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Report: Digital inclusion user insights — Pacific peoples

Foreword

The Pacific community in New Zealand is grappling with acute digital exclusion amongst some of its people.

Everyone seems to be surprised, but this is not a recent problem. Digital transformation — people say it’s supposed to happen or it’s going to happen, but it happened a long time ago, and our communities were not included ... [and now] digital transformation is being accelerated because of what’s happening with COVID.

Community leader

Stop repeating the conversation, start the action — you’re leaving us behind.

Interviewee

Nearly 1 in 12 people in New Zealand identifies as a Pacific person, more than 8 percent of the population,[Footnote 1] and this figure increases year on year.

Pacific peoples’ contribution to business, the workplace and society is integral to New Zealand’s identity and economic, cultural and social wellbeing. Yet worryingly, 1 in 5 of Pacific peoples between the ages of 16 and 65 may use some technology but have no computer experience, have not passed a simple computer-use assessment, or they decline to use a computer.[Footnote 2] For the same skill set, this is twice the rate of non-Pacific populations and is a worrying digital exclusion statistic.

Everyone should be able to participate fully in the digital world because digital technologies increasingly impact all aspects of our lives,[Footnote 3] from smartphones and online services to artificial intelligence.

Government and other organisations, such as banks and medical providers, have moved to online systems at a rapid rate, and some Pacific people are struggling to access entitlements and services on the new platforms. The Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns, one of the Government’s tools for managing the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, highlighted Pacific peoples’ challenges, as organisations, communities and families raced to operate online.

Furthermore, English-only online platforms present a challenge for older Pacific peoples. Approximately half of New Zealand’s Pacific peoples between the ages of 16 and 65 learned a Pacific language at home as their first language, and approximately 1 in 3 speaks a Pacific language at home as their main language.[Footnote 4]

On a positive note, Pacific church communities are a powerful communication channel, and 4 out of 5 of Pacific peoples in New Zealand are affiliated with a church community.[Footnote 5] An additional positive is that Pacific peoples come together quickly to help others. Some homegrown digital inclusion initiatives are already in place within local Pacific communities. Their success demonstrates the importance of Pacific peoples being at the heart of any government-funded digital inclusion initiatives.

This report highlights, in their own words, how New Zealand’s Pacific peoples have experienced — and continue to experience — the challenges of participating in the digital world, post lockdown.

Thank you and disclaimer

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) extends its warmest thanks to all who generously shared their thoughts and time for this user experience (UX) research project. This includes members of the Porirua and South Auckland communities, Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation (PYLAT) Council members across New Zealand, church leaders, library staff, and Pacific staff within government and the technology and education sectors.

We would also like to note that the findings in this report reflect the views of the individuals who were interviewed and of the various groups they represent.

Key findings

The cause and effect of digital exclusion and inclusion is complex and variable, reflecting each Pacific individual’s circumstances, their family’s circumstances, and their Pacific community or communities’ circumstances. This challenges government and other organisations working to develop a comprehensive and workable plan to close the digital divide.

Five key findings emerged from the qualitative data obtained during this user research. Additional detailed insights reflecting the unique cultures and lived experiences of Pacific peoples and communities are set out in the Discussion section below.

Pacific peoples’ input into the design of services is critical

Perhaps the strongest theme in the findings is that the Pacific community trusts and responds best to information coming from other Pacific peoples — “community knows community best” — and so Pacific peoples need to be involved in designing services and digital inclusion initiatives.

Interviewees said that success of initiatives depends on a high level of involvement from Pacific community members, ensuring community buy-in and support. Active Pacific community involvement is vital when designing training, services and initiatives to successfully address the digital exclusion of some Pacific people.

Cost is a barrier

Cost of devices and connectivity is a significant barrier to Pacific peoples’ digital inclusion. Many interviewees were concerned that digital exclusion in Pacific communities will increase rates of low educational achievement, low employment, low income and poor housing statistics.

Choosing between topping up a phone for $20 or dinner on the table is not a difficult choice. Spending money on digital technology and connectivity is not always a priority for Pacific people who have lower incomes.

Interviewee

Some interviewees saw digital exclusion as social disenfranchisement, stating that affordable internet access is a human right.

It’s gotten to the point where it’s a basic human right to be online. The same as having water in your house, everyone should have access to the internet.

Interviewee

Non-digital access to government services is vital

Interviewees showed significant concern that government services are increasingly becoming ‘digital first’, as organisations move their services online, and that government does not appreciate the severe impact this is having on Pacific communities.

They said that Pacific communities are losing access to government support and entitlements and are becoming increasingly marginalised in society. They said they felt that during the global pandemic many Pacific people were not receiving vital information and were unable to access services, especially during Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns.

Pacific leaders said that the government should continue to provide non-digital information and services to the Pacific community while such a wide digital divide still exists for some people.

My aunty was renewing her work visa / visitor application — all of that’s done online now. There’s no front counter and so, lucky for her, she had people like me who can help her fill out the application.

Interviewee

Digital skills training is needed

Interviewees felt that digital skills training and education would make a significant difference for Pacific communities, making everyday activities easier for them. To be successful, they advised skills training needs to be offered in a way that recognises how Pacific peoples prefer to learn.

They felt skills training would help:

  • encourage people to start to use ‘daily’ services, such as online banking and shopping
  • develop Pacific businesses
  • provide opportunities for sustainable employment in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
  • improve digital safety, ensuring fewer Pacific peoples fall victim to scams.

