It came up frequently during the conversations leading up to the creation of the Tada manifesto: everyone should be able to participate in a digitally responsible city. (Read more about our Tada initiative.) In such a city, we need to pay close attention to the education of the digitally illiterate. As the poverty director in the municipality of Amsterdam, Maureen van Eijk is committed to this task. “If you want to have an inclusive city, you need to make sure everyone is digitally proficient enough to acquire knowledge and make applications.”
Are there many people who cannot keep up in this area?
“Whether someone is digitally proficient is closely related to their language skills. Roughly one-fifth of the city has difficulty keeping up in both areas. In addition, there are older people who have not grown up in the digital age and children, who do not have devices that allow them to go online and who are not encouraged at home to access the Internet to gain knowledge. Poverty and low digital literacy are also often related.”
What can you do to reach these people?
“People living in poverty are dependent on the government on the one hand and on the other hand harbour a great distrust of it. These people are often stressed. If you want to help them, you need to do it in an approachable way and first create a trusted learning environment. It doesn’t work to develop a programme and simply plant people there.”
What is happening in Amsterdam in terms of digital inclusion?
“We are well on our way, but there is still a long way to go. Since the end of last year, through the Education and Vocational Training Act we’ve been able to train adults in digital skills. We are exploring how we can work with ROCs and other providers to shape these digital classes. Perhaps even more important is the informal network: in neighbourhoods and city districts there are also many courses in digital skills. For many people the threshold to go to these is lower, because their questions can be directly addressed.”
Give an example?
“In Amsterdam West, we had the ‘Iamconnected’ project, where we put students in touch with the elderly. Those students first visited the elderly to ask what they would like to learn digitally. Some wanted to be able to use 9292ov, others hoped to digitally see places where they used to live, and still others were keen to play a game of solitaire on the tablet. Aided by the students, these elders gained confidence in their own abilities. Then we organised a network meeting where those people could learn more. At the end of the project, we made sure that everyone had someone in their network that they could go to with further questions. Both the students and the elderly rated the project very highly. Many poverty-related projects are tough because there is so much suffering involved. In this world, there is so much to gain for these people. We can literally broaden their horizons. I saw a man who was in tears because in Google Earth he could see his old home in Morocco, including the goat paths where he used to walk.”
Do companies have a role in promoting inclusivity?
“All parties who are in contact with citizens must take into account that not everyone is digitally proficient. If those individuals belong to the target group, it is in the interest of companies. For example, we are now testing an app together with Rabobank and Clockwork for people with mild intellectual disabilities. That app is very visual and tells the user whether or not it is wise to spend a certain amount of money. This ensures that these people have money left at the end of the month. In our digital development, we are very focused on early adopters, but we should not forget the slow adopters as well. Employees of companies might be able to help someone become more digitally proficient for a while. Anyone who has been given many opportunities in this life can contribute in this way to being more inclusive of the less fortunate.”
The manifesto is mainly about handling data. How do the values relate to your poverty approach?
“People in poverty tend not to want to be accessible to the government. Data can help find these people so we can help them. In doing so, we obviously comply with privacy laws, but we do push the boundaries. For example, if we receive a notification from energy suppliers when someone has not paid their bill a few times and we know that person is also behind in rent, it can be a reason to proactively knock on someone’s door to prevent them from getting further into debt. You have to continually ask yourself with these kinds of links what purpose they serve and be transparent about exactly what you are doing.”