Mapping the Digital Gap
5 April 2022
Dr Jenny Kennedy, RMIT University
Dr Daniel Featherstone, RMIT University
Assoc Prof Lyndon Ormond-Parker, RMIT University
Prof Julian Thomas, RMIT University 
Listen on Anchor
Duration: 44:24


Julian: Welcome to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society podcast. My name is distinguished Professor Julian Thomas and I’m the director of the Center.

Today, we’re going to be talking about mapping the digital gap, a joint research project between our ADM+S Centre and Telstra which is designed to measure digital inclusion, media use, and participation in the digital economy in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through 2021, right through to 2024, and this project builds on work that we’ve been doing in the Centre and here at RMIT for some time on the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, which aims to provide a robust evidence base for levels of digital inclusion and participation across the Australian population.

We’ve got some fantastic researchers working on the Mapping the Digital Gap project Doctor Daniel Featherstone, the project lead Doctor Lyndon Ormand-Parker, Dr Indigo Holcombe-James and Doctor Jenny Kennedy, and I’m lucky to be involved in the project myself.

Today you’re going to be hearing from Daniel, Lyndon and Jenny in conversation about the project and Brendan Adams, site manager at REDI.E in Wilcannia on their roles in the project.

Jenny: My name is Doctor Jenny Kennedy and today I’m joined by Doctor Daniel Featherstone and Doctor Lyndon Ormand-Parker to talk about our research project, Mapping the Digital  

So, Daniel, I might ask you to introduce yourself first and in terms of what the role of the project will all introduce ourselves and then we can talk a bit about the project that we’re working on.

Daniel: Sure, thanks Jenny. Yeah, so I’m Daniel Featherstone. I’m a senior research fellow at the Centre as well at RMIT and I’m heading up the project for the Mapping the Digital Gap. So, I started on this in April last year, having had previous experience working in remote First Nations media and heading up the peak body, First Nations Media Australia so great to be on this project.

Jenny: Yeah, and that background that you have, like bringing that into the project, it’s been really, really great for us. Lyndon, can you introduce yourself?

Lyndon: Hi, I’m Lyndon Ormond-Parker. I’m an Alyawarra man from the Barkley Tablelands region of the Northern Territory and I’ve started on this project as the principal research fellow in August 2021 and I’m very pleased to be on this project, having worked in many original remote communities over the last 20 years and seeing the actual digital gap in those communities and the difficulties in connecting through telecommunications access to the Internet, so it’s sort of been a bit of a passion of mine in lobbying and pushing for more connectivity in regional remote Aboriginal communities.

So, I think gathering this data on this project is a excellent way forward in informing government and policies, including our telecommunications. In particular, Telstra about what those gaps are and what’s needed and how we can improve connectivity with our brothers and sisters in regional remote, Australia.

Jenny: Absolutely, and I’m really pleased to be working with you both and our colleagues on this project.

I’m a senior research fellow as well in ADM+S and have been doing work on digital inclusion, especially of low-income households. The reason I’m really excited about working on this project is the way it is bringing so much kind of richness of description of the way in which people in these communities used technologies and need technologies that doesn’t get covered I think in terms of when we just look purely at what type of access they have and what type of coverage.

Daniel, would you give us a summary of the project for people listening?

Daniel: Sure, so the project is basically, as you’ve said, a four-year project. It’s looking at digital inclusion and media use in remote Indigenous communities around the country. We are going to be going to 12 communities. We’ve done one so far, we’re about to head off on our next trip. But over the each year will go to 12 sites and do a range of surveys, interviews, observation of the way that people are using media and communications in the community and then with those results will provide a report back to each community and work with each community on their own local digital inclusion plan. We’ll obviously have the outcomes of the overall project in a major report each year.

And then have the data available on the Australian Digital Inclusion Index website as a dashboard as well. So people will be able to access this information. So yes, the project will have annual results and then at the end of the the three rounds of research we will have a major report that we put together of the overall findings from the report.