They want training to target all ages and to include basic digital literacy skills.

I think you need these sorts of digital skills to be properly connected to one another and to be safe in the world these days.

Interviewee

Pacific peoples are needed in technology careers

Many interviewees voiced concern that the rate of participation of Pacific peoples working in the technology sector is low. Addressing this will result in more diverse technology-based service offerings that will better meet the digital inclusion needs of Pacific peoples (and will provide higher income-earning opportunities).

When I worked at a large government agency, the policy team had about 100 people — and 1 Māori guy. It may be better now, but we need more Māori and Pasifika at the decision-making tables, rather than at the receiving end.

Interviewee

Purpose of this research

The purpose of this research was to:

  • better understand how Pacific peoples think and feel about digital inclusion
  • canvas Pacific leaders to better understand their perspectives on digital inclusion
  • gain insights into the broader digital inclusion issues of access, motivation, trust and skills
  • understand what improvements could be made to ensure a more equitable digital environment for Pacific peoples.

Definitions and framework

Pacific peoples

‘Pacific peoples’ means Rotuman (less than 1% of New Zealand's Pacific peoples population) plus New Zealand’s fourth largest ethnic group,[Footnote 6] comprising 8 Pacific groups living in New Zealand: Samoan (49%), Cook Islands Māori (21%), Tongan (20%), Niuean (8%), Fijian (5%), Tokelauan (2%), Tuvaluan (1%), and Kiribati (less than 1%).

The vision for digital inclusion

The government’s vision is that everyone has what they need to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the digital world.

The 4 elements of digital inclusion

There are 4 interdependent elements, all of which are needed for a person to be digitally included. These are motivation, access, skills, and trust.

  • Motivation: Understanding how the internet and digital technology can help us connect, learn, or access opportunities, and consequently have a meaningful reason to engage with the digital world.
  • Access: Having access to digital devices, services, software, and content that meet our needs at a cost we can afford; and being able to connect to the internet where you work, live and play. Access is a broad element, which can be broken into 3 key parts: connectivity, affordability and accessibility.
  • Skills: Having the know-how to use the internet and digital technology in ways that are appropriate and beneficial for each of us.
  • Trust: Trusting in the internet and online services; and having the digital literacy to manage personal information and to understand and avoid scams, harmful communication and misleading information. This element also touches on online safety, digital understanding, confidence and resilience.

The vision and elements of The Digital Inclusion Blueprint provide a framework for understanding digital inclusion in the New Zealand context and for discussing the challenges faced by different groups in New Zealand.

Research scope and method

Participants

Individuals

In total, 47 people participated in the research as an individual or a representative of a Pacific organisation, including:

  • church leaders
  • community leaders
  • members of Pacific communities
  • organisations providing services to Pacific communities
  • youth leaders
  • LGBTTQI+/MVPFAFF communities
  • public servants
  • people in the technology sector
  • creative practitioners.

Selection

The participants were recruited through community leaders.

Demographics

Participants in this research represented a range of ages, ethnicities, locations and genders.

Age
  • 6 people aged 65+
  • 18 people aged 40–65
  • 10 people aged 25–40
  • 10 people aged 18–25
  • 1 person aged 15–18
  • 2 people did not state their age
Ethnicity

People may identify as more than one ethnicity.

  • 21 people identified as Samoan
  • 7 people identified as Tongan
  • 3 people identified as Fijian
  • 4 people identified as Cook Islands
  • 4 people identified as Niuean
  • 2 people identified as Tokelauan
  • 1 person identified as Kiribati
  • 1 person identified as Tuvaluan
  • 1 person identified as Rotuman
  • 6 people identified as Māori
  • 3 people identified as New Zealand European
  • 1 person did not state their ethnicity
Location
Region
  • 17 people identified as living in the Auckland region
  • 1 person identified as living in the Palmerston North region
  • 22 people identified as living in the Wellington region
  • 7 people identified as living in the Christchurch region
Rural or urban
  • 41 people identified as living in an urban area
  • 2 people identified as living in a rural area
  • 2 people identified as living in a rural-urban area
  • 2 people did not state where they lived
Gender
  • 23 people identified as female
  • 22 people identified as male
  • 1 person identified as non-gender binary
  • 1 person preferred not to answer

Data collection

Data was collected from 38 face-to-face interviews, 2 written submissions and 7 fono attendees.

Interviewers sought to understand the feelings and experiences of Pacific peoples and to gather insights useful for design thinking and generating solutions.

Data analysis

Interviews were transcribed into summary notes, with data categorised and grouped into broad themes under the elements of Motivation, Access, Skills and Trust.

Why digital inclusion matters now more than ever

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the digital divide worldwide. Many New  Zealanders struggled to connect, communicate and access essential services. This situation continues to extend the divide for more than 1 in 5 New Zealanders, those who the data indicates are digitally excluded.

As well as highlighting New Zealand’s digital divide, Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns caused people, businesses and other organisations to learn quickly about digital opportunities and benefits. This impetus to increase digital awareness is an opportunity to develop a more equitable digital environment in New Zealand.

As New Zealand continues its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges for digitally excluded groups remain and are likely to become more pronounced, with social inequities worsening. It’s possible that people in the business sector who run small-to-medium enterprises may also become at risk of digital exclusion over time, as the digital world responds to the opportunities and challenges presented by the pandemic.

