Digital Nation Conference 2021: As it happened

Catch up on all the presentations and workshops from Good Things Foundation Australia’s first digital inclusion conference.

On 4 August, we held our first ever digital inclusion conference, Digital Nation: Building a Connected, Capable, Confident Country. We brought together members of our network, shareholders, and advocates working in digital inclusion to discuss Australia’s digital divide, how it is affecting those most at risk of digital exclusion, and what is being done on-the-ground to make sure no one is left behind.

You can find a summary of the Digital Nation Conference workshops, panel sessions, and keynote addresses below, as well as check out our live-tweeting on the day through the #DigitalNation21 hashtag.

Welcome to Country & Opening Address

Uncle Allen Madden, Gadigal elder, Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, opens the Digital Nation Conference with the Welcome to Country.

Following Welcome to Country, Jess Wilson, CEO of Good Things Foundation Australia, welcomes attendees to our online conference. Jess gets the audience involved with some playful questions utilising paddles sent out as part of the conference gift pack, along with pointing out the importance of having a ‘snack plan’ using the provided conference pack goodies!

Minister Anne Ruston, the Minister for Social and Family Services and the Minister for Women’s Safety, addresses the conference via a pre-recorded video message. She shares some of the impacts the Be Connected program has had on improving digital skills for over 50s, such as the stories of learners Jan and Ann, and thanks the 15,000 Digital Mentors who make delivering the program possible.

Then it’s onto our big announcement: the launch of Digital Nation Australia 2021. The latest in our annual series of infographics showing the state of Australia’s digital divide, this year Digital Nation Australia has expanded to include a report compiling the latest digital inclusion research from across Australia.


Digital Nation Australia 2021

Good Things Foundation Australia’s Digital Nation Australia 2021 brings together the latest research to build understanding of the digital inclusion landscape in Australia.

To close the opening address, Jess notes the important part the community sector plays in improving digital literacy. When reflecting on how COVID has affected our ability to connect with each other, she highlights how inspirational our Network Partners are, who through their creativity and passion have continued to deliver digital skills programs so that their communities could stay connected.

“One of the most important things that we’ve learnt about this kind of program [Be Connected], is the connections that it builds amongst people together.” – Jess Wilson

Panel: Who is missing out in our digital nation?

Infographic with the title 'Who's missing out in our digital nation?'. Top left section reads 'COVID-19 & Online learning' with connected bubbles reading 'I don't have the resources to get my kids online!', 'Kids in disadvantaged communities are still without support.' and 'Education inequality'. Bottom left section reads 'Barriers for people with disability', with the connected bubbles reading 'Affordability' and 'Access to networks, assisted tech, equipment, connectivity.' To the right reads 'an increased awareness to include people'. Top centre section reads 'Refugees'. Connected bubble reads 'Double impact: 1. Getting connected 2. English language firewall'. Bubble to right reads 'Ability to fully participate in society'. In the bottom centre there is a drawing of a divide in land, surrounded by text bubbles reading: 'Closing the gap', 'Access to services = surviving', 'Funding', 'Systematic access'. Right section outlines different ways to help close the digital divide. Text bubbles read: 'Donate your data'. 'Upskilling', 'Device data support: Apply for jobs', 'Digital literacy community support in multiple languages', 'Data is a basic need', 'No Australian left offline: a low income NBN service'. To the far right is text reading 'Let's provide the device for people who arrive to Australia'. Footer text reads '#DigitalNation21' with logo for Good Things Foundation Australia and logo reading 'Drawn by Devon Bunce'

Our first panel of the conference looks at who is missing out in our digital nation. The panelists agree that a combination of available devices, affordable data, and in-language support is needed to help close the digital divide, with further action and support required from the government and telecommunications companies.

Wendy Field, Head of Policy & Programs at The Smith Family, noted the impact of digital exclusion on school children as they move to remote learning due to the pandemic. Wendy acknowledges that while Sydney schools are better equipped with more devices during the second COVID-lockdown, many children are still relying on paper packs. On the impact of such inequality, Wendy says, “It’s setting them up for future fail.”

Dennis Stokes, CEO of First Nations Media Australia, points out that lack of access is also a contributing factor to the digital exclusion of First Nations people, particularly in remote areas. For those who do have a device, this is more likely to be a mobile phone. He explains that not only does a lack of connectivity increase barriers to equal participation in education and the economy, but the lack of in-language and in-community support also poses issues for these communities to receive information and learn digital skills.

