Navigating the Digital Inclusion Landscape

While digital inclusion didn’t make the headlines in Minister Robertson’s first wellbeing budget, delivered on 30 May 2019, there are signs that Ministers, government agencies, corporates and community organisations are increasingly recognising the importance of all New Zealanders being digitally included.

On 20 May 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Seniors Minister Tracey Martin’s made a pre-Budget announcement of $7.7M to bring the SuperGold Card into the digital age.  This included a new online platform, but most importantly tagged $600,000 to help seniors develop their computer and online skills.

In March 2019, the Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister of Government Digital Services, released the long awaited Digital Inclusion Blueprint, setting out a policy framework for digital inclusion.  Unlike many government reports, this is not a discussion document.  The discussions have already happened, which is probably why it has taken 18 months.  The new Labour-led Government has promoted the ethic of co-creation and discussion before publishing reports, strategies and action plans.  Representatives from the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa (DIAA) have had the opportunity to engage with officials from the Department of Internal Affairs and other stakeholder groups throughout the development of the Blueprint. So there really shouldn’t be any surprises.

The Blueprint takes a broader view of digital inclusion than the more frequently quoted ‘digital divide’.  The digital divide has become synonymous with the ‘access’ element of digital inclusion, ie. do people and communities have connectivity with computers and the internet, is the content accessible by everyone, regardless of their levels of literacy or ability, are the digital devices and internet connections affordable?

The Blueprint certainly embraces the above ‘access’ elements, but challenges us to pay more attention to the other three elements – motivation, skills and trust, ie. do people see any benefits in engaging with digital technologies, do they have the skills and confidence to use the technologies and most importantly, when they are engaged, do they know what to trust and keep themselves and their families safe.

The Blueprint is the first significant evidence that the Government is starting to recognise that digital inclusion could contribute towards the wellbeing of New Zealanders; the accompanying  Digital Inclusion 2019 Action Plan: Building the Foundations makes this even clearer by including a 2020 Budget bid in the work plan.

But there other indications of government agencies recognising this is not just a job for Minister Woods.  Accompanying the Blueprint and Action Plan, the Department of Internal Affairs has also published a Digital Inclusion Outcomes Framework, including a draft set of indicators for measuring digital inclusion.  The Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and Statistics New Zealand have also been collaborating an din May 2019 published the 2019 Digital Nation Domain Plan. This plan identifies Digital Inclusion as one of four key strategic priorities and acknowledges that current data collection is inadequate for policy work.

But surely one of the most encouraging recent developments from a government agency has been a recent Request for Information (RFI) issued by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC).  This RFI calls for information about technology-supported solutions for improving adult literacy and numeracy.  This is an excellent example of the sort of action that government agencies can take to encourage providers to think about new ways to deliver services.

Government is not alone in thinking about digital inclusion.  InternetNZ has identified this as one of five strategic areas for  focus for 2019-20:  InternetNZ will collaborate with others to identify, agree and effect significant progress on four interventions to bridge different digital divides (motivation, access, trust, skills). 

Corporate businesses have also realised they need to engage in a digital inclusion agenda as they are increasingly having to migrate their customers to a digital world.  Recent examples include KiwiBank planning to stop dealing with cheques, and Spark streaming the Rugby World Cup.

And of course, we established the Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa (DIAA),specifically to scale up the delivery capacity of partners such as libraries, budget advisers, housing trusts, literacy providers and other social service agencies to support their local communities in an increasingly digital world.