DRIVE: Digital Research and Impact for Vulnerable E-citizens Project

News | Research | Civic Tech and Innovations | Analysis 30 September 2022

Within the project “DRIVE: Digital Research and Impact for Vulnerable E-citizens Project”, experts from eGA and the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) (Georgia) compiled a report on digital vulnerability to help public authorities and civil society organisations prevent the digital divide.


Digitally Vulnerable Groups (DVGs) are the potential targets of digital transformation mechanisms that, stemming from the technological divide, may cause wider and deeper new social and economic risks. Broadly defined in this project, Digitally Vulnerable Groups are those whose digital engagement in political decision-making and e-services is hindered by their lack of awareness of digital issues, access to technological benefits, and/or digital literacy and skills. Irrespective of the causes (e.g., demographic, socioeconomic and/or health status, living conditions or social position, etc.), these barriers prevent the people from reaping the benefits of digital transformation and as such, have a negative impact on their rights, interests, and everyday life.


In this Country Report, we present the research activities aimed at surveying the causes of vulnerability in the experience of Georgian DVGs. First, a preliminary specification of DVGs in Georgia is presented on the basis of desk research. Secondly, findings from qualitative interviewing with a sample of Georgian subject experts contribute to unravel how different factors interplay to deepen people’s vulnerability – in the face of increased technological uptake for learning and accessing e-services. Lastly, recommendations to relevant stakeholders are provided, as emerging from the subject experts’ input and the authors’ own analysis.


Findings from qualitative interviewing


From the 17 interviews carried out, the Georgian subject experts mentioned a total of nine relevant topics that contribute to understanding the diverse instances of vulnerability that DVGs face in Georgia. While all of these apply to the general population, the degree to which they affect young people and the elderly vary. This holds true not only in relation to the two extreme ends of the variable chosen as the starting point of this analysis (age groups), but for its full spectrum – people of different ages require access to different digital opportunities and e-services, based on their needs. Consequently, the skills they might need to do that differ along the age continuum, as do the intended outcomes.


Here we categorize our findings from the qualitative interviewing sessions according to the nine relevant themes highlighted by the subject experts, delving deeper – where applicable – into the age group specifications of the vulnerabilities experienced by DVGs. The topics are presented in order from the most relevant to the least (but still spontaneously) mentioned, per number of occurrences on the total of the session carried out. The experts highlighted the following major challenges causing citizens’ digital vulnerabilities:


1. Geographical location

2. Skills, access and awareness to use digital tools

3. Language barriers

4. Media literacy


Residual issues were also identified:


1. Socioeconomic situation

2. Cybersecurity

3. Disability

4. Gender




From the analysis of the expert input received from both public sector interviewees and members of CSOs, recommended activities should cover two highlighted macro-aspects – 1) the salient, topical issues DVGs face in their use and experience of digital opportunities, and 2) the coordination and task-distribution hurdles emerging from the lack of an encompassing strategy on how to address digital vulnerabilities.


Recommendations are presented here with a general formulation, to allow and give input for further discussion and planning with Georgian public authorities and CSOs during the capacity-building events and subsequent action plans and projects.


The ultimate objective of developing these recommendations is to improve the quality of life of the groups of vulnerable citizens identified in Georgia, by increasing their digital engagement in political decision-making (advanced policy development) and services usage, while enjoying the necessary conditions, awareness and skills for that.


Specifically, these recommendations contribute to the project objective in a way so that Public Authorities (PAs) and CSOs are aware of digitally vulnerable groups and their needs, and have improved skills to engage these groups and to prevent the prevalence or deepening of the digital divide. They are presented here in the form of desired outcomes, for which specific action lines will emerge during dedicated workshop activities.


Awareness of digital vulnerability and DVGs


PAs and CSOs should be aware of what digital vulnerability is, and who Digitally Vulnerable Groups (DVGs) are, as well as their unmet needs and salient issues in reaping the benefits of an increased digital economy and society. As shown, issues may pertain to geographical location, access and digital skills, language barriers, and more.


