Mapping the digital gap: Wilcannia, NSW community outcomes report
Authors Leah Hawkins
Date 24 June 2022
The Mapping the Digital Gap research project have released a Community Outcomes Report on Wilcannia, NSW which illustrates the key findings from 67 surveys and 25 interviews with residents and stakeholders collected in February 2022, as well as outlining the communications capabilities and current services available in Wilcannia.
Wilcannia is situated on the banks of the Darling River (Baarka) in far western New South Wales. Located in the Central Darling Shire, Wilcannia is approximately 200kms from Broken Hill and 260kms from Cobar, 500km from Dubbo and 970km from Sydney.
The Community Outcomes Report tells the story of local business owners, families and students who face the challenges of unreliable bandwidth and lack of access to affordable and convenient connectivity, with few households having any form of fixed home internet. The challenges were exacerbated during COVID-19 lockdowns and during a major COVID-19 outbreak in the town in August 2021.
In a country that is moving toward digital transformation of online service delivery, the research shows that a large proportion of Australia’s First Nations peoples are being left behind. They do not have adequate and affordable connectivity, skills and support that is needed to access these online services.
Mapping the Digital Gap is a four-year research project conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and Society in partnership with Telstra to develop the first comprehensive study of digital inclusion in remote First Nations communities.
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.
To date, the research team have visited 10 remote communities in northern Queensland, the Torres Strait, central Australia, east Arnhem Land and the Kimberleys in Western Australia. They have conducted 450 surveys and 115 interviews on digital inclusion and media use in collaboration with local research partner organisations and community co-researchers.
Overall, they have observed a broad range of barriers to digital inclusion from limited access to reliable phone, mobile or internet services, slow download speeds due to high levels of congestion, high data costs with predominantly pre-paid services, and gaps in digital literacy and awareness of scams, cyber-safety and use of online services.
As part of the project’s commitment to deliver tangible benefits to the communities, the project team will be creating individual reports for each community using the results of surveys and interviews to tell the story of digital exclusion in the area. While there have been common concerns to come out of the data, each site has a unique social, cultural and technological context and different capacities and frustrations, highlighting how local solutions and capacity are critical to addressing the digital gap.
The reports will be made available to the communities, local government agencies and First Nations organisations to assist with self-advocacy, funding applications and local Digital Inclusion plans.
More community reports as well as a major outcomes report summarising their first year of research, will be made available later in the year.