The importance of serving people who do not have access to the Internet

The term “digital transformation” is often heard these days. The term is often used to describe the process of changing face-to-face jobs and services through online interactions that are faster, more convenient, and empower users.

However, does digital transformation really deliver on these promises? Or is the seemingly relentless digitization of life actually increasing existing social inequalities?

For example, look at the banking sector. In the past, customers have transacted with teller In nearby branches, but now they have to do everything online. When the branch closes, many people, especially the elderly, find it difficult to carry out the daily tasks that they once would have been easy to do.

Or take a look at the experience with call center (Complaint Center) which now includes a lot of electronic voice, menu options, chat bots, and utilities aimed at encouraging customers to do everything online.

As many organizations and government agencies in Aotearoa New Zealand and other areas struggle to become more ‘digital’, we have examined the consequences for those who find this process challenging or ignore it.

Since 2021 we have been cooperating with Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) New Zealand and spoke to public sector organizations that use digital channels to deliver services. Our findings suggest that much remains to be done to find the right balance between digital and non-digital.

“Problematic” non-users

The prevailing view now is that the goal of a digitally capable society will enable everyone to lead a “smooth” life. New Zealand government policy document, Towards a digital strategy for Aotearoa (Towards a digital strategy for Aotearoa), countries

Digital tools and services enable us to learn new skills, cope with ease, and receive health and wellness assistance in a timely manner and without leaving home.

Of course, we are already in this new world. Many public and private services are automatically made available digitally. As a result, non-digital alternatives are limited or non-existent.

Read more: The digital divide leaves millions at a disadvantage during the coronavirus pandemic

There are two underlying assumptions in the view that everyone can and should interact digitally.

First, it implies that people who are unable to access digital services (or prefer non-digital options) are people with problems or disabilities – and this can only be addressed by providing technology, training, or encouraging non-users to be prepared to use digital. services.

Second, by increasing the provision of digital services, it is assumed that digital inclusion will automatically increase social inclusion.

Both of these assumptions are not necessarily true.

‘digital coercion’

CAB (mostly with face-to-face branches across New Zealand) has documented a significant increase in the number of people facing difficulties accessing government services because digital channels are their only option.

CAB explained that access to public services is a human right, and thus the transition to digital public services that are not universally accessible is causing some people to lose their rights.

In previous studies, we referred to this type of deprivation as “digital imposition” (“digital coercion”) – defined as a process of denial that reduces individual choice.

Read more: Digital Inequality: Why can I enter your building – but your website shows me the door?

Through our current research, we have found that the realities facing digitally enabled communities are far from perfect and seamless. Our preliminary findings illustrate the importance of understanding the impact of digital transformation at the most complex individual level.

Most people find it difficult to access and navigate online services for various reasons. Their causes are often a combination of reasons related to financial circumstances, education, culture, danger, beliefs, or well-being.

Even when granted access to technology and digital skills, many complex online requirements and chaotic life situations can limit their ability to use digital services productively and meaningfully.

human factor

The sense of loss of rights and control resulting from digital transformation is unfortunate, but inevitable. Some organizations are looking for alternatives to focus on moving service over the Internet.

They did not completely eliminate complaints centers or employees helping customers, but instead used digital technology to improve human-centered service delivery.

Read more: “Sorry, I don’t get it” – The problem with chatbots and how to use them better

Other organizations are considering partnering with intermediaries who can work with individuals who have difficulty using digital services. For example, the New Zealand Department of Health supports Mäori health and social service providers in the community to set up digital health centers to improve access to health care for local residents.

Our research is still ongoing, but we can already see evidence – from customer rating boards and other large organizations – of the benefits of shifting from a focus on digital transformation to asymmetry.

This is done with the aim of promoting social inclusion in the digital age, not eliminating the gap between the participants and the excluded. With this said, organizations can still thrive technically without harming the people they serve.

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