A champion of inclusion: Digital Geelong providing opportunities for all.
We want all to access the benefits of the digital era. By ensuring that our online channels are sensitive to the needs of vulnerable groups and the diversity of our communities we can help to ensure they are not left behind as we move services online; however, more is required. Promoting participation and digital inclusion means promoting awareness and addressing skills gaps. It also means efforts are in place to foster the awareness of the benefits of participation in the digital economy as well as programs to develop a skilled, digitally literate community capable of maximising those benefits.
The challenge locally is highlighted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. ABS reports in 2011 that that 21 per cent of all Australians 15 years or over did not use the internet in 2010-11. Outside capital cities the average is 25 per cent. This figure is much higher for retired persons, low income earners, Indigenous Australians and those living in remote areas.
The digital inclusion link to better outcomes
There is a growing body of evidence that shows the importance of and direct correlation between digital inclusion and better social and civic engagement, improved quality of life and higher educational achievement. Digital inclusion also enhances the ability to participate in the workforce and benefit from economic development opportunities. Such digital inclusion is not just a matter of equity or democratic renewal. The really transformational impact for Geelong’s public services – for cost reduction and service efficiency – will come when the largest proportion possible in a local government area is able to engage and transact online.
The elements of the CoGG approach to digital inclusion are:
Provision of WiFi
The Geelong WiFi Information Network Strategy outlines the digital vision for social and economic growth for the CoGG. It promotes and encourages a digital future, by creating new opportunities for businesses, influencing the way people live, work and how they access services.
The need to increase awareness of the benefits and uses of digital and identify and promote the value proposition
from ICTs for all users in relevant and appropriate economic and social terms by focusing on the transformative effects of digital technologies and broadband rather than on ICTs themselves.
The need for all to have adequate bandwidth capacity, affordable and reliable Internet connections, computer hardware and software and sufficient publicly provided access.
The need for basic ICT information and training to increase user confidence in using both the technology and online content/applications/services (i. e. how to extract value from their use).
The need to ensure access to technical and training support and that it is tailored around the unique barriers that stop people going online.
Applications and Content
The need to develop and produce compelling online content and applications to motivate use and enable users to maximise the benefits of their ICT use.
The City of Greater Geelong approach to digital inclusion
The council strongly believes that it is in the interests of the community, as citizens, as neighbours, as learners and as employees, that all are able to participate in the online revolution. Digital Geelong will guide the Council’s efforts to enable all in the local community to have the confidence, access and skills to embrace and take advantage of the digital economy, access public services online and able to participate in the various digital initiatives promoted by the strategy.
Already the advantages of internet access and use do not go to a significant minority in Geelong – those who have never been online, are unable to access the internet at home, or lack the skills to confidently complete online transactions but at the same time are heavily reliant on essential services that are increasingly migrating to online-only provision. Disadvantage can be reinforced by this ‘exclusion’:
- Households that are not connected to the internet are disadvantaged. According to national data “offline” households are missing out on estimated savings of $1000 per year from shopping and paying bills online.
- Being online gives people more opportunities to search and apply for jobs. It is estimated that between 75% and 90% of jobs require at least some computer use.
- Home access to a computer and the internet can improve children’s educational performance. Research shows that while 99% of children in the richest 10% of households can access the internet via a computer, this dropped to just under 60% in the poorest 10% of households with children.
We believe that such a ‘digital divide’ may increase if we don’t work with our partners to respond to the challenge. Unless digital inclusion work reinforces the roll out of digital media, the gap between the digital ‘have and have nots’ may grow. In this context Swinburne University has called for ‘programmes focused on digital literacy and citizenship to be implemented to add to the capacity of the NBN to contribute to these ends’. We agree. It isn’t enough to wait until local residents are online: Geelong Council can help them get there too. Therefore, part of the objective of the digital inclusion program we envisage is to make all communities in Geelong digitally savvy so that they are in effect broadband- ready before the NBN arrives and can make maximum use of digital media more broadly.
Initiatives to enable ‘knowledge transfer’ of digital skills to the community and local workforce must be undertaken and not just for reasons of equity. A recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers study, has shown that where the proportion of the ‘digitally included’ rises in a society by 10% GDP rises by 1%. There is an economic premium for society and for the individual from a digitally enabled community, with the benefits for the latter extending beyond purchasing into learning, skills development, greater community engagement, employability and indeed overall well-being. Geelong wants that premium for its community.
