The State of the Nation: Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019

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It’s been just over two years since Good Things Foundation launched in Australia and we went international – and it’s all happened rather fast. If you blinked, you might have missed us building a digital inclusion network of more than 2,500 community organisations, managing a $20 million grant program, and supporting over 250,000 people with our network partners to improve their confidence with digital.

So it was fantastic to see the impact we and lots of others in the sector have had in creating a more digitally inclusive society in yesterday’s Australian Digital Inclusion Index 2019 report. It brought the exciting news that digital inclusion is improving year-on-year. 

First published in 2016, the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) provides the most comprehensive picture of Australia’s online participation to date. Since data was first collected in 2014, Australia’s overall digital inclusion score has risen by 7.9 points, from 54.0 to 61.9, and improvements have been evident across all three dimensions of digital inclusion – Access, Affordability and Digital Ability. This means digital inclusion is getting better!

However, there’s little to get complacent about: “A number of groups continue to record low digital inclusion scores,” whilst “the gaps between digitally included and excluded Australians are substantial and widening for some groups.”

The report brings to light the different challenges that Australia faces in the mission to achieve Good Things Foundation’s vision of a world where everyone benefits from digital. Although Indigenous digital inclusion is improving, it remains low – this has been the case since the ADII began, and clearly more work is needed to support Indigenous Australians to gain digital equality. Geography also plays a critical role – Australia is such a huge country and the more regional and remote the area you live in, the less digitally included you will be. That’s why our approach of supporting people through hyperlocal, community organisations, our ‘Network Partners”, from all over Australia – from urban, regional, remote and very remote places – is so important and so effective. Partnership is key.

Yet the report also draws attention to the fact that many of the same challenges are experienced across borders. In remarkable chorus with the UK’s Oxford Internet Survey 2019 published last week (you can read my blog post about it here), the digital divide follows clear socio-economic contours. Broadly, Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are significantly less digitally included. 

Just as OxIS found that most non-users in the UK are not interested in going online, the ADII reported that under half of all Australians think computers and technology give them more control over their lives. This suggests a transnational aspect to some of the challenges excluded people face and a focus for Good Things Foundation in both countries. We need to reduce people’s anxieties about the use of digital technologies on a global scale, and raise awareness for people across the world about the benefits of getting themselves online.

We are, of course, delighted at the positive news in the report. We’re equally delighted that over 900 of our fantastic network partners have signed up to participate in Get Online Week this year. But there is always more to be done to reach the 2.5 million people in Australia who are currently not online, and the 4 million people with limited digital skills.

Earlier this year we published a picture of digital inclusion in Australia – our Digital Nation 2019. If you’re interested in finding more stats about the state of the nation and digital inclusion do have a look at it here. Since it uses the 2018 ADII we’ll be updating it in early 2020, so watch this space for more information on that too!

Oxford Internet Survey 2019: A Response

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I was really excited to see that the OXIS Survey is back after a six year break and yesterday, the Oxford Internet Institute released the summary report to the 2019 analysis. The latest report – intriguingly called Perceived Threats to Privacy Online: The Internet in Britain – shows a rapid increase in the use of the internet since its last outing in 2013. Now we have the evidence that there are more and more people streaming music, watching television content and paying their bills online, demonstrating some of the many benefits enjoyed by those who are frequent internet users, and reflecting what many of us see in our day to day lives. 

But the report also reinforces a worrying trend. As those people who are online are increasingly benefiting from the digital world, there is a growing disconnect between users and non-users. The digital divide is widening and the report highlights many of the contributing factors.

Level of income remains a strong indication of internet use. There is still a higher proportion of non-users below the median income (£28,400/year), whilst a whopping 40% of respondents in the lowest income category (less than £12,500/year) are digitally excluded.

Age also continues to play an important role. Whilst almost everyone under the age of 50 uses the internet, after 50 there is a sharp decline in internet use of about 2% per year.

Particularly troubling is that ‘the most notable point about the relation of education and internet use is how little it has changed between 2013 and 2019.’ Just as before, there is a disproportionate percentage of non-users among less-educated groups.

All of this goes to show that it is those people who are most likely to be socially excluded that are digitally excluded too – and so those who have the most to gain from digital are most likely to be left behind. 

The report points to not only a growing digital divide in experience, but also in perceptions of the internet. 72% of non-internet users believe that it threatens privacy, compared to 52% of those who actually use the internet. When asked whether they agree that ‘technology makes things better’, 79% of users agree as opposed to just 29% of non-users. Concerns about keeping safe online is a barrier to many people engaging with the digital world. We know that motivation is one of the huge barriers stopping people getting online, and this report further proves this. It is vital that we show people the benefits of using the internet in order to help them to move forward positively on their digital journey.

What does this all mean? 

It means we are still a long way off achieving the goal set out in our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation. A growing digital divide means there are people being left behind, and these people are the most likely to be socially excluded. So we need to act now – to work together as a nation to close the digital divide once and for all.

Our Blueprint sets out the six key actions that we believe need to be taken to close this divide – but we can’t do it alone. We need a commitment of partners from across the sectors to ensure we can be a leading digital nation, and really seize the benefits that digital can provide.