But really what we’re trying to do is address the the lack of good data for remote communities and fill in some of that gap within the Australian Digital Inclusion Index so that, you know, we know, for instance, that people in remote communities are some of the most digitally excluded in the country, but we haven’t been able to tell that story of you know, you know, how those levels of exclusion change according to where.

People are the sizes of communities, the levels of services but also how that then changes overtime with there’s a range of projects that have been put in place. What impact are they having, what other communities doing at a local level to address these challenges, and this will help us to have that longitudinal view of the changes over that period of the project.

Jenny: Yeah, the project itself has quite a formidable program of data collection, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the challenges that that brings with it, especially when disrupted by COVID.

But first, I guess one of the other significant things I think about this project and important things is the reporting back to communities in terms of the information that is gathered, as in making sure that that is useful for the communities that we are working with.

Would you both agree with that?

Lyndon and Daniel: Yeah, absolutely

Lyndon: Yeah, absolutely and one of the principles of this research project and all research projects that I actually work on is feeding back to the community and I like to work on research projects where it’s actually of benefit to the communities in which we work, and it’s done in partnership with them.

And that includes the type of methodologies that we use, the ethical frames at frameworks that we use so the principle of this research project is also based on the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies’ principles of ethical research with Indigenous communities and they’ve developed turn, ethical guideline framework for researchers, which is pretty much becoming a national standard and so part of that ethical framework is working with communities with their free prior informed consent as a principle and also providing feedback on the research data and getting their permission every step along the way.

So, part of this project and has been developed just prior to my coming on as a researcher. But one of the things that attracted me to this project was the way that we’re working with individual communities. We’re partnering with individual community organisations based in locations where we’re traveling to. For instance, I’ve spent some time in the community of Wadeye in the Northern Territory and this project is partnering with the Thamarrurr Development Corporation, which is a main Indigenous community-controlled organisation that runs services into the community of Wadeye and surrounding district. So it’s really important to have that engagement of people on the ground and the community so that when we go in to undertake research that you already have a buy-in to research project and that initial participation and people are coming into this research project, knowing that there’s something that they’re going to actually get out of it.

It’s just not a one-way street where we go and collect data. We’re going in, we’re collecting our data, but we’re also feeding that back to the community in the form of their digital inclusion plans for each individual community and those digital inclusion plans, and I’ll get Daniel to talk a little bit about this, but could include things like improvement of services, establishing free Wi-Fi hubs, etc. but that depends on the sort of feedback that comes back through the research.

Jenny: And before that, maybe we just start with in terms of what is digital inclusion, mean in context of this project?

Daniel: Sure, so we’re using the the ADII, Australian Digital Inclusion Index framing around digital inclusion being around access to services and we’re not just talking about Internet, we’re talking about mobile phone and media services as well in communities, because for many of our communities they simply don’t have the Internet, they don’t have mobile access from the media and a public phone might be their primary means of communication.

And then we’re talking about affordability, and that can be affordability of using the services, whether it’s Internet or mobile. Most people in communities where there is mobile coverage or using prepaid services rather than billed or postpaid, and so they’re paying a lot more for their data and then affordability of devices as well to be able to actually connect and access these services and then digital ability. And so again, there’s, you know, a whole range of elements that make up what is digital ability, but it can be a simple access , you know, simple use of devices. It can be awareness of, you know, software or online services are available. What are relevant or meaningful services for people in communities, particularly services in language.

And where there’s cyber safety issues, particularly with use of social media nowadays, awareness of how to manage those types of issues at a local level as well so, you know, the whole gamut of digital inclusion we’ve added to the survey and to our project a lot around the use of First Nations media. And that’s because First Nations media provider, primary service or providing locally relevant information and giving people a voice to be able to tell their stories at a local level, both to the community but also to the broader world. And so that is, means that people can access local emergency and health information, particularly that was big during the COVID outbreaks and vaccination rollouts. And they can access trusted voices, people who you know whose are providing the information in language at a local, you know that’s locally relevant, so you know that’s a really important part of this project, as well as the Internet and mobile use.

Jenny: And these digital inclusion plans that Lyndon was speaking about can tell me a bit more about those and how they relate for the communities.