We know from the workshops for the strategy and national surveys that whereas overall familiarity and use of social and digital media are reasonably high and growing in Australian cities, key target groups are vulnerable to ‘digital exclusion’. These include the less well educated, the more elderly, indigenous communities, some migrant communities and some younger people whose knowledge and use of social media are narrower than required for employability in a digital economy. There is also the challenge in Geelong of enhancing the skills of those who thrived in a manufacturing based economy and need to do so in an increasingly knowledge based one.
And though the capacities or curriculum of learners at local schools, TAFE and universities are not the responsibility of the Council, the strategy envisages them all being part the Geelong Digital Partnership and the collaboration required to raise the digital skills and knowledge levels of local students. Research is increasingly showing that a key factor in the decision of companies to invest in places, or for start-ups to emerge in certain locations and not others, is the pool of talent available. A core objective of Digital Geelong must be to ensure that Geelong has a deep pool of digital talent – and be seen in the market to have it. Smart Cities don’t just have excellent broadband connectivity and great mobile reception. They have lots of smart people, have fewer ‘digitally excluded’ – and have a smart council determined to maximise the digital opportunity.
Taking the initiative on digital inclusion
Services to help people go online are not joined up enough at the moment in Geelong. Efforts are duplicated across providers, funding is sporadic and does not always align with user needs. Better links and coordination are needed between the public, private and voluntary sector, so that their efforts add up to more than the sum of their parts. Geelong Council will take the initiative to establish the partnership working required across sectors to achieve results in digital inclusion and will also use its own assets to focus the campaign to get the community online.
The Geelong website will be developing a single place called digitalskillsgeelong to help individuals, small businesses and small charities learn to be proficient, confident and safe online. It will provide a one stop shop or repository of local resources and opportunities for accessing, learning and sharing digital skills. As well as links to useful information and services, there will be maps to direct people to where local physical resources and advice are located. This will be a single, trusted, and evolving source for online services that will help instil confidence and trust amongst new users and those supporting them.
Recommendation 15: Create a digital platform called digitalskillsgeelong (for example). The objective of the platform is that it be a one stop shop for gateway digital learning in Geelong.
Collaborations will be deepened locally with universities, TAFE and other skills providers, employers, Centrelink and all relevant agencies working to improve the employability of local people in a digital era. The strategy should above all, ensure partners make digital inclusion a priority and are digital champions for their area, client or community group. Digital inclusion will be a key agenda item for the Geelong Digital Partnership which the Council will convene to deliver Digital Geelong.
Community groups from a digital perspective
In the context of an overall campaign to enthuse and engage all in our community to get online, we will target the following important and/or vulnerable groups and work with the relevant skills providers or not for profit organisations working with them:
Silver Surfers: over 60 years old
We will work closely with organisations representing older members of our community and the various elements of the public and not-for-profit sector that serve them, to ensure measures are in place to inform this target group of the benefits of increased digital access and to enable them to acquire the skills and confidence to get online.
There are a significant proportion of teenagers who are not digitally literate or confident and have little access to PCs or laptops at home. They may have mobile phones and may access social media but they have a narrow range of
skills and understanding of the potential of such tools. They also rely on having good public access to digital media in such places as schools, colleges, internet cafes, kiosks and libraries.
Unemployed and under-employed people
Improved digital inclusion increases employment prospects by providing a better flow of information about job vacancies and other opportunities and by enhancing skills. It has also been shown to open up entry-level positions for unemployed or economically inactive people and to help the under- employed become more fully employed. An increase in basic digital skills is often a pathway to broader lifelong learning, which could result in further progress up the ‘skills escalator’ and access to higher earnings.
Those in work seeking to up-skill
Employees with less digital experience and fewer skills – but a desire to acquire them and be part of the new knowledge economy – are a key group to include in Geelong and up-skill if we are to get all online. Thus digital literacy initiatives will be aimed at this group too.
Whether they are on the factory floor or building site, in the research lab, call centre lab or website design studio, today they can be called upon to perform ‘knowledge work’, create added value through the acquisition, process and use of information.
A focus on re-skilling and/or up-skilling those in work or seeking to enter the workforce will thus be a necessary part of the digital approach. TAFE, Universities or other skills providers – and not-for-profit organisations working with key groups – should ensure that there are suitable ‘digital gateway’ skills courses or ‘taster’ programs for key groups.
Appropriate training programs and alternative means of accessing public services should be designed and implemented with the involvement of the key groups working with and representing the community.
People with disabilities
International experience has shown that amongst the greatest beneficiaries of digital technologies are people with disabilities. We will work with groups that represent people with a disability so as to ensure that digital inclusion programmes meet their needs.
SMEs and self-employed
See the following chapter dedicated to SMEs, highlighting the importance of this group in achgieving Digital Geelong.
