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Exploring gender-responsive designs in digital welfare

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How design can play a critical role in highlighting system blindspots and can encourage practices that foster gender responsiveness

Tags: 'ADMS' 'Algorithm' 'Artificial Intelligence' 'Data breach' 'Public innovation'
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Digital transformation within governments has been posed as an inevitable occurrence, to keep up with the times and effectively address the needs of digitally-enabled citizens. Too often, however, the digitisation and automation of government services plays out through a two-sided conversation between policymakers and technologists, with the experiences of service users rarely considered. 

Women as a collective are on the front line to receive the potential harms of the digitisation of welfare systems. They are more likely to experience poverty than men due to factors including low employment rate; higher engagement in unpaid labour such as care duties of children, elderly and other dependent family members; and lack of access to property. Ignoring this ensures that digital welfare systems, by design, will reinforce the structural gender inequalities inherent within the welfare system. However, by adopting the belief that design is a culture and practice to obtain a desired reality, governments can gain a clearer understanding of how to implement participatory practices and a gender-responsive approach to build public services that lead to a more equitable society for all.  

This report explores these truths and draws on specialised knowledge from experts and designers to showcase three design concepts that unlock the real potential automated decision-making systems offers governments around the world. These concepts address the different pain points that women face as users and claimants of these systems and help envision a reality where digital welfare empowers women.  

 
When public servants design a service, they have to think they one day might be the very person who needs to access that service. It requires a level of empathy to understand that some public services have become a painful life event for the user. If the state cannot go through the exercise to understand the level of trauma and sensitivity, and furthermore does not apply that empathy to design, it is giving a bad service. Daniel Abadie, former Digital Secretary of Argentina