Daniel: Look, the digital inclusion plans are going to look different for each site, so they’re very much a place-based solution and it will come out of what are identified as the key issues from the interviews and surveys that we do. It might be around access to devices, it might be around just having, you know, public Wi-Fi access. Basically, people in communities currently are having to pay to access services that everyone else gets for free or takes for granted as being available to them.

Because they’re online, you know, and increasingly, that digital transformation of service delivery means that more and more of these services are online. And services are being removed from communities in with the face-to-face delivery. Now we need to make sure that people in communities both have the ability to access these services, the skills to access them, but also agency in doing this ongoing so that we aren’t, you know, that people aren’t relying on staff or others in the community to be able to, you know, do their banking, access their Centrelink, and their, aged care services and NDIS and health services and so forth.

So, this is really critical and at community level, but also to give people the opportunity to develop their own enterprises and local content and share that out and tell their own story from their communities.

So the digital inclusion plans are going to look different. They might be around, you know, setting up Wi-Fi or public access as Lyndon was talking about. They might be about having cyber safety training or other skills development so it’s gonna be a really responsive approach.

Jenny: How did this project start?

Daniel: The project came out of the lack of data for remote communities in the Australian Digital Inclusion index for years. Yeah, in my other hat wearing my other hat on the advocacy front, we’ve been arguing that the remote communities are some of the most excluded and yet weren’t being collected like the data wasn’t being collected as part of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, and so we weren’t, we weren’t able to see how that cohort were either, you know, being compared to national results and also how they’re changing over time. So, you know, while we knew there were, you know, critical challenges in communities we didn’t have good data to tell that story and to see what policy or program changes needed to be put in place to address those issues.

So this project was developed through RMIT and the Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society with Telstra who funded the Australian digital inclusion index. They decided to fill that gap in the data by setting up a dedicated project to measure digital inclusion in remote communities. Then, you know, that went back and forth for a while. This project started about a year ago now.

Jenny: Can you tell us what work has been done to date on the project?

Daniel: Well, so I came on board in April last year. One of the first things we had to do was develop the methodology and the approach to the project, so we went through that. We obviously had to put our ethics application in for the project, and that’s quite a massive undertaking because that requires sort of developing all of the documents and forms and everything else about the project.

We felt like it was very important to ensure that this had strong First Nations input right from the start, so we set up a First Nations expert advisory group to review the methodology, review the project plan, and make sure that we were really developing this as a best practice approach and obviously part of that was making sure that we had First Nations representation on the team and we were able to be very fortunate to get Lyndon to to be able to join the team. We also wanted to make sure that at each site there was local ownership.

So, we started the process of looking at all of the potential research sites. As you know, over 1100 communities, how are we going to represent all of those. What was originally 8 to 10 sites, it’s now grown to 12 sites. And so, we did a a matrix of, you know, according to remoteness, the types of infrastructure that’s available, population size, the if there are projects that were coming into the community that we would be able to monitor over time and also obviously the the local engagement, the interests in being involved in the project like this.

And so then we started talking to communities and identifying, you know, which communities thought that this would this project would be of interest for them, and that was a very extensive process, and it has taken a long time to build those partnerships, to set up agreements to start, you know, doing engagement with the local stakeholders and then their role as Community research partners for those local organisations is to employ local co-researchers, community co-researchers who will actually work side by side with us in community to do this research and so their role is really critical as well.

Jenny: Yeah, let’s talk about that the Community organisation partnership model in the project is essential. So can you tell us more about how that is functioning?

Lyndon: Well, I guess we can use the example of Wilcannia. Yeah, we’ve just recently been out to Wilcannia conducting over 60 surveys and over 30 interviews with local community members and in that process we worked with two or we engaged two local community-based researchers.

Two Aboriginal people, a male and a female, who worked with the research team and that was just a terrific methodology because having those Indigenous people from the community working on the project really helped us engage with the broader participation of other Aboriginal people that came in to conduct the surveys and interviews.

