A clear ask from the working group of local government people behind the recent big DECA-supported 'Digital Equity in Local Government' hui was to develop digital equity messaging for candidates for the upcoming local body elections. DECA was very lucky that we had Senior Policy Adviser Kim Connolly-Stone on contract who consulted with the group and some of the DECA Team to produce the messaging below. We're sending this out to candidates and key stakeholders from this week. DECA is also offering a community digital equity briefing on this material, brought to life with stories from the frontlines
You can download the pdf DECA Digital Equity essentials for local government candidates here.
Here's what is in it:
Digital equity is essential for community wellbeing and regional economic growth
Digital equity is essential for community wellbeing and regional economic growth but it's an issue many in local government are not yet taking seriously. Without it, people in your community will struggle to access services, education and employment. They will not be able to connect with whānau and friends. And they will not develop the digital skills you need to grow your local tech sector (and other sectors) and your regional economy.
Digital inclusion is an issue for people of all ages and stages. But the digital divide is greater for some, including those on low incomes and in disability communities, our elders, Māori and Pacific communities and folks in more isolated locations.
What is digital equity?
Digital equity exists when everyone can access and effectively use digital technologies to participate in our society, democracy and economy.
Digital inclusion refers to the initiatives and actions we undertake as we work towards digital equity. Digital inclusion is the means to achieve the goal.
To achieve digital equity our communities need:
Local government is well placed to help communities get the support they need
Local bodies have an important part to play in the achievement of digital equity in Aotearoa.
They are closer to communities than central government. This means they are well placed to understand local digital inclusion needs and to support communities. If local bodies are willing and are prepared to do this.
They are already in the business of supporting community services and operating hubs (such as libraries) where people go for help.
Existing services are under-funded, oversubscribed, under threat and being turned off
Many libraries have been providing digital inclusion support to their communities, through free internet access at their premises, teaming up with others to run digital skills programmes, helping people access central government services (e.g. printing vaccine certificates and applying for housing support), and being a conduit for digital equity services provided by others (such as Spark’s Skinny Jump internet packages).
Short term funding was provided by central government for digital inclusion liaison roles in councils and libraries, as part of the initial COVID-19 relief package. That funding has now ceased and services all around the country have had to stop, with people needing help being turned away.
Other services provided through council hubs by NGOs are also struggling to get funding support and cannot meet demand.These initiatives have a heavy reliance on goodwill and volunteers and often fail due to the lack of dedicated, ongoing funding.
There are many charities, NGOs and iwi groups helping people in their communities get the digital access they need in the ways and places that work for them. Councils can help them to help more people (and keep operating) by providing funding to run these services. They can also help by shining a light on successes and connecting people who want to help.
While libraries are a very useful hub, they are not always welcoming or convenient places for everyone. This is why councils need to think about digital inclusion support through a number of channels.
Digital equity is central to the local government responsibility for community well being
The Local Government Act calls on local authorities to “play a broad role in promoting the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of their communities”. Digital equity is central to wellbeing in all of these areas.
Digital equity is also needed to grow your local tech sector
Many local governments (often through their regional economic development arms) are thinking about how they can attract and support the tech sector. To grow the local economy and provide high paying tech jobs for people in the region. These plans depend on a pipeline of digitally skilled people. This all starts with supporting people with the basic digital skills, and giving them the foundations to build on.
This is what local bodies need to do
While central government needs to step up, so do our local authorities. Councils need to play their part in achieving digital equity and wellbeing in their communities. You need to/we call on candidates/incoming councils to:
Feel free to use this with your local body election candidates. Remember, you can download the DECA Digital equity essentials for local government candidates pdf.