Australian Digital Inclusion Index Launch 2021
20 October 2021
Prof Julian Thomas, Director, ADM+S
Lyndall Stoyles, General Counsel, Telstra Group
Prof Jo Barraket, Director, Centre for Social Impact
Jules Scarlet, Head of Sustainability, Telstra
Watch the recording
Welcome everyone and thanks for taking some time out today to join us. So my name is Jules Scarlett, and I’m Head of Sustainability at Telstra. I’m joining you today from Spring Beach. It’s a rainy day today. It’s on the east coast of Tasmania, on the traditional lands of the Palawa people. So before we commence on behalf of Telstra we would like to acknowledge the rich and diverse stories, the cultures and the traditions, of all first nations people across the country, from where we’re meeting. So welcome to the launch of the sixth Australian Digital Inclusion Index, in conjunction with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision Making and the Society at RMIT University, and the centre for social impact at Swinburne University of Technology. I’d also like to welcome distinguished professor Julian Thomas from RMIT, and distinguished professor Jo Barraket from Swinburne, who will be taking us through the key findings of this year’s index. At Telstra we are really proud of the role we have played supporting the index from its inception in 2015 to the present where it’s become the recognised benchmark for measuring the digital divide in Australia. We know the importance of data, and data-driven decision-making and policy, which is why we are so strong in our support for the index. But we’re also really committed to working with you in partnership with many of the organisations you represent, to address the challenges that the index identifies. So, as we begin, let’s first learn a little bit about some of the work that Telstra is doing as part of one of our community partnerships with Big Heart. Through a video which shows how essential digital inclusion is in creating confidence, and in creating agency in today’s world.
An aerial view of waves lapping at a beach. Five young dark-skinned girls stand atop a rocky hill, overlooking the ocean. Three Caucasian teens laugh and make hand gestures. A young girl with a digital camera around her neck welcomes us into a community hall. Text: In high needs communities around the country, Big Heart and Telstra are working to change the story. To recognise digital is essential. Make, build, drive. Make digital content. Build connected communities. Drive positive futures to thrive in the digital economy young people need digital skills, digital literacy, digital justice, digital inclusion.
An aerial view of the cliff down to the ocean’s edge. A field of red tulips. Working in northwest Tasmania, and around Australia. In unison a large group of teenage girls jump for joy.
To highlight hidden injustice and build connected futures. Teams drum on a grinding rail as a skateboarder mounts the rail. In a darkened room teams watch sport wearing Bluetooth headphones.
So everyone can thrive. A room of computers where Asian, dark-skinned, and Caucasian students gather around the screen creating animations.
Digital inclusion builds on access, affordability, and digital ability. But it is also confidence agency and permission. Digital inclusion requires a shift in culture. In a classroom an elderly man mimics a bird flying with his hands. A teenage girl wearing a t-shirt with a big heart logo adjusts a digital camera on a tripod.
Every kid should have access to the global digital classroom. No child and no community should live with digital poverty.
Essential. Big Heart and Telstra acknowledge the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia, and pay respects to elder’s past, present, and emerging.
Thank you. Now I’d like to start off by inviting Telstra’s group General Council Lyndall Stoyles to make a few comments. Lydall looks after not only the general council role, but it’s sustainability, external affairs and legal. So Lyndall across you to make a few comments.
Thanks Jules, and can I just check that you can hear me okay? Yes, excellent.
So, thanks Jules and good afternoon, everyone. This is the highlight, can I say, of my month at least so far. I know there’s sort of, some quite sobering findings in this report. But the report at least gives us the information, so allows us to take some action and hopefully help to close the digital divide. Digital inclusion has never been more topical or relevant, and for us at Telstra it’s a fundamental part of our purpose, which is to build a connected future so everyone can thrive. For us as Australians, the last 18 months has demonstrated how fundamental digital inclusion is in enabling us to work, study, play, and most importantly connect with our families and friends. While we’ve seen improvements in digital inclusion over the last year, the rate of increase is slowing and these improvements have not been shared equally by all Australians. Put simply, there’s a lot more work to do. The index is a critical piece of research, as it provides a detailed picture of digital inclusion in Australia and helps us identify the areas that we need to focus on in order to close the digital divide. We at Telstra use the index to guide how we develop and support programs that help reduce the inclusion gap.