And I guess one of the principles of the project is community participatory research and having those Aboriginal people on the project really brought home to us the importance of that and the importance of community engagement, especially in first of all in the recruitment process but also engaging people during a long interview and survey process as well, in keeping people’s attention there, and being able to explain things locally to those individuals participating in the surveys.

And also, they were very useful in the recruitment process as well because they knew the local community and different avenues to recruit people in the survey and the interviews.

We also had Brendan from the REDI.E team who was fantastic, who was a key partner. And I think Daniel can talk a little bit more about Brendan, who was also from, is the local radio personality from Wilcannia River Radio, so it was really good to have him there.

And really broadcasting and putting it out there while we’re there for the whole week, which also insisted in the recruiting process.

Jenny: So, Brendan’s role in REDI.E – tell us about REDI.E organisation.

Daniel: So REDI.E is short for the Regional Enterprise Development Institute. It’s an organisation that’s based in Dubbo but provides support to communities throughout the Far West New South Wales region and so Wilcannia is one of those communities.

They run the local Centrelink, they do a lot of the community development program, the employment programs, they have just started running the local store in the community, so they’re a very important Community controlled organisation that provide a lot of the services support and employment for people in the community. Brendan Adams is the team leader.

Daniel: Brendan can you start by yeah, just introduce yourself and also your role in Wilcannia

Brendan: My name is Brandon Adams, known as BB Adams – that’s just my identity in this community and virtually everywhere. I’m currently the site manager at Wilcannia REDI.E department.

I look after several different departments, including the remote school attendance the employment service, the CDP programs, Wilcannia river radio which is my favorite and local news programs as well and sports.

Daniel: Can you talk about the work of REDI.E as the research partner. Why it was important for you to partner in working with RMIT on this project.

Brendan: It was really important for me personally, because working in the community for 20 years, communication is one of the most important resources we need. So,to have the opportunity to do this survey partnering with RMIT, you know, was a goal for me to make sure we can get the right material, the right resources, right evidence, the right data.

Because in our communities, and like other remote communities, it’s really essential that we need to voice to Australia, you know, the issues that we face on a daily basis. It impacts on our education and impacts on our employment, it impacts on our everyday life through social, emotional, well-being. In our community we go through a lot of grief and loss. We don’t have the access to counselors and the access to the health that we need, you know, for us, once you know, when we go through these traumatic times. So, partnering with RMIT to present that really gave us a great insight of, you know, how to bring it all together. For me it’s been like one voice but now, you know, with the remarkable work with our local co-researchers and of course your team. We got to hear over 100 voices in, you know, in a few days and that is that’s remarkable and very proud that it was part of that partnership.

Daniel: And his role is really to oversee a range of projects around the community, and so he’s a well-known celebrity in the community. But he’s been, you know, living in the community with his family, you know, his wife is a Barkindji woman.  So, he’s been living there for 20 years and has been involved in projects over that period of time. And so he’s both his enthusiasm, and his performative approach is fantastic. He really gets people involved, he’s very positive and just helped to make the whole Week both you know, really enjoyable for us, but it got everyone involved and interested in being a part of this project. And so he was really critical to this.

Jenny: And it’s just describing the importance of those connections with people in community and the involvement of people in community and driving this project.

What struck me when you were talking about that first year of work and what struck me at the time as well, was actually how much work has gone into developing the relationships with the communities that we’re working with on this project and how important that is for the future of the project.

So, you’ve just got back from the first field site trip of the project Wilcannia. Can you tell me a bit about some of the highlights of that trip and some of the challenges?

Lyndon: OK, so the highlight for me was the fact that there was a lot of rain and water out in the western New South Wales at this particular point in time. It was fantastic to see what’s in New South Wales drought having been broken and a lot of rain, notwithstanding the terrible rain, torrential rain around the Sydney region.

But it was just great to see the river, the river flowing and the community had come out of a long period of COVID infections. And so there was a bit of buzz around the community at the particular point in time we were there. Yeah, I think people were just on the other end of COVID. There was a lot of excitement around the new ownership of the local store. They’re also people were telling me about the development of a Cultural Centre in town, so there’s lots of things happening in Wilcannia at that particular point in time, and so I think that there was a lot of also engagement with the project while we were there.

