The last weeks have been pretty immersive (read: chaotic). With Mhor Collective, One Digital and SCVO, we’ve been working with some fantastic third sector organisations to understand the challenges they face when addressing issues of digital inclusion, and- hopefully- work with them towards some solutions. This work has recently taken me to Stirling to meet with the team, and to Glasgow to meet with Victim Support Scotland. Back home in the Highlands, I had my first proper meeting with Cantraybridge College who are moving forward apace with digital plans and joining in with the research project (hurray!) I attended (and spoke at) the fantastic Digi-Ren event (no-one booed) which showcased the literally incredible digital inclusion stuff happening in Renfrewshire.

And then this week I attended a brilliant academic conference on Connected Communities. The conference was specifically focussed on the intersection between community capacity building, activism and academic research, reflecting on ways the latter might help with the former, and I came away fizzing with ideas and also humbled and inspired (I know it sounds like an Oscar speech, but really I was) by the incredible stuff happening with projects like The Edinburgh City of Sanctuary and accompanying guide, the Tangible Memories project which concerns the care and well-being of older people and the legacy of the memories and stories that they leave for future generations, and the seemingly impossibleOnline Arabic from Palestinecourse.

So reading has happened on trains, in bed, and bleary-eyed before the school run… but here are some highlights for your delight and delectation.

Great reads from the day job:

Locked Out: The Smartphone Deficit published by Citizens Advice Scotland, reflects on the relationship between relative deprivation and the use of a Smartphone as the only method of access to the internet (spoiler alert: there is one) – one in five folk access the internet through smartphone alone and the data gathered by Citizens Advice Scotland further evidences that Smartphone only consumers use the internet and emails less often and that smartphone only consumers are less able to undertake basic internet tasks compared to other internet users. This research is vital as it evidences the importance of seeing smartphone use as a specific type of digital engagement and not a ‘silver bullet’ for inclusion.

The Economic Impact of Digital Inclusion in the UK by Good Things Foundation does what it says on the tin, considering the economic impact of essential digital skills and inclusion in the UK. As before, the purpose of this research aims to establish the likely investment required in order to achieve a fully digitally active society. The report highlights the significance of essential digital skills in achieving national, long-term economic growth and draws a business case for investment at a strategic level in digital inclusion activity, estimating a benefit of £15 for every £1 invested in skills development.

The Mozilla open-sourced Internet Health Report is a weighty, and wide-ranging read compiled by a myriad of researchers from around the globe with vital themes such as data privacy, web literacy, decentralization and openness. It’s a veritable rabbit-hole of links to loads of fascinating stuff – so strong coffee is definitely required. From a digital inclusion perspective, the report highlights that while 80% of Europe is online, only 20% of people in Africa can access the internet, and further noting that in every region of the world – except the Americas- there are more men online than women, highlighting a gender disparity in access to the opportunities afforded by connectivity and digital understanding, with an accompanying concern that – if left unchecked- these disparities may deepen. Discussions around languages ‘accepted’ online are of particular interest, especially as we experience the proliferation and application of speech-enabled technology.

Great reads from research:

Over the last months, my go-to for informed reflection on the correlation between digital and other social exclusions has been Ellen Helsper. A recent paper written with Alexander Van Deursen, highlights that ‘personal and social uses of the Internet have the most collateral benefits’. This is dead important. A lot of weight is attached (by funders and policymakers, for instance) to digital inclusion activity which supports individuals to achieve economic outcomes and while this remains important, it doesn’t necessarily develop meaningful digital understanding nor support folk in engaging with wider social and civic participation. So- the person-centred approach we favour in the third sector is the way to go- and that, in turn, will support a deeper participation.

Similarly, Bach, Shaffer and Wolfson use a ‘Digital Human Capital’ approach to argue for initiatives which ‘transcend consumption’ empowering individuals to develop a digital understanding which allows for creativity, enabling participation in wider media, and which encourages ‘full participation in community affairs, cultural life, and official institutions.’ I know this is what we want to do with Mhor Collective. We don’t just want to support individuals to fill out a form, nor to be able to find their way around Universal JobMatch- but to be able to have proper agency in the online world. Because that’s equality.

Cut out and keep!

After meeting the teams from Our Connected Neighbourhood and Alzheimer Scotland, I’d request that everyone reading this blog and who’s made it this far, to download the Purple Alert app, a free app designed by people living with dementia. The app allows carers to share the person living with dementia’s profile if they lose their way and allows for eyes and ears on the ground immediately helping to find them.

Also have a wee look at Playlist for Life, which uses the music of a person’s life to keep them connected to themselves and their loved ones throughout their dementia journey.

And I couldn’t possibly finish off without mentioning the recently launched (and hopefully super helpful) Essential Digital Skills Toolkit. We’re looking forward to using it in our own projects to tackle the perennial issue of evidencing how the work we do is making a difference. It might be useful for you too.