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Socially excluded groups are currently "very poorly served" by the UK eGovernment agenda, says new government research.

A report out today warns that eGovernment, at both national and local level, largely ignores the needs of 'hard to reach' individuals and is failing to adequately promote social inclusion.

Similarly, social inclusion strategies rarely consider the important role that ICT could play, leaving government stuck in a "strategic impasse" which has resulted in missed opportunities, it adds.

The study for the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) claims that targeting eGovernment activity to social excluded groups – who are among the largest users of public services – would reap considerable efficiency gains.

Social and digital inclusion must be made a key priority in the future development of eGovernment and service delivery plans, it urges.

"It is time to focus eGovernment implementation on providing services and appropriate ways to those that need them most – individuals experiencing social exclusion", says the report.

Current problems also stem from a lack of understanding about how ICT can enhance social inclusion, it observes.

While examples of successful initiatives exist, generally projects instigated by councils tend to be short-term and one-off investments, with little regard to sustainability or how they can be absorbed into mainstream activities.

As an example, the study cites a portal project targeting socially excluded groups, which received more than half a million pounds in development funding, but now has minimal input to keep it updated and is slowly becoming outdated and obsolete.

According to the report's authors: "The absence of clear priorities from central government means that eGovernment services and initiatives using technology to enhance inclusion are usually developed and delivered in isolation".

They add: "Unless the implementation of eGovernment activities is guided by better strategic thinking, it is unlikely that socially excluded groups will receive the full benefits of digital transformation."

The report puts forward 14 policy recommendations aimed at enhancing the role of eGovernment and digital technology in addressing social inclusion.

These include:

  • The need for central government to clarify the legal basis for sharing personal information about individuals, potentially placing a duty on organisations to share information through public service agreements
  • Setting clear evaluation and performance criteria for projects to make it easier to judge their success when pilot funding ends
  • Better targeting public internet access points, kiosks and digital television initiatives at socially excluded households or areas with poor internet adoption
  • Subsidising adaptive technology for disabled people
  • The creation of a single government accreditation body to monitor e-accessibility standards and the 'readability' of public sector websites.

The report is launched today at the IDeA local government e-champions conference.

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