Social inclusion in the digital era: Can disruptive technology improve conditions for vulnerable citizens?

by Lasse Nielsen – Aarhus Municipality

The train of public service digitisation has left the platform long ago in Denmark. Nevertheless, vulnerable citizens are, to a great extent, left waiting to jump on this modern way of interacting with the public sector and important private institutions like banks and housing landlords. Using the IMPULSE solution, the Danish case study in the City of Aarhus explores new ways to hand a group of left-behind citizens the ticket to the digital society.

Since 2014 it has been mandatory for Danish citizens to use digital public self-services. This means that every Danish citizen (unless they have been exempted) is required to have a digital mailbox. Danes are also expected to interact digitally with public service providers in numerous other ways. If you wish to apply for a passport, you must nowadays fill in all relevant information and pay from your computer or laptop at home – and only attend the citizen’s service center to have the required picture taken. You can also handle all your banking businesses on digital platforms and sign your new housing lease using a digital signature.

But all this depends on the use of the digital identification service, NemID. 5.2 million Danes use this service for public digital signature and identification. A poll made in 2020 showed that 94% of the users were satisfied with NemID in general and even a total number of 98% were satisfied with the NemID app used to log-in on all digital public self-services [1]. Danes like being digital. But for some groups in society the digital era has not been a solely delightful encounter. This includes homeless citizens and citizens with severe psychical and social problems. Most of these people do not own the smartphone required to use the NemID app solution. Instead, they are stuck with a physical key card in order to use digital public self-services. But a sometime chaotic living is not always greatly compatible with keeping order on the physical key card. When it is lost, many of these citizens feel decoupled from the society and the public welfare system that they are deeply dependent on, because then the re-identification labyrinth sets in.

The re-identification process

When a key card has been lost, a citizen must go to a municipal citizen’s service center to apply for a new one. But here the trouble sets in for the already troubled group. You must identify yourself in order to apply for a new key card by bringing at least two of the four following IDs: Passport, health insurance card, driver’s license or birth certificate. Often, these vulnerable citizens either do not possess this kind of ID, especially passports and driver’s licenses, or they have lost these IDs; The physical ID they need to regain their digital ID.

If this is the case (which is most often is), the citizens need to go to the church’s office to reissue a birth certificate. This require that they bring a witness to testify that “yes, he/she was born on this date”. You can possibly imagine how draining this process is for these citizens who did not, in advance, possess the physical and psychical surplus, even beforehand. And even if they get through the maze, they could see themselves lose their key card again after a couple of months. The unfortunate result is that some of these citizens give up on their digital ID and thereby gets left behind on the platform.

Aarhus municipality.

Can disruptive technology solve this problem?

The Aarhus use case explores how and whether a physical document box can help solve the outlined problem. The idea is to test whether the possibility to store and deposit key cards (and possibly other ID’s as well) in a safe facility can help vulnerable citizens get permanent access to digital public self-services.

We will test this by placing a document box in a municipal drop-in center. Here, vulnerable citizens will be able to store their key cards and other personal documents by accessing a personal drawer in the document box that is only accessible by use of biometrical data or facial recognition. The integration of the IMPULSE technical solution into the document box constitutes a highly interesting case for using disruptive technology to enhance social and digital inclusion in European societies. The first user pilot in Aarhus will be conducted in the late summer and early autumn.

[1] Agency For Digital Government: