Tackling Digital Exclusion in Scotland: Greater understanding of the long-term impacts of digital inclusion is needed

September 5, 2017

In August, I attended an event co-hosted by the SCVO and University of West of "Scotland Tackling Digital Exclusion: The Latest Evidence". The aim of the event was to present the latest evidence on digital inclusion in Scotland, including case studies and literature. 

 

Digital Inclusion work in Scotland: my experience.

 

Although my research is primarily focused on young people's digital culture, I'm also interested in the wider aspects of digital participation. During my work as a digital media practitioner, I would often work with groups identified as socially or digitally excluded. While trying to identify the needs of workshop participants, I would normally use GO ON UK definition of basic digital skills. Assessing someone's ability to manage and create information, communicate online, shop online would provide me with a overall picture of their digital expertise and confidence. In a way, I used Basic Digital Skills as a conversation starter, which would help me to identify learner's digital interests and "digital fears".  

 

 

 

Through my work, I learned that community digital inclusion can be a challenging but also an extremely rewarding experience. For example, in 2015, I managed an IT project at Fife Migrants Forum, where we the situation required us to be extremely proactive and participant-centred.  

 

I'm sure that most of digital inclusion workers have faced these type of dilemas in the past: what kind of equipment should we use? what kind of operating systems? should participants bring their own equipment? what about Wi-Fi access? These are only some of the organisational aspects that each project has to address. However, at Fife Migrants forum, we yet had another set of challenge to deal with - the language barrier. How do you teach someone basic digital skills, if their knowledge of English is limited? Luckily, in my case, I was able to communicate in Polish which could be somehow understood by participants from Eastern Europe and countries such as Bulgaria or Slovenia (but this still didn't change the fact that the online world relies mainly on English language - which cause some more problems).

 

 

 

From this experience, I learned that teaching digital skills requires a very individual and person-centred approach. The uniqueness of people's needs and preferences really need to be at the heart to digital inclusion. 

 

During my the recent event organised by the SCVO and University of West, similar challenges and recommendations were also discussed. Most importantly, the notion of IMPAC has also been examined, suggesting that more research is required to understand the long term impact of digital inclusion projects. 

 

Tackling Digital Exclusion: The Latest Evidence

 

"Right now in Scotland, one in five adults lack Basic Digital Skills. These are the skills of safely communicating, transacting, managing information, problem solving and creating content to use the internet as part of modern day to day life. The people most likely not to have these skills are older, poorer and facing other forms of disadvantage. In order to tackle exclusion and inequalities, our work focuses on equipping everyone with these skills." SCVO

 

 

During the event three key digital barriers to digital inclusion in Scotland were outlined. These include: 

  1. Confidence and motivation

  2. Access and affordability

  3. Basic digital skills

Similarly to what I learned from my own digital community practice, the presenters claimed that there is no magic solution to digital exclusion problem, and that it is essential to adopt an individual and interest-driven approach:


"assisting excluded citizens to engage digitally cannot usefully be approached in an undifferentiated manner. Rather, a nuanced understanding of individual, local and community barriers acknowledging a far broader scope of issues than might initially be apparent is required if interventions are to be successful" (Mcgillivray et al., 2017, p.5) 

 

 

Rapid review of evidence for Bascic Digital Skills by  Professor David McGillivray, Dr Nick Jenkins and Dr Sophie Mamattah, School of Media, Culture & Society, University of the West of Scotland

 

This rapid review was carried out by University of the West of Scotland in order to help the development of the Digital Participation Challenge Fund .

The outcomes of the review were presented by Professor David McGillivray , who discussed the following four research questions: 

 

Q1: What is the current extent of digital inclusion in the UK?

Q2: What sociodemographic factors impact upon digital inclusion and how might these barriers best be addressed?

Q3: What interventions ‘work’ and which interventions look ‘promising’ in promoting digital inclusion?

Q4: What are the primary social and economic benefits associated with digital inclusion and how are these best realised?

 

The full review can be accessed here. 

 

Greater understanding of the long-term impacts of digital inclusion is needed.


One of the key findings of the review highlights the importance of IMPACT

First, in the review we can read how important it is to "understand the reasons for non-engagement with digital technology and associated opportunities" (McGililvray et al., 2017, p.5), to effectively tackle the problem of digital exclusion. Secondly, the authors of the review suggest that we should adopt a more holisitc approach to the the ways in which we percieve and measure digital inclusion: "the emphasis on 'use' as a metric indicating engagement might be helpfully replaced by analysis of whether the nature [of ICT] enhances their lives" (McGililvray et al., 2017, p.5).Finally, McGililvray et al. believe that future research is required to understand "the complex links between the offline and online" (2017, p.9).

 

 

Impact. Impact.Impact.


As social impact evaluation is one of the key themes of my doctoral research project, I was intrigued to learn about the challenges in this area of digital inclusion in Scotland. The discussion on how to measure success, empowerment or simply engagement can also be seen in other UK based digital projects such as Time to Shine and #NotWithoutME. Also, from my recently gathered data ( 20 x interviews with digital youth workers in the UK) I have learned that there are also endless interpretations of impact. As I'm analysing the data, my hope is that the results of my study will provide some unique insights into how we perceive and understand social impact of digital participation. or simply

 

Who knows, I might be able to produce some recommendations on day too ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr Alicja Pawluczuk

Digital Media Practitioner and Researcher with extensive experience of participatory media project design and facilitation both in Europe and South East Asia. Founder of digital storytelling educational collective www.digitalbeez.org. Associate Lecturer & PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University. Interested in Digital Youth Work/Literacy and Experiential Teaching Practice, ICT4D, Digital Inclusion, and Digital Activism. An active member of the Digital Youth Workers Network in Scotland. 

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