Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: October 22

By Chris Woods

Thursday October 22, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s coverage of local and global COVID-19 policy news.

What will COVID-19 mean for digital exclusion?

The 2020 Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) has highlighted significant levels of digital exclusion among older people, families without adequate internet access and vulnerable residents prior to COVID-19, and warned that, while the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of education, government, business and community services, shutdowns have also isolated these groups.

With the index published today, the ADII began in 2016 and is an annual study produced by RMIT University’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre and Swinburne University’s Centre for Social Impact in partnership with Telstra and based on Roy Morgan data. The research measures digital inclusion in terms of three dimensions — access, affordability and digital ability — and explores how they change according to people’s social, economic and geographic circumstances over a seven-year period from 2014 to 2020.

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Overall, Australia’s digital-inclusion score grew 1.1 points from 61.9 to 63 in the year to March 2020; unfortunately, this does not fully reflect the effects of the pandemic on Australians’ digital inclusion, but instead provides a detailed view of the level and distribution of digital inclusion across the country before the pandemic’s impacts were fully felt.

Through case studies and analyses, the report also highlights the dual impact of COVID-19 and digital inequality on both older Australians and students in low-income family households.

While governments at all levels took steps to mitigate the impacts of lockdown on both groups — e.g., the Victorian government’s ‘Let’s Stay Connected Fund‘, which provided grants of between $5,000 and $200,000 to support community-led initiatives that build connection, reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation — the report highlight elements that may have easily been overlooked through those initiatives:

  • Older Australians: People aged 65+ are one of the least digitally included groups in Australia. Many older Australians are not online at all, while those who are report lower levels of effective and affordable internet access and digital skills. Older Australians are less able to use the internet as an alternative to face-to-face social interactions curtailed by COVID-19 physical distancing measures — putting older Australians at a greater risk of social isolation and loneliness. Although they are not the only digitally excluded group in this situation, two factors may further exacerbate the risks confronting older Australians:
    • First, older Australians are much more likely to live alone and thereby rely on the types of public social contact restricted by the COVID-19 measures.
    • Second, because of their heightened vulnerability to COVID-19, this cohort has been encouraged to be particularly vigilant in reducing their physical social contact.
  • Students in low-income family households: Approximately 800,000 of the almost four million primary and secondary students in Australia are from households who earn less than $35,000 per annum. These households record an Index score of more than 10 points below the national average, and 15.5 points lower than families with school-aged children in other income brackets. They are often lacking access to technology options and suitable devices, pay a larger proportion of their household income for digital services, and have lower digital skills.

In a similar report, non-profit group Carnegie UK Trust recently published 12 recommendations for “learning from lockdown” and bridging pre-existing — and potentially exacerbated — digital exclusions in the UK post-COVID:

  1. Commit to digital inclusion strategies: The UK government and each of the devolved governments to publish revised digital-inclusion strategies, setting out how they will build on the interventions deployed prior to and in response to COVID-19 as well as clear commitments and time horizons for eliminating digital exclusion. Annual updates on progress should be published.
  2. Prioritise co-production: The new digital-inclusion strategies produced by the UK government and the devolved governments should be co-produced with those who have lived experience of digital exclusion, including: children and young people; people who face additional barriers related to disability and lack of accessible content or assistive technology; and those with low literacy or English language skills. These approaches should build on the good practice already established by organisations working with these groups, and be delivered through these organisations wherever possible and appropriate.
  3. Collect quality digital data: A systematic review of the available national statistics on digital inclusion should be carried out to ensure that robust, high-quality data is provided regularly across a range of key measures, broken down by jurisdiction and by demographic group.
  4. Establish a robust baseline: A new Minimum Digital Living Standard should be established to create a deeper, more comprehensive, universally recognised baseline for what it means to be digitally included in the UK. This standard should be informed by in-depth consultation with the public, including those with lived experience of digital exclusion.
  5. Embed across public services: All public services, including health, education, energy and social care should build an increased focus on tackling digital inclusion into their work to support individuals and communities, particularly those experiencing disadvantage. Public service providers should assess how this increased focus might support them to achieve their wider public policy goals.
  6. Align with anti-poverty efforts: All national and local anti-poverty strategies should include a commitment to improving digital inclusion and set out interventions to enhance digital inclusion, demonstrating how this will contribute to anti-poverty targets. Ownership of the digital-inclusion agenda needs to be shared across government at all levels, while businesses and charities also have vital roles to play.
  7. Measure program impacts: National and large-scale digital-inclusion programs should regularly publish and promote their impact and outcomes data, to support shared learning and contribute to better longitudinal tracking and understanding of progress.
  8. Regulate for online harms: The UK government should deliver on its commitment to establish world-leading, effective online harms regulation, based on a duty of care model and backed by an independent regulator. Such an approach would tackle online harms at a system-design level, reducing individuals’ exposure to harm as well as societal harms while promoting a safer online environment for all users.
  9. Invest and build capacity: Further support, resources and incentives should be provided for public, charity and community organisations delivering digital inclusion interventions, locally and nationally, to undertake the activities but also to invest in their own digital capabilities. Local networks should be established to ensure joined-up approaches to design and delivery, effective collaboration and best use of community assets.
  10. Champion the role of business: The significant contribution from businesses to donate or refurbish devices for digital inclusion initiatives should be recognised and further encouraged. Businesses in all sectors should also be encouraged to invest in the digital capabilities of their employees, to develop a more skilled and confident workforce.
  11. Innovate for inclusion: Governments, technology providers and civil society organisations should continue to work together to explore market innovations that reduce the cost of digital access and enhance protection for those on low incomes. This might include building on initiatives such as data donation, zero-rating, expanded social tariffs and public WiFi; or by establishing home internet as an essential utility and giving vulnerable customers the right to greater protections, similar to the gas and electricity markets.
  12. Ensure a public safety-net: Public of provision of digital access through libraries, health and welfare services and community organisations should continue to be made available. This will provide a vital digital safety net to those who need it.

