The world around us is digitising at a rapid pace. The internet offers many opportunities to take steps forward. In terms of work, social contacts, education or health. Especially now with COVID-19 around. However, for people who have less at their disposal, this is not so obvious. They do not always have the means or opportunities to make use of the digital infrastructure. And yet they could benefit a great deal from it. Over the next four years, the ING Netherlands Foundation will be subsidising researchers at the Centre for Digital Inclusion (University of Twente) to do more research on this. Today, they start the development of an approach to enable people with few financial opportunities to participate digitally and improve their social position.
Digital inclusion is an important topic in our contemporary society. It can lead to a wide range of positive outcomes. For example, online interactions can lead to finding a job, getting an education, a healthier life, an improved financial situation or making or strengthening social contacts.
However, according to Prof. Dr Alexander van Deursen, Professor of Communication Science at the University of Twente and founder of the Centre for Digital Inclusion, it appears that internet use reflects growing socio-economic inequality: 'The resources we have at our disposal, such as money, a network, health, or level of education, influence the way the internet is used. The fewer resources a person has, the less he or she benefits from the Internet. People who are already in vulnerable positions are disadvantaged even more,' says Alexander.
In the Netherlands, approximately one million people have been living below the low-income threshold for four years or more, and as many as one in five people are struggling with payment problems. This group is expected to increase significantly. Given the size of the problem, there are various (public) initiatives aimed at combating financial poverty. However, little attention is paid to digital poverty, while the Internet can provide many benefits for this group.
‘Digitalisation is moving fast and many people see the benefit of it. Although the Netherlands is one of the top countries in Europe in terms of internet access, it is also important to be aware of the impact of not being able to participate digitally. The ING Netherlands Foundation is committed to a society in which everyone is digitally and financially independent. The Centre for Digital Inclusion of the University of Twente is already working hard on this topic. With this joint effort, we are committed to finding an effective approach,' says Kirsten Ottens, director of the ING Netherlands Foundation.
The aim of the research is, first of all, to investigate how people on low incomes can benefit from the opportunities that the internet offers, thus improving their social position. These are people who have to support a family on this low income and who have too little financial scope to buy the minimum necessary goods and services, such as food or a good home. In the next four years, the researchers involved will identify the most important needs of this target group. This mainly concerns challenges in terms of economic, cultural, social and personal well-being, but also obstacles in terms of motivation, material access, skills and use.
The second objective is to use the results to design an integral intervention. In fact, an evidence-based approach to support public initiatives that aim at poverty and digital inclusion. This integral intervention will be applied and assessed for effectiveness during the research period. The starting point is that the intervention can become a blueprint regarding digital inclusion. To test this, both organisations that work with disadvantaged groups to tackle social problems and organisations striving for digital inclusion are involved in the study.
Interim findings from the research will be shared regularly and will be available on the Centre for Digital Inclusion website. At the end of the project, the researchers will write a comprehensive final report.
The Centre for Digital Inclusion (University of Twente) was established in 2020 and acts as a showcase for researchers working on issues of digital inclusion. The main goal of the centre is to support parties who pursue digital inclusion - internationally, nationally and locally. Researchers at the centre do this by identifying and explaining the underlying mechanisms of digital inclusion, mapping the benefits and risks of technology, researching who is most at risk and why, designing policies and interventions, connecting stakeholders and evaluating best practices. Visit http://www.centrumdigitaleinclusie.nl/ for more information.
The ING Netherlands Foundation was established in 2015 and is committed on behalf of ING to a society where everyone can participate digitally, people are financially healthy and self-reliant, and work is accessible to all. The ING Netherlands Foundation is a partner of about 25 social entrepreneurs that stand out on these three topics. When it comes to digital skills, the ING Netherlands Foundation supports partners such as JINC, VHTO and Oefenen.nl. Examples of partners in the field of financial empowerment are Get a Grip Humanitas, Over Rood and Geldfit.nl. More information about the ING Netherlands Foundation can be found here (in Dutch).