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General guidelines for developing digital inclusion interventions

By Prof. dr. ing. Alexander van Deursen

Reference: Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. (2022). General guidelines for developing digital inclusion interventions. Enschede: Center for digital inclusion, University of Twente. via: https://www.utwente.nl/en/centrefordigitalinclusion/news/2022/4/542442/general-guidelines-for-developing-digital-inclusion-interventions

The following guidelines result from research in several digital inclusion projects the Centre for Digital Inclusion participated in:

1) Take as a starting point the potential outcomes for the target group, based on economic, social, cultural and personal context and resources

Map out the challenges faced by the target group in terms of economic, cultural, social and personal well-being. Do not focus solely on economic, functional, or normatively valued forms of technology use. An intervention that offers practical results and is designed in a natural way requires a good understanding of the circumstances in which people find themselves. This is a condition for a motivated target group.

2) Be aware of possible hindrances the target group faces

When developing an intervention, the complex daily reality of the target group should be taken into account. What priorities do they have in daily life? Which obstacles play a role? Think of cognitive barriers or lack of traditional literacy (the ability to read, write and understand texts and numerical data) that hinder the use of technology. The development of interventions in the field of digital inclusion should be geared to this.

3) Determine for the target group in which phase(s) of access the greatest barriers occur

Full access to a technology consists of a four-stage process. It starts with a positive attitude and sufficient motivation to use it. After that, the right material resources are needed, such as a fast internet connection, but also the possession of qualitatively sufficient hardware and software. The third step is to master a set of digital skills (operational, information, communication, content creation and strategic skills). The last step is the use itself, where the type of use is especially relevant, so what we do with the technology. Determine for the target group in which phase(s) of access - attitude and motivation, material access, skills and use - the greatest obstacles occur and which factors contribute to these obstacles. Since each step has its own impeding factors, thorough research is required.

4) Policies that combat digital inequality ideally tackle all phases (of access) simultaneously

The four phases - attitude and motivation, material access, skills and use - have a sequential and conditional nature. This does not mean that attitude and motivation have the highest priority, material access the second and improving digital skills the third priority. It does mean, for example, that skills are insufficiently taught due to a lack of motivation or without suitable equipment. Policies that combat digital inequality ideally tackle all phases simultaneously.

5) Involve both the supply and demand side in the intervention

Digital inclusion is a complex challenge that requires both technological (supply) and educational (demand) solutions. For technological solutions, think of the design of interfaces, the offer of content (websites, platforms, apps, devices), but also clear terms of use (adapted to the wishes and requirements of the target group, for example attention to the needs of people with low level of digital skills). Educational solutions include both formal initiatives, such as (adult) education where the target group learns digital skills and the many applications of technology, as well as informal initiatives, where, for example, people in the direct social environment of the target group play a role in promoting digital inclusion. In any case, make sure that training and education are in line with the target group!

6) Take a multi-stakeholder approach

The foregoing has already indicated that promoting digital inclusion requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Think of various actors and institutions in our society, including governments, the ICT industry, ICT training, software and content publishers, labor organizations, schools and universities, libraries, public access centers and support groups with access to the target group. Such a diversity of actors can best be coordinated at a high level from the government, whereby the roles of the various actors are also determined and further developed. Keep in mind that professionals like other support groups also need training and guidance.

7) Strive for co-creation with the target group

The first point emphasizes that it is important to depart from the target group's living environment. In addition to relevant partners from science and practice, the target group itself can also be involved in developing the intervention. Involving the target group gives them the feeling of contributing to the solution.

8) Strive for low-threshold access to the intervention

By working together with companions, for example people from their own community (think of meeting centers in a neighborhood), the barrier to participating in an intervention can be lowered. Creating a social support network is extremely important when using digital technology. Keep in mind that the basic principle remains to promote and support the autonomy of the participants in the intervention.

9) Create awareness about the existence of the intervention

Make sure that the target group knows which interventions are available and whether they are eligible to participate. Currently, both the focus of the offered interventions, and the interventions itself are very fragmented and it is not clear to people that they are eligible to take certain training. Spreading awareness about the existence of the intervention is crucial.

10) Evaluate interventions

Initiatives that are taken should be subject to an evaluation. Information about which initiatives have been most effective and efficient or about initiatives that have not produced the desired result is extremely useful for further development of initiatives . A structured evaluation approach is necessary (for example, listing target group, period, goal, stakeholders, focus, impact, etc.) in order to determine the impact, but also to inform others.

11) Consider interventions a development process

Participating organizations and the target group gain insights with an intervention and are exposed to new experiences. Consider digital inclusion as a development process in which an environment is created with conditions, rules and policies that support the planned interventions and their joint development.

For consideration:

12) Remember that using a technology is not an end in itself

The internet, an app, a platform, a smartphone or any other 'technology', it is all part of a media landscape in which people use various analog and digital media. Digital inclusion has been studied in a fragmented way to date. A policy agenda will have to take a cross-platform approach based on inclusion in the mediated reality in which the target group lives. In this reality, a variety of analog and digital media are used and people walk different paths.

13) New technology does not automatically mean 'smart' technology

Technological developments through artificial intelligence, algorithm and smart devices hold many new promises. Keep in mind that 'smarter' technology doesn't also mean more inclusive technology. Complexity, ambiguous data and increased risks require new attention and the emphasis in interventions may shift.