In its first report to Government, the Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand advised that social and digital inclusion must be a priority for New Zealand decision-makers and that the country must do more to tackle digital exclusion.

Vulnerable communities in New Zealand need more action and it needs to be delivered in a more coordinated and sustainable way.

Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand, Beyond COVID-19: A Summary of Our Advice to Ministers, June 2020

3 personal stories

The NZ Rotuman Fellowship’s story: Leading the way for other Pacific community groups — with a digital leap

Before the pandemic in 2020, the New Zealand Rotuman Fellowship was planning events for the first official Rotuman Language Week (10–16 May 2020). Then the Alert Level 4 lockdown changed everything.

“At first it was deflating,” says Gabriel Penjueli, Vice Chair of the Fellowship, “but then we decided to see if we could move it all online.”

Gabriel had his doubts but said that learning together and harnessing youth leadership to move online meant that they successfully held their first Rotuman Language Week — and also found a way to keep the community connected during lockdown.

People in their late 40s and older, they have no idea, they didn’t even know what Zoom was. Even I was one of the sceptics thinking, ‘oh man, good luck’.

We did our Language Week on Zoom. It was like putting a movie together. We even had the President of Fiji do a speech and send it in. It was amazing.

Using Zoom was good for connecting Rotuman people, both in New Zealand and globally.

There are only 30,000 of us around the world. Someone from Alaska sent in a video. He was a relative — I didn’t even know he was up there!

Being forced to take a digital leap if they wanted to proceed with language week made Gabriel realise just how quickly and extensively people can connect.

Things spread a lot faster and in real time.

We have some fantastic, smart kids in our young people. I thought they’d used a high-tech computer, but they’d actually used their phones to edit all our videos and everything. So, when we got together after lockdown, they showed us what they were using, and I was like ‘Wow’, and they said ‘Yeah, we just had to make sure we kept charging our phones’.

After our language week, other island groups got in touch with us and asked for our help. They wanted to make it just as effective for them.

Note: Rotuma is a Fijian dependency located 650kms north of Fiji. Rotuman is a UNESCO-listed Endangered Language.

Iosephina’s story: “Come and show us how to use these things”

Iosephina (not her real name) is 80 years old. Like is often the case for families, Iosephina and her husband experience some family dysfunction, which compounds their experience of digital exclusion. Iosephina says that her husband has a smartphone but that they don’t know how to use it, and family members take it.

I want to be able to talk to church members, so I really need a phone. I need to be able to make doctor’s appointments and things like that.

She says that other family members have a computer, which they don’t share with her and her husband.

[She] doesn’t show us [how to use our phone], and I really want to know how to work, like, a computer or whatever, [she] uses Facebook — I don’t like Facebook, I don’t want none of those things. I want to watch sport; I love sport.

Recently Iosephina needed to call an ambulance for her husband. She managed to get his smartphone but, despite trying, lacked the skills to call the ambulance with it. Fortunately, her daughter was nearby and was able to make the call.

We need for you people to come and show us how to use all those things.

Talia’s story: Cultural advantage for Pacific peoples in technology jobs

Talia (not her real name) is open about telling people she earns a big income working in the technology industry.

Everyone thinks that people working in tech are software developers or coders and that’s quite a hard perception to shake.

I’m quite open in telling people: I don’t code, I do nothing but talk to people about tech all day and about how tech can help make things easier, and come up with processes. I want other Pacific and Māori people, particularly women, to know you don’t need to be a coder to succeed in tech.

I share my story because if you don’t share that there are other ways to get into tech jobs, people assume there’s only one path. But there are programme managers, product owners, relationship managers … roles for managing teams and processes.

Talia says Pacific peoples already have the relevant skill sets.

As tech evolves and becomes easier and more automated, it’s important to be more human. And that’s where Pacific people can thrive, because they’re natural orators, they’re natural storytellers. If you can manage a White Sunday production, and herd 30 kids and their parents — then there’s no reason why you can’t run a tech project!

Many executives go on $10,000 courses to learn how to lead teams, particularly servant leadership. Pacific people grow up where this skill is part of their cultural environment.

But they don’t see how they can monetise these skills. They don’t understand that interpersonal skills, the ability to build a team, maintain it and use humour, is what many organisations and companies are looking for.

Talia says technology is so much a part of our daily lives that our technology tools and ways of working need to reflect and meet the needs of all users — remembering that Māori and Pacific peoples make up 25 percent of the New Zealand population.

When I look at government platforms, a lot of the time they’re not geared up to serve people who do not understand government processes.

People think I’m talking affirmative action but that’s not it. I try to explain that having different perspectives at the table helps us achieve more because sharing our differences in solving problems will result in a better public service.

Also, you’ll never know what it’s like to be Māori or Pasifika if you’re not. The benefit of having diversity means bringing different experiences to how you solve a problem.

Discussion

Insights from the organisations and individuals representing Pacific peoples are grouped under the 4 elements of digital inclusion: Access, Skills, Trust and Motivation. A fifth section in this report describes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Pacific peoples from a digital exclusion perspective.

Access

Interviewees shared a range of insights into the access needs experienced by Pacific peoples.

Cost of devices and connectivity

With an average annual income that’s approximately two-thirds of the average New Zealand annual income,[Footnote 7] interviewees said that many Pacific people need government support but cannot access this support online as they cannot afford the devices and internet connections to do so.

