Digital inclusion in disaster-prone communities
14 February 2022 at 5:27 pm
While there is no single solution to the issues around digital inclusion in disaster-prone communities, a new report finds there are ways we can work together to reduce the barriers, writes David Spriggs.
When faced with a crisis, it can often be difficult for an organisation to think on its feet and innovate in response to a highly dynamic environment.
The past two years have demonstrated just how important agile thinking is, particularly in the not-for-profit sector.
The catastrophic bushfires of late 2019 into early 2020, and the life-changing nature of a global pandemic not long after, saw life for many people in Australia alter dramatically almost overnight.
Since then, communities across Australia continue to face an increasing number of natural disasters, including recent major flooding events in Queensland, and bushfires currently burning throughout Western Australia.
As a result of these events, and with the knowledge that the changing climate will continue to deliver extreme weather, we need to look at ways to better support people needing assistance within these communities and beyond.
Digital technology has a key role to play but it is important to recognise that there are significant barriers to online forms of support with more than 2.5 million people in Australia still not online and many more lacking digital skills and confidence.
In collaboration with the Australian Red Cross, Great Southern Bank and Meld Studios, Infoxchange recently released a report as part of the Connecting Communities project, detailing how we could work together to reduce the digital inclusion barriers faced by disaster-prone communities.
We ran workshops and spent time with diverse community groups in disaster affected areas to find out their needs, and responded accordingly, ensuring a human centred approach was taken each step of the way.
The report showed that vulnerable community members still need significant support to feel confident using technology when it comes to disaster preparedness and action.
Our research indicated that while there is no single solution to the issues around digital inclusion in disaster-prone communities, we did identify multiple opportunities where we can explore a more innovative, multi-faceted approach to increase digital capabilities.
- identifying the best way to communicate the multiple channels of support available to these communities;
- educating communities about the important role technology can play in disaster preparedness, including challenging traditional ways of thinking and introducing technology into the fold holistically; and
- empowering the community to connect with each other and ensure those who are more vulnerable are considered throughout the process of preparing and enacting disaster plans.
By ensuring that these elements were incorporated into our response, we quickly saw that a willingness to have conversations around the role digital technology could play in disaster preparedness emerged organically. Community members were then more motivated and eager to proactively seek out more information.
We also recognise the need for better service coordination across the sector to ensure an efficient, comprehensive and coordinated response to these crises. Digital technology is a crucial enabler of this and can play an invaluable role in ensuring people affected by disaster get the help they need.
However, there is also a digital divide between charities with only 38 per cent of organisations indicating that their primary information systems enabled effective service coordination.
The Digital Transformation Hub, established with seed funding from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Gandel Foundation, has brought together the best resources from across the sector together with experts from Infoxchange, Connecting Up and a range of other partners to help organisations on this journey.
It is important to note that when implementing any significant change, it is the people on the ground who will ultimately determine the success of the response. But with careful planning, innovative ways of thinking and consultation with staff, volunteers and the community, organisations can find new and better ways of responding to disasters and supporting those affected.
Visit the Digital Transformation Hub to learn how your organisation can improve the way you are delivering services to those in need by making better use of digital technology.