What I’m reading

Published by Irene Mackintosh on

Despite the warmest summer since 1976 (I was reliably informed at a Digital Champion training session with the wonderful C-Change Scotland that ’76 was the last roaster of a summer and we discussed at length melting tarmac, skint knees and eating Wall’s Feet in the Airdrie area – as well as discussing digital exclusion), I have managed to keep on top of my reading to inform my research on digital inclusion. Feeling a wee bit of pressure with the forthcoming Digital Renfrewshire event, and also an exciting One Digital event in November:

Digital Inclusion, Power and Disruption

As a starter, I’ve been thinking more about the way we talk about ‘digital disruption’. This phrase is used commonly as a positive – an exciting way for us to be anarchic and challenge the way we do ‘business as usual’ – and this has obvious relevance to the third sector. Selwyn’s article specifically addresses the issue of digital disruption in the context of education – and while many of us working in the field of digital inclusion (or even specifically involved in community learning) don’t see ourselves as part of the education ‘system’, there is much that is relatable here, not least that ‘any account of digital technology use in education needs to be framed in explicit terms of societal conflict over the distribution of power.’ (Selwyn, 2013). Again, I was led to reflecting on the fact that digital understanding contributes to personal empowerment. Because that’s what we’re trying to do in the third sector with our digital inclusion work, isn’t it? Create greater equality through greater sharing of knowledge.

While we’re on the subject of power – the Digital News Report makes for uneasy reading. This year’s report ‘reveals new insights about digital news consumption based on a YouGov survey of over 74,000 online news consumers in 37 countries including the US and UK, and focuses on the issues of trust and misinformation, new online business models, the impact of changing Facebook algorithms and the rise of new platforms and messaging apps.’ The key findings are helpfully highlighted in this wee video:

Digital Inclusion and Homelessness

Next, as a result of being inspired by the exciting digital inclusion work happening over at Streetwork, I’ve been thinking about the impact of digital on those facing homelessness. I’ve been reading this article on digital access and affordability for people experiencing homelessness in Australia – the researcher reflects how there is a focus on individuals being ‘compelled to contact and be contactable,’ often incredibly difficult when you have no fixed address. The key suggestions at the end of the paper are absolutely transferable to a Scottish context, and that we should, when addressing digital inclusion, consider the following best practice approaches:

  • Ensure cost-effective access points to government services from mobile devices such as freephone numbers, call back, live chat and text.
  • Preserve alternate contact and service points for non-digital and digital customers without online access.
  • Build digital capacity of staff and services to support clients better online and via mobile.
  • Improve community phone and internet facilities to assist telephone/online access by people experiencing homelessness in partnership with mobile service providers, libraries, local councils and service users.

A coherent approach to digital inclusion takes into account each of these necessary approaches, and should be built in across organisations.

Digital Inclusion and Disability

The latest Lloyds Consumer Digital Index report also highlighted the fact that those with disabilities are far more likely to face digital exclusion – this led me to seeking out articles specifically related to this issue. This team in South Australia worked specifically with a cohort of younger people with a range of disabilities to investigate barriers to digital participation. The barriers, unsurprisingly, proved to be complex and varied, and unique to the impact of disability, but when those barriers were addressed on an individual level and (vitally) with consideration of those who also support that individual, there were real positive outcomes, including greater social participation. The article also reflects that unequal resources deepen both social and digital exclusion.

There are also two really interesting reads on digital inclusion for those with an intellectual disability. This is an issue which comes up time and again in training – with concerns around exclusion, participation, autonomy and ethics all coming to the fore. Have a wee look for yourself, firstly at this pilot project in Quebec with a cohort of learners with Down Syndrome, where digital inclusion support enables individuals to participate ‘like everyone else in the digital society’, with positive outcomes such as maintaining learning, accessing new skills and, importantly, developing digital understanding. The pilot is being rolled out with a second cohort and the researchers hope to publish a guidebook which will support lay practitioners in developing digital with those with intellectual disabilities. Can’t wait!

Secondly, this article reflects on ‘Perceptions of the risks and benefits of Internet access and use by people with intellectual disabilities’, evidencing that ‘with only a small number of exceptions, both the risks and benefits of being online were believed to be greater for people with intellectual disabilities compared with those without intellectual disabilities’ and concluding that ‘perceptions of increased benefits suggest more needs to be performed to improve online access whilst a perception of increased risk may help to explain the reduced inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the online world.’ So – that’s something for us to address in our work.

Digital Tools

There’s a lot of discussion around digital mindfulness, and academic procrastination is unfortunately leading to a wee bit of digital faffing this month, and so I’ve been drawn to using apps which try and help me become digitally mindful.

The Forest App – which helps you reduce your desire to pick up your phone by slowly growing a digital forest, where trees die if you faff around with social media. Not that that’s a problem for me, obviously.

I’m also loving ResearchGate.net – gives free access to a wide range of articles and helps challenge academic exclusivity.

And then a top practitioner tip from the amazing Maddie Stark: The Post It Plus App it captures the images of post-it notes, organises them and they’re ready to use. Old school meets new school. Amazers.

One Digital is a UK wide partnership which promotes the use of Digital Champions to support people to learn digital skills. For organisations interested in setting up their own digital inclusion project we have developed a free Knowledge Hub of useful information and resources.

Irene Mackintosh

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.