Interviewees talked about the high cost of devices and connectivity as being a significant barrier to the Pacific community accessing the digital world. Pacific peoples are overly represented in lower income and education statistics,[Footnote 8] as well as in low employment and poor housing outcomes. As a result, they often cannot afford devices and internet connection costs.

Many interviewees talked about relying on phones and mobile data to access digital services. Others talked about having to wait until pay day to access the internet for online information and digital services.

Some voiced concerns about losing access to government support and entitlements due to the cost of keeping a device running and paying for phone data and internet connectivity.

Loss of services as they move online

Many interviewees voiced concerns about the increasing number of services that are moving online. With poor access to devices and internet connectivity, digitally excluded people struggle to engage in everyday transactions such as enrolment, online banking and applying for a job. As a result, they’re obliged to seek help from — and therefore be dependent on — others.

Often our people will end up helping our Pasefika community navigate email, proofread documents, take pictures. We spend a lot of time helping people establishing personal identity logins for government services, like ‘MyIR’ and ‘RealMe’.

Community leader

Government definitely needs to invest in teaching the Pacific community — we really can’t roll out all these services online and expect the people who most need those services to have the skills … to use them.

Community leader

For older people, many of whom prefer face-to-face services, or for Pacific peoples who struggle with English as a second language, the impact is especially acute.

Where English is a second language, it’s especially important for people to have someone to talk to. I use the example of visitor visa applications, because everything for immigration now is online. They don’t have the immigration offices they used to.

Interviewee

There was an older Niuean man who came into the Manukau office and he had walked and caught a bus and walked to get to us from Mangere. He had just had a tooth extracted and was close to 80. He didn’t know any other way to get information other than to come and see us face-to-face. We were able to sit down and talk with him ... He didn’t have internet access, so we showed him on our computers and connected him with people to get free legal advice.

Interviewee

Sometimes, asking for help also means handing over personal information or asking someone skilled like a librarian to type up personal documents.

At times, staff can be heavily involved in a user’s personal business … some people don’t enjoy the privacy levels most of us take for granted. This can be exacerbated given the open public spaces where library PCs are located.

Community leader

Our librarians might type up a document dictated by a user. We also see intergenerational support, where youth are coming in with their elders and supporting them to use digital resources.

Community leader

Some interviewees said that they felt their ability to access financial support and fill out important forms has been impacted by the digitisation of government and the steady increase of services being moved online. This has resulted in face-to-face counters closing, including for services that some Pacific people depend on. Others get frustrated by having to spend a lot of their time accessing in-person services if they don’t or can’t use online services.

I don’t know if you guys have tried ringing the Immigration helpline, but one time I was on the phone for 8 hours — I left my phone on all day. This is what people must go through, just to get someone on the other side of the phone to confirm which number application form we had to complete.

Interviewee

Inaccessible government information and services

Overall, Pacific peoples want access to a range of community-friendly information and services from government. They want information written in plain English and in Pacific languages, wherever possible.

One of the biggest things I do for my elderly parents and my aunts and uncles is translate application forms into Tongan for them, so they can understand what people are asking for ... a lot of government application forms are now done in Pacific languages, but that hasn’t been done online yet.

Interviewee

Many organisational leaders within government recognise this need, too, and admit it’s an ongoing challenge for many government organisations.

The hardest part [for government] is to think about how we deliver our services to people, and whether that’s the right mode of delivery and whether we’re doing it in a way that’s easily accessible.

Organisation leader

[We need to look at] our websites, the immigration website, the application forms and how someone applies ... Often, we think that digital strategy is where everyone can jump online and apply for stuff, but we haven’t thought about relationships, listening and sharing the same faces … [showing] that there are people like them in our organisation.

Organisation leader

We work with marginalised Pasifika communities in Auckland and most of the time we find it difficult to explain the government jargon. And that’s a huge barrier on its own, especially when we expect community groups to use our systems to apply for funding and to report on those funds.

Organisation leader

Awareness of — and challenges to access — free public wifi services

Free public wifi is a digital service that’s highly rated by interviewees. The services offered by schools and libraries work well for families without wifi at home. These sometimes provide children with much-needed access to the internet and to devices so that they can complete school work. Many community leaders are now pointing out free wifi areas to their communities.

In Ōtautahi, we’re lucky to get free, fast wifi — around libraries, the cathedral, cafes and the airport, etcetera.

Interviewee

Some interviewees talked about how older family members use the local library to access services.

Our elders use word processing at the library to write up church or immigration-related documents.

Interviewee

Regardless, there are challenges for some Pacific people to access free wifi facilities.

Even then, it can be difficult for our people to find time and money needed to get to these facilities. It can also be challenging and uncomfortable to use public facilities if English is a second language.

Community leader

Skills

Interviewees shared a range of insights into digital skills training that is needed and that would work well for Pacific peoples.

Training needed for Pacific businesses

Several interviewees said that more needed to be done to encourage digital skills development in the Pacific business community. They said that Pacific businesses need help understanding the benefits of using digital tools and platforms for operating their business. They also need help on how to make sure business information and data are secure when using digital tools.

When you talk about inclusion, if you can’t access and sell your services or promote yourself digitally, you’re seriously disadvantaged.

Interviewee

We need to help people understand that they need to have a presence, a digital presence, and be able to market their services and business digitally, too. Being able to sell your product or ideas digitally is extremely important.

