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Digital Inclusion and Community Recovery: Learnings from the OECD Roundtable

The CMM Social Change team was excited to be one of only two Australian organisations invited to the OECD Roundtable on Digitalisation and Responses to COVID-19. The sessions brought together policy makers, services providers, technology companies and business owners from 38 countries. Across 2020, the CMM team had continually enhanced their practice in response to the restrictions of COVID-19 to focus on building equity, enabling local communities to stay connected across Tasmania, and more broadly, across Australia. Over time, the team had experienced the impact of low digital literacy and access as a barrier to social connection, employment, learning, and access to essential services.

The CMM team consequently advanced the use of digitalisation in the field to enable collaboration, to maintain the momentum for intergenerational social change and to extend the reach of traditional approaches. As a subsequence of the shift in practice, courageous communities and individuals alike continued to grow, to collaborate and to influence the system to improve outcomes locally. Embracing digital possibility optimised the opportunity for a bright future.

CMM Social Change was selected to be involved in the OECD Roundtable to share insights on place-based responses, observations of early successes, and to help identify the critical needs of vulnerable communities.

The following document is the CMM synopsis and interpretation of the information shared during the first three sessions of the OECD Roundtable. The team will continue to work over time with Tasmanian communities to embed these learnings and recommendations.


In response to COVID-19 lockdowns, within just 8 weeks, 5 years of digital innovation was achieved globally.

Such innovation was born out of necessity, and there is still much to learn to best enable communities to have equity of access and long-term opportunity in an age of rapid digitalisation.

The OECD is in a rare position to coordinate and share information globally about innovative solutions and emerging challenges. During the convening of the recent Roundtable, communities, practitioners, and sectoral leaders across the globe shared insights about major barriers and key opportunities they had experienced and observed over the past year. What was completely clear was that, in addressing the digital divide, collaboration is essential.

The OECD emphasises the need for this collaboration to involve governments, services, communities and local business and industries. With digitalisation seen by global experts and communities as an essential process for social and economic recovery, new roles and practices have emerged for each of these sectors and stakeholders.

  • Communities need to be increasingly at the centre of decision making around their digital future, providing precise details around digital needs.

  • Specifically, change in digital take-up is required for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). SMEs provide the heart-beat of local economies

  • Partnership with industry will also be essential to provide adequate training and networks to support these needs.

  • From here, policy makers can (and must) provide the right conditions for economic and social prosperity.

The key challenges faced by communities in adopting digital tools were identified at the Roundtable as being:

  • an absence of data culture

  • low levels of digital awareness and literacy

  • lack of confidence to adopt new models and practices

  • inequitable access to fast and affordable digital infrastructure

Further risks of an increasingly digital future include:

  • digital security: teaching people how to stay safe online as we increasingly share, work, and connect virtually.

  • mental health and wellbeing

  • major generational divides as a consequence of digital literacy & ability

The global community has, however, seen impactful examples where communities, governments, and businesses have worked together to identify bottlenecks and remove these barriers to digitalisation and therefore social and economic inclusion.

The challenges faced by rural and remote communities are more complex. These challenges and risks result in a breakdown in one’s ability to communicate, causing increasing distrust in government and service providers.

Many communities have not had time to plan or transition well from COVID. They lack the right systems, skills, protections, security and understanding of the potential digitalisation offers. There is a pressing need to make digitalisation a more permanent feature in our lives and in our business practice. These new roles will help catalyse strong regional economies and healthy communities.

The OECD stressed that digitalisation is the top priority for policy makers across the world.

To achieve digital equity, communities now need a comprehensive approach to address the barriers to digital participation. The shift to digital ways of working in 2020 was significant but was rushed out of necessity. Policy responses need to be flexible to adapt as we learn more about the lasting impacts of this shift.

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