digital inclusion

On the road and on the wire

Training in Dornoch last month with the Digital Commonwealth project

Training in Dornoch with the Digital Commonwealth project, May 2014

“Digital inclusion” is a big buzz word at the moment,” Marilyn Slavin, director of the CK UK website tells me.

She is filming an interview for the My Brilliant Moment series on Media Trust’s Community Channel and she is concerned that many of those involved in trying to make the internet and all its devices more accessible are not looking carefully enough at what’s on their websites and how it’s written.

“We’ve been doing digital inclusion since 2004 and it should be further on.

“One of the reasons that I’m doing this film, talking to this camera, is to encourage more people to get involved and make their websites accessible, because if you make it accessible for people with learning difficulties then it covers a lot of other people: people whose first language isn’t English, people who have got literacy issues.

“If you get it right for people with learning difficulties all of those other folk will be engaged with what you are trying to say and your message.”

Marlilyn Slavin (r) with Maureen McGinn, chair of Big Lottery Fund Scotland at launch of Do #Something Brilliant Scotland project. April 2014. (pic: Simon Dalziel)

Marlilyn Slavin (r) with Maureen McGinn, chair of Big Lottery Fund Scotland at launch of Do #SomethingBrilliant Scotland project. April 2014. (pic: Simon Dalziel)

Marilyn’s comments were a wake-up for me.

I had just returned to a near-normal schedule of work after a knackering, but massively rewarding, trip to Orkney and the far north of the Scottish mainland in a final round of training workshops with the Digital Commonwealth project.

Watch this space for an extended report on the road trip and the wider project in a forthcoming edition of Media Trust’s #Brilliant Scotland programme.

In the meantime, there’s a flavour of the kind of work I was doing in this mini video, filmed with Jennifer Jones in Dornoch:


The focus of much of this training work is on how to get the best pictures and sound using low budget equipment. In the case of these Digital Commonwealth workshops, that usually means smartphones and tablets – sometimes with the help of catering-size coffee tins, as we found during one training session hosted at the Orkney Library in Kirkwall (below).

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the near-legendary Kirkwall Library (Orkney, May 2014)

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the Orkney Library in Kirkwall (May 2014)

The library has near-legendary status among book people for the breadth of its social media following and especially its presence on Twitter, so it was great to get a chance to visit the place and to meet such enthusiastic and committed people.

But Marilyn’s comments highlighted to me that training is only one part of opening digital access to wider groups across Scotland.

Speaking at this month’s DigiScotFest2014 event in Edinburgh, Michael Fourman, chair of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s landmark inquiry on digital participation, said “we have to start with the hardest places,” when it comes to digital inclusion.

One strong message from what I heard at the DigiScotFest was that this has to include those with all kinds of special educational needs as well as remote rural areas and Scotland’s austerity-hammered housing schemes.

For Marilyn Slavan, there has been poor progress so far on digital inclusion.

“It’s not fair.

“People with learning difficulties are customers, clients, they’re people that could attract organisations and they have got spending power, too.

“So a lot of organisations are missing out.

“People need to open their eyes and make it better, make it fairer, because at the moment it’s still not fair for people with learning difficulties.”

Media Trust’s My Brilliant Moment series is an outlet for groups or projects to speak directly to the audience about what they do, what motivates them and how they hope to make a difference to those around them.

The series is one feature of our Big Lottery Funded project Do #SomethingBrilliant, which gives charities and community groups a way of amplifying their message through programmes on the Community Channel (which has recently had more than 2m viewers a month), but also via the website, fortnightly newsletter and the Community Newswire, run by MT and the Press Association.

Groups can also send their calls to action to the Little Brilliant Things pages, which are an opportunity to encourage people to get involved in campaigning for change.


Commonwealth Games – here’s the news from Dalmarnock

Financial pressures forcing the closure of traditional local newspapers, including free ones, make it all the more urgent to find a new, financially viable form of community journalism

Financial pressures forcing the closure of traditional local newspapers, including free ones, make it all the more urgent to find a new, financially viable form of community journalism

“They’ll love us – we’ll get more hits than Justin Bieber!”

