In an trial to improve digital inclusion, Victoria’s City of Casey has launched a new program in Doveton featuring new digital infrastructure and community activities.

Developed in line with Council’s Digital Equity Framework, which aims to improve digital equity and empowerment in the municipality, the Digital Equity Living Lab aims to increase access, affordability, and digital ability for Doveton residents.

The Living Lab concept will involve deploying a range of trials with partners, in collaboration with the community, to gain feedback to inform any changes for future plans.  

In partnership with Eco Renewable Energy, two new solar powered smart benches have been installed in public spaces outside Doveton Pool and Doveton Neighbourhood Learning Centre, with a third bench due to be rolled out at the Linden Place shopping strip in August 2022. 

The smart bench trials offer free device charging, free public WiFi, and environmental sensors which will monitor temperature, humidity, air pressure, gas sensors, particle sensors, people counting and noise levels.

Three bus shelters in Doveton will be upgraded to smart bus shelters in a trial being run in partnership with yStop. They will provide device charging, free WiFi and smart technology sensors, within a sheltered environment.

The smart bus shelters will support local businesses and community groups by providing spaces for affordable advertising.

Council is also partnering with Enable Social Enterprises to procure additional laptops for the library device loan program for Doveton community members, to enable greater access to digital devices. 

Council is also rolling out a digital kiosk inside Autumn Place so community members can use devices on site.

City of Casey Chair of Administrators, Noelene Duff PSM, said that all community members deserve fair access to digital resources and the associated benefits, and encouraged Doveton residents to engage in the free events and activities.

“Council is committed to building digital equity in Casey through ensuring community members have access to digital tools, skills and the confidence needed for full and ongoing participation in our increasingly online society, democracy, and economy,“ Ms Duff said. 

“We know that Doveton has the highest rate of digital disadvantage and exclusion in Casey, and the Digital Equity Living Lab aims to build digital equity and empowerment across the suburb through testing innovative ideas and infrastructure.”

Doveton has been selected for the program as it has the highest rate of digital disadvantage and exclusion in Casey, with 2016 Census data identifying that 22 per cent of households do not access the internet at home. 

This is significantly more than the Casey average of 10 per cent and the South-East Melbourne and Greater Melbourne averages of 11 per cent. 

Free public WiFi was installed in the outdoor public area at Autumn Place in December 2021. Since then there has been a significant uptake with 717 unique visitors since its rollout, and almost half of those users being repeat visitors. 

By continuing to invest further in smart city infrastructure and supporting residents’ digital knowledge, the program aims to address digital disadvantage and exclusion in Doveton. The insights from these trials will also inform the broader rollout of digital infrastructure for other communities in Casey.  

The Digital Equity Framework is also a priority initiative of the Smart Casey Launchpad – a strategic approach to smart city action developed in consultation with the community in 2020. 

The Framework and the Digital Equity Living Lab supports the launchpad’s focus on Connecting Communities to “build digital connectivity to increase digital inclusion, participation in Council decision-making and community building”.

For more information about the Digital Equity Living Lab and upcoming events visit the Digital Doveton web page. 

Featured image courtesy of City of Casey.

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