Through our Everyone Connected programs, we provide assistance to a million vulnerable customers. We recently recommitted to this goal in our T25 Corporate Strategy. So it’s a fundamental part of Telstra’s overall corporate strategy. And this includes providing support through our safe connections program to those in financial hardship, and those experiencing domestic and family violence. We work with many of you to build community digital capability, through programs such as Tech Savvy Seniors, and Deadly Digital Communities. I always struggle over the name of that program. We also ran a connected student’s pilot that looked at what is possible when you take affordability out of the equation for low-income families. As part of that program, we provided 100 students who are in their final two years of school with the device and connectivity for two years. The pilot began before the COVID pandemic related lockdowns but became a vital tool for connecting students through home learning throughout 2020. Particularly during the extensive lockdowns in Victoria. And what we discovered; it was in many instances this program also improved the digital inclusion of the whole family. Telstra is committed to measuring, monitoring, and improving digital inclusion. And we’re proud to share with you what this year’s index has found, as well as showcase the improved digital tool. We hope the new website and interactive approach will help policymakers, business, and community organisations focus on the issue of digital inclusion, and inform the development of more effective policies, products, and programs. We’re very much looking forward to seeing how you use these insights. Thanks Jules.
Thanks Lyndall, and so now we’re going to pass to distinguished Professor Julian Thomas from RMIT University who will take us through the key findings of this year’s index, thanks Julian.
Prof Julian Thomas:
Thanks so much Jules. And it’s a real pleasure to be able to share with everybody the work we’ve been doing now for a couple of years. It’s a significant time I think, a critical moment in digital inclusion. And we’re really looking forward to putting our work out into the community and enabling people to contribute, collaborate, share with us, and comment. So really what I’m going to do now is give you a quick overview of some of the main findings that have come out of the work we’ve done so far. Then we’re going to move to a Q and A, I’ll move pretty quickly, and some of the slides do have quite a bit of data on them. We will be sharing that, and I think we’ve already shared the details on the website, so that you can access the dashboards that we’ll be talking about.
The first thing I want to do is talk briefly about our approach to digital inclusion, and the way in which we’ve tackled the challenge of measuring it. The way we’ve revised the index for this year. The sorts of changes that have been made. Then I thought we would do, have a quick look at the main findings, at a national and state level, before I hope we’ll have time to have a quick look at some more detailed issues. So, let’s get right into it.
The index as always is here to provide a robust evidence base for policy, for research, for better practice in relation to improving digital inclusion across Australia. We aim to measure digital inclusion at a national, state, and regional level, so we can provide some geographic granularity. And we also aim to measure digital inclusion across time, so that we can see what the key trends are. Now, as we’ve been saying and as i think you know, we’re launching a revised index today. And we have changed some significant things about the way we do this. There are things that haven’t changed, and I’ll talk about those, but we are collecting our data through a new survey. We have a revised approach to calculating some of the key components of the index, so I’ll tell you a little bit about those. And we’ve also made a whole lot of changes in the way we are communicating the findings So rather than releasing just a very basic data set and the detailed report, we’ve developed a new website with some interactive dashboards, which we hope will make the index much more usable and accessible. Now because of the changes we’ve made, the figures we’re reporting on today are not directly comparable with our earlier reports. What we’re reporting on today is data that we’ve collected using our new methods and our new approach in 2020 and 2021. So, the figures, the measures themselves have changed and it’s important to bear that in mind. But we think we are seeing some consistent trends, which we’ll talk about, which go right back to when we started this this whole process. So, we’ll say a bit more about all of those.
