This year marks the first release of findings from a revised and updated Australian Digital Inclusion Index. This new version of the Index continues the tradition of the ADII in generating the most nuanced and detailed picture of digital inclusion in Australia. Drawing on the Australian Internet Usage Survey, the ADII retains the original three-dimension framework for measuring personal levels of digital inclusion (Access, Affordability and Digital Ability), but updates the components that underpin these to accommodate changes in digital technologies, digital skills, and the telecommunications marketplace. The revised Index is also interactive, and the data downloadable, allowing you to dig deeper into the digital inclusion questions that matter to you and your community. These changes further enhance the valuable contribution the ADII has made to identifying and addressing digital inequality since 2015.
The ADII: Australia’s first composite index of digital inclusion
Access to technology was considered the primary driver of digital inequality in the early days of the internet. However, over time a more holistic understanding of digital inequality has emerged that recognises the role digital skills and affordability of access play in enabling or inhibiting digital participation. This more nuanced appreciation of digital inclusion has generated demand for refined measurement of the issue.
In 2015, the ADII was created as a tool to measure digital inclusion of people in Australia by combining more than 100 indicators of personal internet and digital technology access, affordability, and use. The ADII was populated with ‘best-fit’ data drawn from the existing Roy Morgan Single Source Survey dataset. This ongoing commercial survey also captured a range of location and demographic data from respondents, enabling the ADII to track digital inclusion over time and to identify the socio-economic and geographic contours of digital inequality.
Between 2016 and 2020, annual reports presented ADII findings, highlighting changes in the detailed data that underpinned the index scores, and the ADII website made a summary dataset available. The reports and dataset have been widely used by the not-for-profit and business sectors, and all tiers of government to inform policy and practice.
Making a change
In 2019, the ADII Research Team undertook a comprehensive review of the ADII to ensure it continued to best capture the intricacies of digital inclusion and meet the needs of users of the research. In particular, the review responded to emerging challenges and opportunities, including: rapid and ongoing changes in digital technologies and digital skill demands and the growing significance of the online automation, distribution and consumption of services; requests from stakeholders for richer data, including the release of more of the detailed data that populates the Index; and, interest from stakeholders in having access to a customised digital inclusion survey and reporting instrument they could use to measure digital inclusion in their own communities.
The review process included a series of roundtable meetings with stakeholders, a call for written submissions and an extensive review of international research focussing on new and innovative methods for measuring digital inclusion. This process resulted in four major conclusions:
- The three-dimension framework for measuring personal digital inclusion that comprised the ADII (Access, Affordability and Digital Abilities) remained relevant, but some of the underlying components used to measure each should be revised or removed and some new components added.
- New arrangements for populating the Index would be required to measure a new set of indicators.
- The public value of the ADII research would be enhanced through the release of the data and the survey instrument.
- Change to the Index and the data source populating the Index would disrupt the numerical time series. Continuity would be retained in relation to the core objectives of the Index and the principal dimensions of analysis. The Index retains its focus on the relative levels of digital inclusion for different socio-economic, demographic and geographically defined population groups and tracking this over time.
To respond to these conclusions the ADII Research Team developed a revised Index.
At the core of the refreshed Index is the Australian Internet Usage Survey (AIUS). This purpose-built survey instrument was developed by the ADII Research Team to generate data for the revised Index. The Social Research Centre has been engaged to administer the survey to a representative sample of the Australian population over four iterations (2020-2023). In 2021, we are presenting data derived from surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021.
Importantly, the survey instrument and the national dataset are owned and controlled by the ADII Research Team. This greatly enhances the public value that can be derived from the updated Index. More detailed data is being publicly released than ever before, providing a richer picture of the factors that underpin Index results.
While the original structure of the ADII has been retained, there have been changes to the components from which the dimension scores are derived. Specific details of each of the ADII Index dimensions can be found here. The major changes are as follows:
- Access has been updated to reflect changes in technology, and telecommunication product offerings. The ADII now measures Access via four components: Speed and data allowance, Intensity and frequency of access, Connection type, Device. For the first time our measure of Access includes personal technologies such as voice-controlled smart speakers and smartwatches. We also consider 5G as a superior mobile technology and differentiate fixed broadband based on speed. Location of access is no longer considered within the Access sub-Index given the now near ubiquitous nature of mobile access. Data on where Australians connect, is still collected, however, and can be explored here.
- Affordability no longer includes a measure of value for expenditure. This was previously calculated as data volume acquired per dollar of expenditure on internet services. Given the market shift to unlimited data allowance offerings, this was increasingly difficult to calculate. And as the mix of digital products and services that can be packaged together evolves over time, it became clear that a new Affordability measure was needed to capture the increasingly sophisticated data needs of Australian households. This was further emphasised in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as people’s homes become their workplaces and schools. Rather than differentiating the population based on percentage of household income currently spent on internet access (the original relative expenditure component), the revised ADII measures the percentage of household income required to purchase an ‘internet bundle’ that reflects quality and reliable connectivity. The Affordability ratio measure is calculated separately for a family and a single headed household with children under 12 years. This refined measure better reflects the impact of cost-barriers to digital inclusion, revealing stark disparities in terms of equity both across the country and demographics.
- Digital Ability has been substantially revised. Measures related to personal attitudes to digital technologies have been removed and indicators of skills are no longer based on the proxy measure of a person undertaking specific online activities in the past 4 weeks, but their perception of their competency in completing selected digital tasks in six realms (Operational: Basic, Operational: Advanced, Social, Creative, Information Navigation, and Smart Devices). This approach, including many of the specific digital tasks assessed, is derived from the Internet Skills Survey developed by researchers at the London School of Economics, University of Twente, and Oxford Internet Institute .
Read more about what Digital Ability looks like in 2021 in our case study here, and explore the data here.
- The addition of questions that go beyond the Index. A key benefit in developing and owning the AIUS is our ability to add and re-shape questions as required. In 2020, we added questions about COVID-19, and the impact the pandemic was having on how Australians were accessing and using the internet.
You can read more about the impact of COVID-19 on Australian digital inclusion in our case study here, and explore the data here.
Measuring Australian digital inclusion into the future
The updated Index builds on and extends the valuable contribution the ADII has made to identifying and addressing digital inequality since 2015.
While the numerical results of refreshed ADII cannot be retrospectively compared with the previous ADII data, the overall picture is largely consistent with past reports. Digital inclusion in Australia remains profoundly shaped by geographic and sociodemographic factors such as age, education, income, employment, and location.
The digital inclusion effects of these factors requires ongoing attention. We look forward to continuing to monitor progress towards digital inclusion, including understanding who is being left behind and why, as we work towards a digitally included future for all Australians.
 A J A M van Deursen, E J Helsper, and R Eynon, “Development and Validation of the Internet Skills Scale (ISS),” Information, Communication & Society 19, no. 6 (2016): 804–823. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2015.1078834