CTIT Universiteit Twente
Centre for e-Government Studies

2008-04 Digital skills of the Dutch population

April 2008 report: Digital skills of the Dutch population

Government overrates the Internet ability of the citizens

The government should better adapt their websites to the search behavior of their citizens. The digital generation does not perform better at search activities than seniors. For the first time in Europe scientists of the Twente University tested the use of government sites of citizens in a laboratory setting.

In summer 2007 the average of the population of the region Twente was tested on their internet skills on governmental sites. Organizations like the CBS and the SCP measure these skills by using surveys, which is a less reliable method than using performance tests in a laboratory, as done by the University of Twente. The study was sponsored by the Ministry of internal affairs. Within a 1.5 hour test the suspects had to perform nine assignments of which the government assumed that citizens could complete them successfully.

Strategic skills when using the Internet are poor
Of the 109 subjects, many lacked the necessary skills. They were not able to complete the assignments successfully and needed a lot of time. Of the four tested skills, an average of 80% of the tasks for measuring operational skills (button know how) was completed successfully. For formal Internet skills (the skills to orientate and navigate during surfing) 72% were solved successfully. Information skill assignments were completed at an average of 62%. The most problematic were the strategic skills, the skills to reach a particular goal using the Internet, for example to find out whether it would be reasonable to appeal against a disposition of the government. Only 25% of the tasks in which citizens had to find important financial information or to select a political party based on some preferences were solved successfully.

There was no difference found between men and women. Highly educated and young subjects performed better than lower educated and seniors at operational and formal tasks. The highly educated were also more successful in the information and strategic assignments. However, no age differences were found.

Digital generation does not perform better
This research is a major support for the seniors. Although they have difficulties with button know-how and surfing, they scored as good as the younger subjects and even better on superior tasks like searching information and strategic skills. The popular hypotheses that the problem of a lack of Internet skills would disappear automatically with the extinction of the elderly seems to be not true. There are people who have good or bad Internet skills in all age categories. Information skills seem to be a problem for the younger generation.

Google more important than government sites
Remarkable was that subjects accepted the information on the Internet as true rather automatically. The definition of particular search queries and the selection of relevant information were problematic. Google seemed to be a more important instrument for search activities than the sites of the government. The researchers Alexander van Deursen and Jan van Dijk advised the government to adapt their sites to the search behavior of citizens. There should be more attention to information skills and the use of search systems in education and other sectors. The elderly have to get more help and courses for using computers and the Internet.