Digital inclusion and the future of e-participation

On the 25th and 26th of February 2015, Communities 2.0 hosted a conference about Digital Inclusion and Participation Cymru went along to find out more.

Here are our thoughts about the significance and role of digital inclusion for the future of participation in Wales.

It is quite astonishing to think about how far technology has come in such a short amount of time. I’m sure many of us remember our first computer (probably like me, a clunky Windows ‘95 affair), or even our first brick – perhaps a Nokia 32:10 mobile phone. It’s strange to think of just how much we can now do from a basic smart mobile at a fraction of the cost.

(Check out the photo below and see how many of these take you back!)

Communities 2.0 Digital Inclusion

Technology like this has irrevocably changed the landscape in which we live our day to day lives. But as the digital world races ahead, it is easy to get left behind.

For most of us whose lifestyles and workplaces are increasingly digitalised, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate the kind of hurdles we would face if we did not have the resources and skillset needed to be autonomous in the digital world.

As society becomes more and more digital, the divide that exists between those who are digitally included and digitally excluded begins to present a real problem and has implications across all levels, even economically and democratically.

It is this division that fell under scrutiny across the two days of the communities 2.0 conference.

It was estimated in 2015 by the Money Advice Service that over 500,000 adults remain digitally excluded in Wales (approximately 1 in 6 of us). The association that exists between digital exclusion and poverty along with other vulnerable groups of people indicates that digital inclusion is a social justice issue, and it is not difficult to see how digital exclusion can compound a state of powerlessness.

From a business perspective, the increasingly digitalised global marketplace means that digitally switched on organisations have a much greater opportunity to source cheaper materials, broaden their reach with customers, simplify working processes and cut down on working hours. All of this makes it much more difficult for businesses that are not utilising the web to survive.

A lack of digital know-how not only limits employment opportunities, but even makes it problematic to access benefits such as a job seeker’s allowance

Maintaining human relationships – something as simple as keeping in touch – can become increasingly difficult if you are amongst the digitally excluded. Furthermore, as more and more public services make the move to online services, you are much less likely to hear about news and information on things which might affect you.

From this point of view, to be digitally excluded is to not only be isolated and disenabled, but also fundamentally disempowered. So, what can we do to help put an end to digital exclusion?

Well, there is no simple answer. Whilst the Welsh government is taking positive steps to increase the focus of digital literacy in Wales, it is encouraging that independent organisations like #techmums also exist to help break down those barriers and increase the confidence of digital users. As ever, there is always fantastic ongoing work being undertaken by volunteers across the nation to help empower those who need it.

The efforts of these groups and people really did highlight that it is important to bear in mind, whether in work or in our personal lives, that we share a responsibility to share our power and ensure nobody gets left behind.

It is easy to think about technology in terms of what it gives us – whether it is the tools to find the answers we need, the opportunity to advertise our business or find employment, the ability to simplify our daily lives, provide us with entertainment or new things to learn – even something as simple as the ability to keep in touch with the ones we love. Perhaps it is time to think about technology from another point of view, and see if it helps us to give something back.

Georgina

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