Digital Behavior Change, Berlin Declaration | Digital Inclusion
“Digital inclusion is the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communication technologies.”
As of December 8, 2020, at the European Commission, EU Member States signed the Berlin Declaration on Digital Society and Value Based Digital Government.
With the rapid growth of digital acceleration, some oversight as well as value based declaration was needed in the European Commission to guide the next few years of technologies in a growing, expanding digital society and e-governance.
Below are the seven values described in the Declaration.
- Validity and respect of fundamental rights and democratic values in the digital sphere;
- Social participation and digital inclusion to shape the digital world;
- Empowerment and digital literacy, allowing all citizens to participate in the digital sphere;
- Trust and security in digital government interactions, allowing everyone to navigate the digital world safely, authenticate and be digitally recognised within the EU conveniently;
- Digital sovereignty and interoperability, as a key in ensuring the ability of citizens and public administrations to make decisions and act self-determined in the digital world;
- Human-centered systems and innovative technologies in the public sector, strengthening its pioneering role in the research on secure and trustworthy technology design;
- A resilient and sustainable digital society
One of the most significant pieces that I believe is important for public sector managers and cities in the Berlin Declaration is #2 and #6.
The level of digital infrastructure across nations is diverse. It is contrasting with different levels of high speed networks (5G, 3G) to also different levels of R&D in corporations and universities prompting solutions in robotics or biotech. These advancements we are seeing further in G20 nations, some which have decided technology will be a major sector in which governments intend to invest, as well as create new jobs to stimulate their economy, and most importantly tackle social-political-technical-and environmental challenges.
Are these technologies shaping the industry inclusive though? This is the base of Principle 2. Social Participation and Digital Inclusion. As a consultant and growing technologist, digital inclusion has been an area that I have found of great importance. In digital democracies, without equal participation or access to technologies, it is clear the innovation is rigged.
Technologies are costly, and do require digital literacy to be able to use technologies. Of course this is dependent on the type of technology we are referring to. For example, a mobile app like WhatsApp versus a mechanical, robotic leg used for emulating human leg behaviors. Both require different installment, as well as different training in its usage for a particular desired technological outcome. Coming from the developing world, it is clear digital literacy is not as robust as it is in Western Europe or in the United States. Digital penetration is limited. With limited mobile network providers as well as telecommunication networks, digital developments can only be shaped by government leadership as well as the private sector agenda in its new product development’s digital solutions. All of which are shaped by talent and know-how. This is providing an ever more important piece to national strategies in digital acceleration.
In the spirit of looking at what a digital democracy looks like with the embrace of, principle #2, digital inclusion and social participation, I came across the work of The Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington laying out a framework for digital inclusion with the following rhetoric:
- Access and Affordability
- Public Access
- Accessibility for People with Disabilities
- Adoption and Digital Literacy
- Consumer Education and Protection
These principles bring significance towards democratizing technology, making them accessible as well as designed specifically to reach all communities.
In access and affordability, the University of Washington and collaborative partners suggest an inclusive high speed internet, fluctuating pricing structures for “businesses, institutions, and households,” and comparable education on the plans that are available in the community across Uniform Internet Service Providers (ISP).
These comparable plans are important for new users to make decisions on purchasing technology. The framework also expands on accessible technology — ensuring there is convenient and free access to computers, Internet, and wireless networks supporting residents, workers, and visitors.
In technologies accessible to communities with disabilities, this framework sheds light on assistive technologies — supporting businesses and community based organizations supporting UX Design that prompts universal design.
The interesting part of this framework as well is that it sheds light on additional target areas. It lays out specific targets for particular areas in which technology can bridge the technological divide, as well as be used for social driven purpose means. Its principles areas of target are:
- Economic Development
- Civic Engagement
- Public Safety and Emergency Services
These are certainly areas that would typically not be exclusively seen as a partner to tech. Healthcare and economic development perhaps, but these other target areas pointed out can also benefit from digital solutions as well. Over the last decade, the digital revolution, technology has entered these areas of social development, representing cases of it being used as a tool for social good. For governments aiming to build out national strategies in tech, these specific target areas are unique areas to build digital democracies. They are also important areas to instill digital inclusion. Am happy to support efforts in these areas towards catalyzing building out technological infrastructure and bridging digital divides.