Interviewee

When we talanoa with Pacific businesses, we find, at one end, businesses know their challenges and take steps to get around them. At the other end, are businesses who are stuck in the old ways trying to stay afloat.

Community leader

Community-led training is vital

Interviewees suggested using family-oriented and church-led training.

Pacific people unfamiliar with or sceptical of the digital world are likely to feel more comfortable getting their information from other Pacific people. It creates a sense of trust and assurance that the person speaking with them understands them, their families and where they’re coming from. Feeling they can relate to and understand the other person is very important.

Community leader

A strength of Pacific communities is that people come together quickly to help each other. Young people help and support elderly people within their extended family.

Learning from the younger generation works for our old people. They get to enjoy that relationship and learn at the same time.

Interviewee

With more than 80 percent of Pacific peoples affiliated with a church community,[Footnote 9] churches are an important communication channel for communities. Some digital inclusion initiatives have evolved successfully from within these communities and these demonstrate that success depends on Pacific peoples being part of the design of a digital inclusion initiative.

The church plays a leading role in most Pacific communities, with most people also holding strong community connections. In Auckland, one community-run digital skills initiative that I know about was highly successful.

Community leader

Train in people’s first language

Delivering training through a mix of in-person, radio and video mediums was another suggestion from interviewees.

A good example would be to look at how the Ministry for Pacific Peoples came up with videos, during lockdown, in each Pasifika language, which some people found more engaging. If we’d just thrown out pamphlets and documents with text, that would have not been as well received as the videos.

Community leader

Many interviewees also talked about the importance of explaining technical language and of delivering training in a face-to-face setting, including in the appropriate Pacific language.

For Pacific people who have English as a second language or do not speak English, training should be delivered in their Pacific language(s) and with other people of the same ethnicity to make translation more efficient.

Community leader

Build people’s confidence to ask for help

Some said that basic digital skills training should give Pacific peoples confidence, help them learn independently and reduce embarrassment for all ages.

In Pacific cultures, not everything is discussed openly, so people may be reluctant to ask for help. This can look like fear and embarrassment when it comes to learning about digital technology.

Community leader

Our teenagers and young people are fast, but when it gets difficult, they go silent and don’t say anything. And we go ‘Is something wrong?’ Here’s an insight: the term is whakamā or  — it means ‘shy’. Our young people don’t ask for help … we feel guilty because we don’t know what to do. What happens is they sit there for half an hour and do nothing … it’s a culture thing with Māori and Pacific, we don’t want to look dumb. They need to be given the confidence to be able to ask for help.

Community leader

Train all age groups

Interviewees said that all ages need access to digital skills training, from young people to adults to seniors.

Some interviewees had updated their skills at work or with help from their children but wanted to know more. Other interviewees were using social media to keep in touch with family but needed skills beyond using Facebook and text messaging.

Mum asks for directions ... and she uses the computer to get emails. It’s annoying when you want to send photos and make group chats to organise something. Parents call and text, but they don’t do much else on their phone.

Interviewee

It’s not as simple as teaching elderly people digital skills and how to use devices. Sometimes it’s hard for them to grasp how technology works. It can be like learning a new language that they haven’t spoken for most of their life, while everyone else is speaking it much faster than them.

Interviewee

Recognising that older people have a range of specific needs is important, according to some interviewees. Older people, they said, sometimes find it hard to recognise small differences in using technology, such as the difference between using a wifi internet connection versus using mobile phone data, or that you can call landlines from a mobile phone.

Interviewees said the older generation also find it difficult to understand the benefits of internet-based, free messaging and calling apps versus pre-paid or limited minutes and text-based mobile phone accounts. The ever-changing interfaces of applications and services along with trying to use different device types or brands can also be confusing.

Kaumatua, man they get [annoyed], their patience is low. Like when we’re trying to teach them how to send email and they push the attachment and not the send button, they lose the plot!

Interviewee

We sometimes have to start with learning to type. And kaumatua, man they talk! If you have one auntie here and one uncle there, and the auntie does really well, the auntie will go to the uncle: "You’re a bit slow there, my friend …" and it becomes this kind of competition. But they’re so willing to help each other.

Interviewee

Train about digital safety

Many interviewees noted how there’s a knowledge gap around digital safety and that scams were becoming more sophisticated. They voiced concerns that Pacific peoples are possibly more vulnerable to scams because of a reluctance to challenge perceived authority. For example, if they’re sent emails or documents saying that they owe money, they’re potentially more compliant than people who are from other cultures.

Some also think that older Pacific peoples are more likely to trust information received from a seemingly credible or authoritative source. This is especially the case for material that appears official or coming from government. Alongside lack of digital skills and unfamiliarity with technology, that trust can make older Pacific peoples vulnerable to being scammed or hacked.

I get really nervous about my mum having a phone and if someone rings her and they say they’re from IRD or the police, she’ll believe it.

Interviewee

Young people also talked about their lack of knowledge around digital safety. They’re more confident around their digital safety skills than older people, however they feel they need more information on how to keep safe from lesser known digital dangers.

When I was 13, I was on a popular TV show — after that I got a bunch of men across the world who found my Facebook profile and were trying to coerce me into sending photos. I saw it was weird but didn’t understand the seriousness of …. how someone could see my name on TV and find it on Facebook and be able to contact me …

Interviewee

In terms of how it’s monetised, it’s all that data that is the value. You’re getting Facebook for free. All that stuff that happens while you’re on there is helping the search engines give you the ads and share and circulate the different stories. It’s like a mirror. It’s something everyone needs to be more aware of.

