Digital Identity – Bridging the Digital Divide

Bridging the Digital Divide‘ is our headline theme for defining the role technology can play in addressing social needs such as homelessness and poverty.

The Digital Participation Charter defines many ways in which increased digital involvement leads to increased social engagement too, and there are a number of key technology innovations that can accelerate this progress – We’ll be profiling them individually and sharing best practices for their adoption.

Identity as a keystone for Digital Participation

Digital Identity is a keystone foundation because it’s the mechanism that enables access to any and all online services.

All government agencies, from cities through national services, are in a mode of adopting ‘Identity Assurance‘ best practices so that they can eliminate the need for multiple username/password log-ons to each individual application, and instead enable a single Citizen Account that unifies them all. For example Aberdeen City Council.

Given this common, repeated role of Identity across not just online government processes but also paper-based workflows, where citizens are required to repeat their name, address etc for each service application, the potential for cost savings and process efficiencies are huge.

UK Government case studies explain how their use has achieved organizational efficiencies, cost savings AND also made possible innovative new models to help the most disadvantaged and excluded in society.

In the South Yorkshire Digital by Default case study they describe a project intended to enable new financial e-services for the “unbanked”, those who have virtually no online profile at all.

The goal is to enable more use of virtual money, via changing payments to be via an O2 Money prepaid VISA card, however this group would fail the required Identity proofing procedures or they would be too onerous.

This case study is so important because not only does it identify how this cost reduction can be achieved but also does so for a group who are the least connected and have no ‘digital footprint’ at all. Helping this group move online not only validates that the service is universally accessible but also how it can play the critical ‘bridge’ role needed to actually cross the Digital Divide.

In particular the project identified:

“The project aimed to test the hypothesis that if Credit Union customers had a familiar authentication mechanism they would be more inclined to access services digitally, and less inclined to use telephone and face-to-face access channels.”

It also helped with adoption too. For example a concern was virtual money would be harder to manage, more easily spent and uncontrolled, when actually features like receiving a balance update via text alert after each purchase, helped improve this too.

A key trend noticed was that while there was little existing use of the Internet or email, there was a high usage of smartphones, so these features could be exploited for this reason, better empowering each individual as well as smoothing some of the many corners they face each day.

Taking advantage of this trend the project prove business and social benefits including:

  • A $14 per person per identity proof process, reduced to $0 – Cash sent straight to money card
  • Further cost reductions through eliminating duplicated, manual paper-based and reducing office visits
  • Better service to users and improved digital service usage

Digital Custodians

Another key example of the social benefit that can be made possible is one that explains a ‘Digital Custodian’ scenario, helping to bridge social as well as economic divides.

This means someone who is technology literate, e.g. a young, regular Facebook user, who act as an ‘agent’ for someone else who isn’t skilled with computers at all, e.g. an elderly person.

It is a possible scenario described in the UK Government’s idea of ‘Digital Dialogues‘, where Jane Carson a 78 year old lady is helped by young Bill Crawford this way.

How this Digital Custodian model can be implemented is described in this documentation from the Danish Government, where they specifically describe how Identity systems could be configured for this Power of Attorney model.

A very relevant context for this approach is the Scottish Named Person scheme, a program to match young people with a form of custodian, and so this technology model offers considerable potential for all forms of care delivered via this approach.

Socio-Economic Duty

A primary legislative tool the Scottish Government is implementing to realize their vision for a more socially equal society is the ‘Socio-Economic Duty‘, an obligation on local authorities and other agencies to proactively give due consideration to how their spending can be better leveraged to help the disadvantaged in society.

This scenario offers one very powerful way of achieving this. Investing in digital identity technologies improves the online experience for all users, it saves the council huge sums of money AND when applied as described above, can achieve significant improvement in making those services more accessible to those typically excluded by new technologies.

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