A Systems Approach to Digital Equity

In the first digital equity post I focused on the relationship between digital equity and deep equity. In this second of three posts I want to explore the deep equity space in a little more detail. Rather than a dominant narrative for digital equity it’s important to consider the different social and cultural perspectives. It requires us to work urgently while at the same time take a systems approach to digital equity.

Systems Change pursued without Deep Equity is, in our experience, dangerous and can cause harm, and in fact leaves some of the critical elements of systems unchanged. And “equity” pursued without “Systems Change” is not “deep” nor comprehensive at the level of effectiveness currently needed. Deep Equity is Systems Change work, but Systems Change work is too often not Deep Equity work.

Questions to consider

The four elements of deep equity influence the work undertake in response to digital equity so I would like to start by considering some starting questions we might ask in this space:

Individual

  • How might I contribute/influence as an individual?
  • How will I know if I am making a positive difference on lives and who decides?

Interpersonal

  • Who are we partnering with that also works in this space?
  • How are we identifying and honouring individual and group histories? Considering the unique needs?

Organisational

  • How much are we willing to change?
  • Who is at the table? Who is missing? Why?

System

  • How do we uncover equity needs and make others aware in order to take action across the system?
  • “How does this work drive equitable change rather than reinforce unjust systems?

Answering these questions also invites us to think more deeply about our work and whether it is focused on actions that will lead to deep societal change.

The Wider Learning Ecosystem

Deep societal change requires us to consider the upstream effects rather than only work on the tyranny of the urgent. In the extended diagram below you will see that I have added some upstream flows as a conversation starter. I have mentioned just some of the upstream flows that we need to consider more deeply otherwise we will keep responding to fires (or the dying fish downstream). I recommend the work of Tokona te Raki in exploring upstream effects in more detail. We need to acknowledge and deal with the emotional and cultural health of the overall system.

Digital Technology Skills Pipeline

The diagram above shows the four elements of deep equity replicated in a smaller circle relating to the Digital Technology Skills pipeline. It is critical that we grow these skills as a nation, especially in order to move to work that is less likely to be replaced by technology.

Our industry is suffering greatly from a mismatch of skill supply and demand, however the only way we’re going to fix this long-term is if we invest in domestic development.

However, in order to do this we need to focus on digital equity and deep equity first. Otherwise we won’t have diverse people working in tech industries nor develop the talent that will lead to increased numbers of senior specialists as identified in the Digital Tech: Industry Transformation Plan.

Continual Systems Scanning

At the bottom of the diagram I have jotted down some future considerations that the system needs to consider. This is just a starting list of possibilities. What is key at the systemic level is that the government continues to explore signals and trends that may effect us in the future. This includes things that affect us now such as pandemics, cyberthreats and supply chain systems. These need to be factored into the conversation and implications anticipated. But in a world that is likely to see more pandemics, where there is global agitation and where the internet plays an ever increasing role I think we are very unprepared.

The newly published 2021 Strategic Foresight Report from the EU outlines the stark realities of global key trends. The second trend reported on is digital hyperconnectivity and technological transformations beyond specific technologies. They make the point:

New jobs will appear, but will require new skills. If left unaddressed, these trends might lead to the erosion of fundamental social rights, and increased inequalities and dependencies within and between states. Moreover, digital transition can increase e-waste, and drive demands for energy or use of rare resources

While this section on scanning may seem to be removed from the digital equity focus of this post in my head it’s not! It reinforces the need to look to the horizon, consider the implications and anticipate multiple scenarios. What is needed is a government wide, cross agency approach to strategic foresight that allows for emergence and systematically explores possible and plausible futures – not just the probable or preferred.

The territory alters the framework as we traverse previously unknown features and vistas. – Frank W. Spencer IV

Summary

Petty and Leach remind us that systems change actors working to embed equity understanding, practice, and approach need to develop skill in power analysis, and apply that skill to their own group(s), and to their own approaches to theorising, writing and acting, as well as in partnering with others working in this space. That’s what I have tried to do in this post.

There is urgent work to be done in all these areas and it is the interaction of all the parts that can help us make deep and systemic change.

How might we shift the role of power from reinforcing systems of injustice to sparking equitable change?               – Petty and Leach

Digital Equity Series:   Post 1.   Post 2.     Post 3.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

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