As an input to today's Local Communities Collaboration Workshop David Wilcox has asked be to republish some of the research about the digital inclusion sector I have been doing for CDI (Centre for Digital Inclusion) during the past 4 months.
For more information please have a look at the project blog: cdiukfeasibility.wordpress.com
. Please note that you should be able to open all of the pictures in separate tabs to enlarge them.
The first conclusion is around what I would like to call the "digital inclusion value chain". I know it sounds very corporate, but basically one thing I set out to do was to understand how different organisations & players create value in the space - and how this has actually changed over the last decade. An even though few people talk about this in the space of digital inclusion there is of course a market for ideas and resources where some people are more successful than others in surviving. So you might also call it "historical development of digital inclusion activities and their value today" to keep it simple I call it value chain.
I started to come to grips with this when I talked to some two veterans of digital inclusion:
Julie Harries from Cosmic
in Devon and;
Gary Copitch from People's Voice Media
Both organisations are relatively small, but what makes them different from many less successful organisations in my view is that they survived because they constantly adapted to changes in demand, fundring sources and policy initiatives. Let me illustrate what I mean with this.
From its initial starting point in youth ICT training Cosmic has expanded to:
- website services
- 3rd & public sector IT training services
- IT technical support
- IT consultancy
From its founding activity of provinding information sources for community organisations PVM has expanded to:
- Basic ICT skills training
- ICT procurement
- IT technical support
- Social media & community reporters
While Cosmic and PVM do not offer exactly the same type of services, there are many overlaps especially around IT technical support and training. So to sum up my visits and conversations with many different people I have create how the UK digital inclusion value chain has developed over the last decade or so:
As you can see I have added a timeline to illustrate when the respective services reached their peak of attention and value before becoming increasingly commoditised. So while access to IT was considered a high-value and high-priority activity in the late 1990s, social and digital media skills are seen as leading edge today.
Equally when you look at activity levels and focus today (which you could equal with mind share and new resources dedicated to it) areas like Internet cafes and computer recycling services have nearly but disappeared in the UK market, while they were vibrant only a few years back. Also website design services has declined sharply due to the creation of free and easy-to-use webtools like Wordpress which allow nearly everybody to create and often even customised websites themselves:
I think you won't be surprised to learn that initiatives like Talk About Local
and the Birmingham Social Media Surgeries
are receiving a lot of attentioned because they are very well placed in the current buzz about how to use social media effectively in politics, community development and campaigning. Channel 4's public innovation fund 4iP is investing in many of them because they clearly address a current need.
So if this is what the digital inclusion value chain looks like today with different degrees of activitiy, I started to ask myself the following question shamelessly copied from Sir Ronald Cohen
, co-founder of Apax Partners
and Bridges Ventures
"What is the next bounce of the ball for digital inclusion?"
What are the next topics people are likely to focus on and what are trends in the telecommunication and Internet markets that are relevant to the digital inclusion debate?
One good source to look for trends are Ofcom's annual Communication Market Reports
which are published each year in August. Also the Digital Britain
final report and many conversations with people involved in the field, young people using technology and observations of how people are using technology in their daily lives helped.
My conclusion for the digital inclusion value chain was:
- Universal high-speed broadband as a universal utility
- Mobile Internet skills based on the growth in mobile apps and smartphones
So while universal high-speed broadband is the continuation of the access to IT focus in the 1990s, mobile Internet skills are the extension of the digital inclusion focus on skills and training in order to close the Digital Divide. If you need a reminder of how broad the definition of digital inclusion is in the UK, please have a look at this post
If you are still doubting now that digital inclusion is actually a very dynamic concept, you might want to have a look at the most recent Annual Information Society Report 2009
that was published by the European Commission at the beginning of August. There the EC introduced the new concept of a Second Digital Divide
based on the quality of Internet use:
Going beyond basic use of the internet, policy on eInclusion also recognises the importance of reducing disparities in the quality of internet use, the so-called Second Digital Divide. Data show that digital disparities also exist between socioeconomic groups with regard to the types of activities undertaken and the intensity with which they are performed. Results suggest that while all internet users, regardless of age or education, use the internet for communication and for access to information, there are sharp differences, particularly by age, for the more advanced services.
Since we are living in a digital age with new technologies being developed constantly, digital inclusion as a political and socio-economic agenda will not go away any time soon with these redefinitions, but dynamically change over time...
Part 2 of the conclusions. After having explored the digital inclusion value chain and the evolution of technology during my analysis, I had a closer look at the theories of social change underpinning the work of different digital inclusion players. From a CDI point of view this is essential since as an organisation it has always combined technology with citizenship/ social entrepreneurship education.
