In 2023, 16 million people will be digitally excluded. To combat this new formof exclusion, the French Red Cross has launched the Territoires Zéro Exclusion Numérique (TZEN) – Zero Digital Exclusion Territories – project to enable its regional delegations to develop a strategy that takes into account all the factors of digital exclusion (equipment, connection, skills and uses) in order to help people who are far from digital and make it a vehicle for participation in society.
Since the 1990s, digital technology has developed and become increasingly important in our private lives and public sphere. Digital technology has created numerous opportunities for accessing goods and resources, anywhere, at any time, at lower cost and in less time. However, while digital technology makes daily life easier for many people, it doesn’t do so for everyone.
For several years now, the digital imperative has been growing stronger. In 2020, the confinements revealed the extent to which equipment and connection difficulties and a lack of digital literacy can hamper access to everyday rights and services. Beyond this period of crisis, the dematerialisation of public services has been a backdrop for the last fifteen years, with the government’s target of 100% dematerialised public services by 2022. Access to rights is therefore intrinsically linked to digital access and skills.
But not everyone is equal when it comes to digital technology. In 2023, CREDOC estimates that 31.5% of the French people are far from digital, including 8.8% who are not internet users (CREDOC 2023).
According to this study, digital distance can be explained by 3 factors.
The first issue is access to equipment and connection. People who do not have the means to buy equipment or who do not meet the conditions for access to a subscription – being domiciled, having a bank account, living in an area with the necessary infrastructure, etc – are therefore excluded.
In addition to issues of access, getting to grips with digital technology presupposes skills in its use. This is referred to as “digital literacy“, which the OECD defines as “the ability to understand and use digital technology in everyday life, at home, at work and in the community to achieve personal goals and to extend one’s knowledge and capabilities” (OECD 2000).
Finally, the CREDOC study establishes that it is not enough to have technical mastery of digital tools, we also need to know how to transpose our digital capital into “capabilities“, that means “the ability of individuals to take advantage of digital technologies” (CREDOC 2023): digital exclusion is therefore fundamentally a phenomenon of social exclusion, since the cultural, economic, social and symbolic capital of individuals influences their digital practices. Combating digital exclusion there comes to promote social justice and making a broader commitment to the fight against exclusion.
While we may all be digitally excluded at some point in our lives, there are certain groups who are more likely to be so, and who are prevented from doing so on a daily basis. These inequalities are mainly explained by factors such as: “age, geographical location, social environment and level of income, level of educational qualifications, and more broadly, levels of capital (cultural, economic, social and digital)” (ibid.). The groups most affected by digital exclusion therefore often coincide with the types of people supported by the French Red Cross, in its health, social and medico-social establishments and/or via its voluntary network.
Technical details & Operations
For several years, volunteers from the French Red Cross have been working to combat the digital exclusion of the people they help. They have organised drop-in sessions and group workshops to equip people with digital tools and promote their inclusion.
In 2020, thanks to the France Relance Plan, the French Red Cross supported these voluntary initiatives by recruiting 80 France Services Digital Advisers, deployed throughout the association’s network, in its health, social and medico-social establishments as well as in its local voluntary units. Their mission? To lift up people away from the digital world, enabling them to use it as a means of participating in society and building their resilience together. Every day, they work with a wide variety of people who are experiencing difficulties with digital technology: the elderly who don’t know how to use the tablet they received as a Christmas present, non-French speakers who have recently arrived in France and are finding it difficult to find their way around and understand the French administration, people in very precarious situations who can’t benefit from their own equipment and a stable connection, and so on. The digital advisers then carry out an initial assessment of the skills, needs and desires of the people concerned, before supporting them individually or collectively to combat their social and digital exclusion.
These first 18 months of experimentation have enabled the association to highlight the various needs and issues that need to be taken into account to promote digital inclusion for all. Building on this experience, the “Territoire Zéro Exclusion Numérique” (TZEN) programme now aims to offer a 360° response that takes into account all the factors involved in digital distance – access to equipment and connections, and mastery of skills and uses – in order to deploy a strategy to combat this form of exclusion on a departmental scale.
Following a consultation of the network, 21 territories were selected to be part of the first cohorte of labelled territories. For a period of 18 months, these areas will benefit from closer support: a digital adviser has been recruited in each of these departments to ensure the roll-out of digital inclusion activities – digital drop-in centres, individual support and group workshops. In addition, regional coordinators are supporting territories to ensure that each local unit and French Red Cross establishment becomes a digital reception point equipped with computers and connections, to develop offers for the donation or sale of equipment and connections, and to strengthen local volunteer and salaried staff dynamics in order to create a community that offers digital support.
Deployment & Impact
During the first phase of the project, which took place between 2021 and 2023, the digital advisors carried out more than 24,300 supports in just one year.
The social impact measurement carried out at the end of the first version of the project revealed some powerful results. In fact, 87% of the people supported said they felt more comfortable with digital tools thanks to the support provided by the French Red Cross. As a result, 86% thought they would use digital tools more as a result of this support.
The digital support increased access to rights for the people receiving support: 81% of people said they were more aware of their rights and 76% felt more independent in carrying out their formalities on their own: “I did my tax return myself, without calling Pierre or Paul [her two sons]. I don’t have to call on the people around me as often for these little problems, because I know I can find the answers,” explains Godefroi, aged 80, who is supported by a digital advisor from the French Red Cross.
As people who receive digital support feel less dependent on their relatives and learn to use digital tools, they gain more self-confidence. For Sylvie, aged 56, “when you can do certain things on your own, it restores your pride. Inevitably, that has an impact on self-confidence. Knowing how to handle more things and being able to take charge of things is liberating”.
Finally, thanks to the activities of the digital advisors, the people surveyed are also less vulnerable in their digital use. While 38% of French people estimated they were hacked in 2022 (Digital Barometer 2023), the support provided by the digital advisors has enabled people to learn how to better detect risks and adopt the right reflexes in case of digital fraud: 55% of people surveyed said they had learned how to deal with danger on the Internet.
Since September, the TZEN project has further strenghtened the impact of the French Red Cross’s actions by acting on all the factors of digital exclusion : equipment, connection, skills and uses. This diversification of the means of action is accompanied by an acceleration of the mobilisation on the subject thanks to the recruitment of new volunteers, civic service volunteers and skills sponsorship to develop the activity, thanks to the deployment of volunteer training to help with digital learning in all the regions involved in the project, and thanks to an ever-increasing range of teaching tools. In 2024, the French Red Cross TZEN project will continue with determination, creating a real transformation in the lives of thousands of people across France. By removing barriers to digital inclusion, this initiative offers people the means to regain control of their digital lives. Let’s work together to make every click an opportunity and every connection a bridge to greater autonomy, and together design a connected and inclusive future.