Cities building bridges for digital inclusion

22 February 2024

Imagine a morning routine for someone in today’s digital age. As soon as we wake up, we reach for our smartphones to check our social networks. With a quick scroll, we catch up with friends and family in various corners of the globe.

We rely on smart devices to pay our bills through the bank app, make an appointment to renew our ID or driving licence, or apply for a job.

But not everyone has equal access to such digital experiences. In an interconnected, digital world, people who struggle with access to infrastructure or lack digital skills are being left behind.

Still a widening gap

Far from disappearing, the digital gap “is deepening, present in all age groups, and it has costs that we have not yet measured,” says Delphine Jamet, Digital Councillor of Bordeaux Métropole, and chair of the Eurocities’ Task Force on Digital Divide.

As technology continues to shape our daily lives, those without access to digital devices or lacking essential digital skills face exclusion from vital services and opportunities.

To tackle this, cities across Europe are implementing innovative initiatives to bridge the digital divide, aiming to empower their residents with the necessary tools and skills to fully grasp the opportunities that digital technologies bring.

Ghent empowers through education

With 46% of the Belgian population digitally vulnerable and even higher percentages among marginalised groups, Ghent is determined to leave no one behind.

The city is tackling digital exclusion in many innovative ways: with a large group of volunteers answering over 10.000 digital questions each year, employing professional digital coaches in the social services and employment agency, special projects in education and elderly care, and sponsoring short tracks for youngsters contemplating working in IT.

“Over the past year, with the very fast development of many digital services as well as AI, it has become clear that digital exclusion is a challenge that is inherent to the digital era, and not a divide we can close easily with a few projects,” acknowledges Sofie Bracke, member of City Council of Ghent and College of Mayor and Aldermen, responsible for ICT and digital inclusion. “If we want to keep being on the frontline economically but also want to battle disinformation and discrimination, promote democracy, and have people with the right skills on the job market, we need to invest heavily in digital skills and media literacy,” she adds.

Brussels prioritises digital rights

In Brussels, the situation does not differ much. One in every three citizens in the Brussels Region have weak, limited or non-existent digital skills.

“We have a fundamental ethical duty to enable all citizens to have fair and equitable access to digital tools”, states Fabian Maingain, Deputy Mayor of the City of Brussels. “Cities need to take concrete measures, both in the short and long term.”

Digital Rights Charter - City of Brussels
Digital Rights Charter – City of Brussels

That is why digital rights are a top priority for the Belgian capital, which launched its Digital Rights Policy in October 2023. As outlined in its Digital Rights Charter, Brussels is dedicated to offering various training and support services to help residents gain basic and advanced digital skills. This includes supporting educational and training establishments such as digital public spaces and community centres, along with providing early-age training to pupils in the city’s state schools.

The city aims to expand the content and availability of these training programmes, and they are working in increasing awareness, as front-line agents, social workers, and digital helpers may not always direct individuals to these resources.

Amsterdam’s cyberbank

In Amsterdam, one in five do not have digital skills, one in ten do not have access to the internet in their households, and 13% of the entire population does not get along well with digital services.

A woman handling a laptop
Amsterdam’s Cyberbank promotional poster. Photo by Anne Reinke.

In this landscape, the city works with the organisation Cybersoek. They launched the Cyberbank, an initiative, which aims to collect, refurbish, and distribute laptops to those in need. “Having a device and access to the internet is like having water or electricity,” says Charissa Sloote, project leader of Digital City in Amsterdam. “It is a basic condition for participating in this digital world.”

This initiative not only provides devices but also offers free support and training, empowering individuals to navigate the digital world confidently. “We want to make it easier for Amsterdam residents to get involved, to benefit from the possibilities of the internet and to be resilient to the challenges,” adds Sloote.

Eindhoven, fostering accessibility

In Eindhoven, the Netherlands, efforts are underway to address the lack of accessible online services and complexity of digital platforms. With initiatives like Language Buddy and Click & Tab, the city aims to bridge the gap by providing introductory internet courses and support in digital government services.

By leveraging resources like public Wi-Fi hotspots and digital information points, Eindhoven is making digital services more inclusive and user-friendly.

Empowering participation in Leipzig

Leipzig’s Digital Agenda empowers citizens to participate in the digital world through expanded access and engagement.

“Our goal by 2026 is to expand and enhance the digital involvement in local democracy, ranging from submitting petitions to participating in city council meetings live online,” explains Head of Digital City Unit in Leipzig, Dr. Beate Ginzel. To support this, the city will set up digital platforms and services to support the digital engagement of its residents.

The city supports a volunteer association that distributes donated hardware. Since 2020, they have distributed over 3.000 devices.

Another objective set in their Digital Agenda is to partner with public institutions, academic entities, and civil society organisations. “These collaborations aim to equip individuals with the skills to navigate the challenges of the digital world,” adds Ginzel. For example, the Digital City Unit collaborates with various owners, organisations and associations to establish Wi-Fi clusters at as many locations as possible. So far, around 10 clusters have been established across the city.

Rotterdam’s community-led solutions

With disparities in income, education, and access to technology widening, Rotterdam is implementing targeted interventions to bridge the digital divide. Community-led initiatives, like Teatime -an initiative bringing together migrant housewives to help them develop digital skills in a familiar setting- exemplify the power of grassroots efforts in addressing the digital divide.

“We want to make internet access and devices available for those who cannot afford them, ensure digital skill training is accessible to every citizen, and establish a Civic AI-Lab for collaborative AI development with citizens to combat bias,” explains Faouzi Achbar, Deputy Mayor of Rotterdam.

Data-driven solutions

Data-driven solutions might be key for addressing digital inequalities, as Bordeaux Métropole is testing.

The Bordeaux Métropole Observatory on Digital Inequalities was established as a result of a survey performed in 2023 aimed at gathering detailed local data on digital access, usage, and attitudes. It serves as a central hub for analysing and interpreting data.

By leveraging this data, the city gains a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to the digital divide, including socioeconomic disparities, language barriers, and accessibility issues.

By leveraging data and collaborating with stakeholders, Bordeaux aims to tailor interventions to the specific needs of its residents. Through comprehensive surveys and open data initiatives, the city strives to empower its citizens with the necessary skills and resources to navigate the digital world.

Latest image by Anne Reinke.


Digital inclusion will be further discussed during the advocacy session ‘Bridging the Digital Divide by 2030′, at the Press Club in Brussels, Wednesday March 20th from 8:30 to 11:00 AM. For more information, please reach out to Sophie Woodville (

It will also be one of the key topics of the next Eurocities Digital Forum ‘Digital inclusion in European Cities’, which will take place in Rotterdam between 17-19 April 2024. Register to the event (Eurocities members only) here.



Lucía Garrido Eurocities Writer