David, thank you for joining us on the Blog Spot, can you start by telling us what 'Ask Izzy' is and how collaborating across sectors played a role its launch?
Ask Izzy is a mobile website that connects people in need with housing, a meal, money help, health and wellbeing services, support and counselling and much more. It’s free and anonymous, and lists over 350,000 services across Australia.
Ask Izzy is a whole of community partnership – we have over 20 major and contributing partners, and strong collaboration between the community, corporate, government and academic sectors.
Ask Izzy was born out of the Google Impact Challenge, which we won in 2014. Google, REA Group and News Corp Australia came on board as founding partners who provided us with expertise and support throughout the project’s development. But really, Ask Izzy is a whole of community partnership – we have over 20 major and contributing partners, and strong collaboration between the community, corporate, government and academic sectors.
Ask Izzy was originally co-designed with people who have experienced homelessness and leaders in the homelessness sector, and we’ve made further enhancements over time by working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with support from the Victoria Government, as well as victim/survivors of family violence and workers in the family violence sector with support from the NAB Foundation.
These co-design processes have been invaluable and incredibly important for us to ensure that the site responds to the needs of people who access Ask Izzy for help.
What evidence was there to identify the problem and suggest that the Ask Izzy digital platform was the solution?
Ask Izzy was born from a simple idea – give people access to the information they need and let them make a choice about their own circumstances. We know that around one in 200 Australians are homeless on any given night, and research tells us that nearly 80 percent of people experiencing homelessness have a smartphone.
It was a case of developing a platform that gave people access to that information in a way that was simple, easy-to-use and responded to their particular needs.
At Infoxchange we already had an enormous amount of data on support services through our Service Seeker directory, so it was a case of developing a platform that gave people access to that information in a way that was simple, easy-to-use and responded to their particular needs. We worked closely with the Council for Homeless Persons and gathered insights from those affected by homelessness, talking to them about what they needed and what they would use.
Are there many operational challenges around the issue of Digital Inclusion and how are these barriers being overcome?
In the context of Ask Izzy, there are certain challenges around affordability and access. While most people who are homeless have a smartphone, they are often prepaid and with no credit. Access to free wifi across our cities is getting better, but there’s more work that needs to be done to ensure people who are doing it tough can stay connected.
One major step we’ve taken in this area is partnering Telstra to make Ask Izzy zero rated, meaning you don’t need any credit to access the site if you’re on the Telstra network. This marks the first time Telstra has made a site meter free for social good.
There’s also the challenge of finding somewhere to charge your phone, which we’re addressing with the distribution of Ask Izzy power cards. These provide enough power to fully charge one smartphone at a time, and so far we’ve distributed around 15,000 cards through various homelessness and other support services across the country.
As an innovator of a people-centred digital platform, what insights, key learnings and recommendations do you have to address the Digital Divide within our community?
We need better access to devices and the internet, better affordability (especially for low income households) and more opportunity for digital skills development.
Through our work in digital inclusion and the various co-design processes we’ve undertaken, we’ve identified three key issues that need to be addressed: access, affordability and ability. We need better access to devices and the internet, better affordability (especially for low income households) and more opportunity for digital skills development.
We’re addressing the need for digital skills in partnership with Google with our Digital Springboard program, which provides participants with the opportunity to improve their digital skills and open up new employment and career opportunities.
What’s next for Infoxchange? How can digital technology be further used to support vulnerable people in our community?
Up next for Infoxchange is the Ask Izzy Open Data Platform, an open source data tool that provides insights into the supply and demand of services across the country, which is an Australian-first.
Using location-based, anonymous search data and service listing information taken from Ask Izzy and other Infoxchange sources, the platform shows the demand and supply of services in categories such as housing and homelessness, food, disabilities, family violence and mental health.
The platform also contains data from other sources including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, giving users a comprehensive view of need and reasons for seeking support services across Australia.
This means that for the first time, service providers and policymakers can identify gaps in the provision of services so they can better tailor support to people who are struggling.