There’s no disputing it; digital inclusion is on the agenda. In the week I’m writing this, we’ve had announcements about extra funding for older and disabled people, a digital inclusion officer for the homeless in Glasgow, and a new techUK report urging councillors to adopt a digital-first mindset.

And all of this is in addition to the Government’s Digital Strategy, which rightly highlights the importance of inclusion and the barriers of access, skills, motivation and trust. The strategy even has its own dashboard by which to measure progress.

But are we doing enough?

My personal belief: digital inclusion, while a hot topic for governments and regulators, is not a sexy one for businesspeople working in the technology industry.

True, there has been rapid progress in some areas; for example the proliferation of mobile phones has massively extended the Internet’s reach. But other areas such as financial exclusion remain a barrier to digital inclusion. In fact there is often a Catch 22 situation, where you can’t get digital access because you don’t have a bank account and vice versa: a problem recognised by the World Bank’s UFA 2022 initiative.

Part of the problem is that much progress has been driven by regulators and legislators, eg. the UK Disabilites Discrimination Act. This has meant that expenditure on making things accessible for some groups, such as disabled people, is often seen as a compliance cost rather than a revenue-earner.

Meanwhile the more we go digital in every aspect of life, the higher the risk that those who are digitally excluded will be further locked out from more areas of life and work. Already we can see examples of penalisation; for example if you can’t use online billing, you often have to pay a premium for paper billing.

The main problem is most of us still seem to think ‘digital exclusion’ infers an issue that ‘other people’ experience.

But the key point is that digital inclusion is not just about those of us who are disabled, or elderly and have a home without access to the Internet. It’s also about temporary exclusion or exclusion due to context. After all, we’re all digitally excluded on those Saturday nights out when we lose our phone and wallet. We may even be cognitively impaired for a few hours if we’ve had one drink too many.

Against this backdrop, we can all recognise the revenue opportunities of designing digital services with inclusion in mind. More people who can use and more occasions for use = more revenue.

To this end, my inglis jane colleagues and I have recently been working as part of the Sovrin Trust Framework Working Group on developing the principle of Inclusive by Design, to run alongside the Privacy, Security and Data Protection by Design principles and policies as part of the Sovrin Foundation’s forthcoming Trust Framework (STF2).

The Sovrin Foundation is an international non-profit dedicated to enabling self-sovereign identity for all, allowing every person, organisation, and web-enabled device the ability to securely control their own permanent digital identity. The Trust Framework will invite developers and designers to make the services that use the Sovrin Network as widely accessible as possible, to as many people as possible, in as many situations as possible. We’re planning on providing tools and guidance as well as policies and principles. 

To support Sovrin’s work, our group identified and examined five forms of exclusion:

Our team developed persona and use cases for each of these groups. We then employed user-focused design to ensure the new framework supported inclusion for everyone. The results were informative, and surprising, and reminded us just how wide the idea of inclusion / exclusion needs to stretch in order to ensure nobody is left behind.

The Trust Framework V2.0 is due for public review at the start of November. We’re looking forward to feedback and growing the ‘identity for all’ community in Sovrin.

But before then, please share your thoughts with us. How do you think we’re doing on digital inclusion? Who – if anyone - do you think has not been considered enough so far? Please leave a comment on the post below.

++ Sovrin advocates self-sovereign identity, which allows the holder to present portable, verifiable digital credentials in a privacy-safe way. These credentials can represent things as diverse as an airline ticket or a driver's license. Sovrin identities will lower transaction costs, protect people’s personal information, limit opportunity for cybercrime, and simplify identity challenges in fields from healthcare to banking to IoT to voter fraud. For more information on Sovrin, visit https://sovrin.org.