“It’s not just about access and skills and devices, it’s about making sure the information is in the right language.” – Jess Wilson

Dr Wayne Hawkins, Director of Inclusion at ACCAN, says that, “The disability sector has had a long history of digital exclusion in a fairly deep and broad digital divide,” with affordability, availability of accessible devices, and technology training for people with disabilities being significant barriers to digital inclusion. Dr Hawkins points out that if these barriers can be crossed, there are potentially greater opportunities for people with disability to gain employment due to cultural shifts around working remotely. There have been developments made towards closing the digital divide: ACCAN’s Accessible Telecoms Service is helping people with disabilities to easily find specialised information and their No Australian Left Offline campaign is advocating for affordable NBN internet.

For recent migrants and refugees settling in Australia, knowing how to use digital devices is vital for being able to independently participate in society. Sandra Elhelw-Wright, CEO of Settlement Council of Australia, says there is a “double impact of [migrants and refugees] both being digitally excluded, but also the majority of digital content is in English,” presenting barriers to non-English speakers to engage with government sources like MyGov. With lockdown restrictions, the loss of face-to-face assistance and the difficulty of over-the-phone coaching means many migrants are at risk of being left behind in digital society.

Keynote Address from Julie Inman-Grant, eSafety Commissioner

Infographic with the title 'Online safety & digital inclusion: How do we support the most vulnerable to be online safely?'. Underneath the heading is name of presenter Julie Inman-Grant, eSafety Commissioner. On the left hand side is the heading 'The digital divide & falling through the net' with the following connected text bubbles: 'In 2000/2001, 80% of people had never heard a dial tone', 'two-thirds of abuse reported to eSafety is from women and girls #positionofstrength', 'tech entrenching existing inequalities: more responsibility is on digital platforms'. In the centre is a column titled 'eSafety' with three headings reading 'prevention', 'protection' and 'proactive & systematic change'. From these headings are drawings of hands in a stop gesture with the connected text bubbles reading: 'child sexual abuse material', 'targeted online harassment', 'terrorist organisation', 'racism, misogyny, homophobia & ageism', discrimination', 'online hate & cyberbullying', 'image-based abuse', 'disinformation' and 'digital divisiveness'. On the right side is the heading 'Safety by design' with the connected text bubbles reading: 'Helping older populations connect safely online', 'correcting the power & access imbalances', 'Internet was built for speed not safety', 'make sure the online world is an equitable place'. On the bottom right is a heading reading 'New legislation: Protect Australians on all platforms'. Connected text bubbles read: 'dating sites', 'online gaming platforms', 'private messaging apps'. Footer text reads '#DigitalNation21' with logo for Good Things Foundation Australia and logo reading 'Drawn by Devon Bunce'

The digital divide is not just about having affordable access – it is also feeling confident and safe while online. Our first keynote speaker Julie Inman-Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, knows all about this. In her role, Julie leads the world’s first government regulatory agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online.

As eSafety Commissioner, Julie is working alongside the government to improve Australians’ online experience through “the three Ps”: prevention, protection and proactive change.

“If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is that we have clearly crossed the Rubicon into a totally connected era. The internet has become an essential utility for us to work, learn, connect and be entertained.” – Julie Inman-Grant

Acting on the three Ps to ensure Australians’ online safety has never been more important, Julie says. This is due to a significant increase in online harms, cyber-abuse, and misinformation during the pandemic, often targeting groups such as women who are also more at risk of digital exclusion. New online safety legislation and training initiatives aimed at protecting women are just two of the ways the Department of eSafety are working to minimise online harms and educate Australians on how to prevent and protect themselves online. Julie stated that by improving digital literacy when it comes to online safety, digital inclusion as a whole will improve with more Australians feeling safe, confident, and competent in online society.

Panel: Connecting communities – how do digital mentors fit into the Australian digital inclusion landscape?

Infographic with the title 'Keeping people connected - the role of digital mentors'. In the top left is text reading 'investment in digital mentoring makes a big difference!'. Underneath is text reading 'As tech changes people need to keep evolving to keep up'. In bottom left is the text 'motivation. connection.' In the centre top is text reading 'Mentoring is as important as equipment'. Underneath is a drawing of a phone with QR code on screen with text saying 'COVID-19 has brought new needs for tech literacy.' In the bottom centre are the text bubbles 'peer to peer support' and 'the Tech Cafe'. On the right top is list titled 'Digital mentors', with the items 'Kind', 'patient', generous', and 'empathetic'. In the bottom right is a drawing of an elderly woman video calling with family members with the text 'communicating the need'. Footer text reads '#DigitalNation21' with logo for Good Things Foundation Australia

Professor Michael Dezuanni of the Digital Media Research Centre at QUT and Digital Mentors Natika Hawes-Wright (ASCAA) and Trish Pye (The Tec Exec Australia) discuss the need for Digital Mentors and their role in closing the digital divide. Professor Dezuanni concludes from recent research that Digital Mentors, and investment in digital mentoring, are essential for improving digital inclusion. He also notes that research shows that a tailored approach to digital mentoring delivered with empathy and patience is necessary for making a difference.