During COVID, the NBN came into town and introduced some boxes and gave free Wi-Fi to 91 houses in Wilcannia and so people started having access to the Internet. Telstra came in and did a booster tower in the town at the time close to the hospital.

So, there was quite a few things going on in terms of the technological space and in terms of community access, but at the same time some of those short-term fixes haven’t resolved long term issues of connectivity and people being able to connect sporadically around the town, so some of these will be out as part of our findings of the first research trip, but Daniel is more of a techie guy than I am, but might want to talk about some of the initial findings and the community engagement in the project.

Daniel: So yeah, we had a fantastic week. We were able to do 67 surveys, over 25 interviews with community stakeholders as well as residents. So, we got to talk with the Shire, the police, the school, the obviously REDI.E that the partner organization, people who worked in the safe house in the community restorative center supporting people have come out of prison. So, a whole range of stakeholders at a community level Maari Ma health, who had been at the forefront of the of the dealing with the pandemic when it hit town in August last year and talked about the challenges of trying to communicate with each other and with people in households when mobile coverage doesn’t work within people houses, people have to walk outside to get mobile coverage.

Some parts of the town there’s almost no coverage at all other parts it’s quite, it’s quite good, particularly with as Lyndon said, the new 4G tower near the hospital. So there’s a real mixed experience within the community, and you know one of the things we sort of noticed is that there’s almost a localised digital divide between the agencies that can afford to get fibre solutions to their premises and Wi-Fi within their buildings, and a lot of the residents households where there’s virtually no access, and where the only Internet access is via the the 4G mobile and on a prepaid on a prepaid service so people were paying a lot for their data, which meant that they weren’t and you know, having to sort of stand outside to be able to access that so they weren’t able to do home schooling, they weren’t able to work from home, they weren’t able to access services from home.

So these are sort of the challenges in a lot of our remote communities. But Wilcannia will really, I guess highlighted this situation throughout COVID last year, particularly when we had the all of the health services, the police and emergency services all turning up in the Community and going hang on my mobile doesn’t work, and so suddenly Telstra brought a cell on wheels into the community and there was boosters put up around the community during that pandemic outbreak.

They were having to, you know, address the communications issues so that people could do their work and support the community during that time and so the feedback we got was wow it took a pandemic to address our communications issues, but then once the pandemic was over, those communications services left town as well.

And so, while there’s been a 4G tower left behind, people still feel like the the services now are as bad or even worse than before, before the outbreak, and so they’re they’re wanting to know what can be done now to address this at on a longer-term basis so that people can use these services and run their businesses and and you know at home can access services to be able to, you know, to be able to connect and do what everyone else in the in the country takes for granted.

Jenny: So this was the first site that we visited for this project. Can you talk a bit more just about the broader kind of practice of doing the research on what has been learned from this trip.

Lyndon: I guess one of the on a practical note one of the things that we found was challenging was the length of the surveys, and I think that with the survey because there is a was a bit of a or is a digital gap in Wilcannia in the way that people use services that I think there was a lot of questions that came up in the survey that were automatically not necessarily relevant to the community.

So going through the process of undertaking the survey we worked out that a lot of the questions could be skipped, but you have to go through this process of answering questions anyway. And I think some of that came out in the more in-depth interviews that we did with people where some of those challenges were really expressed by individuals and the challenges were expressed as a reflection of the survey but in the interviews as to the way the frustration of people in the town with the lack of connectivity.

So for instance, one of the things that came up in some of the interviews I did was the fact that they used to be free WiFi in some places in town where people could actually go and then some of that free Wi-Fi disappeared. So, there was a bit of a frustration around that there was frustration that you would have to be outside to actually access the 4G network and not in ,and not inside your House. And so there was a bit of going a lament going – Well, when we had 3G, we seem to have had better connectivity or we could access services inside the house for instance, even though we can increase and improve our data with the 4G, but you know we it is now inconvenient to be standing outside to get access.