The first time I noticed that different actors were using different theories of change was when I read Tim Davies
' analysis and summary of an RSA seminar held in May 2009
on the topic of on Digital Inclusion and Social Capital. This impression was then further confirmed during a conversation with Nick Booth
about the sector and his new initiative Help me Investigate
. While Tim Davis listed 10 different theories and approaches in his blog entry, I would just like to focus on 4 sub-groups combining some of these approaches:
- Basic skills & focus on the individual
- Grass root media & giving people a voice
- Investing in the connectors/ community activists/ digital mentors
- Community development/ social entrepreneurship education for everybody
From my point of view these 4 groups give different answers to the same question How can we achieve social change through technology?
1. Basic skills & focus on the individual
From my point of view this approach is different from the others in the sense that there is no explicit social focus, but that all attention is given to the individual, his or her learning process and achievements in learning technical skills.
Teach and learn technical skills. Tim described it very well: "deliver packages of tried and tested training in operating computers and the Internet which recipients can then use to develop further engagement. A basic skills approach might cover things like using the mouse, using Windows, visiting a website and sending an e-mail."
Theory of social change:
No explicit one.
How to make technocal skills relevant to social context of learners? Limited or no focus on using technology as a tool for democratic and social change.
2. Grass root media & giving people a voice
This approach seeks to give people tools and skills to tell their own stories through digital means, thus to give them a voice in their local communities.
Train people to express their thoughts and to document their life realities through technology
Theory of social change
New voices of previously silent and excluded groups or individuals will attract attention attention of decision makers and influence the public discourse by unlocking local knowledge.
How to move from voicing a concern to effective local action? Who is targeted with the new information? Who listens?
3. Investing in the connectors/ community activists
I have grouped slightly different concepts here, but the underlying philosophy is that only a small group of people will actually actively create social change and thus it is most efficient to support these connectors and activists. Or as Tim put it: "Investing in the connectors as the best returns will come when you build links between networks. Connecting networks will drive digital inclusion more than putting funds directly to the most excluded."
Identify people who are already involved in community and teach them to use technology, so they can be more effective in achieving social change.
Theory of social change:
Existing community activists achieve more social change as individuals
How to mobilise people to become active who are not yet mobilised? How to establish new networks for change?
4. Community development/ social entrepreneurship education
There is not necessarily one approach to community development, but the underlying philosophy I would want to focus on is that potentially everybody can become a community activist and that everybody can help to change a system.
Structured process to make people conscious of their environment and to give them social mobilisation skills including technology
Theory of social change:
New networks are created in the community and new people create social change
What if people don't want to become active in their local community? How can people become aware? Is this resource efficient? What if communities are no longer geography based?
As you can see each social change theory faces different challenges and there are different circumstances which make one or the other more suitable or more effective. It's not a question whether one or the other is right or wrong, but it depends on what is the objective of activity?
So the next thing I did was to re-do my mapping of digital inclusion players along these different theories of change:
In this diagram CDI is alone with its focus on community development and social entrepreneurship education. However, when you look outside the field of digital inclusion, organisations like the Citizenship Foundation
and people like Kevin Harris
use the same or a very similar philosophical approach.
The next step for me was then to match the theories of social change with technology platforms in order to understand better how digital inclusion players are positionined. The result of this exercise was this technology & social change matrix:
There are two conclusions you can draw from this:
- CDI's approach to social change is probably not used anywhere by existing digital inclusion players in the UK.
- There are many - and often very good and effective - players involved in provision of IT & Internet skills training as well as in digital media skills training.
Talk About Local
's approach to combine digital media training with a focus on supporting social enterpreneurs and existing community activists has rightly received a lot of attention in the part few months, since it promises to create significant value. Also David Wilcox
's Social by Social
guide and game is leading edge in this space.
For CDI the conclusion of this exercise was that given the number of strong and successful players in the IT & Internet and digital media spaces, there was little it could effectively contribute - despite its different approach to social change.
The largest opportunity - and the largest experiment - would therefore be to test its social change theory in a space that so far no organisation has consistently occupied: mobile Internet and apps based on smartphones.
In order to illustrate that I'm not completely insane with this suggestion I would like to point to 3 initiatives that have already started to combine mobile applications with social change: FixMyStreet
by London-based MySociety
, Apps for Democracy
by iStrategy Labs
in Washington D.C. and iBurgh
by the Pittsburgh municipal public administration.
On the technology development front: When I met him last week Ken Banks
told me about current beta-tests for Google's App Inventor
for Android which will hopefully allow non-geeks very soon to build mobile apps...
Based on this analysis the decision for CDI's prototypes and pilots was taken to create CDI Mobile.