Trish agrees that adapting your digital mentoring to the needs and motivation of each learner is essential for success, with Natika adding that being understanding when communicating with people not familiar with technology is another essential trait. Professor Dezuanni summarises the sentiment of all panelists that being a digital mentor is not so much being a trainer, as it is being a “guide on the side” and someone “who [is] just responsive to people’s individual human needs.”

“Digital mentoring is really not just about digital inclusion but it’s about social inclusion” – Professor Dezuanni

Panel: Can digital tech support good health and wellbeing?

 Infographic with the title 'Can digital tech support good health and wellbeing?' In top left is a list titled 'Digital health' with the items 'Access health services', 'tele-health', and 'sharing health records'. In middle left is a list titled 'Patients are' with the items 'better informed' and 'better cared for'. In bottom left is text reading 'Mental health services: Engage regularly enough to benefit'. In top right is the title 'Health apps' with drawings of a smart phone and smart watch, with the following words connected to them: 'Convenient', 'Motivation', 'Timely support', 'Flexibility'. In the centre right is a list titled 'Barriers' with the list items: 'Preference', 'trust', 'cost', 'structural access', 'capacity to engage', and 'self-efficiency'. In the bottom right is text saying 'Online forums: Enabling access to those with lived experience'. Footer text contains logo reading 'Drawn by Devon Bunce' In this panel, Dr Melinda Choy, a practicing GP and academic lecturer at Australian National University, says that digital technology is a tool that can be used to support health care and, by extension, good health and wellbeing. Through her case study research, Dr Choy found that using digital technology for health can provide flexibility, convenience, timely support and encouragement. However, Dr Choy does note that such benefits are not accessible to all due to attitudinal and socio-economic barriers.

Anthony McCosker, Associate Professor of Media & Communications at Swinburne University, adds to Dr Choy’s points on digital exclusion in health care, pointing out that digital literacy and health literacy are both required to get the most out of health care online.


After lunch, attendees have the opportunity to choose from two streams of workshops. Each stream contains two practical workshops covering digital mentoring and are delivered by experienced executives and digital mentors.

Carlos Encina, Manager of NSW Spanish and Latin American Association, explains his journey providing digital skills support programs for over 15 years, before sharing his learnings on how to teach digital literacy to CALD communities from his personal experience. Carlos’s advice? Be patient, create a safe environment, and take the time to learn more about the needs and background of each learner.

Corina Dutlow, Lead Digital Mentor at Australian-Filipino Community Services, shares her top three tips for organisations wanting to help CALD communities learn digital skills, as well as practical examples of fun digital skills activities and inspiring learner stories from her Be Connected program.

Hung Doan from Indochinese Elderly Refugees Association (IERA)  focuses on the importance of getting CALD learners interested in what they are learning to kick start their digital skills journey. Hung says it is important to combine a learners’ interests with their learning needs and background when designing your approach to digital mentoring.

“Empowering people to learn one thing first…if you do it well, then it leads to many, many other new things.” – Hung Doan

Stuart Bastock, Head of Training at Macquarie Community College, breaks down how the digital divide relates to job seekers in Australia, the digital skills needed for job searching, and broader employment readiness. Stuart emphasises the importance of having and developing a plan, saying: “Have a plan – a plan is a plan, until the plan changes.”

Derek Tink brings his years of experience teaching digital skills in rural New South Wales as a Digital Mentor at Digital IQ to his workshop. Derek’s friendly personality gets everyone engaged and learning more about the struggles of digital inclusion in regional and rural areas. With distance being the biggest barrier, Derek shows that dedication and working with communities are the best strategies to get local regional people engaging with technology.

Mark Pearce, CEO of Volunteering Australia, begins the workshop by giving an overview of the broader trends in volunteering across Australia, with a focus on volunteer engagement. To successfully engage, recruit, and retain volunteers, Mark says organisations need to consider the following:

  • Promote the benefits of volunteering, such as improved mental and physical health
  • Ensure strategies around volunteers are robust and value unpaid workers
  • Flexibility is “critically important” for volunteers, with technology in particular breaking down barriers for remote volunteering opportunities.

Following Mark’s presentation, Sonya Moon, Community Learning Coordinator at Libraries Tasmania, gives examples and practical tips on how to successfully engage volunteers for digital skills programs. Many of Sonya’s tips on supporting volunteers – such as recognising the contributions of volunteers and understanding their motivations – align with Mark’s advice, while also adding the importance of regular communication, making training available, and ensuring you recruit for digital confidence, not just their existing digital skills.