Interviewee

Provide more accessible funding for digital skills training initiatives

Several interviewees involved in digital skills training set up by Pacific communities said that the processes for accessing funds for programmes were not very user friendly. They explained that funding applications for providing digital skills training are not always successful, including applications to the Lotteries Commission. Often people find the application process too challenging, including how to articulate their request adequately, and they give up.

Pacific people have the lowest uptake rate of applying for funds and grants. This is because of all the form filling and criteria and not feeling that it’s on their terms.

Community leader

Our problem is we have too many kids and parents wanting to join our programmes and not enough funding or resources or structure to even really have a good go at changing.

Community leader

Trust

Interviewees shared a range of insights into trust issues experienced by Pacific peoples, and some solutions for building trust.

Trust in the online world is low

Many interviewees expressed their low trust in the online world, and fear of using technology. Older people said that they didn’t know enough to trust that they could use it ‘safely’. Many associated the online world with scams and questionable social media content, and they expressed low trust that their privacy and personal information would remain secure.

Three interviewees connected government digital transformation with an inter-generational mistrust of government that stems from the 1970s dawn raids on Pacific homes.

One young interviewee was worried about the power the older generation has to push back on digital inclusion efforts. He said that older people hold a lot of influence, so they need help to understand the benefits of the digital world. They’re getting glimpses of information about artificial intelligence and virtual reality, causing some to fear the digital world.

The rate at which technology improves is scary, we can’t comprehend what the next year will hold. It’s something that needs to be discussed now. The Pacific community is a conservative community, so they’ll start to reject things if they’re scared of it and don’t trust it — then they’ll get left behind.

Interviewee

Trust is best achieved via their own language and family

Interviewees said that older people are more likely to trust information if they hear it in their own language and learn from younger family members.

When people are afraid of the system and don’t know how to navigate it with confidence, they don’t engage. Our old people feel much less afraid when they see their young people carrying out successful lives online. That might not improve their skills immediately, but it gives them confidence the internet isn’t all bad.

Community leader

Uncertainty about trustworthy apps, websites and services

Some Pacific people worry about websites, applications and services that require bank details because they find it hard to tell if these are genuine. Interviewees said that they’re more likely to trust requests for information for transactions if the request comes from widely known applications and services. While interviewees said that public or free wifi enables more access, some said that they do not trust the security of free wifi.

I don’t trust public wifi because my brother got hacked after using public wifi.

Interviewee

Reducing elder reliance on others may reduce elder abuse

Interviewees spoke of instances where an older person had trusted a family member to do their banking online, but money transfers had then taken place without their knowledge.

I think a lot of the older ones rely on the young ones to support them. There’s an assumption that they’ve got their best interests at heart.

Community leader

Trust in government varies

Pacific peoples think of themselves as a trusting community and generally trust the government but, if lost, that trust can be hard to regain.

I think the Pacific people have a lot of trust in government. I don’t know if you heard the PM and Minister of Health talk … Pacific people were the highest rate of those being [COVID] tested ... because we’re quite an obedient community and we have a lot of trust in government. But once it’s broken, then it’s hard to build that trust back.

Community leader

However, some Pacific people mistrust government motives and their trust needs to be rebuilt if there is to be confidence in the government’s digital inclusion initiatives.

You see Government with organisational Facebook pages trying to engage culturally but there’s lack of trust in government ...

Interviewee

This stems in part from a view shared by several interviewees that government ‘over-engages’ with Pacific communities to gather data but gives little in return, and that what government needs to do more of is to build trust through a genuine relationship.

One interviewee said that the key for government and large organisations wanting to work with Pacific communities is to earn trust and start a meaningful discussion to progress things — and not make promises that don’t get kept.

Pacific people have been ‘surveyed to death’ and nothing happens. We’ve heard the same conversation over and over. It’s been the same for 10 years, just different people, different food. Let’s move on from ‘Let’s raise awareness’ to ‘What next?’

Our community also doesn’t like big corporate giants like [telecommunications organisations] looking like they’re promising us something and then not delivering. We get it — you got money, my pre-pay goes to you!

Don’t come to survey us — come to break bread with us. Pacific people are very passionate people, they will take care of you, they will feed you — that’s kind of the ‘love’ language to them. It’s because you’ve made the time and effort to meet us, and that’s really rare for us.

And don’t be surprised if you see us crying. The reason we cry is because no one actually cares about us … Pacific people have been moved around and jolted and used and abused, but if someone with expertise comes in and just levels with us — that’s the best ever.

Interviewee

Online racism lowers Pacific peoples’ trust

Interviewees expressed concern about widespread racism online, including prejudice and hate-speech aimed at the Pacific community. The concern is that these racist views, groups and movements flourish online with little regulation or consequence.

Face-to-face, a lot of people don’t want to be seen as racist but online they’re much more comfortable about being themselves.

Interviewee

It just doesn’t give me cultural safety … we have to find a way to address these echo chambers of racism.

Interviewee

One community leader told of young Pacific rugby players struggling with self-esteem and social media. The attention from fans brought pressure to perform as well as racist online abuse.

You can have 2 or 3 really bad games and then you’ll have hundreds of people coming at you, like ‘go back to Samoa’ or ‘go back to Fiji’ and ‘you shouldn’t be playing here’.

