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 Poverty Alliance, made up of various initiatives and organizations doing work on digital inclusion, such as 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.

Federal Government efforts

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.

GEO (Getting Everyone Online) Nova Scotia (thanks for the comment below!), a non-profit focused on digital inclusion in Nova Scotia.

Purpose Society’s Digital Inclusion Project works to close the digital divide across New Westminster, B.C., with resources, devices, and individualized support

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.

Challenge of defining digital equity and inclusion - many approaches

In their Digital Equity Series, First Nations Technology Council writes, "Digital inequity has become one of the most prominent forms of inequity today due to its profound ability to shape both our current and future realities… The First Nations Technology Council defines Indigenous Digital Equity as a state where Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determine their distinct digital destinies is respected, implemented, and upheld. At present, traditional understandings of digital equity fail to address our inherent rights as distinct peoples.

Indigenous Digital Equity calls for Indigenous-led solutions to meet our self-identified needs; approaches that honour our distinctions; and policies, practices, regulations, laws, and relationships that respect Indigenous Peoples as inherent rightsholders.”

CIRA defines digital equity as "the condition where everyone has enough information technology capacity—connectivity, skills and policy influence—for full, meaningful participation in our society, economy and democracy, including access to affordable, high-quality internet wherever they are." They include policy influence because this just happens to be an area of focus for CIRA. 

Connect Humanity has its own definition, which reflects their work (see their wheel diagram here). 

Deloitte published a report that argued for a broader definition of digital equity that includes organizations, not just individuals.

Technology Helps talks about "technology poverty". 

In the U.S., the National Digital Inclusion Alliance has tried to define digital equity, digital inclusion, digital literacy and other terms.

There are also practical community-level initiatives like the UK-focused Digital Champions and US-focused Digital Navigators models that can and are being replicated in Canada already.

Without a national conversation to look at how we can bring folks together to move the federal government and ensure some sort of national measurement framework to identify progress, etc., such as the Australian Digital Inclusion Index, the focus will continue to be piecemeal at the city level as well as within sub-sectors such as nonprofit, education, health, etc.

Organizations and Individuals doing work on digital inclusion

Funders:

The Technovate funder collaborative includes Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), RBC Community Investment, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Foundations Canada, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities and Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA)

Organizations:

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6 comments on “Digital Equity and Inclusion Networks in Canada. What am I missing?”

  1. Hi Marco, I've been searching for allies in my efforts to launch a new internet service in Canada and came across this blog.
    Actually you're right, there's not a lot of non-for-profit internet equity program out there, until now.
    We're a Vancouver-based development company that does specialize in Internet development strategies. Not to say that we don't have for-profit product/services.. but recently we've developed a new program for 'Sponsored' multi-tenant buildings that provides a $20/month, 100mbps hi-speed service. This is unparalleled in Canada. How do we do it? We actually provide sponsors(charities) the in-building infrastructure to off er the service to their tenants which we manage. It becomes a totally sustainable model, and zero-outlay for sponsors. Check us out at: https://connect-alliance.ca/co-op/homenet-advantage/
    Perhaps you can help us spread the word:)

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