So, the revised index as I said, involves a new survey instrument which is dedicated and designed to deal with the increasing complexity and diversity of Australians engagement with digital services. We are retaining our fundamental approach to the problem. Digital inclusion has always been a complex issue and we think it needs to be tackled through a number of different directions. So the three dimensions by which we measure digital inclusion: access, affordability and digital ability- and I’ll say more about all of these, remain the same. But we have updated the way we measure them, and we’ve been able to accommodate rapidly developing technologies better in the approach we’ve taken. We’ve taken a slightly different approach to understanding the distribution of digital inclusion across the Australian population, and what we’ve done is highlight that by identifying four key groups, and we’ll be talking about these as we go through. So, we’re seeing the population across a spectrum, from the highly excluded to the highly included. We’ve identified four key groups: The highly excluded, whose measures of digital inclusion fall well below the national average, right through to those who are highly included. And we think that if we are clearer about this, it will help us target interventions in this space so much more effectively in time. We’ve developed a range of interactive data dashboards. I’ll give you a quick look at those. They’re on the website now, so people can look if they like, but i’ll also show you what they look like. But what they enable you to do is to interrogate the data for yourself, so that’s very important.
The other thing that we have done is, through this whole approach, we think we’ve made collaboration and cooperation with particular groups, with local government areas, or state government departments, or other community organisations who want to get involved and obtain robust evidence around digital inclusion outcomes, in their particular populations. So, our approach to revising the index, we think will facilitate that. That approach, the sample sizes that we have from the survey we’ve done in 2020 and 2021, unfortunately are too small for us to report on two key groups of people. On people in the northern territory, and first nations people. So, this is an area where we want to keep working and keep improving our results, just as in everything to do with digital inclusion. We need to continually keep improving on what we’re doing, but we do think that these are critically important areas, especially when it comes to a measure of digital inclusion across first nations people. We believe this requires concentrated resources and we think that is now a significant priority that’s been identified by the commonwealth government, and by others as part of the closing the gap process. And we think it is absolutely critical that data is collected. Ware working with Telstra and a range of other first nations organisations to get a better understanding of the dynamics and levels of digital inclusion in remote, indigenous communities. And working with them on digital inclusion strategies. But that will not provide us with an overall measure. As we say, this is an important issue, and one which needs more attention.
Let me show you what the new dashboards look like. What they enable you to do. So, this is covering the full range of questions and data that we’ve generated, and it really enables you to dig into what we’ve done at a a level of detail which we’ve we haven’t been able to provide before. You’ll be able to export the data, you’ll be able to generate charts and tables, and drill down in ways that we haven’t been able to do. So, we hope that you find those as useful as we do. Let me just go back a little bit, to how we’ve constructed the index at this stage. As always, it’s based on three dimensions because as I said digital inclusion remains a multifaceted and complex problem. So, we look at measures of access, affordability, and digital ability. I’ll tell you a little bit more about how we’re measuring each of those things. As far as access goes, we’ve really got a group of critical components there. How often are people accessing the internet? How much are people connecting? What sort of connection do they have? Is it fixed broadband or is it mobile only? How much data do they have? What sort of bandwidth do they have? What kinds of devices do they have? Because we know this makes a difference. Whether they have desktops or laptops? Smartphones or other kinds of devices. They’re all a key part of our new revised measure of access.
When it comes to affordability, we have taken a different approach from the one we took in the past. So rather than working out what people are now paying for how much data, and what proportion of household income was entailed there, we’ve looked, we’ve gone, we’ve stepped right back and thought about what is required for a high-quality reliable connection to the internet, which can do the kinds of things which Australian households now require. From home schooling to tele-health, to the full range of activities that people are now engaged in online. All kinds of digital services. So, you can see there, what we see is constituting a bundle of internet services that give people this quality and reliability. And so, then the question is, what proportion of people’s income is required to pay for that, and this enables us to hone in on the differences across Australia’s social landscape. We’ve got a different measure for single-headed and family households, but we’re really focusing on what people need to pay in terms of their household income. What proportion of their income would go towards covering the costs of this particular bundle of services?
