Govt announces (baby) steps to digital inclusion
As our education, health and welfare sectors move online, and even the right to be counted in the national census is increasingly dependent on an internet connection, the issue of the digital divide becomes more pressing.
While it is exciting that programmes are underway to ensure 99.8% of New Zealanders get access to broadband services, it's also incredibly important that we don't assume that everyone can afford a connection. One of the most interesting reports on this topic is Out of the Maze: Building Digitally Inclusive Communities, released last year, in which researcher Marianne Elliot interviewed people about what it's like to live with no internet access. One of the stories that sticks in my mind is the family that had to sit outside the local library at night so that the son could access its Wifi and do his homework.
So, it is really pleasing to see the Government move to address digital inequality. Government Digital Services Minister Megan Wood's issued a press release on Friday about the launch of a Digital Inclusion Blueprint, "which lays out how people can take full advantage of the internet. This will help us identify groups of New Zealanders who may struggle to access online services," she says.
"This Blueprint will be used to coordinate the planning of different Government and community initiatives, and identify where future investment and action is needed."
It is mostly a summary of existing research on this topic, but there is an action plan for the next five years, which is led by the Department of Internal Affairs. Here's the timeline:
While I want to be a cheerleader on this action plan, I am struggling to find anything particularly concrete about it. There is, for example, no commitment (that I could find) to funding any work on digital inclusion. And the 'success-measurements' for the first phase of the action plan read those opaque job descriptions where key attributes are listed as "works well with others", "an excellent communicator".
For example, the success measurements for the research agenda are listed as:
- is developed with buy-in from the digital inclusion sector
- includes a focus on Māori needs and aspirations for digital inclusion
- contributes to future work that generates timely and relevant evidence to inform key government decisions
All very worthy goals, but not very measurable. As the action plan is developed and the Digital Inclusion Blueprint fleshed out, it would be good to see some numbers. The 2020 Trust calculate that 100,000 school-aged New Zealand children don't have access to the internet at home. Is that number correct? If so, when do they expect to achieve a reduction in that number? How much will it cost to achieve this? Where will the funding come from?
This is really important work. I hope the next iteration of the Digital Inclusion Blueprint provides answers to those questions.
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