Left to right: Anthony Wiltshire, Shaylin Whyman, Brendon Adams, Dr Daniel Featherstone, Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker, and Dr Indigo Holcombe-James
Left to right: Anthony Wiltshire, Shaylin Whyman, Brendon Adams, Dr Daniel Featherstone, Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker, and Dr Indigo Holcombe-James

Mapping the Digital Gap research project commences in Wilcannia NSW

Author Dr Daniel Featherstone
Date 14 February 2022

The Mapping the Digital Gap research project has commenced with a productive week of research on digital inclusion and media use in Wilcannia in western NSW from 7- 12 February 2022.

ADM+S researchers Dr Daniel Featherstone, Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker and Dr Indigo Holcombe-James worked in partnership with Brendon Adams and co-researchers Shaylin Whyman and Anthony Wiltshire from Regional Enterprise Development Institute (REDI.E). They spent the week conducting surveys and interviews with the local community, residents and agencies on digital inclusion and media use in Wilcannia. The aim of the project is to provide data to inform policy and programs to help improve services and digital inclusion in remote Australia.

Many community residents described internet access in the area as being limited and unreliable, and the high costs of pre-paid mobile data impacted their ability to access critical online services, undertake home schooling, develop IT skills, and conduct their business or work needs. They highlighted the important role of local First Nations radio station Wilcannia River Radio in providing locally relevant news and information from trusted local voices. This was especially important during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2021 to provide up-to-date information from local health agencies, deliver home schooling lessons over the radio (due to lack of home internet access), and counter the misinformation spread over social media.

The Mapping the Digital Gap project is a four-year research project conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society in partnership with Telstra. Working with 10-12 remote First Nations communities over three years, this project will generate a detailed account of the distribution of digital inclusion and the uses of digital services including news and media across Indigenous communities; track changes in measures of digital inclusion for these communities over time; and inform the development and evaluation of appropriate local strategies for improving digital inclusion capabilities and services enabling informed decision making in remote Indigenous communities.

People living in Australia’s 1100 remote Indigenous communities are likely to be among the most digitally excluded Australians. At the same time, they are required to interact with increasingly automated digital services in areas such as health, education, and social services. Access to affordable communication services and accessible sources of news and information are also essential.

The data collected through the Mapping the Digital Gap project will enable comparison with national results collected for the annual Australian Digital Inclusion Index, a joint project between RMIT University, Swinburne University, and Telstra. This will enable measurement and tracking of the scale of the digital gap for remote First Nations communities. With a new Closing the Gap target of equal levels of digital inclusion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2026, this project aims to provide data to inform policy and programs to help close the digital gap.

The research team sends their gratitude to the staff at REDI.E and to the research participants in Wilcannia for their valuable insights and perspectives on the barriers to digital inclusion – from access and affordability to digital ability – and the potential opportunities for social, cultural and economic development of reliable and affordable communications.

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