Spotlight speaker: Jack Growden, LiteHaus International

Infographic with the title 'The educational digital divide'. Underneath the heading is name of presenter Jack Growden. In the centre are labelled drawings of Papua New Guinea and Australia. To the left are text bubbles reading: 'Digital access for young people', 'Niunet', 'How do I describe a cursor?'. Underneath is a drawing of a kangaroo and sign reading 'Remote Australia', with surrounding text bubble reading: 'Digital learning experience for remote communities'. Next to this are text bubbles reading: 'the digital divide is the most crucial piece of inequity to solve', 'humanity's most pressing concern' and 'it's a global issue'. On the right hand side is the heading 'LiteHaus International'. Underneath is a text bubble reading 'Tailor made digital competency program' with a connected cloud reading 'Digital skills'. To the left of this is text reading 'Computer labs for schools in PNG' and 'Almost none of the 3,535 primary schools across PNG have permanent and functional digital learning infrastructure.' Footer text reads '#DigitalNation21' with logo for Good Things Foundation Australia and logo reading 'Drawn by Devon Bunce'

Spotlight speaker Jack Growden takes to the (virtual) stage to talk through his journey providing digital access programs in Papua New Guinea and Australia. Jack is CEO of LiteHaus International, a digital inclusion charity which to date has built 28 computer labs which have serviced an estimated 25,000 students in Papua New Guinea. Following the shift to remote learning in Australia due to COVID, Litehaus International have also provided 700 students across regional Australia with digital devices for education.

“The digital divide, I believe, is the most critical developmental chasm that exists today…Access [is] indispensable to success in the modern world as so much of our lives are lived beyond the physical realms now and across that digital life sphere.” – Jack Growden

Keynote Address from Helen Milner, Good Things Foundation Group CEO

Infographic with the title 'Creating digital nations: Now & in the future'. On the left side is a drawing of a globe with UK and Australia labeled, as well as the logo for 'Learn My Way'. Heading above drawing reads 'A world where everyone benefits from digital', with a connected text bubble reading 'almost half of the world's pop. doesn't have internet access'. Under the globe drawing is a list reading 'collaborate', 'amplify', 'act', 'coordinate', 'innovate'. In the bottom left is the heading 'the Data Poverty lab', with the text underneath reading 'A foodbank...but for data'. In the centre top is text reading 'the promise & perils of tech'. Under this is the heading 'We need bold action!', followed by text reading 'We should be more ambitious' and 'we should be angry'. In the bottom centre is a drawing of a blueprint titles 'Digital inclusion the blueprint', with the following list items: '1. Active, supported, resilient infrastructure', '2. Creation of the data poverty lab', '3. Facing up to government'. Next to this list is the text 'Abolish data poverty in the next 3 years'. On the right hand side is the the heading 'COVID-19 has starkly exposed the digital divide', with surrounding text bubbles reading: 'Device strand', 'Raise the profile on digital inclusion' and 'recovery & prosperity depend on closing the divide'. Footer text reads '#DigitalNation21' with logo for Good Things Foundation Australia and logo reading 'Drawn by Devon Bunce'

Helen Milner OBE, Group CEO of Good Things Foundation, brings a global perspective to her keynote address. Following an overview of the state of the digital divide in the UK, in which 14.9 million adults have limited digital engagement, Helen outlines the benefits of 100% digital inclusion and what needs to be done to achieve it.

But how do we put this into practice? Helen highlights how Good Things Foundation in the UK are working with funding partners to fix the digital divide within a decade through initiatives such as the National Databank, Digital Lifeline, and Learn My Way.

Helen leaves audiences with a call for action to help close the digital divide for all, for good:

“And we need bold action… I think we should be more ambitious, more creative. I think we should actually get angry, get more involved, get more informed. And, of course, join with others in this network, join with the wider stakeholders here and those who aren’t here today. So let’s all work together to fix the digital divide in the UK, in Australia and let’s collaborate across our two countries and across the world.”

Closing remarks

Screenshot of zoom video call with many people smiling.

After a day of panels and workshops, we’re joined by Jo Cavanagh OAM, Good Things Foundation Australia’s Board Chair, to reflect on the conference and raise a glass in celebration of not only Good Things Foundation Australia’s fourth birthday, but to all of our Network Partners and supporters who make our work possible.

“Although this is about digital, it’s actually about people and about relationships and trust to progress digital inclusion. To close the digital divide it takes people and trust.” – Jo Cavanagh OAM

And that’s it for the first ever Good Things Foundation digital inclusion conference, Digital Nation: Building a Connected, Capable, Confident Country! We hope that everyone who attended, gave a presentation, engaged with our report, joined in on social media, or even just read this post gained something new from the conference and feels more empowered, confident and informed about how we can all work together to create a 100% digitally-included nation.