Blog Post

Inclusion by design is the foundation of success for digital transformation

By: Marco Campana
November 1, 2022

I've spoken and written a lot about where leadership around technology needs to come from in our sector and that we shouldn't just wait for it to appear. Everyone is working on tech in your daily work. You all have something to share. You have all learned things. And you all face common challenges. So we have to be doing it together. Working in the open, sharing, building on each other's work and successes.

I'm taking a couple of courses related to responsible technology development and policy-making around technology. Each of them provide a set of principles of frameworks to approach how we view what responsibility means. Equity and inclusion exists in both, among other principles such as transparency, accountability, etc.

Here's an example of one approach that outlines a set of "practice behaviours" required to ensure technology is beneficial for all, from the Tech Stewardship community:

Technology Stewardship practice behaviours

In both courses we've been asked which principle we think is most important to guide tech development and policy. It's a good and important question, and I kept coming back to Equity and Inclusion.

Inclusion is the foundation upon which responsible technology and policy development must be built

I think being more inclusive can act as an umbrella for responsible tech principles. If we're inclusive, we have to be transparent, accountable, and democratic, ensuring that everyone's voice and the impact on them is considered. If we're inclusive, we need to be prudent, thinking about and factoring in the impacts of the technology we develop. And inclusion requires us to take a systems approach, including everyone's voice, perspective, and stewardship, which is essential if we're working to ensure everyone's safety and security.

I think if we work with equity and inclusion as our umbrella, centre, or starting point for Secure and Responsible Tech, there don't need to be tradeoffs. I realize this sounds a bit too good to be true. But, working towards digital inclusion means building inclusive practices and building anti-racism, anti-oppression, diversity, equity, and inclusion into our service design. It means taking the time to create space to collaborate, come together, co-design, share resources and tools around digital inclusion.

Some have said that no technology project team is complete without a social worker, because "Social work excels at understanding the entire system while also understanding the needs of the individual." In our sector, no technology project should be considered complete without front line workers and Newcomers present. We must centre staff and Newcomers in all technology-related planning and decision-making.

We cannot do equity work without considering digital. And we must ground our digital work with an equity lens - which means anti-racist, anti-oppressive, inclusion, safety, and access.

Within the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector, and the non-profit sector more broadly, tech stewardship is a conversation that is somewhat in it's infancy. But Digital Equity and Inclusion are essential components of our emerging work when it comes to digital transformation. Digital equity also intersects with other equity and social justice issues which, because they're not centred in our policy discourse they are never adequately addressed. These are part of the digital inclusion continuum that we have to address while we're addressing specific digital inclusion efforts such as device access, digital literacy, or and adequate internet connections.

Inclusion by design

It's nice when things turn up just as you're contemplating things.

Not long after I wrote this as a homework assignment, the United Nations released their 2022 E-Government Survey, which included important language about inclusion.

There's a strong chapter about ensuring we don't leave anyone behind in a hybrid digital society, that talks about

"Activating 'digital inclusion by design' and 'leaving no one behind' strategies requires that policy choices be made sooner rather than later to remove the barriers vulnerable groups face in terms of digital access, affordability and ability using the integrated framework for optimizing data, design and delivery. Without these policy goals and interventions, leaving no one behind will enjoy limited or uneven success—or remain in the realm of rhetoric."

I've heard of privacy and security by design, but this is the first time I've seen digital inclusion by design. I like it. It makes sense. It's the right frame of mind to bring to our and all work in digital and hybrid service delivery.

There is a lot of work to do to get there, but the starting point of digital inclusion by design is a good foundation to build on and guide us.

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