So there’s a different approach to affordability, and you’ll see we end up with different kinds of figures. But I think when we look at the data, you’ll see that the issues we’ve identified in previous reports remain. When it comes to digital ability, again we’ve taken a different approach, and one thing we really wanted to do here was to try to generate a set of indicators where we could compare how Australia is going with other countries. So we’ve adapted an international set of a skill scale, based on some excellent research from the UK and the Netherlands, and you can see that we’ve got a wider range of skill sets that we have identified, which we think respond better to the complexity and diversity of people’s engagement with the internet and with digital services at the present time. So it’s a revised measure of digital ability based on all of those things. So that’s the overall approach that we’ve taken. That’s the way in which we’ve adapted and developed the index for this year.
Let me give you a bit of a sense of the sorts of our results that we’ve seen so far using this this new approach. And as in previous years we’ve seen that digital inclusion is improving in Australia at an aggregate, and at a national level. And you can, and so when you look- although different states are reporting significantly different results overall, there has been some significant improvement. We would point to an ongoing difference between the results we see in capital cities, and those in the regions. So there is still a significant gap over five points in our index scores, between the region’s results and those in the capital cities. If you look at it in terms of the three dimensions of digital inclusion that I’ve been talking about, you can see that the gaps as well are there across all of them. There is, you can see that gradual improvement which is really important. But this is so we can see with our 2020 and 2021 data, what you’ll notice is we now we have a high score for affordability which has come out of that new approach that we’ve taken that reflects the fact that for many Australians affordability of internet services is not a significantly serious problem but it is for some people as we’ll see especially when we look at lower income households and other groups so although we now have high numbers for affordability we have not solved the affordability problem we’ll go into that in a little bit more detail let’s have a look at the distribution of digital inclusion in Australia across the different states and territories you get there is of course as I’ve already mentioned that significant gap between results in metropolitan areas and in regional Australia it’s also clear that there are significant differences in outcomes between different states so the act as we have reported in earlier in earlier reports is reporting the highest measures of digital inclusion by quite some way at 77 points but Tasmania followed by south Australia are reporting the lowest levels of digital inclusion in in in terms of state level results what is interesting we think also is that the other states are all reasonably close to the national average so we have some areas some states and territories which are doing much better or significantly worse most of them are around the same but those gaps between metropolitan and regional Australia are significant across the whole country as are the sorts of differences we see when we look at the social and economic distribution of digital inclusion now there is a lot of information on the slide that I’ve just now put up remember we’re distributing the slides so you can get a copy but the main thing to look at here are where are the highs and lows and you’ll see that there’s a very big gap between those in the higher income quintiles and those in the lower ones the degree digital inclusion in Australia is distributed according to a number of different key attributes or aspects of people’s lives it depends how included you are depends a great deal on how old you are and how much education you have and how much income you have what kind of housing you have, are you a tenant in public housing, or do you own your own property? So, the kind of household you live in we find, there’s a big difference between single person households and households where we have a couple with children. Australians with a disability have a significantly lower level of digital inclusion according to our measures than the Australian average. So, there is a very significant, very uneven distribution of digital inclusion across the population.
What we are looking at is not an inclusive internet in Australia, but a socially stratified and geographically stratified internet, and we need to bear that significantly in mind when we’re thinking of the kinds of things that we need to do in order to fix it. Let me just pull out some key points that emerge from the data that we have. I talked earlier about that highly excluded group of Australians. These are Australians where we sit, where we find an index score which is 45 or below compared to a national average of, as you saw of over 71. So, these are people who are substantially excluded from the opportunities that are presented by participation online. Eleven percent of Australians are in that category. That is down from last year so there has been some improvement there, and that may reflect the circumstances of COVID, but we still have a very substantial number in the overall excluded group. You’ll see that we still have a substantial proportion, a substantive, of mobile only users in Australia. People who do not use, do not have a fixed broadband connection, and we know that’s related to digital exclusion in lots of ways. Affordability is a significant issue. We are seeing that 1 in 4 of Australians would need to pay more than 10 percent of their household income to afford that bundle of digital and internet services that i talked about. And while we see that access is improving, the evidence is that the improvements have not yet been evenly shared.