When planning new policies, services and projects, PAs, CSOs, donors and businesses should scan and scrutinize the policies, services and projects envisioned. The goal is to evaluate the impact – positive, neutral, negative – these could have on DVGs.


Capacity to plan and implement projects strategically while monitoring and considering the digital divide


On the supply-side of financial help and support to innovative projects, funding organizations and donors active in Georgia should keep in mind and be aware of issues of digital vulnerability when planning, launching, and implementing grant opportunities and calls.


CSOs, by their part, should consider digital vulnerability in order to not worsen, but ideally decrease, the digital divide within their projects, particular service provision, and advocacy activities. It is suggested to increase local governments’ capacity and awareness towards accessing available funding, particularly when projects aimed at tackling digital vulnerability may fall under their own level of decision-making and jurisdiction.


Capacity to cooperate across and within sectors and organizations


In terms of stakeholder relations, PAs and CSOs should be able to co-design effective responses to address unmet needs and gaps in access to digital opportunities of DVGs. Transparency, accountability, and active participation should be the pillars of inclusive e-governance initiatives.


This is possible where PAs, CSOs, and other stakeholders involved have a common understanding of the value of engagement and multilevel cooperation when it comes to planning, developing, and implementing projects and activities collaborating across organizations within the same sector, as well as bridging to others in different ones.


Examples could be collaborations between CSOs and local governments, or PAs and private sector entities, and so on. In this line of thought, it is important to highlight the role public-private partnerships (PPPs) could play towards adopting new approaches and management processes, as well as to unlocking funding opportunities. Together, the public and private sectors can better map out citizens’ needs, as well as share the burden of addressing issues large in scope such as digital skills development.


Improved communication and awareness of relevant active projects


Overlapping feedback on stakeholder relations and salient, specific needs of DVGs highlighted in this report show a tendency towards the risk of duplicating activities and outcomes across organizations involved in assisting vulnerable groups. The issue emerges as the consequence of lack of awareness and mapping of what projects are active to tackle a specific issue. Moreover, awareness is also required of the conditions on the ground, gaining trusted and accurate knowledge about facts, data and statistics pertaining to digital services, accessibility, skills in the population, and such.


It is necessary to dispose of up-to-date overviews of the initiatives, projects, and services implemented or under implementation that focus on digital vulnerability and DVGs. The scope of such mapping spans across sectors and levels of governance: local administrations, the national government, CSOs, PPPs donors. Interviewees’ feedback points at the need for an encompassing repository of all this information, ready-to-check, that enumerate surveys and reports of funding opportunities, organizations involved in relevant projects, as well as completed, ongoing and planned activities to tackle digital vulnerability – or that take it into account.


General understanding of salient issues and skills necessary to engage and design policies, develop and offer services


Capitalizing on the interviewees’ feedback in this survey, it emerges how targeting digital vulnerabilities and training digital skills are activities requiring a high level of specification. From the salient issues highlighted in our Findings, some directions for addressing the unmet needs of DVGs are:


- Paying increased attention to the geographical divides, be these between urban and rural areas, or flatlands and mountainous regions. Infrastructure and connectivity development should remain in focus for watchdog and lobbying activities, as well as the mobilization of further aid sources for comparatively more economically deprived regions;


- Focusing on increasing the access, connectivity, and devices availability in schools, to arrange for students the possibility to freely access such tools even after class. This could prove effective for pupils in the first place, but also to then enable more ambitious programs of awareness-raising and basic skills training in the general population by opening the schools to other digitally vulnerable social groups too;


- Developing critical approaches and lenses towards information consumption, as it has emerged to be a sensitive issue particularly in countries that might experience external geopolitical pressure, or have significant communities with linguistic minorities within their own borders;


- Focusing on presenting users with so-called low-hanging fruits, practical examples where the benefits of digitalization become immediate and easier to grasp. Likely, this will entail creating or enhancing digital solutions that address people’s most pressing and salient needs.



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