The excitement was infectious among the group of elderly community activists from Bridgeton and Dalmarnock – living in the shadow of the freshly manicured car parks and imposing Commonwealth Games sports venues which dominate the new skyline of the east end of Glasgow.

The chance to report for themselves – by video, blogging or podcating – on how residents’ lives have been changed by the coming of the 2014 Games is exhilarating for people who say they’ve either been stonewalled or fobbed off by most of the local authority and Commonwealth officials they’ve encountered in recent years.

“If they don’t like what we’re telling them, we just don’t get invited back to meetings,” said one activist.

Residents have seen Dalmarnock by turn neglected, deprived, ignored and (most recently) turned into something resembling a war zone by years of demolition and land clearances to make space for the 2014 Games venues.

A high-profile campaign in 2011 to save the Accord care centre was just one example of how a section of the community felt bulldozed out of the way by city council plans to build a bus park for the Games venues.

The community believes there has been a noticeable absence of reporting of their experience of the run-up to 2014. That is a sentiment shared by many others who have lived through such mega events elsewhere, of course, but one question raised among the community activists in Dalmarnock was whether the dearth of local newspaper reporting (currently just one newspaper, the Re-Gen, pictured above, attempts to cover the whole of the north and east of the largest city in Scotland) has allowed politicians and those in power to ignore the communities which will have the Games juggernaut visited upon them in July and August.

Now, everyone involved in trying to rebuild local journalism quite rightly puts their faith online as both the source of information and news and the distribution infrastructure, via websites and social media.

But here, there is a big problem.

Sandwiched between the city centre shops/business district of the Merchant City and the highly-connected Commonwealth Games venues themselves, areas like Dalmarnock are among the most internet-deprived parts of the UK.

The two areas in dark blue highlight where between 18% and 28% of adults have never used the internet (Source: Office for National Statistics)

The two areas in dark blue highlight where between 18% and 28% of adults have never used the internet (Source: Office for National Statistics)

Last year’s Communications Market Report by the industry regulator, Ofcom found Glasgow had – by some distance – the lowest uptake of fixed broadband services of any city in the UK, at just 52% of households. That figure’s remained static since 2011, according to the watchdog.

Ofcom also found that only 57% had some means of access to the internet, whether by computer, tablet, or phone – meaning nearly half the population in a city of almost 600,000 people cannot get online.

Recent research suggests that the reasons for such a high level of digital exclusion – and the digital illiteracy which goes with it – are many and complicated, but they are also closely linked to wider issues of social deprivation.

An investigation by the Carnegie UK Trust noted that: “Cost is a major issue that cannot be ignored.

“The monthly budget for communications technologies amongst the demographic groups least likely to be online in Glasgow is around £30, compared to a UK average of nearly £100.”

An interim report released last month by the Royal Society of Edinburgh says: “We must stimulate digital participation at a community level… Over a million adults in Scotland lack basic digital skills.”

Using video, audio and blogging within communities will certainly help encourage people who are either “scared of the internet”, who say “it has nothing for them” or who cannot afford to go online, to improve their digital literacy by using tools which don’t mean they also have to do battle with bureaucracy.

The web is not just a portal to paying the rent, looking for a job or healthcare.

But people who are “put off” by the internet have good reasons to fear it could just be a door which opens their homes to the unwanted attention of payday loan sharks, council officials or people trying to sell them stuff.

A Scottish government project worth more than £240m is designed to help improve Scotland’s digital infrastructure must also make it a priority to address the needs of the country’s hundreds of thousands of unheard voices who cannot afford internet access. The threat to public internet facilities in libraries is a particular choke-point, together with related issues as basic as people using library computers not being able to save their work, or being timed-out of their sessions.

Part of the solution also lies in education. So I’m hugely excited by the prospect that I will be helping to train these Dalmarnock community activitsts during the next few months in how to produce films and blogs about “their” Commonwealth Games.

But I am also conscious that the other half of news production is always the audience, which means getting that online news to those people who cannot get online is going to be a big part of the whole project.

If we can get around that, though – that’s when this stuff will go viral.