Recommendation 16: Set an aspirational target of whole of community inclusion. Work with skills providers and not for profit organisations to engage/upskill key target groups.
Not just formal digital pathways
While formal pathways for digital skills development create an important set of solutions to address skill gaps, digital skills development can take place also through community- oriented digital literacy and participation initiatives. Such initiatives can come from a variety of sources including formal skill providers and not-for profit organisations working with key client groups, self-help organisations and community groups.
However, digital inclusion initiatives can also be less formal and involve neighbours, friends and colleagues, peak organisations and chambers of commerce, helping others to ‘go on, get online’. Digital Geelong envisages a broad campaign and program of projects to raise enthusiasm, skills and digital inclusion at the heart of which will be a special ‘Go On, Get Online Geelong’ initiative led by the Mayor. This will be unique in Australia.
Geelong digital mates and digital festival
This cross community effort could include a Geelong Digital Mates scheme. These would be volunteers in the local community that will give their time to help people learn basic online skills as well as using online government services. The scheme would also provide tangible benefits to the Mates;
for example, voluntary work experience helps improve job prospects by building experience and providing references for job applications.
By tapping into the rich and diverse talent pool that exists in Geelong including our volunteers, third sector and local business we can add capacity to develop digital confidence and life skills.
The digital inclusion initiatives could culminate in an annual Geelong Digital Festival or Geelong Digital Day. These could be used to celebrate and promote all things digital including digital inclusion initiatives such as ‘digital neighbour’ or ‘digital learner’ of the year, helping also to profile Geelong as a pioneer in this digital space and as a place with the skills, infrastructure, eco-system, vision and leadership to nurture and attract innovators and enterprise.
Recommendation 17: Create a ‘Go On, Get Online’ initiative; a ‘Geelong Digital Mates’ project and a Geelong Digital Festival or Digital Day.
The contemporary role of the library
A key part of the basis of that new profile for Digital Geelong as a networked community will be the new ‘digital infrastructure’, resource for digital inclusion and support for local SMEs embodied in the exciting new central library. We see digital media and the advent of the NBN as a catalyst for both re-assertion of the significance of libraries and an expansion of their role. The digital era will mean an enhancement and expansion of library services to respond to new technology and contemporary community and information needs and will strengthen their emerging role as a community-based network for digital inclusion.
Libraries have a multiplicity of important roles in delivering life-long learning and increasing access to information, knowledge and skills. Increasingly, internationally and within Australia, public libraries are leading the way in building digitally inclusive communities by providing connectivity, promoting skills and enabling knowledge transfer. There are many national and international exemplars.
Alaska’s Online with Libraries (OWL) Project seeks to provide all Alaskans with the benefits and opportunities that come hand in hand with high speed Internet. This includes areas such as e-government services, distance education opportunities and increased access to on-line business opportunities including professional development. The project is enhancing Public Computer Centres at 97 libraries, and is providing faster internet connections to many of these mostly rural libraries. The project establishes a public videoconferencing network for all of the libraries so that they can provide online training for businesses and a centralised digitally connected hub.
There are many other similar examples including the aptly named Bridging the Great Digital Divide Project of Colorado which provides computers, training, and public awareness campaigns in 88 Colorado community libraries.
Current libraries: digital knowledge hot-spots
Geelong’s future libraries will use digital technologies not just to serve the community in new ways but to tap into the
community, combing the resources of the community and the library to support the transition of the city. Libraries in this sense are increasingly key community hubs, with particular significance for families, baby boomers, the aged, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups including recent arrivals, and students. The libraries of Greater Geelong are already hotspots of information gathering in various formats including digital access. The Geelong libraries already provide a number of free digitally based services:
Online catalogues, e-books, e-audio resources and access to a diverse range of electronic information databases
Community initiatives such as local history data-bases which offers interactive capabilities
Free Wi-Fi and internet for library members
Peer internet training program for older people
Individual internet tour programs
Podcasts of talks held at the library
In some parts of the world, the existing network of static libraries and mobile libraries within an area are being increasingly exploited as community Wi-Fi hubs to deliver a local network of connectivity for citizens.
The libraries can and should continue to be an integral part of Geelong’s digital transition and inclusion strategy, with the new central library in particular providing a step-change in local digital infrastructure and support.
Recommendation 18: Exploit the opportunities libraries offer as providers of digital infrastructure and platforms for digital inclusion. In particular exploit the potential of the new central library.
