Seattle is a strong example of what I’d love to see in my city someday. Its digital equity initiative “seeks to ensure all residents and neighborhoods have the information technology capacity needed for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.” Candace Faber is a civic technology advocate for the City of Seattle, and summarizes this effort in terms of access to internet, access to devices, and the basic skills to use those devices. This week, time difference be darned, I had the chance to talk to Candace about her city and her work.

Three years ago, Candace’s team in Seattle was interested in local trends around internet usage. The City funded a survey of residents, resulting in a 2014 data report that offered a fourth collection of such data since 2000. The 2014 study covered “internet and mobile access, interest in high speed internet, barriers to access, cable customer and education needs, civic engagement, use of social media, and more.”

The results have been helpful in demonstrating local need, showing that access levels are split among racial and economic lines, and that people are most likely to access the internet through a smartphone. Some findings were surprising to city stakeholders. “It’s can be hard for people to imagine that it’s more likely for someone to access public wifi on mobile than for them to visit a library and use a desktop computer,” Candace said.

Candace offered me a whole new list of potential leads for the city-level data I’m looking for. These included (but were certainly not limited to):

Moreover, Candace offered me affirmation I hadn’t realized I was looking for. It turns out, I’m not the only person in the world asking questions that don’t seem to have answers. She told me, “You’re not alone in seeing these gaps. There’s an incredible natural appetite across disciplines and sectors around public policy, data science, and technology. It’s going to take collaboration between people with an understanding of the problem and the people with the technical skills to apply.”

We talked about data modeling, and extrapolating from other cities’ data to estimate internet and device usage. I learned I need to make friends with a data scientist or two. Candace suggested reaching out to good potential partners, getting some attention, and rallying support around the idea of a project. “It’s going to be hard,” she said. “If you’re proposing something that doesn’t already fit into an existing work stream or policy or job, it’ll be hard to get there. But if you are passionate and willing to do the work, people will come around.”