What are the critical gaps then, when we look at the data that we have so far? So here what we’re saying is what’s the difference in digital inclusion between somebody who’s employed and somebody who’s not in the labour force. It’s significant. 15.9 points difference between people in that category, 26 points difference between those in the lowest and highest income quintiles, 33 points difference between those in our 18 to 34 age group, and those who are 75 and over. A 25-point gap between those who have a degree and those who didn’t finish secondary school. Now as i say we are dealing with new data and we have a new questionnaire, so these figures are not directly comparable to those that we’ve reported in the past, but we have found in our research and in digital inclusion and our reporting on the digital inclusion index going back to 2016, that these gaps have been significant and persistent. So, despite very substantial investments in improved access and some other areas, these gaps remain. And we can see that we still have a great deal to do if we are to bring all Australians into digital connectivity, and connection equally. Let’s have a look at some aspects in just a little more detail.
So, this is income and as we saw there’s a very significant gap between those in the lower quintiles. Lower income households in quintile one and two, both are below the national average. Quintile one especially so, and those in the higher groups, this is what happens when you look at that across the three dimensions that we measure.
And you can see there that the point I made about affordability as an ongoing challenge is a significant one. Especially for that quintile one, that lower 20 percent of households on the income distribution. Their affordability score is almost 20 points lower than it is for the higher, or it is 20 points lower than those for the higher quintiles. So this is a kind of key critical issue you will also see, that there is a big gap there on the other dimensions, digital ability and access. As well of course because all of this plays into people’s ability to develop their skills and confidence to do a range of things online, and to use the full range of devices and services that are available.
if you look at the affordability question in a slightly different way, so this is again, this is about what proportion of your income would you need to spend in order to access the bundle of internet services required for a reliable quality connection to the internet. So you can see here that in quintile 4 and quintile 5 it’s substantial. The other in quintile five, everybody there is looking at paying more than ten percent of their income in order to access that service, so that’s going to be very, very difficult for them.
That means as I said that people in those groups, in those lower income quintiles, are less likely to have capable devices. They’re less likely to have the kinds of data and connections that are necessary for the full range of services that are now emerging online. From home schooling and education, of course right through to tele-health, and everything else.
Let’s look a little bit more at age again. We know that digital inclusion declines with age. This shows you how steep that is and that it’s in that 55 to 64 group, that we start to see outcomes which are below the national average. Again, when you look at this using our three different dimensions of digital inclusion, you can see that it illuminates some of those issues in different ways. So that when we go, when we look at that 65 plus group and the 75 plus group, what we see in particular is a very significant challenge around digital ability in particular, whereas there is less of a gap when we look at affordability. There is a gap in relation to access, but it’s not as substantial, so the approach that we’re taking, dealing with digital inclusion as I said as a complex and multifaceted problem, where different strategies need to be developed for different groups of people, because the underlying issues may be a different mix of these sorts of issues. These sorts of problems help us get at what sorts of programs might work best with different populations.
Let me finish this very quick overview, thinking about a few particular groups in particular and a few particular issues that we’ve been interested in for some time. First, mobile only users, and we mentioned them before 9.6 percent of Australians are in this category. And there is a very significant difference in digital inclusion measures for these groups compared to the national average, where people generally have both fixed broadband connections and a mobile service. And you can see that especially i think in relation to digital ability, mobile devices while extraordinary things and remarkably capable and powerful in all sorts of ways, remain resource constrained in some critical respects. Especially when it comes to things like education and the sorts of tasks people require for work or study or those kinds of things. So that gap in digital ability is particularly significant, the access gap. That also points to a significant difference, especially in relation to how much data people have, and we know that with the kinds of increasingly complex and diverse digital services that people are seeking to use right now, data is enormously important. So there’s a significant gap there, and this is an area where we continue to need to do more work.
