On September 8, 2022, the President of the French Republic launched a considerable consultation mechanism aimed at finding collective solutions to contemporary public problems, the National Council for Refoundation (CNR).
Shortly after, in November 2022, the Minister Delegate for the Digital Transition and Telecommunications, Jean-Noël Barrot, announced the launch of the “Digital CNR”, structured around three issues: digital transitions at work (development of artificial intelligence, digitization of practices, etc.), the appeasement of the digital space (fight against online violence in particular) and the digital inclusion of citizens away from the practice of these tools. This third component, baptized “France Digital Together”, worn by the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion (ANCT) and the Mednum (cooperative society supporting digital mediation structures), is part of a history of government action spanning more than 20 years, setting up digital inclusion as an objective to be achieved.
A double question therefore arises: that of the heritage of public policies from the beginning of the century and of the players working to achieve this ambition, and that of the future of digital inclusion in France, from investigation report presented by the Minister Delegate, April 21, 2023.
Digital inclusion and its legacy
Lionel Jospin's speech of August 25, 1997, entitled "Preparing France's entry into the information society", will contribute to the emergence of the first program in favor of digital inclusion, the Action Program Government for the Information Society (PAGSI), launched in 1998. This inter-ministerial mechanism favored the creation of new places, allowing the support of citizens in the appropriation of digital tools, such as Multimedia Culture Spaces (ECM), Digital Public Spaces (EPN), Cyb Points and Cyberbases.
Subsequently, the Law of December 17, 2009, relating to the fight against the digital divide, proposed by Senator Xavier Pintant, would focus on the deployment of digital television and high-speed Internet connection. There law of 7 October 2016 for a Digital Republic, instigated by the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Axelle Lemaire, provides a legislative framework for open data and the protection of privacy online.
A more recent public action gives pride of place to digital inclusion and to the consideration of digital inequalities. Announced in September 2018 by the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Mounir Majhoubi, the National plan for inclusive digital turns out to be the program for considering the appropriation of digital tools as necessary for the social inclusion of citizens.
Finally, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and within the framework of the program “France Recovery”, the government is investing 908 million euros in digital access, around three pillars: the generalization of fiber optics, the digitization of local authority services and digital inclusion.
All of these initiatives convene a particular professional group, that of digital mediation, assigned as an expert in digital inclusion. Today, digital mediation is still at the heart of political considerations of digital inclusion. It would nevertheless seem that the recent public actions are moving further and further away from the values of popular education and the social and solidarity economy, from which digital mediation originated.
The “Digital” CNR report
Presented on April 21, 2023, the “Digital Inclusion” report offers both findings and recommendations, resulting from a large national consultation.
The expectations of professionals are numerous and focus in particular on the need for clear governance, support for structures in the development of stable economic models, visibility of digital mediation, structuring of the training of actors and an evaluation of the impact of public policies.
The report's proposals are 19 in number. In parallel with the report, the Minister publishes a roadmap proposal, made up of 15 commitments, and is launching a final consultation phase three weeks (from 21/04/23 to 19/04/23), allowing partners to amend and enrich them.
As it stands, the report and the roadmap show some limits in the realization of a digital inclusion policy. The fifth proposal of the report seems to highlight a strong injunction to jump on the bandwagon for citizens remote from digital uses. Entitled "Soothing the apprehension of digital and democratizing digital training", it invites to arouse interest among those who do not wish to familiarize themselves with digital tools.
Despite a recommendation, which moreover has disappeared from the roadmap, on the need to offer physical methods of access to public services, totally dematerialized, what about French people who don't want to jump on the bandwagon ? Another important recommendation which promotes the use of reconditioned tools, the reduction of the digital environmental footprint and the training of professionals in this direction, does not appear on the roadmap. Why have you withdrawn it when it fits directly into the general government policy ?
Then there are major absentees, like disability. Indeed, a fifth optional axis, concerning it, was dealt with during the national consultation. Many actors have worked on this subject, however the results of the consultations are lacking. The report and roadmap are also inattentive to the legacies of digital mediation. What about popular education and the social and solidarity economy? While the report highlights the fact that these two institutions no longer attract funding, is it necessary to turn our backs on the values that have allowed digital inclusion policies to be formalized? On this point, the report seems to encourage investment by private funds and companies in the digital economy. Is there then a neoliberal and mercantile program of digital inclusion taking shape?
How to integrate the voice of citizens?
The new method of the CNR, theoretically leaving a more than considerable place to the voice of the people, turns out to be abstract and relatively little operationalized with the abandonment of important proposals. A reality then giving consistency to the words of Clément Victorovitch on France Info on June 9, 2022: “the Government listens and decides on its own”.
From an ambition to integrate citizens into the so-called "Information Society", to large-scale public policies promoting digital inclusion, French governments have always had in mind the concern to build an inclusive society in the face of to the development of digital culture. Many means have been implemented: encouraging the emergence of places of reception, legislation of online public life, training of professionals, recruitment of active forces, etc.
It nevertheless seems that the solutions expressed today move away from the founding values of digital mediation, such as emancipation, critical education, solidarity and support for all, leading the current government towards a policy of management, market and neoliberal digital inclusion.
Image credit: Shutterstock / NicoElNino