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Summary of Digital inclusion user insights — Pacific peoples report

“Stop repeating the conversation, start the action — you’re leaving us behind.” That’s an example of what the Department of Internal Affairs heard when it interviewed a number of Pacific peoples in 2020 to find out what they see are the barriers to digital inclusion.

The government’s vision is for everyone to have what they need to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the digital world — access (connectivity, affordability and accessibility), skills, trust, and motivation.

At more than 8 percent of the New Zealand population, Pacific peoples contribute hugely to our national identity and our economic, cultural and social wellbeing. However, 1 in 5 of Pacific peoples in New Zealand aged between 16 and 65 years old do not have basic computer skills[Footnote 1] — this is twice the rate of non-Pacific populations.

The Digital inclusion user insights — Pacific peoples report provides the findings of qualitative research into Pacific peoples’ experience of the digital world. Forty-seven people of different ages and ethnicities, and in different locations, were interviewed. They shared their thoughts and experiences on digital inclusion and exclusion as:

  • individuals, leaders, volunteers and employees
  • people who are connected with churches, communities, Pacific youth, LGBTTQI+ / MVPFAFF people, government organisations and the technology sector.

Findings

The research highlighted that the cause and effect of digital inclusion and exclusion is multi-faceted and, for a Pacific person, depends on their individual, family and community circumstances.

Key findings

  • Pacific peoples’ input into the design of training, services and initiatives is critical to ensure community buy-in and support — “Community knows community best.”
  • Cost of devices and connectivity is a significant barrier — “Choosing between topping up a phone for $20 or dinner on the table is not a difficult choice.”
  • Retaining non-digital channels to access government services is vital — organisations are increasingly moving services online, disadvantaging digitally excluded people by making it difficult for them to access services, support and entitlements, and therefore increasing marginalisation.
  • Digital skills training is needed, delivered in ways Pacific peoples like to learn — from other Pacific peoples, in their first language and with visual media. This will support Pacific peoples to access services, find sustainable employment, develop their business(es) and be safe online.
  • More Pacific peoples are needed in technology careers, which will result in more diverse services that will better meet the digital needs of Pacific peoples — although Māori and Pacific peoples comprise 25 percent of the population, only 2 percent work in technology[Footnote 2].

What people told us

Access

Having access to devices and technology when young makes a difference to a person’s education, interests and career path.

On top of cost, some people are uncertain about how to get an internet connection at home. Knowing about and being able to get to free public wifi can also be difficult. Church and community groups can mitigate but not eliminate these challenges.

Pacific peoples also want community-friendly information and services from government, in both plain English and Pacific languages.

Skills

Older Pacific peoples struggle to keep track of the complexity of technology. This includes understanding the difference between using a wifi internet connection versus mobile phone data, or that you can call a landline from a mobile phone. Even more complex for older people is understanding the benefits of internet-based, free messaging and calling applications versus mobile phone accounts with pre-paid plans for calls and texts. The ever-changing interfaces of applications and services, along with different device types and brands, also generates confusion for older people — “… but they’re so willing to help each other”.

Community-led training for all age groups was considered vital and that it should be family-oriented and church-led in order to build trust, the confidence to ask for help, and ongoing support networks. Interviewees said in-person, radio and video mediums work best for training Pacific peoples. Training about digital safety to avoid scams was seen as vital. “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.”

Improved access to funding for digital skills training initiatives is needed. “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.”

Pacific peoples also want digital skills development in their business community so that businesses understand the business benefits of using digital tools, platforms and information / data security. “If you can’t access and sell your services or promote yourself digitally, you’re seriously disadvantaged.”

Trust

Some interviewees expressed low trust in the online world (including using free public wifi), and a fear of using technology ‘safely’ in a way that would keep their private / personal information secure. They said that older Pacific peoples hold a lot of influence, so it’s important they understand the benefits of the digital world. Older Pacific peoples are more likely to trust if they hear information in their own language and learn from younger family members. “The Pacific community is … conservative …, so they’ll … reject things if they … don’t trust it — then they’ll get left behind.”

Interviewees said that some Pacific people think that government ‘over-engages’ with Pacific communities to gather data but gives little in return. They said that trust needs to be rebuilt for older Pacific peoples to have confidence in government digital inclusion initiatives. “Pacific people have been ‘surveyed to death’ and nothing happens … Let’s move on from ‘Let’s raise awareness’ to ‘What next?’.” “You see government with … Facebook pages … [trying] to engage [people] … but there’s a lack of trust in government.”

Interviewees were concerned about online racism aimed at the Pacific community. They felt that racist views, groups and movements flourish online with little regulation or consequences. “Face-to-face, … people don’t want to be seen as racist, but online they’re much more comfortable about being themselves.”

Motivation

Connecting with family and community increases Pacific peoples’ motivation to use digital technology because Pacific life centres around 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.”

Social media is popular and used by young and old to access Pacific news, to keep up with family, friends, community and culture, and to quickly connect and bring people together for community events.

Interviewees said that the digital world is revealing Pacific cultures to Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders and that digital platforms are connecting geographically scattered / isolated people, enabling cultural learning. However, they also said that many older Pacific peoples think that customs should be passed on orally to link the generations, and 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.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

Before COVID, tech was considered something that belonged to other people. Now, it’s considered essential to our community, too.

Interviewees said that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the digital divide in New Zealand, and that the lockdowns disadvantaged digitally excluded Pacific peoples. They commented that the proportion of Pacific peoples who struggled to be able to work, help their children study, and access essential information and services was high during lockdown.

Working from home was difficult in large households (and some families moved in together to save money after losing jobs). “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.”

Pacific communities were also vulnerable to misinformation through social media. However, churches went online (young people showing them how to set up the technology) and shared key messages about the pandemic situation. They advised people where to go for COVID-19 tests, food banks, and help. People also used Facebook to access up-to-date information.

Conclusion

The research shows the value of the strong, supportive networks that Pacific peoples have in family, church and community. This provides an opportunity for government, telecommunications and other organisations to use these networks to support and empower Pacific peoples to strengthen their digital skills.

Next steps

To consider the report findings, the Department of Internal Affairs will use sector meetings in 2021 to engage with key stakeholders and non-government organisations. The report will also be shared with Ministers and inform advice on the Government’s approach to increasing digital inclusion.

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