Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy

First Advisor

Michael Ahn

Second Advisor

Aroon Manoharan

Third Advisor

Evan Stewart


The digital divide refers to the social stratification due to an unequal ability to access, adapt, and create knowledge via information and communication technologies (Andreasson, 2015). Digitally disadvantaged individuals have inadequate access to services and resources, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic instigated a new model of digital equity policymaking that leverages co-production between numerous actors. As citizens faced new financial and community constraints and governments reached administrative capacities, both the digital divide and the policymaking process evolved.

This inductive study explores how digital equity policymaking shifted to a co-production model (Ostrom, 1996) amid the pandemic. Using a sequential mixed-methods approach, this research considers the interconnections of digital equity, co-production, and crisis policymaking. Digital divide discourse was first examined through a large-scale text analysis of verified tweets. Methods of investigation include natural language processing techniques, regression modeling, and unsupervised machine learning topic modeling. Descriptive and inferential analyses demonstrate a statistically significant increase in policy discourse as well as a diversification of topics, though suggest a disconnect between outputs and on-the-ground needs.

Next, semi-structured interviews were conducted with City of Boston policymakers, and the resulting data was open-coded and axially coded to reveal insights into the design and implementation of co-productive solutions. Additionally, interviews detail what conditions contribute to successful outcomes while working with limited time, knowledge, and resources. Analyses reveal that co-productive behavior is critical to coping with the effects of the pandemic and highlight the influential role of community-based organizations. Furthermore, the study provides contextual information on co-production prerequisites that were previously understood, and sheds light on interpersonal conditions that Ostrom does not address. This dissertation contributes to the developing body of scholarly literature on the digital divide in the era of COVID-19. This case study also advances theoretical knowledge, offers methodological innovations, and provides concrete policy recommendations to promote more egalitarian digital use.

Included in

Public Policy Commons