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Assessing the Digital Divide

Access to the internet, digital skills and devices is necessary for communities to thrive in today’s world. As governments and financial institutions deliver more services online and technological innovation creates opportunities to connect people to goods, services and each other in new ways, communities across the globe are finding internet connectivity to be a requisite for full participation in society. The global COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that internet connectivity is no longer a luxury, but instead a cornerstone of  resilient communities. Likewise, increasing connectivity can introduce new vulnerabilities and burdens to marginalised groups that should be carefully considered when developing solutions to bridge the digital divide.

Given the urgency of the issue, this playbook is intended to provide a pragmatic, agile approach to assessing the digital divide and will equip readers with crucial information they can use to establish a culture of digital inclusion within their organizations and communities.

The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to and use ICTs including internet connectivity, internet-enabled devices and digital literacy skills and those who do not. Access to all three are fundamental for communities to establish a robust and sustainable connection to the digital world, particularly as fundamental pillars of society such as education, workforce development and innovation move online. Internet connectivity is widely regarded as the foundation for participation in a digital society, and a pillar of digital human rights. Without robust, affordable, sustainable and inclusive internet connectivity, participation in digital society and access to digital service offerings remain systemically exclusive

Increasing connectivity is not enough to solve the digital divide. Connectivity is a vehicle for increasing access to public services and enhancing opportunities for residents to become more active citizens, but digital inclusion is fundamentally about opening doors, increasing knowledge, and broadening horizons to help communities become more proactive, engaged and aware. The struggle to do so is what transforms residents from being passive consumers of technologies and urban environments, to being active contributors to them. Unlocking opportunities to do this across government activities pays dividends not just in terms of helping communities reap the benefits of digital services, but also in terms of elevating the innovation, education and economic outcomes needed for inclusive participation in smart cities.