Governments are bridging the digital divide to create equitable digital experiences

Governments are bridging the digital divide to create equitable digital experiences

Rapid advancements in digitization have taken our world by storm. It’s transforming entire industries and reshaping the ways we access key services and information to make experiences simpler and more convenient. However, that’s not the case for everyone. The digital divide — the unequal access to the digital tools and skillsets needed to participate in democracy, society, and the economy — is an issue that has commanded the attention of policymakers, NGOs, tech companies, and customers worldwide. In the public sector specifically, the onus falls on governments to create equitable digital experiences for all.

The global demand for digital equity

As of 2022, 2.7 billion people in the world are still offline. Several powerful forces have also fueled the digital divide at a pace that organizations are unable to keep up with:

There are massive economic and social costs for countries and regions that are left behind digitally. The United States alone loses out on millions of dollars per day in economic activity from residents who are not connected to the internet. Governments are responding to the fact that digital literacy can improve outcomes in educational attainment, employment, economic growth, and democratic stability.

The current state of digital equity in the US

In 2023, Adobe commissioned the second annual Digital Government Index for U.S. States survey to evaluate the digital experience, accessibility, and inclusion of all 50 state .gov websites. We surveyed 543 respondents across the 50 states. The survey measured government website contact support, language offerings, accessibility and impairment features, and mobile responsiveness. The findings revealed that digital experiences in government are in high demand from constituents, but there’s still a long way to go for equitable delivery and accessibility:

However, we are seeing key challenges in equitable and modern digital service delivery:

Achieving equitable digital experiences in government with Adobe

It’s time for governments to deliver on the promise of digital equity for all. This includes expanding digital skilling, delivering content through preferred channels, and enabling digital self-service for those who are unable to visit offices. This also requires governments to be proactive in responsive content creation, leveraging multi-language personalization and delivering the next best action or program based on previous user behavior.

Adobe recommends four fundamental areas of focus for governments to create an inclusive and equitable digital customer experience:

  1. Digital skilling and literacy

Digital literacy is one of the public’s most important skills to navigate the digital world. It includes an individual’s ability to navigate, find, and interact with information online. Digital literacy also involves enabling customers with the familiarity needed to accomplish tasks such as accessing services, applying for jobs, sending emails or texts, and avoiding fraud or cybercrimes. When government agencies invest in efforts to improve the digital literacy rates of its citizens, they ensure that the most vulnerable groups affected by the digital divide — individuals from low-income backgrounds, elderly populations, veterans, individuals with disabilities, non-native English speakers, and racial or ethnic minorities — can be on a level playing field with the rest of the population and fully participate in educational, economic, and employment opportunities in the digital world. However, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, just 40% of American adults can answer basic digital literacy questions.

SkillFinder website screenshot

Some state governments are tackling the issue through public libraries that have long been a vital resource for giving residents knowledge and skills for the digital age. Now governments can build a bridge to digital literacy by offering Skill Finder — an online marketplace of digital skills courses built with Adobe Commerce. The program prepares people for careers in the digital sector, fosters economic development, and targets gaps in digital equity. Rather than offering time-consuming traditional certification courses, Skill Finder focuses on teaching micro-skills through short lessons in areas from coding, cloud computing, security, and machine learning to computer basics, graphic design, and general business skills. And it includes personalized learning paths for people at all stages of digital literacy, from beginners to digital natives, to meet customers where they are.

  1. A strong digital foundation

Government agencies must also have a strong digital infrastructure in place to design accessible and inclusive experiences across all digital properties that reach members of all communities. This means their tech stack should be robust enough to provide users with a seamless user experience, navigable sites, and personalized content powered by data.

The State of Illinois, which partnered with Adobe, modernized its public-facing website to create more inclusive digital experiences for over 12 million residents. The state government has worked to create consistent, personalized experiences for residents, reflecting today’s digital-first economy. The new website provides a digital “front door,” welcoming residents to access state services easily and securely. Initial agency sites have reported up to 63% increases in accessibility, recently earning the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) a 2022 NASCIO State IT Recognition Award based on improved digital accessibility for residents and agency staff with disabilities.

  1. Equitable and proactive service delivery

Once government organizations have invested in building up their digital infrastructure and upskilling the general population on digital literacy, it’s imperative to implement equitable and proactive service delivery practices that work for all constituents. This will allow agencies to connect customers with the relevant services they are eligible for and support customers in obtaining those services, which could include anything from food stamps to Medicaid to stimulus dollars.

To help Americans get the support they need from federal funding, it’s vital for everyone to participate in the census. Like voting, it helps represent the interests and needs of the population so the government can adequately fulfill its responsibilities. So in 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau turned to technology to amplify reach and increase participation rates. The Census Bureau sought to anticipate the needs and expectations of customers to make the census count efficient and equitable. Adobe and the Census Bureau partnered to modernize their 5 million pages and make sure the bureau’s new website could hold up to elevated levels of traffic during the census collection period. And for the first time, the census was offered digitally in 59 languages and tailored to its audience to ensure broad reach and equitable access. As a result, the Census Bureau was able to deliver a modern and inclusive experience while seeking to count an estimated 330 million people across the United States and making the customer experience as quick and seamless as possible. With the modern platform, not even a global pandemic could stop the Census Bureau from conducting its critical work.

  1. Measured and operationalized equity

Finally, organizations that prioritize digital equity should recognize the importance of analyzing digital performance over time and optimizing to account for pain points in the customer experience. This requires organizations to solicit feedback from the public and use data to measure the effectiveness of digital experiences in meeting the needs of all communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) played a critical part in delivering information about COVID-19 as the pandemic gripped the United States and beyond. It needed a way to make sure this information was accessible to every customer. The agency utilized Adobe Analytics and Adobe Campaign to access valuable insights and act quickly on those insights. At the onset of the pandemic, the CDC started with 10 webpages. By fall 2020, the agency had more than 1,000 webpages — all based on specific audience needs determined by the data. Now, more than 2 million people receive up-to-date information related to COVID-19 via email, SMS, and newsletter subscriptions.

Meeting government on their digital modernization journey

The need for digital equity will only intensify in the future. While many government agencies have yet to adopt the technology and tools to achieve fully equitable digital experiences, Adobe’s digital equity maturity framework can help agencies explore strengths, gaps, and opportunities for advancing equitable practices across digital channels.

Adobe’s digital equity maturity framework chart

Adobe has a successful track record of meeting government agencies and public sector organizations where they are in their modernization journey and prioritizing constituents’ digital experiences. Bridging the digital divide to create equitable digital experiences for all is a substantial undertaking. Check out how Adobe’s tools can help make today’s government dream a reality.

Learn more about how we’re fueling equitable experiences in government.

As an engagement manager on Adobe’s Digital Strategy Group, Tanya Chowdhury has partnered with leading state, local, and federal civilian agencies to enable digital transformation by providing guidance on experiences, people, process, and platforms. As government has shifted to digital with a focus on equity, she has advised on government employee experience, go-to-market strategies, and Adobe’s perspective on digital equity to show how it can be achieved to meet the needs of constituents, residents, and citizens who are disabled, unhoused, without access to internet, non-English speaking, not digitally literate, and more.

Prior to working in the public sector, Chowdhury partnered with leading financial institutions where she developed innovative strategies to advise C-suites on how to achieve their objectives and drive growth. She is passionate about supporting the government to better serve the public and all its customers.