Monthly Archives: November 2013

How Connectivity Empowers Communities

With the Coalition review into the NBN, the technical details of how we’ll be connected are still an unknown for many regions in Australia. However, what is certain is that faster internet speeds are coming (regardless of the method) and that they will have a huge impact on our society. Arguably regional Australia will benefit more than the metropolitan areas.

Internet connectivity has the ability to significantly help those who are disadvantaged whether it be due to geography, economic conditions, education or health.

If we don’t get our High Speed Broadband connectivity strategy right, the likelihood of a digital divide between those able to take advantage of high speed broadband and those who can’t will increase..

A recent interview from Wired with Bill Clinton and Bill Gates highlighted some of the impacts connectivity can have on a world scale.

When asked about the value of connecting the world with the internet, Clinton commented that connectivity can be “incredibly empowering to people on the bottom of the economic pyramid”. He noted that after the South Asia tsunami, something as simple as cell phone connectivity for fishing families boosted the average income by 30 per cent. Internet connectivity in Haiti completely revoloutionised the way Haitians managed their currency and banking transactions.

Gates emphasised its impact on the state of health care, education and government. “Connectivity is an amazing thing, like connecting up a health center so we can get advice to a health worker who may not be trained as a doctor.”

“Getting connectivity to schoolrooms is a fantastic thing. Connectivity enables transparency for better government, education and health.”

A September report by the National Rural Health Alliance Inc states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities face distinct challenges in accessing and using basic telecommunications services.

“In 2008-09, Internet use was significantly lower among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (62 per cent) compared with the national average (74 per cent).”

By creating more connected networks combined with education and resources, big steps can be taken towards closing the gap. This emphasises that we focus less on the platform that provides us with connectivity, and more on what we do with it when it’s here.

 

 

All Online by 2017

By engaging and up-skilling all communities in the Hume region, the Hume Digital Strategy aims to have all residents online by 2017. The challenge requires the coordination of organisations, resources and technologies in order to encompass all groups in the community.

Local governments are a key driver behind the move toward greater digital literacy, and can help by providing both physical and intellectual resources to facilitate community learning. One local government currently leading the way is the Adelaide City Council. The Grote Street Library is home to the Adelaide Digital Hub. The hub “aims to connect the community and city businesses with technology and the online world and get ready for the National Broadband Network (NBN)”.

The Digital Hub includes a community training program, a Digital Enterprise Program for business, an Innovation Lab and the iPad Buddy Program.

The Digital Enterprise Program is comprised of an interactive workshop series designed to lead businesses through the practical information they need to know about the NBN, an introduction to tools that can improve efficiency and demonstration of online marketing tools, including social media. The program, funded by the federal government, will help provide a strong foundation for businesses to establish their digital presence.

Some groups are at higher risk of digital exclusion than others. Statistics show that older members of the Australian community are less likely to utilise internet access, and a 2010 report identified that lack of interest and skill were main drivers behind low levels of involvement, as well as the cost of holding an internet connection.

The iPad Buddy System helps engage older residents with digital technologies by providing each participant with an iPad, a volunteer buddy, a support network and regular social catch-ups, allowing participants to meet other residents share their experience. The iPads come pre-loaded with books, games and apps, and best of all, it’s free!

Many communities around the world are doing work to close the digital gap. The video below from Governance International shows how local programs in Camden in the UK are helping older citizens become digitally active.

What do you think? How can we get ALL online by 2017? We’d love to hear your ideas.

Public Services in a Digital Age

Hume’s third strategic focus area is working towards transforming public services. The objective is to use new digital media to create smarter, better designed, more accessible public services with reduced costs and higher impact.

Revenue and expenditure pressures are set to intensify in the coming decades as expectations increase for governments to cut the relative cost of public administration while simultaneously improving public services. Extra pressure will fall on the shoulders of government as a result of Australia’s aging population; dramatically affecting government revenue, expenditure and demand for services.

Part of the movement will involve the education and training of the public to facilitate their use of the digital services. Brisbane and Adelaide are already running Digital Hubs to provide training to those who need it. The Adelaide based hub is also offering a Digital Enterprise Program for business and an innovation lab. These investments in the present will no doubt provide return in the future as the public participate in higher levels of digital service provision from government departments.

New tools are being continuously developed to improve the efficiency of government service. Between open source programs and the growing use of applications, the options available to government departments are increasing while the cost is steadily on the decline. One great example is the Snap Send Solve app, which allows anyone to take a photo of a public issue (such as a pot hole or fallen tree), send it to the appropriate council and have the issue resolved.

Code for America is a not for profit organisation in the US that works with US cities to develop applications to help improve the delivery of public services. Some interesting apps include Adopt a Hydrant (members of the public assist council to maintain water hyrants) and Street Mix (members of the public can design their ideal neighbourhood). A full list of apps can be seen at http://www.codeforamerica.org/apps/

Albury Wodonga have outlined the top five Council services that members of the public would like to utilise online. They are:

  1. Customer service enquiries
  2. Paying rates electronically
  3. Voting in local government elections
  4. Submitting forms and applications
  5. Participating in community consultations and workshops

So what can you do to get the most from government services now and in the future? Keeping yourself educated on new digital technologies is an important starting point. Get involved across social media platforms, stay up to date with council apps and online services, perform more admin processes online (for example, pay your rates) and most importantly talk and share about digital technologies in your local communities. Sharing knowledge is an invaluable part of taking the next steps forward in the digital economy.