The Australian Commonwealth government is progressively moving more and more services online. In a speech to the Australian Information Industry Association in June the Hon Michael Keenan MP, the Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation said that by 2025 Australia will be one of the top three digital governments in the world. A lofty ambition and one that many of us working in or with government are directly involved in. There are obvious benefits to this transition but have stopped to consider if we are leaving some people behind?
Digital transformation seems to be the current trend in government, finding new innovative online solutions to every service and program. While I believe this is the right way to go, the “way of the future”. Are we being conscious to engaging and supporting critical client groups when making this transition? Given the frequency with which many people living on low incomes, rural and elderly Australians engage with government services, are we leaving some people behind as the government moves ahead?
I started thinking about this when I read the 2017 digital inclusion index report which showed there are still more than 3 million Australians who are not online. For these people, the education, health, social and financial benefits of being connected remain out of reach and so do some government services. People do not have ready access to the internet for a number of reasons, location, cost or skills are just a few. Consider this:
- Only 51% of people aged 65 or more are internet users compared to 84.6% national average. This group also has the lowest level of digital ability (Attitudes, Basic Skills and Activities)¹.
- Only 53.1% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons living in remote areas have accessed the internet in the past year².
- In general, Australians with low levels of income, education, and employment are significantly less digitally included than those with higher incomes and education².
- 20.4% of Australians born in non-English speaking countries, do not access internet compared to a 15.5% national average.
- One in five Australians access the internet solely through a mobile device¹.
The gaps between digitally included and excluded Australians is substantial and widening for some groups.
I believe the government can be more efficient in how we deliver services. I believe we can offer better services through online platforms. I just wonder if we have moved to digital too quickly without considering how we will continue to engage some of the most vulnerable in our society. Yes, I know you can go to a public library or a local Centrelink office to access the internet but what if you are in a remote community where these services aren’t available or are physically unable to get there.
I think as service providers, which is ultimately what the government is, we can always be doing more. We need to be considering a range of questions when moving to digital first services:
- How do we increase digital ability of our users so that those that don’t know how to access email, use google or understand social media can be included?
- How else do we make forms, portals and websites accessible to those who don’t have access to the internet at home or have a disability?
- Are we making everything responsive so those that only have access to the internet on their phones can still access services effectively?
These questions are front of mind as I talk to my clients about digital communication channels. I suppose the most important one is who are your users and what do you know about them? Who are you building this for? If you know who will be using your services and the challenges they may face, then you will be in a better position to develop a product that works for them.
Digital inclusion is recognised as one of the key social justice challenges facing policy makers and communities worldwide. While we are moving to a fully connected world we aren’t there yet so how will we bridge the gap while we are in this period of transition.
Are you part of a digital transformation? Do you consider these groups when you are building a new product? I would love to hear how!