Blog Post

Inclusion by design: Creating digital identity solutions that work for all (webinar recording)

By: Marco Campana
November 6, 2021

In this September 23, 2021, Alan Turing Institute webinar, Louise Maynard-Atem, Research Lead at Women in Identity shares her view on the importance of inclusion, when establishing an identity system for a thriving digital economy.


The need for improved digital identity systems and infrastructure has been a pressing requirement for many years, as more businesses have moved their operations online. The pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity to enable economic and societal value creation as digital identity systems are the gatekeeper to access services like online banking, e-commerce and insurance. However, we also need to recognise that the use of technology in digital identity systems has the potential to further entrench, and potentially exacerbate, the exclusionary and biased practises that persist in society today.

Maynard-Atem writes, in a backgrounder article, "we also need to recognise that the use of technology in digital identity systems has the potential to further entrench, and potentially exacerbate, the exclusionary and biased practices that persist in society today. Simply digitising what were previously analogue processes and utilising flawed data, would be a missed opportunity to deliver systems and services that benefit all citizens.

At Women in Identity we believe that inclusion doesn’t just happen on its own. In order for identity systems to be inclusive and free from bias, the requirement for it must be mandated. There are many examples where exclusion and bias have not been explicitly mandated against within identity systems, and in many of those instances identity systems have been built which have excluded certain groups, often because of particular characteristics such as skin colour, gender, culture, socio-economic background, or disabilities.

The cornerstones of many digital identity systems are government issued documents, smartphone ownership and internet access, and often ownership of a bank account. There are many and varied reasons why individuals many not have any, or all, of these items, but it is essential that any digital identity solution is accessible to all of these groups, and does not cause them to be further excluded from the opportunities that such technology-driven solutions may become the gatekeeper for. In the physical world, we would never erect buildings that weren’t accessible to all (features like wheelchair ramps are mandatory). We need to ensure we are mandating equivalent accessibility in the digital world.

Establishing an inclusive identity system requires an exclusion risk assessment and explicit strategies to ensure access to identification for all, with particular attention to groups that are at higher risk of exclusion, such as remote and rural residents, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, marginalised women, and girls, and those with low technical literacy.  As part of the planning process, decision makers should also carefully consider the exclusion risks of formalising or increasing identification/authentication requirements for different transactions."

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