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How to get four million disadvantaged people online

Tony Collins

Government should encourage the disadvantaged and others to go online because it's the right thing to do, not because it saves or makes money, says an expert on democracy and social inclusion.

Anthony Zacharzewski told the G2010 public sector IT conference that when "everything has a pound sign in front of it... a little bit in me dies".

Zacharzewski and four others founded the Democratic Society which is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation that works to support political participation and citizenship. He was a panellist at a discussion on the Internet and social inclusion at the G2010 conference.

"You should not do digital inclusion because it is money-spinner or a money-saver, but because it's the right thing to do," he said. "We should not leave people on the margins of society, that doesn't let them be heard."

He said that the government-backed Race Online - which aims to get four million disadvantaged people online by 2012 - "puts things into such a commercial perspective". He added: "We don't want to force people into a mode of digital inclusion which works for the government or the economy."

He said there are three main challenges on the agenda of digital inclusion:

- Keeping enthusiasm for inclusion in the minds of politicians - not by expecting government and the civil service to hold the hands of those it funds, but by letting councils and voluntary organisations pick up the baton and run with it. "Government needs to say: 'here is the vision and approach and maybe some funding to do it' but then stepping back and not trying to control the process and not being too prescriptive over what comes out it."

- Overcoming suspicions among the digitally excluded of "anything that looks like it has government attached to it".

- Persuading people to take up their rights as citizens. "It's about being part of the political process which is your birthright as a citizen".


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