The 2020 Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) took place between 27 and 30 of September. This platform offers unique opportunities for dialogue and collaboration among the different stakeholders interested and engaged in the way the Internet works and is governed in a region that includes the majority of the world’s population. An IFLA-led workshop explored the policy and practice perspectives on meaningful digital inclusion and access to information, drawing on the work and experiences of libraries in the region.

The theme of the 2020 APrIGF was “Internet Governance for Good: Norms, Standards and Mechanisms”. Digital inclusion is naturally a crucial part of the Internet Governance dialogue, and so IFLA organised a session that explored the multidimensionality of meaningful inclusion – affordability, access, skills and availability or relevant content – and the role of public internet access in libraries and similar venues to help overcome these barriers.

The session was organised and moderated by Winston Roberts, a Standing Committee member of the IFLA National Libraries Section; and featured speakers from Myanmar, Nepal and New Zealand.

Key considerations and good practices.  The session highlighted some of the recent successes that have been achieved in bringing people online through libraries in the region – such as establishing dozens of community libraries, resource centers and school libraries around Nepal which can help provide internet access for their communities; or providing tablet computers and free WiFi to more than 200 libraries throughout Myanmar.

A recent survey highlighted, for example, that between 2015 and 2020 322.000 library users in Myanmar made use of these facilities to go online for the first time; more than 230.000 received new skills training; 15% of surveyed users indicated that they had the opportunity to improve their technology skills and 18% did so to seek and apply for jobs online.

The session also addressed the challenges and key considerations in tacking digital exclusion with the help of public access – like reaching marginalised communities in particular, especially in rural and remote areas; and concerted efforts to address the gender digital gap.

Skills training to support meaningful inclusion. The discussions around skills training as part of meaningful digital inclusion interventions underlined the high livel of user demand and the need for a broad range of skills training and support – from basic literacy to critical thinking and media literacy, as well as the continuous evolution of digital skillsets that users may need. The webinar also touched on training-the-trainers models as a way to support sustained impact of such digital inclusion interventions.

Cooperation and partnerships.  The speakers also brought up various examples and experiences of working with a broad range of stakeholders to support meaningful inclusion through public access in libraries. From relevant government agencies or ministries to NGOs, the tech sector and commercial actors – finding like-minded partners across different sectors can help maximise the impact of such digital inclusion interventions.

The discussion highlighted both shared experiences across countries which may be at different stages of their digital journey; and the diversity of context-dependent understandings of meaningful digital inclusion and exclusion.

Alongside this session, the 2020 APrIGF featured many workshops and discussions which may be of interest for libraries. From accessibility and digital inclusion for users with disabilities to tackling the gender divide, distance learning, and more – there are many discussions in which it is worth it for libraries to continue to engage.

You can find out more about APrIGF, catch up on recordings of the sessions, and keep an eye out on the ongoing discussions of the key takeaway messages from the 2020 APrIGF!