New Zealand’s Digital Inclusion Blueprint focuses on four key elements: access, skills, trust, and motivation. Beyond access to internet, devices, and content, the blueprint focuses on improving digital skills required to use them, ability to trust what one sees and does online, and making the digital experience more meaningful for each community.13 The goal is to ensure everyone can “participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the digital world.”14 In the United States, President Joe Biden has called for a US$20 billion investment in rural broadband infrastructure to bolster employment opportunities for those living outside of urban areas.15
In the health equity area, Public Health England has identified reducing health inequality as a key priority for both its 2020–2025 Infectious Diseases Strategy and its NHS Long Term Plan. The agency cited evidence that doing so can improve life expectancy and reduce disability across the whole population.16
Another way of addressing health inequity is to focus on social determinants of health (SDOH): conditions in which people are born, grow, live, and work, along with surrounding social structures and economic systems that shape these conditions.17 Governments, acknowledging the strong linkages between SDOH and health outcomes, have sharpened their focus in this area. For instance, the state of Arizona now requires Medicaid managed care organizations to coordinate community resources such as housing and utility assistance along with health care.18
Transportation, especially public transit, can directly impact economic justice by providing better access to workforce opportunities, healthy food, and education.19 The Housing + Transportation Index puts forth an analysis that relooks at the definition of “housing affordability.” The analysis asserts that nearly 55% of US neighborhoods can be termed as affordable, but when transportation costs are factored in, that number falls to 26%. It stresses the importance of government agencies planning public transit and mobility options more holistically.20 For instance, the Department of Transportation of Washington, DC, requires dockless vehicle rental services to offer non-smartphone-based access options and pricing plans for low-income neighborhoods.21
Many governments have used an equity lens in their COVID-19 responses, too. For example, the New York City Department of Health used data to identify neighborhoods with low testing numbers and high positive cases—many of which were poor areas with overcrowded housing—and concentrated its testing resources there. The agency offered rapid testing and wrap-around services such as counseling or connection to health care providers to ensure equal access to services in these areas.22
Data sovereignty and data equity
Governments’ increased reliance on new artificial intelligence systems and algorithms has given rise to new concerns of data equity and data sovereignty. Data equity seeks to ensure that the data collected and analyzed for decision-making appropriately represents the underlying population and prevents bias against marginalized communities. Data sovereignty refers to the inherent rights individuals and communities have on the collection, ownership, and use of their own data.23
Data-driven decisions are only as reliable as the data they are based on. Therefore, if the underlying data undercounts or misses individuals belonging to different population subgroups such as race, age, ethnicity, gender, and living and social conditions, it can lead to inequality and bias. For instance, a report by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology found that in most facial recognition algorithms, the accuracy of algorithms worsens for specific demographic groups. The report found that facial recognition systems had the highest error rates (false positives) for people of color, women, and the elderly.24
In order to facilitate better decision-making, many governments are seeking ways to make data more representative of the population. The UK Office for National Statistics has adapted existing surveys and created new surveys to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on certain population subgroups. The agency has additionally turned to existing census data to help understand how different groups are being affected by the virus.25 New York launched an Automated Decision Systems (ADS) Task Force in May 2019 to evaluate tools the city was using to help make decisions about service and resource allocation. The taskforce recommended ways to build equitable, effective, and responsible approaches to the city’s ADS.26
Data sovereignty focuses on the issue of data ownership—who should own individual and community data. Legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation tends to focus on an individual’s right over data and its privacy. However, there is very little focus on the right of a community, such as indigenous communities, over its data. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs launched the Indigenous Data Sovereignty (ID-SOV) initiative that focuses on the right of indigenous people to own, control, access, and possess data that belongs to their members, knowledge systems, customs, and territories.27 The concept is derived from indigenous tribes’ inherent right to govern their peoples, lands, and resources.28
New Zealand’s Māori community is putting the concept of ID-SOV in action through the Tikanga in Technology project, which received US$6 million government funding for four years. One of the key objectives of the project is to explore tools, processes, and mechanisms to support IT workers in enabling ethical use of data and generate more equitable outcomes for the Maori.29
Cocreation and citizen engagement
Governments around the world are providing greater opportunities for individual citizens and communities to have a voice in creating policies and solutions that impact them. This “cocreation” model engages citizens and communities, fosters inclusive governance, and can lead to more equitable outcomes. Also, governments are focused on making citizen participation more meaningful and moving citizens up the “ladder of participation.” This means moving their involvement from simple activities such as information sharing and voting, to consultation and community involvement, to large-scale participation in decision-making.30
For instance, in Taiwan, the government used vTaiwan, an open source collaboration platform, to bring together citizens, academicians, and software developers to brainstorm ways to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform served as an online town hall, involving citizens in policymaking and increasing civic trust.31 Because it was cocreated with the community, the diverse perspectives of community members were reflected in the policy ideas generated.
The Belgian city of Leuven frequently solicits citizen input on government decisions, from addressing climate change and COVID-19 to seeking ideas on how to make the city a better place. In September 2020, Leuven received an award from the European Commission for this innovative collaboration model.32 In another example, Portugal launched its nationwide Participatory Budget initiative in 2017. The process allows citizens to pitch and vote on public investments, giving them an active role in deciding which projects are funded and implemented. Program officials visit both major cities and small villages to ensure they are receiving input from a broad range of constituents.33
- In order to bring greater diversity in leadership roles, the Australian government has set a target of increasing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to 3% in the Senior Executive Services.34
- More than 30 US cities have created City Equity Offices since 2014. The offices evaluate government processes and service delivery with the goal of eliminating institutional inequities and discrimination.35
- In 2018, 258.4 million children, adolescents, and youth were out of school, constituting nearly a sixth of the total population in that age group.36
- Elevate the human experience by taking a holistic, people-first approach to the design and delivery of government programs. Adopt universal design principles for all government programs.
- Update outdated regulations and requirements to overcome systemic barriers to inclusion.
- Encourage citizen participation and cocreation to tackle complex challenges where stakeholders share responsibility for a problem and together develop a process for solving it.
- Collect and use data that represents all population groups and can be broken down to show realities within marginalized or disadvantaged subpopulation groups.
- Democratize data, making it available to individuals and communities and enabling them to design programs and services that suit their needs.
- For automated decisions, leverage tools and techniques that can automatically detect potential algorithmic bias to avoid decisions that are unfair to certain populations.