Now I’m going to finish soon but I thought we’d give you a quick look at some of the work that we’ve done on the impact of COVID, because of course the pandemic has driven an extraordinary digital transformation across many aspects of Australian life. All kinds of services have been changed as we’ve been having to work from home and do home-schooling. All kinds of things. So, we did ask people last year, this is based on our 2020 data which really came after that first or second wave of stay-at-home orders, and other sorts of restrictions. We asked people whether they were spending more time online, what kinds and what sort of range of activities they were doing online, whether that had increased, whether their skills had increased, whether they’d upgraded their internet access. And this is really interesting because i think it does demonstrate that the pandemic has had a a significant effect on the digital landscape in Australia, but whether it has substantially changed the pattern of digital inclusion is really another question. I think you can see here if you’re looking at these sorts of results, where we can see that for that group of Australians which we’ve defined as highly excluded, a substantially smaller group of them reported spending more time online. A substantially smaller group of them reported doing a wider range of things online. A considerably smaller group of them reported developing better digital skills or upgrading their access through the course of last year.
So, while there was clearly an extraordinary transformation of digital services, it looks on the face of the sort of results that we have seen so far, that most of that change has happened for people who have already been included. Who have already been online? It may take some time for us to understand what the longer-term consequences are, whether the ongoing digital transformation of services does have a have a significant effect in terms of bringing more people online for the first time over time, so we’ll look forward to doing more work on this as we go along. But right now, our initial thinking is that we can see some dramatic change, but not necessarily in the distribution of digital inclusion.
But this is also just looking at these figures, from the point of view of regional and metro. But I’ll finish up there. Now that we we’ve got a summary report online, and as I’ve said we’re encouraging you all to access the interactive dashboards that are there. I wanted to finish, if I’ve got time just by emphasising that the work that we’ve been talking about has been a team effort from start to finish and I want to thank our terrific partners for all the support they’ve provided, which has made this research possible.
I wanted to especially thank some key team members who have played a significant role in shaping this, and so i want to mention Chris Wilson, Abigail Brydon, Indigo Holcombe-James, Sharon Parkinson, and my collaborator and friend Joe Barrakat. We’ve been working on this together for a long time. Also, our colleagues at the Centre for Social Research at ANU. Without any of those people this work wouldn’t have been possible. But I hope that has sort of set up a good discussion and given you some thoughts about what we think are the kind of key trends and major findings. What are the big challenges for now? So, I think we’re going to move into a Q and A. I will stop sharing my screen and hand back to you Jules if that’s okay.
Thank you very much Julian. You traversed a lot of ground there to introduce the new methodology, the results, and really spotlight for all of us some of the key takeout’s. There has been a broad range of questions which is great to see that interaction with the results in the chat, and a lot of those have been answered along the way. What has come up on a number of questions in different ways, has actually related to the sample size, and understanding a little bit more about that. With some concern about you know, is it representative with the numbers? So, I thought maybe Joe, if i could ask you to take that and maybe just make some comments about the sample as it relates to the methodology.
