Summary of findings

The people we heard from in this research affirmed what previous research had shown. Having access to affordable and accessible digital devices and services at a convenient time and place, as well as the motivation, skills, and trust to use the Internet to pursue and realise meaningful social and economic outcomes, is essential to social inclusion.

They also told us losing access can have a disproportionately harmful impact on people who are already experiencing social exclusion in other ways. Becoming disconnected can have a devastating impact on people going through times of particular vulnerability or instability. A woman leaving a violent relationship, for example, or a young person leaving home without any family support.

People outlined a range of barriers to digital inclusion, including cost, a range of barriers to physical access, low motivation, resilience to setbacks, mixed levels of skills, a lack of trust or safety online and insufficient capacity.

While most of this was consistent with research in other countries, the conversations in this project have given us a more nuanced and detailed picture of how a variety of different social and economic factors can act together to impact a person’s digital inclusion at different times throughout their life, and how becoming disconnected can, in turn, exacerbate existing problems.

Participants made suggestions for improving digital inclusion in New Zealand ranging from national policies to reduce housing transience through to kid-safe data plans to help parents support safe digital access for their children. There are suggestions here for central government, local government, iwi, Internet providers, tech companies and charitable organisations.

For a small number of the people we heard from, removing specific physical or financial barriers to digital access may be sufficient to enable them to benefit from digital inclusion. Overall, however, this research points to a need to remove broader social and economic barriers, in order to create more conducive conditions for interventions designed specifically to increase digital inclusion.