This is a really quick post to share the background stats and my presentation from CityCamp Brighton yesterday.  The day focused on the massive issue of Digital Inclusion and what the CityCamp network can do to help play a part in reducing it.  Lots of ideas and pledges came through and I can’t wait to see the next stage of this when we work through them – see you all at the next third thursday meet-up.  Good to see the issues of how to connect older people to social networks in parallel with discussions about wider engagement and a more esoteric debate about the future of local media and democracy – lots to talk about.

However debate goes better with facts so here are  just four links to provide the start of the evidence base:

If you really like this stuff then I have more data on the Fact Glorious Facts page.  Please get in touch if you have any questions.

I sometimes wonder where digital evangelism stops and a moral imperative to help people get connected online starts and I think this is an open question.  However the evidence is very clearly there to show that everyone should have an equal opportunity to join the network society – whether or not they decide to continue to participate in it.

In my last post I talked about why I believe our leaders need be able to think strategically about what it means to be digital by default if we are going to use the power of digital networked technologies to transform the way we live. This post is about the the counterweight to this – the issue of digital exclusion. I am often out in the world evangelising about the opportunity which the network society offers us – but this work needs to be balanced by an equal effort to make sure everyone can participate. Having done a lot of presenting recently I wanted to reacquaint myself with the facts about digital exclusion to make sure that I am taking both of these messages out and about with me.

For the majority of us digital exclusion is not an issue as internet use continues to rise. According to the latest ONS figures (Internet Access Quarterly Update, 2012 Q1) only 8.12 million adults (16.1 per cent) had never used the Internet and this is about 1 per cent lower than 2011 Q4 and 7 per cent lower than 2011 Q1.

“At 2012 Q1 there were 42.16 million adults in the UK who had ever used the Internet, representing 83.7 per cent of the adult population. The 8.12 million adults who had never used the Internet represented 16.1 per cent of the adult population.”

However within these figures is the real issue:

“Of those adults in employment whose gross weekly pay was less than £200 per week, 6.9 per cent (367,000) had never used the Internet. Internet use has almost reached full coverage for those earning in excess of £500 a week, with Internet use nearly 99 per cent for all adults with weekly pay rates above this level.”

Digital exclusion, as with any form of exclusion, is a complex issue but clearly income and the ability to purchase access is a central element. Other elements include educational attainment, technical skills, social pressures, physical ability and at the heart of it your motivations (or lack of) for going online. This last one is critical – many people will fight to overcome other barriers if we help them find a reason to go online – this is one of the many reasons why I think the Social Media Surgery approach is so brilliant as a way of getting people online.
The 2011 OFCOM report into media use and literacies (next one due in August) indicates the growth in internet use and shows increases in the variety of uses made of the internet but also warns:

There continue to be significant differences by age and socio-economic group across a variety of measures. And those that aren’t online are more likely to be older and from DE socio-economic groups – some 51% of those aged 65+ say they don’t intend to get the internet at home, and 29% of those in DE socio-economic groups, compared to 15% of the UK population as a whole.

The concern about new kinds of digital exclusion is being explored as part of a Nominet Trust funded project at the OII. The project is looking into ‘lapsed’ internet use in what they believe is around 10% of young people in Britain. The research is ongoing but you there is a really useful literature review here:

What does this all mean?
Looking at this issue again it is fairly striking that the policy research on this that is being referenced in Government is a couple of years old. We are talking about 2008 in terms of the CLG and 2009 in reference to the background info that formed the evidence for the Race Online Campaign (you can see the report here). I have not been able to find anything more recent and would be grateful if anyone can point me in the direction of anything more relevant.

This point is picked up more broadly in this post by Ellen Helsper on the LSE Politics Blog . Ellen concludes:

“To achieve a digitally equal Britain as well as a digital Britain, policies need to set targets for the whole spectrum of digital inclusion: quality of access, skills, motivations and effective, sustainable use. It is irresponsible to think that the latter can be handed over to industry or the third sector completely. Just as standards are set for education standards need to be set for digital inclusion across government departments and policies.”

There is a game changer at hand however in the form of the smart phone: 45 per cent of Internet users used a mobile phone to connect to the Internet (ONS / ONS Internet Access 2011) and we know from OFCOM data that smartphone purchases are on a sharp rise to over 50% of contracts now being taken up (this data is all referenced here on the facts glorious facts page).  The smart phone take up is also vulnerable to financial pressure and the adoption curve for new technology may well slow in the face of economic hardship – though I have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from practitioners who say that they are finding that people will continue their phone contract in preference to their rent or food which is worrying.

