by Braeden Burge
Equally Informed Philly is an initiative at Resolve Philly that bridges the city’s digital divide through a community-powered print newsletter and an English/Spanish Q&A Equal Info Line, as well as an SMS text-based newsletter focusing on gun violence solutions and resources in the city. Communities of focus are mainly Philadelphians who are in unstable housing situations (e.g. domestic violence survivors, immigrants, seniors etc.) and don’t have steady access to the internet.
Organization Background: According to their website, Resolve Philly is “an unconventional journalism organization that challenges our industry to be more equitable, collaborative, and based in community voices and solutions.” They aim to amplify the strengths in the community, redefine the role of journalism, and rethink the practice of reporting, all with a focus on the community being or needing to be served.
Project Goals: Having community-led stories at the forefront of journalistic practice by hiring locally and using the experience of their info hub captains to portray an accurate depiction of life in the city.
Project Resources: $1 million in grant funds, existing infrastructure at Resolve Philly.
Tools & Technology: GroundSource, Airtable, Reach, SMS.
Impact: With the help of reporting from their Broke in Philly collaborative partners and their extensive voting guides, along with a cohort of legal election volunteers, Equally Informed Philly received text messages from over 500 people about the election and the voting process and actually got Philadelphians out to vote. They received messages from texters asking a range of questions like: When is the last day to request a ballot? And how can I fix a naked ballot? Through follow-up texts, it is confirmed that they helped over 150 people locate their nearest satellite election office.
How it Happened
The project came about during a shift in focus during the early days of the pandemic, as well as generous funding from a million-dollar grant. The community newsletter is powered by the Info Hub Captains program, community folks who contribute to and distribute the community newsletter to focus areas in the city, informed by zip codes that experience unstable internet connection and input from those captains. These captains are paid. The program is flexible to community needs and adjusts based on how often community members want to participate.
The team knows how to connect the dots and knows how to show up for community members. For example, to supplement their work with text lines, their team also reached out to the Latino community in person, through events called “Cafe and Empanadas” which allowed them to chat with the local community about their hopes and dreams for their neighborhood.
2. Tapping community members
The team of info hub captains at EIP think of information systems outside of newsrooms, and they know how to tap into those resources for engagement and reporting. Because they are actual city residents, they know which outlets and apps are used by the widest swath of citizens so that they can most accurately cater to their information needs. This is how they have identified a need for integrating apps like WhatsApp.
3. Gaining cultural knowledge
With Latino outreach, they frame things differently by anticipating different questions and providing culturally knowledgeable translations.
What Could Have Worked Better
1. More Testing
When printing more newsletters and getting larger community profits to contribute, it was challenging to find the appropriate amount of newsletters to print. At first, the team printed too many. According to some larger community partners, the team could have given them more. Depending on the partner, newsletters could also sit at a distribution site for a while. Taking these things into consideration, finding the sweet spot continues to be a challenge.
2. Providing a framework
Communities sometimes need structure and direction before working with any organization. Providing culturally relevant events for certain groups may be a prerequisite to gaining access in many insular communities and even being given permission to provide the information from EIP.
3. Going where people are
WhatsApp integration will be critical as the initiative continues to bridge the digital divide in communities, due to its extensive and widespread usage amongst minority communities. To put it into perspective, WhatsApp is the most popular app in over 100 countries. It is estimated to have generated as much as $10 billion for parent company Facebook (now Meta) in 2020.
What Else You Should Know
Managing a text line is a full-time job for the two staff members. Many underestimate the true toll it takes on those who run these initiatives like they’re full-time jobs. To lighten this load, they have recently hired a graphic designer and a head of product, and are seeking more people who can report and provide hyperlocal coverage in the city.
To learn more, feel free to reach out to Kristine Villanueva on Twitter or via email, or check out this Medium post about the project: How Resolve Philly’s Equally Informed bridges the city’s digital divide.