Blog Post

Digital Equity and Inclusion Networks in Canada. What am I missing?

By: Marco Campana
September 22, 2022

Hi network. I'm looking for something I can't readily find. I assume it exists, but it's not jumping out at me.

Do we have any sort of networks, discussions, communities of practice focused on digital inclusion here in Canada?

There are efforts, networks, and ongoing discussions elsewhere. But I'm not aware of a Canadian effort to create pan-Canadian networks, discussions, communities of practice focused on digital inclusion here in Canada. It seems like we should have one.

Update October 1st: I should have remembered that the First Nations Technology Council is building an Indigenous Digital Equity Strategy. They are in the midst of a process we can learn from built on "strategic planning, community leadership, and the development of future-proof solutions that centre Indigenous voices in the design of our collective digital futures. After over a decade of listening to Indigenous Peoples across BC, we know that a strategy that lays out reasonable, actionable, and attainable interventions and actions is necessary to overcome systemic discrimination and the policy and regulatory roadblocks that are preventing digital equity from becoming a reality. The First Nations Technology Council will co-create an Indigenous Digital Equity Strategy as a focused, strategic response that will achieve digital equity and nurture long-term resilience and self-determination for our communities."

Elsewhere

In the U.S. there's the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Digital Navigator movement.

NTEN has created an Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology.

Australia has the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance (ADIA) and  Australian Digital Inclusion Index.

The UK has the Digital Champions movement and other initiatives, including support for non-profits/charities through Catalyst.

The Digital Future Society has created Measuring the margins: A global framework for digital inclusion

The UN Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Technology Digital Inclusion.

What large non-governmental efforts does Canada have?

The Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience has digital inclusion/tech equity as one of it's pillars. It's just getting up and running, perhaps it can play this national role. But that's not yet clear. 

AlphaPlus does great work around digital inclusion with Ontario's Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) sector, including their recently released Digital Inclusion Playbook and their reports related to Digital transformation in Ontario's LBS sector

CIRA funds digital literacy projects, such as cyber security, online services, and digital literacy among other categories, and does research on rural internet download speed inequities, as well as a lack of funder action on the digital divide

Federal Government?

In 2015, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives asked: Where is Canada’s digital inclusion strategy? It's still unclear what that strategy is. 

Canada’s Digital Ambition 2022 discusses Canada’s Digital Government Strategy, which includes aspirational stuff like "A digital government puts people and their needs first. It is accountable to its citizens and shares information with them. It involves them when making policies and designing services. It values inclusion and accessibility. It designs services for the people who need them, not for the organizations that deliver them."

But what about digital inclusion outside of government?

The CRTC's Broadband Fund "will provide up to $750 million over its first 5 years. These funds will support projects to build or upgrade access and transport infrastructure to provide fixed and mobile wireless broadband Internet access services in eligible underserved areas of Canada."

OK, excellent and important, but that's not an inclusion strategy.

The objective of the Statistics Canada report Canadians’ use of the Internet and digital technologies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic "s to document the changes in the online activities and skills reported by Canadians prior to, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic" and recognizes that "internet and digital skills vary and not everyone had the same capacity to rapidly shift activities of daily life online." They write that "a year prior to the pandemic, about one in four Canadians had either no engagement or only very basic engagement with the internet and digital technologies. If they adapted to the shift of so much of daily life online during the pandemic, they began with no digital skills or only elementary digital skills (Wavrock et al., 2021). This was particularly so among individuals in older age groups and with less education. Other research has also highlighted the roles that age and education play in internet and digital technology engagement (Büchi et al., 2016; Montagnier & Wirthmann, 2011; Scheerder et al., 2017)."

Heck, even the NATO Association of Canada is concerned about Canada’s Digital Divide and Security Risks. They don't see the solution coming from industry: "If Canadian telecoms were serious about bridging Canada’s digital divide, they would have signalled so in the past 30 years. Their inaction, combined with the risks of foreign adversaries exploiting this divide, is reason enough for government action that accelerates closing the gap." But all they can suggest is "Since no single panacea exists for risks this complex, Canada must develop national strategies and implement policies that incent trusted vendors to close the digital divide in partnership with the government."

OK, the digital divide is well documented and I don't expect Statistics Canada to suggest the solution, but where is it? What am I missing?

What about provinces?

Digital Principles for Government of British Columbia have no clear definition. Recommended that in the development of digital products and services it is important to “Apply human-centered design practices, working directly with people who will use the product or service. Communicate in plain language. Strive to meet the highest standards of accessibility, inclusion and equity. Endeavour to create a seamless experience across the government's various digital and physical channels

The Alberta Government - Digital Innovation Office has no definition and does not refer to 'digital inclusion'. Uses methods of co-design and user-centred design language in their digital standards/principles.

The Saskatchewan Government has no definition and does not refer to 'digital inclusion'. Uses methods of co-design and user-centred design language in their digital standards/principles.

The Department of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services has no definition. Does not mention digital inclusion, but discusses “pivoting to putting people first.

Digital New Brunswick has no definition. Outlines a “people-powered” approach that includes language which references digital inclusion.

The Government of Ontario talks about delivering “intuitive government services that are accessible to anyone who needs to use them. By supporting the advancement of ministry digital literacy work and inclusion initiatives, the ODS will help create a society where everyone can participate in, and benefit from, digital technologies in their lives.” So, unclear.

Public Policy Forum held Ontario's first Digital Inclusion Summit  in 2018, but it seems like it was a one-time event.

Ryerson University’s overcoming Digital Divides workshop series aimed to engage people living in Canada, industry, academia and policymakers to advance a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the conditions that shape digital inequities in Canada. They mapped Toronto’s Digital Divide. This report examines the digital divides that exist in Toronto in terms of internet speed, affordability and quality and household access to internet-enabled devices. Such divisions are not spread evenly across the population, with lower-income and older residents more likely to not have access, or to have slower internet. They also wrote Towards a Digital Equity Policy for the City of Toronto.

So maybe the cities are where we should focus? 

The NDIA maintains the Digital Inclusion Trailblazers “inventory of local government initiatives promoting digital literacy and broadband access for underserved residents” which could serve as a model for capturing Canadian city activity.

In 2019 TD wrote about The Digital Divide Between Canadian Cities.

A quick look shows some local government activity:

ConnectTO: Internet Connectivity shows promise. But even that was watered down earlier this year by tech sector lobbying. 

Vancouver's Digital Strategy discusses bridging the digital divide.

Calgary has efforts to build digital equity.

I’m sure I could keep looking, but surely someone somewhere is cataloguing this stuff?

Help me out, let me know what I'm missing.

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