Codifying inclusive policymaking tools through COVID-19

In light of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on populations experiencing vulnerabilities due to structural issues– such as racism — a new policy memo at the Journal of Science Policy & Governance, Inclusive policymaking tools: A COVID-19 pandemic case study‘, seeks to encourage codifying diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices in policymaking processes.

The team of US researchers, led by public health scientist at George Washington University Ans Irfan, have synthesised existing literature to identify best practices for both COVID-19-related public policy activities as well as future processes.

Policy responses and failures are broken down into business and employment, education, and healthcare; for example, in discussing the US$2 trillion CARES Act, researchers note that:

One subset of this package, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), exemplifies the disproportionate institutional burdens faced by minority-owned businesses. In PPP’s early stages, the Small Business Administration (SBA) barred anyone with a criminal conviction in the past five years. This led to discrimination against members of the Black community who are often subjected to racially motivated higher rates of incarceration and convictions because of a racist legal system in the US (Donnan 2020).

In turn, the team offer six inclusive policymaking recommendations, shown below along with brief descriptions:

  1. Positionality assessment: As a person involved with the policymaking process, the first step towards establishing best practices for inclusive policymaking should be introspection and recognition of one’s privileges, including but not limited to race, education, socioeconomic status, linguistic ability, immigration status, sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
  2. Equity and impact assessment: Experts developing policy must assess community needs and policy impacts that are grounded in the DEI framework. Moreover, policy proposals should make a concerted effort account for their impacts and unintended consequences on the populations who experience the most vulnerabilities.
  3. Mainstreaming policymaking: The policy community, particularly the science policy community, must collaborate with other sectors such as the news media to mainstream the policymaking process. Currently, most of the public is often unaware of the details of public policies being proposed, passed, and implemented across different levels of government. Policymakers should work to open and mainstream this process through collaborations with news and mass media and other tools such as social media.
  4. Community engagement: Meaningful community engagement is critical to an inclusive policymaking and development process. It is of paramount importance to ensure we engage local communities, particularly communities that experience vulnerabilities, in a tangible, meaningful way.
  5. Citizen e-consultation: Building off the need for community engagement, it is critical to acknowledge that despite living in the digital era, policymaking process has largely lagged in taking full advantage of tools that can assist in community engagement and result in inclusive policies. It is important to take advantage of this valuable resource and reach vulnerable communities through the internet in ways that are equitable and accessible.
  6. Big data: Utilising big data can provide rapid insights into community realities while also providing opportunity to bridge the gap between population level needs and public policies. An example of big data’s potential for response is the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium,which has mass computing capacity to keep pace with the vast emerging data on the virus.

The team has created a matrix of mechanisms for inclusive policymaking, which include but are not limited to: citizen juries; Google trends and Twitter; interactive scenario planning; privilege analysis; and ‘Project Implicit‘, a tool that provides some insights into the implicit biases that one may have towards a group.

On the home front: Melbourne prepares for outdoor dining

  • Victorian Minister for Planning Richard Wynne yesterday announced that pubs, restaurants, cafes and other food and drink venues can use existing outdoor spaces — such as streets, footpaths, carparks and even nearby parks and public land — to accommodate and serve patrons without the need for a planning permit. The move comes as businesses prepare to expand outdoor dining under the next stage of reopening, while restrictions reduce the number of patrons allowed for indoor dining.
  • NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Tuesday a number of relaxed restrictions to come into effect from this Friday, October 23:
    • 30 people can gather outdoors in public spaces (previously this was 20)
    • 30 customers per booking, and 30 customers per table at hospitality venues (previously the rule was a maximum of 10)
    • as of last Friday 16 October 2020, corporate functions of up to 300 people can now be held at any appropriate premises, including at restaurants, subject to a COVID-Safe plan (previously just function centres).

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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