What are the key inclusion priorities for government and business?

Inclusion continues to be a hot topic. Organisations and government want to make a real difference but often do not know where to start.

Thanks to new research, we now have answers on what the key inclusion priorities should be for government as well as for key institutions like the business sector. The findings come from the Inclusion Compass Report by Centre for Inclusive Design (CfID) and The Lab Insight and Strategy and were based on insights from systemically marginalised communities as well as the analysis of 700,000 online conversations.

What did Australians say they want when it comes to inclusion?

According to the findings, Australians want to see improvement in six key areas:

  • Income equality
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Community safety
  • Education and development
  • Connection and representation
  • Digital divide

Income equality was high on the list of what people wanted when it came to creating a more inclusive society.

“Interest rates increasing is creating a vicious cycle for people below the poverty line,” said one participant during a CfID inclusion workshop. People want support systems and welfare services designed to reduce rather than increase barriers for people trying to break the cycle of poverty.

The various inclusion priorities also overlapped. For example, one workshop participant said, “A patient recently told me that their medical problems would improve if I could prescribe them a full-time job, stable housing and a puppy.”

This comment shows a strong overlap between the various inclusion priorities like health and wellbeing, having greater income equality through factors like a stable job, secure and safe housing, as well as a desire for more connection by having a pet.

When it came to connection and representation, more overlap appeared. One workshop participant said we need to “explore further the need for non-digital opportunities for connection and human interaction.”

“If people aren’t able to use technology, they face exclusion,” said another participant.

The research has made it clear Australia has a digital divide. People living in regional, rural, and urban Australia have significantly different levels of inclusion based on the technology they can and cannot access. This digital divide can be overcome, and other inclusion areas can be improved at the same time, by government and industry providing omnichannel experiences (physical, digital, phone etc.) for services and products offered online.

For example, some people CfID spoke to said they felt unsafe online and had strong fears about being hacked. Omnichannel experiences would improve feelings of safety and being online would be a choice rather than something people were forced into against their will.

Creating in-person experiences was also linked to increased feelings of connection to community.

Conversations about inclusive education and development showed a desire to shift responsibility from the employee or student to the employer or teacher/education provider to create accessible, and safe working and learning environments.

The shift of responsibility based on power dynamics has already been proven possible. In December 2022 the government introduced a positive duty regarding sexual harassment meaning the responsibility was placed from employee to employer to prevent sexual harassment in workplaces. CfID’s conversations made it clear that a similar positive duty to create a more inclusive society for people with disability and others living on the edge is desired by many people across Australia.

Seeing inclusion as an opportunity

Governments, communities, and businesses have an opportunity to build lasting relationships with people across Australia to create an inclusive society. Doing so requires an understanding of the barriers creating exclusion.

Much of this is about shifting the mindset to embody inclusive design.

Already, there has been a shift in the way Australian leaders talk about inclusion. In Federal Disability Minister Bill Shorten’s December 2023 address at National Press Club, the need to design the NDIS with not for people with disability was a key theme. Such a statement is informed by inclusive design thinking. In fact, the essence of inclusive design is designing with not for communities from the get-go to create inclusive and relevant policies, products, systems and experiences that work for everyone.

As an Australian inclusion peak body, we know people in leadership positions want to do the right thing. They want to include rather than exclude. Often people just don’t know how to start because our systems and organisations were constructed at a different time and are, often unintentionally, exclusive. Government, industry, and all of us need to understand this and look at how we can remove societal and structural barriers.

These barriers can be removed with one basic principle: ask the people you want to include. They will tell you. They will also offer the solutions.

You can learn more about inclusive design and read the full Inclusion Compass report on the CfID website: cfid.org.au.

Anne Rutherford is the Communications and Advocacy Lead at Centre for Inclusive Design (CfID), a social enterprise leading the conversation on the power of thinking from the edge. Anne is an experienced organiser, communications specialist, and campaigner, who has worked across the social justice space, including the refugee and inclusion sectors as well as in the trade union movement.