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Evidence for action: why research is so powerful

"Research is vital because it can help us to ‘see’ and better understand the current state of play, so we can create informed actions that improve the work we do." CEO of Good Things Foundation, Jessica Wilson.

As CEO of Good Things Foundation, I have the privilege of seeing, first-hand, how digital inclusion really changes lives. Providing Australians with digital skills and affordable access to data and devices supports people to stay connected to the people they love, further their education, get a job or access essential services online.  

The act of ‘seeing’ the change for individuals and telling impact stories is one thing, but we also need broad-scale research that builds an evidence-base about what works. Research is vital because it can help us to ‘see’ and better understand the current state of play, so we can create informed actions that improve the work we do.

Over the past month, it’s been really exciting to see the release of important research and strategy work that has contributed to our understanding of digital inclusion across Australia. These include the launch of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) including the Mapping the Digital Gap report, the First Nations Digital Inclusion Plan and the Measuring What Matters framework. We’ve also been continuing work with our partners on the ARC Linkage Grant Advancing digital inclusion in low income Australian families project and speaking with government on the Data and Digital Government Strategy.

National digital inclusion research

The July release of the ADII, reported on data covering four years of online participation across Australia. The 2023 ADII was created by our friends at Telstra, Swinburne University, ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, The Social Research Centre, Dassier and RMIT University. It addressed three dimensions of digital inclusion – online access, digital ability and affordability – to produce a digital inclusion score across several areas. The index told us how far we’ve come in the past few years but it also showed us the evidence-based details on how far we’ve got to go in order to achieve our ultimate digital inclusion for all, for good. 

It found that the digital divide in Australia has narrowed but overall, nearly 1 in four Australians remain digitally excluded. Around 1 in 10 are highly excluded. Affordable access to the online world is still a key barrier, as 1 in four people in Australia are struggling with internet affordability. It was also absolutely fantastic to see the inclusion of data from the Mapping the Digital Gap project – that looks at the experience of digital inclusion in remote First Nations communities – for the first time. 

The ADII also showed that regional Australia is more digitally excluded than metro areas. Some states are doing better than others. Older Australians, people with disability, regional Australians, and people on low incomes or with lower levels of education are just some of the people more at risk of being left behind.

The important data featured in the ADII informs our work at Good Things Foundation, ensuring we are reaching those who are most digitally excluded and supporting our advocacy work around the importance of closing Australia’s digital divide.

“Affordable access to the online world is still a key barrier, as one-in-four people in Australia are struggling with internet affordability.”

We know there’s a lot more we need to do to ensure everyone is safe, confident and able to afford to get online. In particular, there is a need for more research into the issue of digital affordability so that we better understand the cost barriers we need to overcome. 

That’s why I felt so inspired after a recent meeting with the researchers behind the ARC Linkage Grant, Advancing digital inclusion in low income Australian families project. 

Good Things Foundation has been part of this important project, which focuses on understanding the digital inclusion experiences of low-income families in six diverse areas across the country, for the last three years. It’s been an amazing experience to witness the collaborative approach that the teams at Queensland University of Technology, RMIT University, Western Sydney University and Swinburne University have taken when researching digital affordability across diverse urban, regional and rural locations. 

Together with other with key collaborative partners the Smith Family, YourTown, Infoxchange and the Digital Literacy Foundation, we’ve looked at how a lack of access to digital technology impacts on low-income families’ access to education, parenting, social participation, and employment. The project has also allowed the researchers to look at how things have changed over the past few years and analyse the findings accordingly. 

I await the research results, which will be officially released during Get Online Week 2023 in October. However, I have no doubt that the ARC Linkage data will present an incredibly nuanced and meaningful picture of how low income families experience digital inclusion in Australia. The research will become a powerful tool that we can translate into diverse actions that promote digital inclusion.

Recent advances in policy and strategy

Another recent milestone was the release of the federal government’s inaugural Measuring What Matters wellbeing framework. It will be used to track our progress as we move towards a more healthy, secure, sustainable, cohesive and prosperous Australia.

The inclusion of measures in both online safety and digital preparedness (using the ADII as the measurement tool) demonstrates the federal government’s understanding of the role that digital preparedness plays in the creation of a dynamic society with a strong economy. It also highlights how essential online safety is to people feeling an overall sense of security. 

“In particular, there is a need for more research into the issue of digital affordability so that we better understand the cost barriers we need to overcome.” 

It truly is an exciting time to be making positive policy and strategy advances in the digital inclusion space. 

Recently, the National Indigenous Australians Agency released its new First Nations Digital Inclusion Plan (FNDIP). The Plan provides a strategic framework and a suite of existing and proposed actions to improve digital access, affordability and ability in First Nations communities. 

The plan is a positive first step towards creating digital equity for Australia’s First Nations people. We’re also currently campaigning for a national digital inclusion plan to be introduced that exists alongside the FNDIP. A national digital inclusion plan will outline a common set of goals for all levels of government to plan, support and fund digital inclusion initiatives in a coordinated manner. 

It truly is an exciting time to be making positive policy and strategy advances in the digital inclusion space. 

As part of our advocacy work, we recently presented and provided a submission towards the Australian Government’s Data and Digital Government Strategy

In our submission, we asked for the Digital Transformation Agency to feature a stronger focus on ensuring that Australians are supported to build their digital capabilities to access Digital First Government services. We also recommended that a national digital inclusion plan and national device bank be created and funded. We are hopeful that the government will listen to our recommendations and take steps to enact them in its final Data and Digital Government Strategy. 

We believe the important current research projects and strategy documents that have been released in mid-2023 will help us to ‘see’ an even brighter future and visualise an Australia that achieves digital equity. 

The work will be used to shape Good Things Foundation’s understanding of digital equity across Australia and influence our future actions. Action that is informed by a visual picture, created via evidence, is always so powerful. But in the context of digital inclusion, it can also be life-changing. 

The opinion piece above was authored by Jessica Wilson, CEO of Good Things Foundation Australia.

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