Prof Jo Barraket:
Sure Jules. Acknowledging that Sharon Parkinson is our data scientist and I’m not, i’ll do my best. As indigo’s already indicated in their responses, the approach has been using a stratified random sample. So that means that we do have statistical confidence in the reliability of the data. That said, a lot of the questions that have popped up throughout this, which are all fantastic and interesting questions from a scientific perspective, if we were to be able to confidently answer all of those through the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, we’d have to conduct virtually a census on an annual basis. And what we’ve attempted to do is a few things, the first is that our colleagues through the Social Research Centre, use small area estimates in relation to the data that relates to the regions and localities, and that was involving an integration between the data from the survey work, as well as pre-existing data sets. Such as data sets held by the ABS, and you know with, relative confidence can make estimates based on those intersections between data sets. The other thing which Julian mentioned and which we’re really excited about, is the development of new do-it-yourself tools, or self-managed survey tools which will allow some of the questions that people have asked about, you know granularity, so i noticed for example. There was questions about, did we look at considerations or concerns for people with disability from different disability groups. That one’s close to my heart as someone with a disability, and we’re hoping that these new tools can allow different groups, different localities, to use the architecture of the index to reliably collect new data that they’ll then be able to do some benchmarking with the data that we’re collecting.
Thank you, that’s great Joe. Really comprehensive. What about maybe back to you Julian. With the new interactive tool, what are you actually most excited about in relation to what that takes and brings into the hands of some of the community that joined us here today?
Prof Julian Thomas:
I think what is fantastic about it, what I’ve really enjoyed is just being able to explore the data for yourself. So to go into it to ask questions of the data. What we’ve done in the past of course has been to try to write it up to provide an analysis and to provide the kind of key figures that people, we think people want to use. But we know that people are interested in comparisons. That is what an index is really about. So how does one state compare to another? How does one population group compare to another? How does one age group compare to another? We can never provide all of that detail in a published report, and of course it’s hard to access if all you have is the raw data. So, what I find exciting about this Jules is that whereas in the past you needed to be a bit of a data nerd to get into this, we had a lot of people talking about digital inclusion. But really it was as though it was a small group of specialists who really had a handle on the evidence that we needed.
What we’re hoping now is that we’ve given that capability to a much broader range of interested parties who do not have to be an expert in the statistics, in order to figure out what the difference in a Digital Inclusion Measure may be between a group of people in western Australia and a group of people in New South Wales. They can now do that without having to go through that painful process of engaging deeply with the statistics. So I think to me, that’s the most exciting thing about it Jules. It’s trying to put these powerful tools in the hands of the people who are working in community organisations, in local and state government, in the business world. And in you know, our research colleagues elsewhere in academia, and to make this sort of analysis much more accessible.
The irony isn’t lost on any of us I’m sure, in terms of making more accessible the data regarding inclusion. It’s been I know, a labour of love for me to bring it too, but it’s so exciting to see it turning up. There was a question that’s just someone in the chat, I don’t think has been answered yet, and really more perspective from you Joe. Maybe if you could? It reflected the fact that you know, is the data telling us that those who are excluded before COVID are even more excluded as a consequence? And so just maybe your reflections on what that might say. A comment really referencing you know, has digital poverty increased?
Prof Jo Barraket:
Thanks Jules and I can see that question was put up by Joe Cavanaugh. Hi Joe. I think we’re not quite ready to make a call because we’re looking at a particular temporal issue, and there’s no question that I concur with your interpretation, and you’ll see that in the summary report. That generally speaking, we concur that what you’re seeing is an exacerbation of digital use by those who were already included. Because they’re involved in work, because they’re involved in education etc. Although when you read the summary report, you’ll see also that having children in your home is a pretty significant predictor of whether you’ve had some rapid uplift. And I’m sure we all know why that is. So, there’s definitely you know, we can see that, but I think we need to ask ourselves what’s going to happen next because there’s a whole lot of issues and I noticed in the comments someone made a comment about the complexity. And I think that’s the case. The complexity here is not just going to be about who stays online, it’s also going to be how services are redesigned and delivered into the future. And that itself is going to you know, both create use it or lose it requirements that may leave people even further behind or may start to pull some portion of those people who are digitally excluded in because they’re needing to use the services in slightly different ways. So, I’m not meaning to be waffly, it’s just that it’s a sort of ‘yes and no’, or both end question. We definitely see that those who are ahead are more ahead, but i think we need to watch this space, and i think by next year we’ll have greater insight into what the fallout is from that.
