The need for a National Digital Inclusion Roadmap coming out of COVID-19
19 October 2020 at 2:24 pm
With coronavirus expediting the digitisation of our daily lives, addressing digital inclusion in Australia must be a priority, writes David Spriggs, marking Get Online Week.
The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly increased the pace of services being moved online. When Australians were told to stay home from work and school in March, the need for internet connections, access to devices and skills to utilise technology became a headline issue.
For the past six months, we have adjusted our lives to an online world. Now we are realising that when Australia adjusts to COVID-normal, many of the programs and services forced to digitise will not revert to operating as they did before the pandemic. This will only highlight the digital inequity in Australia.
Even before the pandemic, Australians were being left behind because they did not have the affordable access or the skills necessary to participate in a digital world. Now, with coronavirus expediting the digitisation of our daily lives, addressing digital inclusion in Australia must be a priority.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance (ADIA) is a shared initiative with over 400 business, government, academic and community organisations working together to accelerate action on digital inclusion. Our vision is to reduce the digital divide and enable greater social and economic participation for everyone in Australia. We believe everyone in Australia should be able to make full use of digital technologies.
The ADIA measures digital inclusion on three key components: affordable access to high-quality internet and appropriate devices; being able to use the internet in an accessible way whether a person is living with disability, from a culturally or linguistically diverse background, or with other needs; and having the ability, skills and confidence to complete tasks on and benefit from the internet.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index, an initiative from Telstra, RMIT, Centre for Social Impact Swinburne and Roy Morgan, tracks digital inclusion throughout Australia. The index creates a baseline for digital inclusion to be measured against, allowing the ability to track changes in how Australia performs over time. According to the index, some of the most digitally excluded people in Australia are low-income households, seniors, people who live in rural and remote Australia, people with a disability and people with low levels of education and employment.
Currently, Australia’s approach to increasing digital inclusion is decentralised and inconsistent. The ADIA identified the most prominent government, private and community programs, strategies and frameworks in the digital inclusion space, totalling 65 initiatives. When analysing these initiatives, it becomes apparent the majority of the programs are not targeted to the people who the index identifies as the least digitally included.
The federal government alone has several departments working on projects looking at digital inclusion, without whole-of-government coordination. The initiatives span from Social Services to Defence to Health, all working in silos without collaboration. For the industry as a whole, there are multiple efforts underway with no guidance from the government on what the programs should aim to achieve. From a consumer perspective, this situation is confusing and hard to navigate. A clear, common focus would have a substantial impact on the efficacy of the programs while still supporting approaches tailored to different needs.
This week, the ADIA is releasing a position paper outlining what should be done to increase digital inclusion in Australia. In our paper, we call for a whole-of-government strategy in partnership with industry and the community sector – the National Digital Inclusion Roadmap – to be led by a single federal government department so businesses, community organisations and government can work towards the same goal.
A Digital Capabilities Framework would be created to provide a common understanding of what it means to be a digitally capable individual; and there would be a consistent way for individuals and community organisations to find out what digital inclusion programs and resources are available locally; further an overlap and gap analysis of current programs would be conducted so the sector can ensure resources are being used effectively.
While the roadmap is being developed, select initiatives can be initiated simultaneously, including assessing which internet affordability measures taken in the immediate response to COVID-19 can be retained going forward, and moving towards all federal, state and local government websites being compliant with the latest accessibility standards.
As a country, we are slowly returning to a COVID-normal life. While 2020 has been hard on all of us, we must ensure the most vulnerable Australians are not excluded from our new existence in a digitally-reliant world.
This week is Get Online Week, an annual international campaign to promote digital inclusion. Around the country, events will be held to help Australians develop the skills they need to thrive in a digital world. The will to tackle digital exclusion in Australia is there – but we need a whole-of-government approach and a Digital Capabilities Framework to ensure the effort is coordinated and directed where it is needed most.