Case Study: Digital Inclusion in Latin America and the Caribbean
Technology has some exceptional specs in G20 nations. However, one of the most incredible areas of tech innovation I believe is in the developing world. DAI, based in Bethesda, Maryland has been advancing digital strategies and digital acceleration for the developing world with USAID. With a holistic approach, DAI in Latin America and the Caribbean had the opportunity to design a mobile app with a municipality in Guatemala. Through the Nexos Locales, a local governance initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), DAI was able to proceed supporting Guatemala in these efforts.
With Guatemala being having rural and urban landscapes, it holds distinct network providers, as well as reach to the rural-highland areas. In 2015, with the Municipality of Chiantla and the Mayor’s Office (Mayor Elect Carlos Alvarado Figueroa), DAI set out to support a participatory study on mobile connectivity and digital penetration to serve the Chiantla Municipality in its efforts towards “full transparency in government initiatives.” This was one of the goals set out by Alvarado’s campaign prior to election.
On May 5, 2017, Mayor Alvarado through the support of DAI built an Android App, Somos Chiantla (“We Are Chiantla”) that published the municipal budget, as well as offered citizens a mechanism to “report potholes, public lightning problems, water outages, track municipal development projects, and provide contact information for key government services.”
This app was built from a very holistic approach in design fueling collaboration between the “public, civil society, Guatemalan tech companies, and local officials.”
This is a notable case, and my favorite case of digital inclusion because the original technology was built to serve communities, and connect citizens, residents to the municipality and to each other. Building elements of trust. An important element too shared in digital democracies. The approach, build out of the app, centered on understanding users’ connectivity and relationship with technology in Chiantla.
The notable takeaway from Somos Chiantla and from DAI, is that from the very inception of product development, a multi-stakeholder approach is necessary, and a human centered design iterative approach is imperative towards truly building digital inclusion. The inquiries asked to the community, as well as the entire methodological process is notable. For more information on Somos Chiantla, please see this report covering the project since inceptions, as well as this blog post from DAI on the talk from Mayor Alvarado presenting the mobile app to the town of Chiantla.
Lanzamos 'Somos Chiantla', App de Transparencia, en Guatemala
Nota: Esta entrada es la continuación de una publicación anterior que explica nuestra fase de diseño digital, que fue…
Racial Equity and Digital Access
While Somos Chiantla provides one interesting case of digital inclusion, I think it is important to also stage income gaps and racial inequality that would perhaps inhibit citizens from being able to tune into a similar app. Digital inclusion is participatory, yet it must also support building more equitable, affordable access to low income communities.
Digital C is based in Cleveland, Ohio. Originally started as a pilot in 2018, it aimed to “connect the unconnected.” Aimed to connect public housing residents on higher speed networks, it aimed to connect every resident to opportunities. It did this through bringing high speed networks to the buildings, partnering then with RET3, for locally refurbished routers and computers for each resident. According to Brookings Institution (2020), Digital C runs digital skills training programs to “veterans, school aged kids, among other populations.” It is filling a very important gap as “the average broadband adoption rate for households in Cleveland’s majority-white neighborhoods is 81.2%” and “the average is just 63% in Black-majority neighborhoods, based on 2018 American Community Survey 5-year data.”
Digital C is unique because it aims to bridge both digital and racial divides. The non profit believes through connecting people to high speed internet it can catalyze employment opportunities, grant residents access to view medical records, and most importantly, allow them to feel connected to their community.
Take-Aways for Digital Inclusion
If we choose to not involve the people we are designing tools for, we will essentially fail in digital development. Human centered design allows for stakeholders to be a part of the design process, building a human centered UX Design allowing for voice, participation, and co-creations. As the technological revolution continues, we must keep these principles in mind. Additionally, we need to recognize the social and ethnic composition of those who are not digitally connected. Digital solutions should aim towards solving all types of digital divides, yet connecting each other digitally I believe is an important first step to a foundation in a digital democracy.
“Successful digital initiatives are rooted in an understanding of user characteristics, needs, and challenges. User-centered design — also referred to as design thinking or human-centered design — starts with getting to know the people you are designing for through conversation, observation, and co-creation…” -
— “Design with the User,” Principle #1, Principles for Digital Development
The United Nations also has its own pillars towards a digital agenda that adheres to social inclusion. It is the General Secretariat’s roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
For further principles in digital inclusion, please see the United Nations’ digital agenda for digital cooperation.