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Why digital inclusion should be part of your organisational strategy

Published on 27 May, 2022 by Yalenka Mariën

Actions that seem evident to most of us, aren’t for others. Not everybody has an active email address or a smartphone subscription with data. Some people prefer to do their bank transfers in the bank. Others have trouble remembering their passwords or cannot recognise fake news or phishing. The covid-19 crisis uncovered how many people today are (partly) excluded from socialising, working and learning online. Organisations all face similar challenges that come along with the desire to be fully digital without excluding anybody.

Recognising digital exclusion

The digital divide describes inequalities on different levels: ownership and use of devices and internet, digital confidence and skills and access to essential services. Importantly, we can all be at risk of being digitally excluded, it is not a permanent status. Imagine: Tom relies on their partner for administrational tasks. After their divorce Tom needs to take up tasks they have never had to do before which is stressful and results in Tom procrastinating and missing important deadlines.

Let’s look at a second example of temporary digital exclusion. Leila’s family experiences an unexpected loss of income and decides to sell their computer and stop paying for mobile data on their smartphone until they find their financial footing. They use public wi-fi hotspots for the moment but are less reachable and connected which saddens them.

Organisations want to undergo a digital transformation which unfortunately might mean a focus of resources on digitising, while defunding or even removing alternatives such as physical desks, support services and paper forms. The question arises, can we digitise responsibly? We believe there’s an inclusive digital future possible where we centre awareness, accessibility, trust and accountability.

Follow these four actionable steps to get started with inclusion:

  1. Assess your reach. Who could possibly benefit from your product and service that isn’t aware of it yet?
  2. For those you do reach, are there any thresholds in their access or use of your product and service you can alleviate?
  3. Is your customer service equipped to spot and assist less digitally confident users in order to build trust?
  4. Translate your findings into a company-wide strategy that makes inclusion a constant activity of learning and improving.
Vicious circle consisting of 4 steps namely awareness and outreach, access, support and finally strategy.

Step 1: Who are you not (yet) reaching?

First of all, ask yourself if you are reaching and informing all of your (potential) customers, citizens or patients? It’s both a smart business decision as a positive step towards inclusion to focus on increasing your reach and the awareness of your offering. Your communication needs to reach people via diverse, relevant and accessible channels such as letters, social media and text messages, and invest in awareness campaigns where useful. Apply visual language as much as possible and spotlight testimonies by real people.

Step 2: Which new and unnecessary thresholds are you creating?

Secondly, offer inclusive services. This goes beyond ensuring there's a non-digital option for each step. It also means a mindful onboarding of your service or product that lowers thresholds. Next, you can focus on reassuring your users throughout their journey—guarantee accessible content, consistent visual language and mobile-and offline-friendly digital touchpoints. Include users in an iterative process for new solutions or updates to help your design team avoid the pitfall of their own biases. Think about how you can learn from your users and your employees to avoid blindspots.

Step 3: What support do you offer?

Thirdly, support your customers, users or patients when they experience problems or have questions. Ensure your support and help functions are easily accessible via different channels and not only online. Wherever possible, apply a personal follow-up to increase trust and satisfaction with your helpdesk. Train and empower your frontline workers to recognise digital exclusion risk factors and give them tools to assist, guide and refer. Foremost, do not forget to invest in the digital skills and confidence of your frontline staff first.

Step 4: Is inclusion part of your organisation’s DNA?

Finally, ensure that inclusion is a strategic and operational priority on all levels of your organisation. Map which roles are responsible for different aspects of inclusion and ensure these roles are known throughout the organisation. Translate inclusion challenges for each role into actionable tasks and responsibilities. Set concrete goals and define measurable indicators in yearly plans and product and service roadmaps. Work on internal feedback mechanisms so you have a culture of accountability that allows you to learn and adapt.

Don’t forget to invest in the digital skills, confidence and attitudes of your own employees. You can add questions to your yearly employee satisfaction survey to capture if there are any digital skills or doubts concerning cyber security or digital transformation. This information can then inform internal communication and educational programmes.

On a strategic level, you can ask yourself what role you play in the digital landscape and society. Should you partner up with others in order to become more inclusive, assess your impact or improve consistency? Ask yourself if your team and organisation are open to diverse backgrounds, cultures and perspectives? Recruitment of new employees, subcontractors and partners should happen in a fair and inclusive way.

In conclusion, you never digitise in a vacuum.

Our digital transformation has an impact on our employees, users, organisation, partners and sometimes even on society as a whole. Responsible digital transformation applies digital technologies to bring us together, instead of reinforcing existing gaps, or even worse: creating new thresholds and inequality.

Ready to tackle the challenge?

Thankfully, a lot of small steps can have a big impact and increase our organisation’s digital inclusion and resilience. Still interested in a little help? We offer expertise on all levels, from embedding inclusion in your strategy, inspiring through training, to creating accessible digital products and services and setting up inclusive campaigns. Most of all, we are curious to hear how you are tackling these challenges as we are continuously learning and deepening our expertise on the topic. Let’s continue the conversation!