Sitting behind all of these factors are questions of broadband and 3G coverage – you can be rich as Croesus and have 3 PHDs but this will do you little good if you can’t actually connect to the internet.

Some conclusions
The strategy of being Digital by Default is undoubtedly supported by the evidence base – its also in my view vital if we want to ensure economic relevance for the country in the future. If we look at the evidence in the round I think we can have reasonable confidence that the increase in smart phone technology and the consistent pattern of increases in internet use make this a diminishing problem – albeit one with a long tail. However there are also signs that there will be a group of people who are persistently excluded for a number of complex reasons as is the case with other forms of social exclusion. What does this mean for policy making?  I have three thoughts on this:

  • We need to make sure that we have 100% fast broadband coverage throughout the Country otherwise digital by default is an empty promise
  • We need to keep the question of digital exclusion alive in the planning and policy process and to look at specific groups who will be effected – we are not yet at the point where we can assume everyone is online
  • I think we need to refresh the evidence base in order to understand exactly what effect smartphone take up is having on digital exclusion

I think my final question is to ask where we think that this responsibility is sitting? The Race Online project was an effective start but I am not seeing that work being picked up with the same energy now and I am also seeing some fairly limp broadband campaigns from a number of Local Authorities (naming no names) which says to me the message has not really hit home. I am hoping that I am missing some and that there is good work going on to address this issue – if you know of something can you let me know?

I think we are at a really pivotal moment with respect to where technology might take us. The promise of Open Data and Digital by Default on the one hand, the fact that the online space is still dominated by commercial rather than social forces and as a result excludes people on the other. Linking back to my post of earlier today – we need to make sure that our leaders really are thinking digital on behalf of the people who are not yet there.

Yes – I am avoiding work on my thesis by catching up on the blogging – only 3 more posts after this one….promise not to publish them all today…

We had our third thursday CityCamp Brighton meeting up this week and apart from updates from projects (including the brilliant GigBuddies who you can connect to here) we spent most of the discussing the implications of the impending benefit system changes  and the impacts we expect to have them to have in the City.  One of the strengths of CityCamp is the fact that it brings together the people who are trying to address issues like this different sectors and also people who are going to feel the impact – this makes for an informed, impassioned and at the end of it practical debate.  Many thanks to Paul Brewer for organising some speakers and for Val Pearce for giving us the facts in an accessible and open way.  Also huge appreciation to the guy from Fairshare who was inspirational about how practical approaches can solve problems.

This is a huge topic and I hope someone else will summarise the debate but suffice to say we expect there to be more people in poverty in the City as a result of these changes and these financially excluded people are also currently digitally excluded.  This is not a unique problem – the question is whether we can come up with a Brighton and Hove solution.

We tried to focus on what kind of help the CityCamp network could bring to this problem and this is where Nick Hibberd had a very focused suggestion.  He pointed out the lack of links between the kind of formal support that he and his team can offer and the informal and practical help which organisations like Fairshare can offer.  We talked about the need to network these informal and formal networks together and also talked about the need to raise the level of information sharing about these issues.

One of the projects which won funding at CityCamp Brighton was the brilliant House of Games proposal from Richard Vahrman which you can read about here (note this is not the finished article).  Richard sat down with Carl Haggerty a few weeks ago to see if we could see a way of piloting this idea in one of the We Live Here projects – Carl’s thoughts on this are here.  Gamification is something which is a big buzz in tech circles at the moment (really balanced Pew Report on it here) but the basic thrust is the idea that we bring competitive and playful experiences into serious tasks.

The combination of these two conversations is the idea of a knowledge badge, a peer rewarded and public accolade which signals that you are a valuable part of this informal/formal knowledge network and that you are available to answer questions and help.

We now need to speak to Richard (which is partly the point of this post – hello Richard!) and see what he thinks about this idea and then we need to sit a few people down (Richard, Me, Carl, Nick, Paul and anyone else who is interested) and see where we can take this.  Will be nagging people to this end.

The other major issue that we think CityCamp Brighton can help address on this topic is digital exclusion which was one of the other projects that got funded this year.  We have a meeting about this next week and I will blog an update then.

Any comments / corrections then please shout!

The next third thursday is 21st June and we will be focusing on digital exclusion – put it in your diary!