Future libraries: tech hubs, 'makerspaces' or 'fablabs'
Geelong has long been a place that appreciates ideas, knowledge & learning with a growing reputation for nurturing innovation. Libraries have always been about knowledge and information and the new Geelong library is about all of these but with an opportunity to re-imagine them and the next generation of library users, to develop a focus on the digital but also to be a place where digital, learning and making in innovative 21st century ways can come together in a way which reflects the manufacturing tradition of the area and the ambition to renew the area’s innovation capacity in the digital era.
But it will also offer free access to a broad range of hardware and software, be part of an online community to connect with people of similar interests, provide access to free Wi-Fi and physical spaces to meet with others and to work on your own projects. This where the modern library becomes something beyond consumption of books and assumes a role in co-production.
CoGG needs to ensure that the new Library provides space and support for what have become known as makerspaces, hackerspaces, hackspaces, tech shops and fablabs. These are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, make things invent, and learn, using digital technologies and platforms but also more sometimes conventional means A makerspace is a place where people come together to design and build projects.
Increasingly libraries, along with cutting edge digital platforms and tools, will have 3D printers and scanners, indeed a whole 3D printing studio that offers the resources of a full suite of 3D fabrication and modelling technologies, with injection-molding machine software. Along with electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools these will form the core elements of a makerspace, including tools and equipment that are too expensive or specialized for most people to have in their homes.
Makerspaces and fab labs cater to a particular type of library patron: inventors, artists, entrepreneurs, crafters and youth groups. The technology used in these workshops can revolutionize the manufacturing process, allowing designs and creations that can be modified to suit individuals in ways not possible with mass production.
Libraries can provide spaces to develop micro-hardware and mini-robotics, as these are knowledge intensive activities that would benefit from access to information and supported research.
The key is this: ‘making’ in the 21st century has moved out of the individual workshop and gone networked. These library based initiatives are places to create, build, and craft-and they are experiencing increased visits and demand as a result. It is imperative that the new Geelong library enables these kinds of activities as part of Digital Geelong and the support for the local tech and innovation eco-system. The products created by the library-based makers could be showcased at the proposed Geelong Digital Festival.
These examples demonstrate that libraries around the world are embracing technology and high speed internet, but also taking this further by becoming tech hubs and ‘make spaces’ for innovators and product developers. Geelong, given its local tradition of making and innovating, should ensure its new library can play its potential role as this kind of centre and support for skills development, collaboration and innovation – as a new impetus for Geelong businesses here now and those start-ups and talented individuals which we wish to attract.
Recommendation 19: Ensure the new library has the capacity, tools and approach to be a Geelong tech-hub, makerspace or fablab in the future.
Actions for libraries
We can see that libraries will become increasingly more important in Geelong’s digital transition. We have provided actions to support and build on the library strategies that already exist:
Fostering digital literacy with a leading role for our innovative library services
A strong focus on how digital services and initiatives can support creative and exciting ways to make the online and physical experience of the library complementary and integrated.
Enhance existing efforts and build on progress. Victorian libraries are well connected and will continue to leverage and share knowledge through partnerships e. g. Public Libraries Victoria Network
To accelerate digital inclusion efforts and help less technically able groups to cross the digital divide.
Prepare for a ‘wired town’ vision or ‘networked high streets’ that puts libraries and other public spaces at the centre of each community based on the technology that exists today and will develop in the future.
Explore options to strengthen and foster the skills program. This could include:
A ‘cyber citizenship’ program about online safety with a focus on parents of youth, the aged and CALD communities
Training programs for areas including website creation
Strengthen collaboration with other local councils to support ‘WikiGeelong’ as the vehicle for recording and curating local/regional history.
This could include multi-media archives (including sound and video) and a smart tagging system that allows connections to be built between artefacts and stories
Build on the library’s Emerging Technologies program where people can test and explore a range of technologies
Develop a truly interactive and cutting edge website for Geelong’s libraries with all the functionalities such as recommended content, commenting capability, news, a calendar and links to external content such as blogs and videos to replace the website interface currently being used
Develop a library-housed ‘computer club’(and perhaps a ‘coding club’) as a learning group similar to the book clubs and study groups that already exist to deliver computer literacy skills to the community. This could also be targeted to more proficient groups who use open source software to develop new programs and applications using the library as their working hub and collaboration space
To deliver these strategies, internal actions are to:
Review potential partnerships and identify external private and not-for-profit partners who are interested in investing in supporting programs for digital inclusion e. g. Smith Family
Map employee skills against skills needs. Up skill staff and create dedicated roles and recruit specialist staff in order to better transition our libraries into the digital age
Develop a key digital library hub based on the “Information Commons” model where libraries offer capacity for interactive co-working through the provision of space, appropriate furniture and equipment, and access to technology and its latest applications. This model requires support by library staff with higher level IT skills.
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