News

Laurence Millar

By Laurence Millar
On 3 July 2018, the government announced a contestable fund for providers to promote digital skills in homes. This was an interim funding arrangement consistent with the Labour and New Zealand First Coalition Agreement which commits to restoring funding for Computers in Homes programmes.

The 20/20 Trust has been a pioneer in the promotion of digital skills since it was established in 1998.

ACE Aotearoa asked Laurence Millar, longtime chair of the 20/20 Trust board and currently the acting CEO, about their work today and the importance of digital inclusion.

What does the 20/20 Trust do?

Our flagship programme has been Computers in Homes, which has helped more than 19,000 families become digitally connected since it started in 2001. In 2016, the government asked us to modernise the programme – technology has changed a lot in the last 15 years! We looked at the key components – digital device, internet connection, skills, and motivation – and developed a new set of modules which can be assembled to meet the demands of different environments.

For some people, a smartphone is the right device, but for homework and job applications a laptop may be more suitable; a desktop with a larger screen may be best for use by the whole family, but is not right for people in emergency housing.

Motivation is critical to effective learning; we find that people do not want to learn Word or Excel, they want to be able to create a resume or apply for a job, or keep a record of their recipes or exercise programme. We developed the concept of DigiMe – what do I want from technology – which we use to develop an individual learning path for each learner.

We currently offer three programmes: Family Connect, Northland Connect, and Refugee Connect. Each uses a different combination of modules/components to respond to the needs of the funder and the community that is being served.

Family Connect, which was profiled in your winter newsletter, is funded by TEC and supports 450 learners each year in the Auckland region. Northland Connect is a pilot programme for 50 learners in Dargaville and is funded by Foundation North. Refugee Connect is funded by the Ministry of Education and works with the Red Cross to support 130 families a year.

How big is the challenge of digital inclusion in New Zealand?

That is a very difficult question to answer. A recent AUT survey on how people used the internet, was based on an online questionnaire and landline phone survey, which excludes a large proportion of the digitally excluded. We have historically used the Census as a robust source of data, but this year, there was a significant reduction in participation (from 94.5% to 90%) which some attribute to the “digital first” approach adopted by Based on a range of data sources, we estimate that between 10% and 12% of the population are digitally excluded; that is about 500,000 New Zealanders – a big number.

There is a cost of being digitally excluded – you need to travel to visit offices, rather than completing actions online, you do not get access to discounts, and you are increasingly shut out of the job market. A UK study in 2009 estimated the average annual cost to UK consumers of not being able to shop and pay bills online was £560 – around $1,000. So if people are able to be connected, they can expect to get some savings in the family budget.

What are the barriers to getting everyone digitally included?

The barriers are primarily financial – that’s number one for most people. Second is a combination of confidence and motivation. People think – ‘it’s not for me, I don’t trust it.’ We have developed our programmes to build confidence when online.

Computers in Homes was exclusively for families with school-aged children and has made a difference in connecting this group – the number of school-aged children without internet access at home was 250,000 in 2006, 170,000 in 2013, and we estimate it is now less than 100,000. But that is still a large number of school-aged children that are disadvantaged in an education system that is increasingly digital.

There are also other digitally excluded groups, for example, people with disabilities, Māori & Pasifika youth, offenders and ex-offenders, and seniors.

Working with digitally disadvantaged groups needs to involve the related communities. We are currently running a pilot programme in partnership with the Department of Corrections developing digital skills of offenders in three women’s prisons. For other groups, there are organisations better placed than 20/20 Trust to connect with them. We are primarily focused on families and others in low socio-economic communities.

Why are you involved with 20/20 Trust?

I have been working in the technology sector for more than 40 years, and have seen how it has changed the way we live our lives; it is important that everybody has the opportunity to benefit from it. The internet offers great opportunities for people to learn and to participate. People can start in a classroom and continue to learn online. It’s great to see people using tools to build their skills and create things – technology offers everyone the chance to be creative rather than simply be passive consumers of entertainment.

I was New Zealand’s first Government Chief Information Officer (GCIO), working to improve how government agencies use technology, building common systems and platforms that every department or ministry can use. I was involved in many exciting projects such as the government portal and the RealMe. That job was about implementing better digital services for government.

The 20/20 Trust vision is that all New Zealanders are able to fully participate in the digital world and that no one is left behind. We are encouraged by the current government’s commitment to closing the digital divide. Achieving the vision will require combined, joined-up efforts from multiple parties – government, the private sector and not for profits. Digital inclusion for all is essential for our future as a digital nation.

The Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa

Following the government announcement, 20/20 Trust made a strategic shift in their approach, with a focus on direct delivery of digital inclusion programmes.

The Digital Inclusion Alliance Aotearoa (DIAA) has been established as a new umbrella organisation, with some staff and programmes such as Stepping UP, Spark Jump and DORA transferring from 20/20 Trust.

DIAA is tasked with promoting digital inclusion and working with and supporting organisations already involved in the delivery of social and community services. These include libraries, CABs, front-line WINZ staff, church groups, Family Start home visitors, social housing providers, whānau ora navigators and many others.

This article was published in the ACE Aotearoa Spring Newsletter 2018.