to fish represents digital skills.

“We want to make sure that those [digital skills training] programs are inclusive of all those that need access to opportunity, not isolated to the young or to older New Yorkers, but to everyone that needs that opportunity.” Fraser said.

He explained that when looking at digital skills, it encompasses everything from how one navigates the Internet, to how one ensures security in their activities online, to how one develops skills for the modern, technology-driven workforce of today.

For the city’s workforce, recruiting talent in the cybersecurity space is a continuous process, so in addition to recruiting, the city wants to help build dexterity and knowledge for those serving in cyber-adjacent roles. To do this, the city has created a cyber academy.

The concept already exists at the federal level, so Fraser said the goal was to implement this proven approach for similar results at the city level, essentially upskilling employees with cyber education. It will complement the city’s work of recruiting new hires by equipping current employees with the skills they need. The academy’s first wave was recently launched.

But that’s not the only way that the city is addressing workforce gaps. The office will be partnering with other city agencies to help expand technology training for its schools and underrepresented communities. In addition, the agency is looking to expand existing tech training programs, operated both by the city and nonprofits. Further outreach and partnerships in schools will help identify and address opportunities to enhance existing curriculum with technology.

The goal is to help ensure that folks leaving the education system have the opportunity to quickly move into high-paying jobs in the technology field.

“What we’re working on, in conjunction with our colleagues in the education space, is looking at how well the curriculum that exists aligns individuals that come out of the education system with getting them into the tech workforce,” Fraser said. “And in addition to that, making sure that the skills that we’re teaching and training are not only relevant for today, but they are projected to be relevant for tomorrow.”

Strengthening the workforce is one piece of the literacy puzzle; another is opening up the city’s data to ensure that people can access and understand it.

One of the city’s strategic priorities is to “harness the power of data,” which is accomplished, in part, through NYCStat and NYC Open Data. The strategic plan outlines OTI’s goal to establish a citywide data literacy program. As Fraser explained, the goal here is to make use of the massive amounts of data that the city already has internally.

“The city’s data itself has been harnessed only to a fraction of its potential,” he said.

Combating this involves looking at operating data and investing in efficient operations based on evidence through a continually evolving process. In addition, there should be consistency across departments in how data is collected and shared. But as Fraser emphasized, it’s not about just doing that internally, but rather making that data available to the public and teaching them how to interpret that information.

And just as OTI intends to look at data sets as an evolving resource, so too is the strategic plan. The pace of the plan may be adjusted in accordance with public feedback. However, the strategic plan intends to lay out measurable outcomes that will show tangible delivery on goals in the short term — with the majority of items deliverable within the next 12 to 18 months — as well as those that are longer term.

“For us, the strategic plan isn’t a point-in-time document,” he said. “It’s a living document that has milestones that are attainable within the near term.”
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.