And so some of those things were interesting and good feedback from the community.

Daniel: From my point of view, I guess you know what we found was that the model of working with the community co-researchers and the partners meant that we were able to get a lot out of the week.

We, you know, had a huge amount of data from the surveys and interviews. I totally agree that the survey took off in about 40 minutes for people to do, which is a really long time like we were paying, you know, giving people a store voucher for their time, but it’s a long time for people to sit and work through a survey.

But people were very generous with their time so, you know, there was really good participation. One of the I guess the things that we had to work out was that actually, you know, just the logistics of ensuring that we’ve got store vouchers ready to go because the first couple of days that we were still sorting all that out, and so that you know there’s lots of little learnings about our own processes that we have to make sure we get right going forward.

But you know, overall I was really pleased that the model we’d put in place actually did work for this first trip and so as we go forward it, you know will look different in each community but I think we’ve got a pretty good starting point.

Jenny: And where to next? What’s the next site?

Daniel: So we, next week we’re heading up to Wujal Wujal on Cape York and then to Erub which is [Darnley Island] on the Torres Strait. And so those two sites will give us some very different sort of story. Wilcannia is more of a regional town, Wujal Wujal is a, you know, both of these are small communities. However Erub is the eastern most of the Torres Strait Islands, they’ve had very poor services there for a long period. There has been an upgrade of the of the mobile network across the region.

It’s going to be really interesting to see what these different levels of uptake and, you know, the way that people are engaging with services, and you know how, what the story, how that story changes for these different sites.

Then we’ll be heading off to Northern Territory shortly after that going to Tennant Creek in Central Australia and Yuelamu and then following that will be going up to Arnhem Land to Galiwin’ku (or Elcho Island) and Gangan in the Laynhapuy Homelands and then across to Wadeye which is where Lyndon has spent a lot of time.

Jenny: There’s been a lot of rescheduling as a consequence of COVID. How has that impacted the project?

Daniel: Well, we’ve had to basically drop one of the rounds of the research unfortunately. Originally we were meant to do four rounds of research, but all of our efforts last year in trying to get underway with getting out to community we’re obviously hammered by the the outbreaks of COVID around the country, the travel restrictions are and then the low vaccination uptake in many of the communities that we’re working in, and so we certainly didn’t want to create any safety or health issues for those communities.

We’ve basically taken the advice of all the the local communities and health organisations and waited until they’re ready for us to come and do this work. So as much as that’s been frustrating, it has given us more time to do that that long engagement with communities to get as much background information as we can to keep on building the relationships and hopefully when we do arrive in community, there’s enough history of, you know, working together remotely that we’ll be able to, you know, go straight in and start getting on with the research.

Jenny: To sum up, then, why is this project important? I’ll start with you, Lyndon.

Lyndon: From my perspective as an Aboriginal person that’s originally from a regional town in Darwin, and having spent a lot of time in remote communities, I think it’s important because from my perspective I’d like to see an improvement in the communications in regional remote Australia, not only in Aboriginal communities, but right across the country.

And one of the things that has struck me working in remote Australia is we have had as a country a huge, well globally a transition to online and digital but that transition has been slow in regional remote communities for all sorts of reasons.

One is access and affordability or two reasons, access and affordability, and I’ll give you an example of why it’s important. So for instance, at the moment at the Commonwealth level, the Commonwealth is looking at reducing all of these Centrelink services and shutting down offices right across the country and moving everyone to online through my Gov and so with all of those services moving online, if you don’t have, for instance, a smartphone you are highly unlikely to get access to the Internet in a remote community that they don’t have, like they used to about five 10-15 years ago you would have a local community library, perhaps where people could come into Wadeye, access the library, jump online, and access the Internet.

And so now there’s an expectation that everyone will have a smartphone, everyone will be able to connect to the 4G network and be able to use online services. Now from my experience in remote communities, people are still using the old fashioned, almost the Nokia 33-10 and using telephone devices just purely for telephone service is not necessarily to access the Internet, and so there’s been a slow uptake of that. And also everyone that I know most people are on a pay as you go service in remote Australia, and so they pay 2,3,4,5 times the price’s anyone else on a plan.

