Research with One Digital and UWS – what I’m reading

It’s been a couple of months now since I started my research with One Digital and the University of the West of Scotland and I already feel that to pick out some highlights from my reading is a tall order. So, grab a coffee (and apologies if there are some articles you need an academic login to access)…

The last month saw the publication of three essential documents – the Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index and also the new framework for essential digital skills. Both of these are absolutely vital reading: the former gives us clear statistics around current levels of digital exclusion in the UK and in Scotland, and the latter helps us to understand exactly what is meant when we refer to ‘essential digital skills’- it’s a question I’m asked a lot as a practitioner. The new framework distinctly identifies skill statements for both life and work, reflecting the overarching impact digital has in both our personal and professional lives. Sitting alongside this is People, Power, Technology – the 2018 Digital Attitudes Report produced by doteveryone, which highlights the complex issue of digital understanding, as well as essential skills.

I’m also delving more into global perspectives on digital inclusion – and having remotely joined the National Digital Inclusion Alliance conference, I was interested to hear about work in the States in the field. In the U.S. there’s significant discussion amongst digital inclusion activists in the third sector around ‘redlining’ – the belief that broadband rollout in the States is discriminatory, and that telecoms companies are deliberately developing high-speed services to meet the needs of affluent areas, whilst leaving poorer communities out of rollout and infrastructure- and thus deepening the digital divide. New Media Advocacy have produced core videos to be used to advocate around this.

I’m particularly interested in any research which reflects on the links between digital inequity and other forms of social inequity and there have been a few articles over the last year focussed on this. Newman et al look specifically at barriers to digital inclusion and online social networking among young people with disabilities; whereas Mayorga’s #BarrioEdProj looks at digital participation in East Harlem where digital, instead of enabling community voice, was a further challenge to be addressed. Digital understanding – and in particular how that relates to cyber security as an issue for those who are digitally excluded is explored by Gangadharan in this article and is particularly interesting in the context of current discussions related to big data and GDPR. It ties neatly into Scottish Pen’s publication of the Libraries for Privacy Toolkit.

Back home again – there’s lots of interesting work going on. In May, Alicja Pawluczuk published a fascinating article on measuring the social impact of youth digital participation work – she’s part of the brilliant Digital Beez project and so her research is deeply rooted in practice and experience.

With this in mind, I’ve also been throwing myself at trying to understand Participatory Action Research: this sounds an entirely academic approach, but sits perfectly with Pawluczuk’s assertion that ‘social impact evaluation practice in digital participatory (youth) projects should be addressed through the adoption of alternative, participant-centred approaches’. It’s a model of enquiry and reflection which lends itself well to our work in the third sector. So often we are asked to evidence our success, to quantify this through statistics – participatory action research allows for a community to work together on an issue (let’s say digital inclusion…) and through collective research and information sharing, the process of finding out what works (or doesn’t…) is given value and worth and solutions are unique and community based. It’s worth having a look – and, when we’re looking for research partners with our One Digital work, this is the route we’ll be going down.

Digital stuff I’ve been trying out this month:

  • The DreamLab app – working to find a cure for cancer while you sleep
  • Change Tomorrow – a participatory budgeting tool
  • Be my eyes – An app which connects blind and low vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.
  • Kahoot – one of the best quiz makers out there

Irene Mackintosh

Director, Mhor Collective

Irene Mackintosh is working on a One Digital part-funded PhD studentship in partnership with the University of the West of Scotland, focusing on exploring evidence based models of digital inclusion.