Community leader

Motivation

Interviewees shared a range of insights into what does and doesn’t motivate Pacific peoples to use digital technology.

Connecting with family and community increases motivation to use digital technology

A strong theme from interviewees was how much Pacific life centres around family, and how technology gives families a way to stay connected and be involved even when geographically distant.

Family is the centre in how we operate, everything we do is around what’s best for our family. It’s important you can live-stream events like funerals and discuss big decisions as a family, so everyone can be part of it.

Interviewee

We do things in a family-oriented, communal way. If we think about tech, we think of how good it will impact our family, not just the parents and their kids. We usually live in a very communal way. For example, I live with my family. We have 4 kids, my wife's parents and brother.

Community leader

Church is frequently the link that connects Pacific families and it’s actively used to introduce change.

The strong thing about Pacific is that we’re very much a church-based culture. Throughout the country, a lot of the work that’s transformational for our communities is coming back to the church-based initiatives that are out there.

Community leader

Social media is popular within the Pacific community

Almost every interviewee spoke of how commonly social media is now used by young and old to keep up with family, friends, community and culture, and as a source of Pacific news. It’s also used to quickly connect and bring people together for community events.

When [the Ministry of Health was] doing the measles campaign and people weren’t being vaccinated ... one of the things we did, we actually created a [social media] campaign. Back then no one was turning up to the pop-up clinics that the Ministry of Health did. [But] we had something like 500 people turn up in one day in Mangere town centre.

Community leader

Older people spoke of how they love Facebook because it enables them to be more included in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

My mum now posts cultural things on Facebook. Even if it’s just a celebration within the family, some singing or dancing or different Pacific ceremonies, she’ll record them.

Interviewee

Pacific peoples are needed in technology careers

Interviewees working in technology were concerned that they’re the minority, saying that Māori and Pacific peoples comprise 25 percent of the population but that only 2 percent are working in technology.[Footnote 10] They said that increasing diversity in the technology workforce would generate better understanding of Pacific community needs and better service solutions, with the implication that this would improve digital inclusion in the Pacific community.

The online world needs decolonising — and that requires a sea change in the people who make the internet, and design and develop services for the web. We need more Pacific people in tech roles.

Community leader

I’ve had the worst experiences in tech. I’m a ‘double the minority’ — I’m brown and a girl. It’s male dominated. You get disrespected.

Interviewee

Interviewees working in technology said that they believe there’s a mindset about careers in technology that needs changing as it means Pacific peoples are missing out on highly paid careers and, by implication, greater digital inclusion. They said that parents and older people had a negative view of technology being just about software or gaming.

There can be strong input from parents pushing children towards more traditional occupations such as doctors, lawyers and accountants ... Demystifying technology and the digital world could open up job opportunities and raise income levels for Pacific people.

Community leader

Technology students often study for a shorter period, have less student debt and a significantly higher starting salary than students in more traditional, fields.

Community leader

These same interviewees showed a high motivation to help change Pacific participation in technology. Many are involved in skills training programmes in their jobs or as volunteers. They said that they’re active in speaking about their work in their communities so that they can be visible role models.

Why are there so few Pacific people in tech? Some of it is that Pacific people are less visible. How do you know what you can be if you can’t see yourself in the picture?

Community leader

Having access to devices and technology when young can make a difference to a person’s education, interests and career path, said one interviewee with a cutting-edge career in technology.

My mum went to a computer shop and got talked into buying a computer. She had no idea, just was told that it would be good. She ended up wearing the debt to get it for me. It gave me the tools and the resources to be able to be a very proficient designer at a very young age … My mum’s computer got me started.

Community leader

The digital world opens a door to Pacific culture

Participants talked enthusiastically about how the digital world was opening up the diverse Pacific cultures to each other and to New Zealanders in general.

Interviewees said that digital platforms are helping to connect Pacific peoples who were geographically scattered and that, for isolated people, this might be their only way to learn about their culture.

However, there were some mixed feelings. Older people, in particular, are reluctant to see cultural practices online, maintaining that customs should continue to be passed on orally, in the traditional manner, which creates an important link between generations. Younger people, however, are more positive about seeing cultural practices online as the knowledge is easier to access.

For Pacific culture that’s quite a new thing, having culture be shared through a digital platform.

Interviewee

Digital makes it easier to record and distribute cultural stories. I saw a short video of a palagi missionary, who’d been in Fiji and Tuvalu, speaking Fijian and Tuvaluan. You don’t get to hear many people speaking these languages. The internet makes this accessible for people who want to listen and maintain a language.

Interviewee

Concern about cultural appropriation and use without consent

Alongside enthusiasm about seeing their culture online, interviewees told of growing concern about what happens to cultural content once online. They said that it’s hard to define cultural appropriation in a way that enables legal action, or to track it, if cultural content online has been appropriated or used without consent.

Some villages own certain art — you have to get permission from the village. It can be quite complex ... Digital has become quite hard to trace the origins and the roots back to who owns it. Once it’s in the digital ether, things can transform.

Community leader

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Pandemic lockdowns disadvantaged digitally excluded people

There was a consistent view among interviewees that the pandemic highlighted the digital divide in New Zealand. They commented that, during the pandemic’s Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns in 2020, the proportion of Pacific peoples who struggled to be able to work, help their children study and access essential information and services was high compared to non-Pacific populations.

