User-centric digital inclusion : linking Australia’s digital divide policy and digital exclusion experiences

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    In recognising the importance of information and communications technology (ICT) in national development, many countries have developed policy frameworks intended to facilitate ongoing investment in ICT infrastructure and stimulate user adoption. While connectivity is increasing, a significant division between those who use technology effectively and those who do not has emerged as a new digital gap. As society becomes highly digitalised, the economic, social, political and cultural disadvantages arising from the inability to use technologies effectively have become more significant. This study investigates how the Australian Government has addressed the digital divide issue and the nature of emerging digital inclusion gaps as informed by the digitally excluded groups. The purpose was to contribute to a nuanced understanding of digital exclusion and to inform policy making with empirical knowledge. Two research methods were adopted: policy analysis and in-depth interviews with digitally excluded groups. The policy analysis investigates how the Australian Government has perceived and defined the “digital divide” over time since 1997,and its relevance to policy making. This examination includes official, publicly available ICT policies and strategies and the types of efforts – supply- and demand-side – aimed at diffusing the use of ICTs in society. Australia is considered a highly-connected society; however, its ICT diffusion has stalled over the last decade. This suggests that supply-side policies that focus on access to infrastructure may not be sufficient to stimulate use, nor effective at addressing the persistent digital divide. The demand-side of ICT diffusion policies, which aims at effective use, has so far received less attention than supply-side dimensions. Although the government has begun recognising the growing importance of demand-driven projects for digital inclusion, the complex conditions that inhibit effective use of technologies are not yet systematically incorporated in policies or programs. A need for empirical evidence of the deep-rooted circumstances of the digitally excluded emerged from the policy analysis. Twenty-one in-depth interviews were conducted with non- and limited users of the internet in Canberra, Australia in order to understand their daily-lived experiences with technology and resulting digital exclusion. By analysing participants’ everyday experiences with ICTs, the lack of social encouragement and support/assistance was identified as latent but crucial circumstances surrounding non- and limited uses. It was evident that non-engagement II impacted participants’ everyday lives in many ways, regardless of their level of technological use or non-use. Individual stories of exclusion in everyday life revealed the multifaceted reality of the digitally excluded and the relative nature of digital exclusion. This study emphasises the importance of social resources, including ongoing support and encouragement, to digital inclusion outcomes. It suggests there are different dimensions that must be considered when addressing digital skills and social constraints, both of which contribute to non-engagement. The thesis suggests that the success of future digital inclusion policy relies on implementing effective means to facilitate new forms of ongoing social support surrounding the use of digital technologies that are deeply embedded in our everyday lives.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSora Park (Supervisor), Mathieu O'Neil (Supervisor) & Julie Freeman (Supervisor)

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