Digital affects and impacts everyone differently. As a digital native, my perspective of digital is different - different from my parents, and my grandparents - but also different from other digital natives. Each of us has varying degrees of access to digital technologies, literacy skills, and participation with peer culture. While this is commonly accepted, what should not be accepted is the divide between those who have the access and skills to participate in the digital world, and those who do not.
The digital inclusion team at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has been navigating the challenging landscape digital poses. The team have been engaging with citizens and intermediaries (who work with and support citizens to access digital services including government services) across the country through running a series of digital inclusion workshops to explore how government can lead, support and empower communities to harness the power of digital, to create a fairer, more inclusive society. The conversations held at these engagements will contribute to the formation of the ‘digital blueprint’, which will set the vision and framing for digital inclusion Aotearoa New Zealand.
In October, I had the opportunity to travel to Dunedin and Balclutha with two colleagues to facilitate three workshops. These workshops confirmed things that we, as government, already knew: that digital is everywhere and affects real people, hence a human-centric approach is imperative; but it also revealed things we did not know, such as the many initiatives launched by community groups, with an intent to improve digital access for the community.
The opportunity to hear stories from intermediaries was invaluable to my own understanding of what digital inclusion will mean to New Zealanders. Many spent their days offering access, through technology or wifi, or digital skills, by running workshops and providing advice. However, as government services move increasingly online, digital has become overwhelming for many, including intermediaries working in this space. Members of the public who had heard of the workshops through intermediaries also attended, because they wanted to learn how to be included in the digital transformation that’s occurring.
While there will always be resistance to digital technologies, I was overwhelmed by the openness of individuals willing to share their stories and how they embraced digital, not because digital has been forced on them, but because it can transform their lives.
One attendee, who had been blind his whole life, was asked how the digital world hinders him, he stated “technology does not define us, but is our problem solver”. By having the access, skills and technology, he was able to make his life easier; he could utilise a phone app to read the labels on medication, when he left the workshop he ordered a taxi using voice activation on his cell phone.
Improving digital access and skills, so every New Zealander has the opportunity to participate in the digital world, is imperative. Digital holds abounding possibilities for improving the lives of every New Zealander. While the future of digital is uncertain and the path is still being laid, it’s exciting to see the direction being taken by local and central government, members of the community, and community groups, who recognise the importance of working towards a fairer more inclusive society for all. I believe we are heading towards a bright future in the digital age, and it begins with central government empowering members of society to lead the way in this transformation.