Sharing the benefits of digitisation


Hireup CEO and Co-founder Jordan O’Reilly outlines a five-point plan to ensure the benefits of digital innovation are spread fairly amongst sectors and citizens

The world is becoming increasingly digitised, and human services are not immune to the rapid and seismic changes this can bring. While this is an exciting time for innovation – and at Hireup we aim to be at the forefront of innovation in the disability sector – in human services more broadly there is a risk of a growing digital divide.
Without targeted government intervention, access to the positive outcomes of digitisation could be distributed unevenly. If that happens, we could witness the digital divide playing out in a range of harmful ways.

Human services are used by the whole community, and often those with the least access to technology need them the most. That’s why we need governments to take an end-to-end strategic approach to digitisation in human services. This will ensure the benefits of digital innovation are spread fairly amongst sectors and citizens.

A five-point plan for end-to-end government measures could include:

1. Developing a national innovation ecosystem

We tend to focus too much on data and not enough on innovative risk-taking. A well-developed ecosystem approach to supporting early stage innovation will enable new ideas to blossom. In human services, we also need to include people with lived experience who often have unique ideas to address persistent problems. We should be aiming to become an ‘innovation nation’, not just in traditional sectors but for the human and social services sector too.

For governments, a key role in facilitating this ecosystem could be to take on a ‘market steward’ role. Through market stewardship, governments can build confidence in early innovation projects and act as a focal connection point – for example, in connecting entrepreneurs with learning, development, funding and scale up support.

2. Broader distribution of investment

Governments need to source great early stage ideas in human services and invest in them. Initiatives could include helping to link up accelerators and incubators and providing seed funding through a grants program. A great step forward in this area is the new social impact investment agreement between the Commonwealth, and states and territories – this  program could be leveraged to fund an innovation stream of social impact projects. Without investment at the early stage of human services enterprises, the sector will lag behind others, to the detriment of service delivery and positive social outcomes.

3. Greater awareness of early innovator examples

New enterprises benefit from successful examples that can help lead the way for newcomers and make inroads into new markets. Since starting Hireup in 2015, we have witnessed a range of new digital platforms begin to serve people with disability. Government should look to promote successful models in human services and use grants and rollout funding to support them to serve a greater breadth of citizens across the country. Government should learn from successful incubator models and apply this to target social impact innovators in human services sectors.

4. Access to software, hardware, training and upskilling

Governments need to address the problem of uneven access to technology resources that allow organisations and individuals to take full advantage of digitisation opportunities. Driving fair and equal access to training and resources will ensure we avoid the worst possible outcomes of a digital divide.

As more service providers and support services move online, government initiatives could include targeted digital literacy training using public-private partnerships such as the successful NSW program, ‘Tech Savvy Seniors’. Governments could also facilitate better access to technology by tying funding for subsidised devices to the completion of digital literacy training. Targeted support for members of the community who are unable to access a device or computer, or adequate broadband speeds, will promote wider engagement in online service delivery across a range of human services.

5. Research, development, sharing and collaboration

Finally, governments should promote the sharing of experiences and research, and support collaborative projects for good ideas in human services. This role could be tied in with the above-mentioned market steward role for governments, allowing the public sector to both facilitate and benefit from collaboration and learning.
Digitisation is changing the world, and while some sectors and cohorts of the community are experiencing great benefits, we must be mindful to spread the benefits to all citizens. Less glamorous sectors, such as those providing health and social services, should not be left behind in the digitisation revolution.

Human services are essential services, so governments must ensure they are a central feature of ongoing digital transformation. Imagine if ten years from now we are talking about how the 2020s saw the development of a truly national, effective Australian innovation ecosystem, where service delivery to citizens is the envy of the world and the benefits are spread right throughout the community.
That’s digitisation done right.

This is a chapter in Digitising human services, a CEDA report in which six technology and services experts discuss how to build on the rapid digitisation brought on by COVID-19 to deliver better human services. Click here to read the other sections and an overview by CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball.

Other recent CEDA research