I [work with] church communities located as far north as Auckland’s North Shore and as far south as Invercargill ... we found many, many people in our Pacific community were without access to basic safety information through lack of skills or devices to go online.

Community leader

The first lockdown made us realise just how vulnerable some of our people are without online access. It’s a terrible situation in a global pandemic, obviously. But actually, it’s not a good situation, generally, as the whole world increasingly goes online. Our people need to know how to shop online for groceries, to bank ... the basics.

Community leader

The pandemic highlighted low digital literacy

Interviewees who provided Pacific communities with support during the lockdown periods said that they saw first-hand how hard people with low digital literacy struggled to access important information.

Working with Pacific people as a government agency representative, we saw first-hand how many in our Pacific community struggled to go online during lockdown. They need skills training ... and to learn in their own languages from people in their communities.

Community leader

Older people needed support with digital skills

Interviewees described the concern that they had felt for elderly people who were isolated during lockdown due to not living with family or being connected with others. With churches and community groups providing devices and training, older people got to see digital technology in action and its benefits, such as how it enabled them to be easily connected to family and church.

Our old people have had some exposure to the digital world [via lockdown]. They’ve had some upskilling by younger family members … that’s a start. At one point, we had a 5-year-old helping some of the older ones get online.

Community leader

Working from home is difficult in large households

Interviewees described the practical problems experienced by Pacific families living in large households. Some knew of families who moved in together to save money after losing jobs. Working from home during lockdowns meant higher power bills. Furthermore, not everyone wanted to turn on their video during online meetings and show where they were living.

When it comes to working from home, people have been zooming in from their wardrobe, the end of a bed, in the car — because there isn’t space for everyone to have a working-from-home setup. Some houses have 13 people.

Community leader

Churches went online — and delivered vital information

Several church ministers described how they went on a steep technology learning curve, guided mainly by young people. As well as making sure church services continued, they used the ‘church channels’ to deliver key public messages about the pandemic situation, advising people where they could get COVID-19 tests, where the food banks were and where to go for further help.

When we couldn’t meet on a Sunday, everyone wanted to know how to make virtual calls. It started with phone calls, then workshops with our community leaders, but also with our church, so all our elders could keep connected this way. Elders learned how to use Facebook, Messenger and Zoom. Then it was going into the platform for our ministers, so that they felt safe delivering their services. When we first started, we made a lot of mistakes.

Interviewee

Some ministers said that they would now continue with some online services.

I don’t think we’ll stick with online worship entirely, but we have installed cameras into our church, so we can continue to broadcast funerals and services. We recognise this is the way of the future — though we don’t want to go the way of the TV evangelists ...

Interviewee

Many people relied on Facebook for information

Interviewees described how social media was often the easiest way to stay up to date with COVID-19 information because so many of the community were already on Facebook.

People may not actively check information on websites or search Google for information, but they can check and receive official information through Facebook. Facebook proved an easy and popular channel for COVID-19 updates.

Community leader

Pacific communities were vulnerable to and suffered from misinformation

Interviewees said that Pacific peoples put a lot of trust in their community leaders, but that these leaders had sometimes spread misinformation.

I guess on my own social media platform, I felt like I had a duty, too — to talk about this, saying this is what’s really happening, this is what’s factual, this is what you should be supporting.

Community leader

They also said that online racism was directed at the Pacific community after false information and rumour about a family, which had been identified as a COVID-19 community transmission cluster, was spread on social media during the Auckland lockdown.

The pandemic changed Pacific peoples’ views about the digital world

Interviewees described how the 2020 lockdowns changed people’s view of the importance of digital inclusion — from seeing people unable to access services or stay socially connected, through to appreciating what could actually be delivered online.

COVID made our community realise the world is changing — fast. Before COVID, tech was considered something that belonged to other people. Now, it’s considered essential to our community, too.

Organisational leader

Pacific culture gained more visibility

Interviewees said that many cultural events, practices and meetings were conducted digitally through Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facebook. A Samoan cultural education course, which would normally have been in person, moved online and was promoted to English-speaking Samoans who had little knowledge of their Samoan culture. It was delivered in English with Samoan translations.

Lockdown was the first time I had seen a Siva (traditional Samoan dance) ... Hundreds of people on Zoom who love Pacific music were doing cultural moves and singing together.

Interviewee

Conclusion

The research has captured qualitative insights into the views and experiences of Pacific peoples, a group highly at risk of digital exclusion. The insights highlight the range of issues faced by Pacific peoples when they engage with the digital world.

This research has identified 5 key findings and a wealth of detailed findings for government and non-government organisations to consider in order to improve digital inclusion for Pacific peoples in New Zealand.

The 5 key findings are:

  • Pacific peoples’ input into the design of services is critical
  • cost is a barrier
  • non-digital access to government services is vital
  • digital skills training is needed
  • Pacific peoples are needed in technology careers.

The research also shows the value of the strong, supportive networks that Pacific peoples have in family, church and community. Pacific peoples know and trust their own people well and this provides an opportunity that can be harnessed by government, telecommunications and other organisations. They can work with this trust to support and empower Pacific peoples to strengthen their digital skills, generating a more equitable digital environment in New Zealand.

Next steps

In 2021, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) will use sector meetings to engage with key stakeholders and non-government agencies in considering the report findings and ensuring that organisations focussing on digital inclusion in New Zealand have the report information.

The report will also be shared with Ministers and inform advice on the Government’s approach to increasing digital inclusion.

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