Under Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN-Habitat
Secretary General of Eurocities
Deputy Mayor of Barcelona
Deputy Mayor of Milan
Mayor of Ramallah
Chief Technology Officer of New York City
UCLG Secretary General
Digital Technologies are a key enabler to support socio-economic inclusion and promote the transformation needed to achieve the SDGs. New and emerging technologies and tools can help cities improve public service delivery – including mobility, housing or public health – better interact with citizens, increase productivity, and address environmental and other sustainability challenges. While the COVID-19 crisis has contributed to the acceleration of a digital transition by enhancing the use of smart data and artificial intelligence, it has also brought to surface the debate on the risks of data usage in regards to human rights, particularly privacy. The crisis has also shed light on the digital divide and the gaps in access to technology between regions, economic background, age, race and gender, among others. The proportion of women using the Internet globally is 48%, compared to 58% of men – the gap is wider in the Arab States, Asia and the Pacific and Africa. The outbreak is also making visible the importance to make digital technologies accessible to persons with disabilities, so that this already vulnerable group is not left out of a large portion of our social, economic and democratic spheres.
Improving the quality of internet connectivity is as relevant as improving access. Increasing the reach of high speed, broadband connectivity in the global south will be critical to enable efforts that will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as it would provide a basic building block in programmatic efforts in support of the 17 goals and 169 targets. Building a more inclusive and accessible society in the aftermath of the crisis will go through ensuring that the digital revolution does not leave anyone behind, which would risk widening social and economic gaps even further.
while in the Global South it is 47%.
At least 1.3 billion people live countries where entry level mobile data plans (of 1GB per month) are not affordable.
The main challenges related to technology include addressing the issue of privacy and security in digital settings, bridging socio-economic and gender gaps in relation to the digital divide, and ensuring universal digital accessibility. Access to the internet and digital public services are now being seen as essential to build resilient and inclusive communities as they mean access to information, to education and often to a source of income, among many others. The UN-Habitat Executive Director and the UCLG Secretary General further discussed these challenges in this video.
Local and regional governments need to tackle the use of digital technologies to monitor public health issues and, at the same time, do it in a secure and rights-preserving way. Francesca Bria, President of the Italian National Innovation Fund, calls attention to the need to find ways to reach the most vulnerable communities, who often cannot access the internet or other digital public services, even in the wealthiest cities. Local governments also need to address the issue of digital illiteracy, as accessibility goes beyond the physical access to digital infrastructure and encompasses the ability to properly use those tools to access useful services and information.
The city of Milan is providing free internet access to vulnerable families
Learn how Bogotá’s multi-channel strategy offered virtual contents for children so that they could continue their education from home
Dubai has created a secure digital signature mechanism that allows people and companies to sign in and participate in public tenders
The city of Milan is providing free internet access to vulnerable families.
Learn how Bogotá’s multi-channel strategy offered virtual contents for children so that they could continue their education from home.
Banjarmasin is working directly with community members to develop and maintain a local kitchen to provide nutritious food to the community.
- Local and regional governments can play a convening role in leading partnerships to overcome the digital divide. Local authorities can foster collaborations with civil society and the private sector to promote innovative solutions to address the digital divide and improve digital literacy particularly among the most vulnerable communities.
- During the pandemic, technology has not only been a key channel to disseminate crucial information about safety health measures, but it has also allowed for social cohesion, promoting social interaction and helping build a sense of community in a context of physical distancing.
- Local authorities must guarantee that human rights are at the core of the process of digitalization. As we urge to implement measures that will help prevent future outbreaks, local governments need to ensure that such measures are respectful of citizens’ privacy rights and make legitimate use of personal data.
- Data can serve as a powerful instrument and source of information for better, more collaborative policies and optimize the provision of public goods and services. Local and regional governments should collect and use data to guarantee proper service provision, particularly during times of crisis and do it in a way that is open and transparent.
- Local governments must enable digital accessibility for all, particularly to vulnerable groups, with the goal of narrowing the digital divide in terms of gender, race, or economic background, and also making sure that digital technologies and services are accessible to persons with disabilities and older persons. The goal should be not only to include these groups in the social and economic opportunities provided by digital technologies, but also to empower them to become active actors in the creation and application of digital innovation.
- All women should be empowered both as creators of new data and digital solutions and as users of digital tools, as such platforms would facilitate their equitable engagement in educational and economic activities. In that sense, local authorities must understand the complexity of the gender aspect within the digital divide, and provide specific support to and collaborate with women in particularly vulnerable conditions, such as those living in informal settlements, migrants, older women, women of color and women with disabilities.
Local governments play a key role in enabling digital accessibility, be it through improving the digital infrastructure or by providing training and capacity building to the most vulnerable communities. But they cannot do it alone. Civil society has been one the main voices raising concerns regarding digitalization and they need to be highly involved in an open dialogue to co-create strategies directed to face the challenges and address the needs related to digital technologies. Additionally, partnerships with the private sector and with civil society will be key to expanding access to digital infrastructure and providing innovative solutions to complement public offers of goods and services, during and beyond the crisis.
The UCLG Decalogue
“Digital technologies will be crucial to help detect and prevent the spread of the virus and to keep the population informed during and after the pandemic. However, governments at all levels will need to ensure that the use and procurement of data, and the development of digital technologies is used for the common good and that rights are guaranteed with direct involvement of all communities and at the service of democratic societies.”
For further information on the topic of Digital Technologies and its impact on cities and regions, please refer to the related resources included below.