Communications Minister Clare Curran has released a report commissioned, but never released, by the previous government into how digital capabilities and digital inclusion affect New Zealanders’ social and economic outcomes, saying it will be a valuable input to the development of the new government’s blueprint for digital inclusion.
Curran said the report Digital New Zealanders: The Pulse of our Nation — dated May 2017 — had not been made public because it exposed the digital divide in New Zealand. “We’re doing well in terms of improving connectivity for New Zealanders, but while more people are getting better connectivity, more people are also being left behind,” she said.
The move was welcomed by NZTech CEO Graeme Muller who said the New Zealand Digital Skills Forum group was about to release “a landmark and detailed analysis of the digital skills needed by New Zealand over the coming years and the opportunities for all New Zealanders.”
The Digital New Zealanders report was commissioned in late 2016 by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) from the Digital Inclusion Research Group (DIRC) — a consortium engaged in digital inclusion initiatives — “to better understand the ways in which digital capabilities and digital inclusion affect New Zealanders’ social and economic outcomes.”
DIRC said it had been asked to look at four main areas to help inform MBIE and DIA’s next steps with the Digital New Zealanders part of the Digital Economy Work Programme:
• Defining what digital inclusion means and those who appears most at risk of digital ‘exclusion’;
• The role of digital capabilities or skills, are there particular capabilities that appear most valuable to have, and do these capabilities appear to have any impact on economic and social wellbeing?
• What research and interventions have been undertaken by other countries into the value of trying to increase digital inclusion in their populations, the results these have had and what interventions have also been undertaken in New Zealand to lift digital inclusion and what results these are achieving?
• Whether any of these interventions could be suited to New Zealand’s specific circumstances and populations.
• Suggestions for next steps New Zealand could take to address any identified issues and opportunities.
The research covered developments overseas in the UK, EU, USA, Finland, Estonia, Singapore, South Korea and Australia. It also included “consultations with representatives from stakeholder groups in New Zealand who face the greatest risk of being excluded, whether during their years at school or in securing jobs or simply in engaging with their communities, whānau and friends.”
Curran described the report as “a very low budget literature review [and] a good foundation,” saying the Government intends to do much more to “find real solutions for real people.”
“Families on low incomes, seniors, and people living outside urban areas are becoming increasingly disenfranchised by lack of access, the inability to afford the Internet or a lack of skills or motivation to be digitally capable,” she said.
“The report sets out the need for a single, nationwide policy framework on digital inclusion in New Zealand with input from digitally disadvantaged groups and informed by robust economic data.
“We know not all New Zealanders are participating equally in the digital world – and we need to better understand why that is, and what solutions may be effective in changing that.”
She said the report and other research and data currently available, would be a valuable input to the development of the new government’s blueprint for digital inclusion, being developed with the assistance of a soon to be established advisory group.
“The group will help us explore the complex but fundamental issues of how we can reduce the gap between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and will help determine what skills Kiwis need to be ready for the jobs of the future,” Curran said.