Since the pandemic started, many organizations have pivoted possibilities and options to create digital specialist roles. These new positions were filled by admin staff or settlement practitioners whose roles changed to incorporate digital support and orientation for both clients and colleagues. Digital Navigators are emerging as an essential role in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector and in the future of a hybrid service delivery model.
What does it take to be a Digital Navigator? Flip through this activity to learn more!
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines Digital Navigators as “individuals who address the whole digital inclusion process — home connectivity, devices, and digital skills — with community members through repeated interaction”. Their site provides practical tools and documents that SPOs can use to collect information about technology needs of the community and clients, assess community members’ digital skills, conduct follow-up surveys.
The Digital Literacy Alliance describes digital navigators as an adaptation of traditional digital inclusion roles that will specifically provide remote one-to-one dedicated support to the community. Digital Navigators help citizens identify their internet, device, and training needs, walk them through their options, support them in filling out required paperwork or online forms if necessary, and provide “warm handoffs” (a handoff that is conducted in person (virtual, f2f, or via phone), between two practitioners (within the same organization, or between organizations) with the client directly involved) for additional training or technical support as needed.
In the context of supporting digital skills for the adult workforce, DigitalUS (2020) described digital navigators as “trained staff or volunteers who help learner-workers secure internet access and/or devices and start to use them to help them meet their goals. Those goals can include using an online learning program to reskill, access services, apply for a job, support their children in school, and more. The navigators coach participants in- person at drop-in locations or virtually (through phone hotlines or online chats/meetings) using techniques intentionally designed to develop the confidence and abilities needed to become agile, lifelong learners of new technologies, an essential component for digital resilience”. Their Digital Navigator Resource Hub & Digital Navigator Toolkit provide useful and practical tips and steps about the digital navigator model.
In the healthcare context, digital navigators are regarded as "new team members" in clinical teams in the digital care setting, where they provide app assessment and recommendation, application setup and troubleshooting, and app data preview and analysis for clinicians to support clinical care.
Researchers created a “10-hour curriculum designed to train digital navigators across 5 domains: (1) core smartphone skills, (2) basic technology trouble-shooting, (3) app evaluation, (4) clinical terminology and data, and (5) engagement techniques.”
The report Digital Navigators: Lynchpin in Equitable Reskilling & Recovery Efforts highlights the need for a long-term approach that makes digital navigation services central in any learning and working environment: “For the new learn and work ecosystem to be more equitable, we must figure out the long-term solution so that digital navigation services become a core, funded delivery model and that the systems are in place to ensure that they are effective and affordable at scale.”
Creating and building the Digital Navigators approach has been a multi-partner and multifaceted approach.
The Salt Lake City Public Library (SLCPL) partnered with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to bridge the Digital Divide in Salt Lake City through the launch of a Digital Navigators pilot project in the Fall of 2020. The goal of the program model was to provide one-to-one basic digital inclusion services — connectivity assistance, device assistance, basic digital skills support — over the phone. The Digital Navigator program with SLCPL served as a pilot project to gather findings and best practices to strengthen a replicable open source model for other public libraries and community-based organizations.
World Education Inc works with Digital US Coalition partners to develop new models for offering “digital navigator” services; coordinate pilots that started in July to demonstrate impact and replicability; and develop training materials, an online resource hub, and a community of practice to facilitate national scaling. The project leadership continues to contribute to and learn from the Digital Navigator working group, coordinated by NDIA, and partially underwritten by Digital US.
The Digital Navigator services model offers flexibility not only in terms of where, how, and when services are offered but also in regards to who provides the service. Digital Navigators can be trained and dedicated staff, or people for whom it is just a component of their job as a part of their work (such as Settlement Practitioners or Language teachers), or volunteers that help learner-workers (whether through phone, hotlines, or at drop-in locations) secure affordable internet access, devices, and foundational training so learner-workers can meet their personal and career goals. Foundational digital skills can be offered directly or through referrals to learning programs that can help learner-workers upskill, access critical services, search for, or apply for a job.
In your work, you play a key role in systems navigation. Like general Settlement work, as a Digital Navigator you’re helping Newcomers navigate the digital system.
Instead of employment, health, housing, or community systems, here we’re focusing on digital literacy systems.
Digital navigators are trusted guides who assist community members in internet adoption and the use of computing devices.
Digital navigation services include ongoing assistance with accessing affordable internet access, device acquisition, technical skills, and application (app and software) support.
The Digital Navigator in our context helps provide digital literacy skills orientation or training for Newcomers. The Digital Navigator is an advocate and support person who educates and onboards Newcomers so they can make informed decisions about using technology.
This help is provided in person or over the telephone but can also include email, text/digital messaging, video chat, and other communication methods that work for the Newcomer.
Additionally, Digital Navigators play an important role finding and making referrals to programs and facilitating enrollment in digital literacy classes, workshops, upskilling opportunities, critical services, or helping people navigate community resources and services.
Digital Navigators follow up with Newcomers to track progress and to ensure goals have been met.
As I mentioned, it’s a new layer of systems navigation that we all must become more knowledgeable about. It is important that front line workers learn to be substantially knowledgeable about digital devices and platforms and prepare for digital transformation readiness.
Like the hybrid model, you were already a Digital Navigator before the pandemic. And many of you have become Digital Navigators now. Run a workshop on how to use LinkedIn for job search? Digital navigation. Support someone to download and complete a government form? Digital navigation. Over the past years has your organization provided support to Newcomers around devices, internet connections, or digital literacy training (whether you offered it or referred Newcomers to the community)? Digital navigation. Our question is whether the Digital Navigator model is something we want to formalize and integrate into our work with Newcomers.
My suggestion is yes. A 2022 report on Digital Navigators in the United States looked at how helpful digital navigators have been. They interviewed the leaders of more than 40 digital navigator programs and conducted a nationwide survey of over 1,500 digital navigator users. Researchers found some important outcomes for digital navigator users:
It’s a model that works. It can work for us.
The Digital Navigators' Toolkit provides a useful backgrounder as well as useful information about assessing the need for a Digital Navigator program, how to hire and train Digital Navigators, as well as evaluate their impact.
What is a "Digital Navigator"? provides an overview of how Digital Navigators have worked and their impact in Philadelphia.
Training Guide is for orienting new Digital Navigators to their role - It was developed for a digital navigator program.
Design and Implementation Resources from Digital US:
The Role of Digital Navigators in Promoting Clinical Care and Technology Integration into Practice - As the role of technology expands in healthcare, so does the need to support its implementation and integration into the clinic. The concept of a new team member, the digital navigator, able to assume this role is introduced as a solution. With a digital navigator, any clinic today can take advantage of digital health and smartphone tools to augment and expand existing telehealth and face to face care. The role of a digital navigator is suitable as an entry level healthcare role, additional training for an experienced clinician, and well suited to peer specialists. To facilitate the training of digital navigators, we draw upon our experience in creating the role and across health education to introduce a 10-h curriculum designed to train digital navigators across 5 domains: (1) core smartphone skills, (2) basic technology troubleshooting, (3) app evaluation, (4) clinical terminology and data, and (5) engagement techniques. This paper outlines the curricular content, skills, and modules for this training.
Digital Navigator Training Appendix - This supplementary Appendix to the to above document provides step by step instructions and resources for each module.