Q&A: Digital inclusion requires involvement on all levels of government

Summary

According to e-inclusion experts Ilse Mariën and Sara Van Damme, the Flemish government must ensure that no one is excluded from the increasingly digitalised society

Digital boom

A new book by Flemish e-inclusion experts Ilse Mariën (pictured) and Sara Van Damme aims to ensure that no one is excluded from the increasingly digitalised society. Mariën, who works at the Smit research centre at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), explains how the government of Flanders can use Allemaal digitaal? (Everyone Digital?) as a blueprint for creating an effective e-inclusion policy.

You write that we have to get ready for a “digital boom”. What do you mean?
The goal of the Flemish government is to make public services completely digital by 2020, so we have to ensure that everyone is ready for that. All aspects of our society are becoming “smarter”, through digital innovations like household applications that are linked with each other. Urban environments are transformed into “smart cities”, through the intelligent use of technology.

What groups are at risk of being excluded?
Digital skills are necessary in all aspects of life, from arranging your finances to applying for jobs. These days, even home schooling requires a certain level of digital skills. The obvious answer to who is at risk of exclusion is the elderly, but there are also many younger people who cannot keep up with the changes. Among many couples, one of the partners takes up the task of dealing with digital matters, but that can lead to problems if they can’t do it anymore. There are also cases of high-profile managers and policymakers who rely on their secretaries for something as basic as writing e-mails.

What is your message to the Flemish government?
Make e-inclusion every minister’s responsibility, putting the minister for equal opportunities, Liesbeth Homans, in the driver’s seat. The government should also allocate larger budgets for digital inclusion projects.

The city of Ghent has set a good example with its Digitaal.Talent@Gent programme, in which all the city councillors are involved in creating e-inclusion policy . The project also enables closer collaboration with civil society organisations.

What’s your involvement on the federal level?
We are developing a country-wide e-inclusion strategy through IDEALiC. At the moment, we are assembling information on organisations that specialise in relevant areas, to see how they can co-operate on sustainable e-inclusion. There is an obvious need for a clear vision for the future.