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  • Writer's pictureGJC Team

Why digital inclusion matters

Updated: May 13

Digital inclusion

Digital inclusion is a high priority for many countries because they recognise it as fundamental to a modern, growing, productive economy.


According to some estimates, around 30% of the global population (over 2 Billion people) remain digitally excluded due to issues such as connectivity, affordability of devices, data, and insufficient digital skills. The costs associated with broadband services (mobile or fixed) remain out of reach for many individuals and communities with data plans costing up to 10% of the average income.


The United Nations (UN) defines digital inclusion as the provision of fair, meaningful, and secure access to digital technologies, services, and opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances.


The UN approach is underpinned by human rights and ensuring that online rights are as respected and protected, and that the diverse needs of individuals in the digital realm are catered for. Digital inclusion aims to eliminate social inequalities, promote well-being for all, ensure marginalized communities are not left behind, and that everyone has equal opportunities online.


This means guaranteeing the availability and accessibility of the internet, digital devices, services, and relevant content, as well as making them affordable. It also involves the provision of access to critical digital skills, education, tools, and supporting the equitable participation in safe and discrimination-free online spaces. Digital inclusion further encourages involvement from various groups in the design, development, testing, and evaluation of digital technologies, services, platforms, and policies.


While most countries recognise the need for digital inclusion from a human rights, 'public good', or 'common good' perspective there are other compelling reasons why it is so important.


The UK definition of Digital inclusion (2014) states that it is about making sure that people have the capability to use the internet to do things that benefit them daily. Digital inclusion is noted as frequently containing:


  • Digital skills - being able to use computers and the internet.

  • Connectivity - and access to the internet. People need the right infrastructure.

  • Accessibility - services should be designed to meet all users’ needs.


Other definitions, such as from the New Zealand Government, describe its components as motivation, access, skills, and trust.


Motivation: Adequate understanding of how the internet and digital technology can help connect, learn, or access opportunities, and consequently have a meaningful rationale to engage with the digital world.


Access: Having access to digital devices, services, and content that meet the users needs at a (proportionately) affordable cost and being able to connect to the internet where the user works and lives. Access can be further broken into: connectivity, affordability and accessibility.


Skills: Having the skills and capability to use the internet and digital technology in ways that are fit for purpose and beneficial.


Trust: Possessing adequate digital literacy to manage private or personal information and safely avoid scams, harmful communication and misleading information.


Other researchers such as Alamelu (2013) have suggested a broader concept of digital inclusion whereby empowered citizens to go beyond being ‘users and choosers’ of technology to become ‘makers and shapers' of the technologies. It is asserted that in an inclusive digital society, citizens also need to be “actively engaged in the creation of socio technical systems”.


What is needed to achieve adequate levels of digital inclusion?


Having defined what digital inclusion is - the challenge becomes achieving digital inclusion. While every context is different, possible steps towards digital inclusion could include:


  1. Awareness: Recognizing the importance of digital inclusion among all aspects of a society.

  2. Affordable access: Ensuring digital services are affordable to as many people as possible.

  3. Digital skills training: Supporting digital literacy to enable individuals utilise digital tools.

  4. Inclusive products and services: Products and services designed to be accessible to the widest array of individuals and groups.

  5. Partnerships: Collaboration between organisations to build sustainable digital inclusion.

  6. Employee engagement: Allowing employees to support digital inclusion initiatives.

  7. Advocacy and policy engagement: Enabling both private sector and non government sector engagement with governmental programs and policies.



digital inclusion for education


Alamelu (2013) suggests the need for a hierarchical framework for progress towards ‘Digital Inclusion’. This could include the following stages:


Level 1: the technical infrastructure as the essential and fundamental foundation for inclusion which provides access to ICTs. Level 2: digital awareness programmes and campaigns to increase awareness of what is available and to improve take up. Level 3: development of ‘know how’’, understanding and basic IT skills training for citizens. Level 4: Digital opportunity: access to ICTs and the ability to influence their design. Level 5: Digital Empowerment: enabling people to tailor technology to meet their needs and aspirations, to innovate and to participate in planning and design decisions.


These 'levels' are usually shown as a hierarchical stack - but this fails to reflect the reality that all layers of the stack need to constantly evolve as technology, contexts, and requirements change. Hence, sustainable digital inclusion could look more like the following:


Digital inclusion

What are the benefits of digital inclusion?


The benefits of digital inclusion are the focus of considerable research. While much of the attention is related to the (positive) impacts at the individual level, the benefits have been found to permeate much wider. The benefits of digital inclusion include:


  • Better opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds and situations;

  • Wider employment opportunities for individuals and communities;

  • Enhanced self-sufficiency for vulnerable adults

  • Increased access to public services through digital government channels

  • Improved quality of public services

  • Enhanced community cohesion

  • Improved education, attainment and life/work chances

  • Greater value for citizens through enhanced public service efficiency

  • Time and monetary savings for individuals and businesses

  • Enhanced work and environmental savings through flexible remote work practices


The benefits from digital inclusion to economic growth and stability are also noteworthy as the Solomon and Klyton (2020) study of thirty-nine African countries found. This study build upon other bodies of research such as (Bukht and Heeks, 2017) that suggest digitalisation creates economic growth, and the (2022) Economist report that highlights how it [Digital inclusion] can stimulate economic growth and development. Hence, government policy that actively integrates ICT usage across business sectors and for individual use will enhance competitiveness.


Summary


Digital inclusion has become so intrinsic to participation in the digitally connected world that the United Nations (UN) is now advocating its status as an essential human right. As a 'right', digital technologies and services need to be provisioned in fair, meaningful, and secure way to and for all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances.


Digital inclusion will need to include 'Digital skills' - being able to use computers and the internet; 'Connectivity' - access to the internet and the right infrastructure, and 'Accessibility' - services designed to meet all users’ needs.


Attaining an adequate level of digital inclusion will require a level of the technical infrastructure to be in place, digital awareness, the development of ‘know how’’ (i.e. understanding and basic IT skills training), the opportunities to exercise this knowledge, and finally 'Digital Empowerment' to support individuals and communities meet their online needs and aspirations.


The benefits of digital inclusion are well canvassed in both research and real world cases and range from: new opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds; employment and economic benefits; self-sufficiency for vulnerable adults; better access and delivery of public services; time and monetary savings for individuals and businesses; enhanced work and environmental savings through flexible work practices. Digital inclusion has also been shown to facilitate broader economic growth and stability and enable developing countries to fast track entrepreneurial opportunities.




References



Alamelu, K. (2013). Digital inclusion-a conceptual framework. International Journal of Advanced Research in Management and Social Sciences, 2(12), 228-248.


Bukht R., Heeks R. 2017. Defining, Conceptualising and Measuring the Digital Economy.http://www.informatics.manchester.ac.uk/news/latest-stories-updates/defining-conceptualising-and-measuring-the-digital-economy/





Reisdorf, B., & Rhinesmith, C. (2020). Digital inclusion as a core component of social inclusion. Social inclusion, 8(2), 132-137.


Serrano-Santoyo, A., & Rojas-Mendizabal, V. (2017). Exploring a complexity framework for digital inclusion interventions. Procedia Computer Science, 121, 212-217.





Solomon EM, van Klyton A. The impact of digital technology usage on economic growth in Africa. Util Policy. 2020 Dec;67:101104. doi: 10.1016/j.jup.2020.101104. Epub 2020 Aug 30. PMID: 32904493; PMCID: PMC7456578





Walton, P., Kop, T., Spriggs, D., & Fitzgerald, B. (2013). A digital inclusion: Empowering all Australians. Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, 1(1), 9-1.



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