September 22, 2020 | Number of The Day
National Science Foundation grant toward improving digital public services in Newark

We’ve become familiar with the term “digital divide” as it applies to the gap between New Jersey schoolkids who have ready access to computers and high-speed internet service and the thousands of our students who do not. But the digital divide is evident far beyond the classroom.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, $2.3 million Smart and Connected Communities Grant to Rutgers University faculty to work with Newark on mitigating the digital divide for residents more generally. The aim is to develop technological tools that make it easier for residents to provide input on community improvements, while enabling city officials to more easily and effectively plan and coordinate services and needed improvements. What will this mean in practical terms? For a start, a digital service dashboard for the city. For residents, a state-of-the-art mobile application that expands access to government information and public services.

Faculty from Rutgers’ computer science, civil and environmental engineering departments as well as School of Public Administration and Affairs are involved. “In this project, we will explore the implications of smart service conflicts for social inclusion,” said Desheng Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, a member of the research team. “This is important because when service conflicts occur, their impacts are likely concentrated in less affluent communities, meaning that some groups of residents will experience lower quality services than others. Put differently, digital service disruptions contribute to a digital divide in service provision that we aim to mitigate.”