According to the two Digital Inclusion User Insights reports commissioned by the NZ Government, when compared with the wider population, digital exclusion appears to be worst for NZ’s Māori population (comprising 16 per cent of the nation); as a result, some struggled to access government systems during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For people relying on government services such as the wage subsidy, there were difficulties accessing that help online. Maybe they rang the government instead, finding in some cases they had to wait on the phone for days,” read a Māori leader’s survey response from the report.
Likewise, Pacific Islander communities had a similar experience with digital exclusion during the pandemic, with some being unaware of vital information and unable to access services, especially during the country’s Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns.
The reports held that closing the digital gap for individuals and groups is growing “more urgent and more pronounced” as the pandemic continues.
To overcome this, both Māori and Pacific communities recommended that the New Zealand Government continue to provide non-digital access to public services, as well as investing in digital skills training and education for everyday activities.
“Some leaders said that many Māori preferred kanohi-ki-te-kanohi (in-person) contact and this should be recognised and respected by any government organisation with a genuine interest in meeting the needs of Māori,” the reports read.
While online-by-default strategies for government services risked marginalising communities, Māoris felt that lowering cost barriers to internet and devices could help most whānau (family) “transition to the online world”.
Meanwhile, Māori communities identified basic literacy and computer skills, programming and design, business and technology as well as maintaining wellbeing (and mental health) in the digital world as key areas for skills development.
Pacific Islander communities on the other hand saw opportunities for skills training in learning to use “daily” services (e.g. online banking, shopping, for instance), developing Pacific businesses, improving digital safety and scam reduction, and sustainable employment in STEM fields.
Pacific interviewees also noted a knowledge gap around digital safety, and voiced concerns about the community – and particularly elderly individuals – being “more vulnerable to scams”, because of a “reluctance to challenge perceived authority”.
Similarly, among all Māori age groups, kaumatua (elders) were identified as being most susceptible to online scams; yet the report also highlighted a “growing awareness” of internet safety, particularly among Rangatahi (young people).
Trust emerged as another key theme in the reports, with Pacific interviewees reportedly “responding best to information coming from other Pacific peoples”. As a result, the NZ Government urged that more of the community be involved in “designing services and digital inclusion initiatives”.
Concerns were also voiced around low rates of Pacific peoples working in the technology sector. Pacific interviewees felt that addressing this could lend to more “diverse” service offerings that suited Pacific communities’ unique digital inclusion needs.
Māori community leaders, meanwhile, urged that more Māori be involved in government decisions, stressing that strong leadership on digital inclusion hinged on authorities “partnering with iwi (Māori)” to prioritise the community’s needs.
“The cause and effect of digital exclusion and inclusion is complex and variable. This is a challenge for government and other organisations, who are working to develop a comprehensive and workable plan, to close the digital divide,” the report noted.