So, I’m often I’m out in community and because I have an email address, you have to have an email address to sign up to a Telstra pay as you go plan. For instance, if you get a new SIM card or new number. So a lot of times people don’t actually even have an email address, and so if you’ve just purchased a new smartphone, you can’t, to access that smart device, you have to register it with an email address and so you’ll have to borrow somebody else’s to be able to actually activate your own service on this new smartphone. So these little issues have become major problems when you’re working in remote community or an Aboriginal person in a remote community just to access your basic services which everyone else takes for granted.

So now when they’re talking about, for instance, in what area, Township of two and a half thousand people, there’s a potential of shutting down the Centrelink office everyone has to go online. Well, you are excluding a whole bunch of people that are either digitally illiterate and older generations that can’t access services, so then that impacts on their livelihood. So all of these things venture back into the way that they can connect up to access basic services and when they don’t access basic services, often they’ll be excluded, then next minute they don’t have access to a Centrelink payment.

So this digital inclusion when we talk about it, it actually is something that is important because it affects the day-to-day lives of Aboriginal people living in remote communities and often in a very detrimental way if they’re digitally excluded. So that’s why I see that this project is important to try and bridge some of those gaps and how do we work with the individual communities with these digital inclusion plans that can actually have a practical outcome for those communities, and it might, it might be something very simple like, you know, having a free Wi-Fi network that’s available, you know 24/7 that people can go into. It might mean it’s part of the digital inclusion plan that if the Centrelink office shuts down that the local Shire Council offers a stand-alone computer where people can come in and access Government services as a replacement for going into a Centrelink office.

So they’re the sorts of practical things that I’m hoping will come out of this project, not only for the communities that we’re working with, but more generally in the way that government policy can think about digital inclusion.

Daniel: So last year there was a new Closing the Gap Target introduced for digital inclusion to, for the gap in digital inclusion to be closed by 2026. It’s a really ambitious target because for First Nations people that Gap has actually been widening over time since 2018.

Now that’s without even having the data for remote communities where the gap is significantly wider again. So, so there’s an optimistic target being put in place, the government are currently working on a national indigenous digital inclusion plan. But they don’t have a budget for that, so really, what we want this project to do is help to inform policy, inform some of the programs that can be put in place, say where that most targeted strategies can be put in place from a state or federal government level, as well as working with industry and talking about what the the sort of technical or infrastructure needs are in these communities as well.

So even as we’re developing the project and going along, we’ll be providing that feedback out to all of those stakeholders so they can be seeing, you know, what is being identified through the process through, you know, as the project rolls out and then having those conversations. We very much want this to have tangible outcomes for communities and for there to be some real change for people living in remote communities.

We don’t want this just to be research for its own for its own sake I’ve come from an advocacy background, and we leave one of the challenges we always had in running broadband for the Bush Alliance and First Nations media, we did a lot of the, you know, advocacy for communities we didn’t have data. So the reason I’ve come onto this project is really to help to fill in that gap of having the data to inform the advocacy and the programs that can be put in place.

Jenny: What would be your ideal outcomes then from this research?

Daniel: Oh look, I would love to see that that closing the gap target was actually met by 2026 that people in communities were able to have the same levels of access, they had affordable access, it was within their budget and that they had the skills and awareness and literacy to be able to not just access online services, but create their own content and share their own stories and, you know, language programs and other cultural heritage material. So, the online becomes a part of people’s daily lives as much as the face-to-face way that people communicate now and we also see broadcasting of radio and TV as part of that ecology of communications.

And so, we really want to see how that can help people to build their community strength and opportunities for people to to learn to create their own businesses to to create meaningful employment at the community level and not have to leave communities to be able to access services or go away to to study or work or, you know do the, you know, the things that are meaningful in their lives, so we want this project to help support people to be able to stay on country and keep their language and culture but use communications to help that.

Julian: You’ve been listening to a podcast from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision- Making and Society. For more information about the Centre, please go to our website at www.admscentre.org.au