‘Lead for Nebraska’ fellows to bridge digital divides

The fellows will live and work in their host communities for two years, listening first and then working alongside neighbors to improve rural broadband access, digital literacy, and economic development for rural communities.


With the shift to online for everything in 2020, we became acutely aware of the “digital divide” facing some communities and families in Nebraska. This year, our state is fortunate to have four new Lead for Nebraska fellows and the Rural Impact Hub in Auburn who are up to the task of tackling the challenge.

The fellows will live and work in their host communities for two years, listening first and then working alongside neighbors to improve rural broadband access, digital literacy, and economic development for rural communities. Last week, Civic Nebraska participated in the fellows’ orientation, where we dug into civic health as a framework for strengthening community connectedness and engagement. We see bridging the digital divide as an opportunity for making civic participation more accessible for more people.

Maybe you’ve noticed a little over-representation of the same ten people (the “STPs”)  at some civic events in your town. It’s not just you. “How do we get some new blood in here?” is an age-old community leader question. In particular, our 2020 Civic Health Index showed that many forms of civic engagement, especially those that are more formally organized, are under-representative of those with lower incomes and without a college degree. Nothing can replace face-to-face and low-tech in building connection, but better digital outreach and availability of information has to be part of how we engage everyone in today’s world. 

We’re eager to support the Lead for Nebraska fellows as they find what works to bridge the digital divide in their host communities. Below is a brief list of what our organizers have found to work for them.

Have a tool that works well in your community? We’d love to hear from you – get in touch and help us build our statewide knowledge of tools for effective engagement and organizing. 

Civic Nebraska staff members’ favorite digital tools for organizing and engagement: 

Alex O’Hanlon, engagement coordinator, One Omaha 

  • Facebook for event announcements
  • Google forms for event registrations
  • Zoom/Facebook live for online events (I have folks watch both chats for audience comments)
  • Instagram to amplify 
  • Slack for inter-organizational conversations, linked to google drives for inter-organizational documents
  • QR codes to direct IRL announcements to online action

Kieran Kissler, community Organizer, Collective Impact Lincoln

  • Canva is a tool that we uses quite often for making/sharing graphics in calls to action, infographics, etc. Hot tip: Registered nonprofits are able to use Canva Pro at no cost, otherwise the site features plenty of free templates and designs for all users. It’s simple and takes the headache out of graphic design for non-designers.
  • Mailchimp is a free (up to 500 subscribers) email listserv tool. With social media algorithms rapidly changing, email is still the most efficient way to reach a mass audience. It’s very user-friendly and includes helpful data that can guide users in crafting their messages.

Daniel Bennett, rural civic health programs, Civic Nebraska

  • Mural, Miro, or Google shared docs for virtual collaboration in combo with Zoom. Think of them as a virtual whiteboard. (Shout out to Co-Creative Labs who helped me get up and running with these tools at the start of the pandemic). 
  • Airtable has been great to keep track of our complex web of activities and contacts. 
  • Poll Everywhere has a nice offering of tools and is especially helpful for engaging a hybrid in-person and virtual audience. 
  • Polis– Ok, I haven’t actually used this yet, but I think it’s an exciting tool that reimagines what the online public forum could look like, cutting through unhelpful comment wars and driving consensus forward. 

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