Thanks Joe, I think we’ve probably got time to squeeze in at least one more and i did see that there was one that really was stepping a little bit more broadly out from just our domestic focus. Julian, thinking a little bit more globally, and you had mentioned that you know this is all about thinking about comparisons, but it asks us about where might people go now to think about a comparison to peer countries on that affordability dimension of the index, and inclusion.
Prof Julian Thomas:
Look, it’s a really complex issue. There is international data on some measures of affordability, and obviously on the costs of broadband services. What we always find with digital inclusion is there is considerable variation and difference across national boundaries. So who do we, what countries can we compare Australia with, and how do we go about that? So when we know services are quite different, what the OECD and other organisations have provided are some useful aggregate comparisons in a way our research, it almost is really sort of showing that there is a lot that is obscured or concealed in those kinds of comparisons. Because what is really significant are often that the variations within a population. Whereas overall affordability may not look like a significant problem for most Australians, there is a significant number of people for whom it is. But not a majority of people.
So a lot of what we’re trying to do is to uncover something which is a little bit obscured through the kinds of aggregate figures that you get. You know, usually compared in OECD and other data, there are always debates about how to measure this and always controversies. I think that the approach we’re taking now sheds some significant light. It does connect to a growing body of opinion internationally around what is a basic, a good data service, what is a fundamental service required for everybody, and so we think it’s useful and important on those scores. But Jules, I guess the basic answer is, we’re actually a long way from having a robust granular internationally comparable measure of the affordability of broadband services across different countries. The researchers have never been able to produce that.
Thanks Julian. That’s a clear part of the challenge, I think. I’ll finish off now with a question and it’s sort of prompted to some degree from a comment from Ben from the city of Marion across in South Australia, where he’s talking about you know, wanting to connect with others in South Australia, because of looking at that challenge. And I must admit I always feel motivated in the same way looking at this coming from Tasmania and having that desire to go ‘what are we actually doing to address these gaps, and particularly in these states where the results are lower than others. But it sort of connected with a particular question about, and probably to Joe- is it possible to drill down in the data to the local council area? That was a question from Jonathan, about to see comparisons maybe at a right down to that glaring level.
Prof Jo Barraket:
So you can look on the maps and there’s certainly at LGA level, the overall index results which provides those points of comparability, and I think Indigo has provided in the chat function, multiple points of connection to the data dashboards and how they’re used. And we’ll share more of that information with everyone who’s involved in the webinar when we send out the recording and material from today’s discussion.
Thanks Joe. That’s great in terms of just that, and as i said it’s just the start. It’s so different to your hard copy report that you read. I think for this year, this is the start of us all being able to interrogate and look at different angles, and then see how we can use that to collectively, for many of us, be driving what it is to ultimately improve the results and the outcomes for people right across our nation.
Yeah, and I might just add really quickly sorry Jules, I should have also said- you know we talked before about the self-managed tool, the team’s already getting approached from clusters of local government areas who are interested in utilising that, to understand in a much more granular and deep fashion the contours of digital inclusion in their own regions. You can choose to do that yourselves and we’re also in discussions with some of those clusters of LGA’s about where the team may be able to assist, provided there’s you know sufficient resources to do that.
Thanks Jo. I think that’s a good message too. I mean, this has been the result of an academic and a corporate partnership, has brought this data to the table. But if it can be the catalyst for more organisations and government as well, looking at the opportunities to extend and build and deepen, and look at where they can look at much more targeted information where appropriate, that’s a great outcome as well.
So, I’m going to draw a line under it now and thank you again all very much for attending. We’re all pretty excited and we hope that you will be as well, as you look more about the data and what it can actually tell us for good database policy decisions.
So, thank you so much for attending the launch of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index for 2021. I hope this leads into a good rest of day and weekend, but I thank all of those who have contributed to such a fantastic and robust piece of work. So, thanks for all our presenters today and all of their teams behind them, that have brought this to the table. Thanks very much.