Reflecting on NDI09: 6 themes and 3 that got away

I was on holiday last week so I’m a bit late in the day with the blogging about this year’s National Digital Inclusion Conference. Even so, I thought I’d still record my thoughts, starting by saying that I found the conference eye-opening, not least in the benefit that England (and Wales) seems to be gaining from the UK government’s focus and resources. Maybe I’m missing something here in Scotland, but England seems to be powering ahead or the rest of the UK, never mind the rest of Europe, outside Scandinavia. One example: the Digital Inclusion Advisers offered to local government in England by CLG . Not sure what’s happening in Scotland… who is driving the digital agenda? What are they achieving?

Six big ideas

As for the conference outcome, the four streams were asked to come up with 5 big ideas each. The overlap was so great that I could only see 6 or so distinct areas between them. A lesson for next year perhaps? Anyway, the themes I picked out were:

  1. Use existing neighbourhood groups as the basis for engagement – there is no need to be creating new networks (more on this below below)
  2. Sharing of data and resources: Government actions is needed to open up copyright law (eg to allow multi-format use of the same material: example given of Amazon Kindle having text-speech functionality removed, allowing access to content by visually impaired users), and free up its data for sharing using something like Creative Commons, avoiding the ridiculous situation where government departments are currently unable to use Ordnance Survey maps and geo-data.
  3. Use social marketing and existing government departments and resource to build in messages about inclusion, eg in ion soap opera plots (could there be a role for the BBC here?)
  4. Digital skills could be seen as an entitlement that should be supported by the state –  starting by including broadband costs in the calculation of income support figure, in the same way as telephones were in the past
  5. Design for multi-channelling: not just websites, but also mobile phones up to using new(ish) technologies like IPTV.  Start using simple appropriate technology – not the latest trends. That’s Twitter out then, thank God.
  6. Making better use of the outcomes of existing projects. In slogan form: stop duplicating and start replicating!

Almost all of these have direct applicaiton in e-participation. The key lesson I came away with was the importance of the use of social housing providers and existing trusted intermediaries (such as community groups etc) as the framework that can be used for building true, broad, digital inclusion. Real benefits that can be gained by training and supporting what’s already there, rather than (a) expecting alienated, un-confident individuals to interact with the state directly or (b) setting up yet more teams and organisations with a specific digital inclusion agenda.

The three that got away

I liked the conferences non-elitist take on social inclusion and democracy as a community activity. On the downside, even in the e-engagement stream there was a lack of emphasis of participation with the formal democratic and representative political processes – eg by creating channels with councillors and MPs, not just those responsible for service delivery. Some of the suggestions had interesting parallels with the neighbourhood block-level organisations that have worked so effectively elsewhere, but it’d be nice to want to do things that go beyond what the Chinese (or Cuban) Communist party would be comfortable with!

There are two other areas I’d have liked to see more on . Firstly, an explicit recognition of the importance of building long-term evaluation into all new projects – which requires designing for data-gathering from the beginning. Helen Milner of UK Online Centres argued strongly that the knowledge of how to do it is now available (we are not working in a vacuum any more), but this level of best practice in data gathering is patchy at best.

Secondly, identity management: there is talk about sharing data between delivery services, joining up government etc while balancing intrusiveness against service delivery, but no mention of how ordinary people were meant to manage the potential benefits.

Ironically Iain Dale was blogging about an example of this in my specialist field of e-participation while the conference was underway: the fake names on a No10 petition. All good fun I’m sure, but what if the government was legally required to respond to petitions once a certain number of signatures had been received? Who will be responsible for identifying the valid signatures? How will they do it? How am I meant to spot if someone has signed a petition in my name? (Hat-tip to Gez at Delib, who raises similar concerns).

If you want to find out more…

Fraser Henderson has noted his learning points on his blog here Videos of plenary sessions can be found here – Look out for Siôn Simon going off message about Directgov’s role as a central contact point.


About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.
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8 Responses to Reflecting on NDI09: 6 themes and 3 that got away

  1. cyberdoyle says:

    Great blog post with great ideas, well done! I totally agree with your 6 big ideas. The most impressive idea/suggestion is to use soaps to bring the idea of using the internet into everyday life. That is a cracker! Ken Barlow applying for tv license online, a character finding distant relative or lost child, someone joining open university or learning a new skill, the storylines are endless. Good example of joined up thinking, why has nobody thunk it?

  2. Peter says:

    Wow – such enthusiasm. Looks like you’re involved in a pretty lively online community yourself!

    Yeah – I guess it’s a case of soapland catching up with reality. On the other hand not many soap characters outside of the Royle Family spend their lives slumped in front of the TV like normal people either, so I wouldn’t get your hopes up 🙂

  3. cyberdoyle says:

    Disagree there Peter, the majority of people I talk to in our community fall into categories. The ones who watch a lot of TV don’t use computers much. There is great potential in the soaps to inspire them to try it, really! People like me who are totally engrossed in ICT never watch TV. We use pull down entertainment rather than push down stuff, so we have to master ICT in order to do this. I had to show a star from Emmerdale round our fair on Saturday and I hadn’t a clue who he was, and haven’t watched Corrie since hilda ogden left. There is a great audience out there who could learn all sorts of stuff via the soap medium. They would never watch a programme on computers until they got bitten by the bug. Soaps are a good hook.

  4. cyberdoyle says:

    Re your point no 4, great idea! I have always said that the 1st gen broadband delivered through the phone lines should always have been free, but not just to underprivileged or elderly but to everyone. The network was there, they just delivered broadband through it.
    Re your point no 5, sorry you don’t like twitter, but I found this blog through twitter so it has its good points! you just have to pick the people you follow very carefully LOL and only follow the interesting ones!

  5. Peter says:

    Point taken! In fact this was the main angle taken by the IPTV guys (SimplyDigital): don’t give people “the internet” – it’s much better to add some interactivity to their telly. Even simple things like quick polls can show that everyone’s opinion can and will be listened to and start people up the ladder of engagement.

    BTW – I’m curious now: what/who were you following on Twitter when you found this? I’m not against it as such…

  6. cyberdoyle says:

    sorry, have searched my tweets and can’t findit, was probably a tinyurl so not distinct, so much gone on this morning it is buried somewhere. I do agree twitter can have drawbacks as well as good points. But I found you anyway and your blog has raised some good thoughts and ideas.

    Re: interactive tv, much better to have more choice and input, but do feel that soaps could play a major part in engagement if the benefits we are currently enjoying are to be extended to the disengaged. The majority of people I know who are not online are folks without children. Kids are a great motivator, inspirator (is that a word?) and teacher of adults/older people. These same folks all use the TV, and lots have it on when the soaps are showing, even if they aren’t always watching them. Soaps could also raise awareness of the dangers of the internet in a fashion that people could relate to, and having been made aware the lesson is learnt through a fictional character’s problem.

  7. cyberdoyle says:

    found it, tweetdeck has a good search! just retweeted it.
    RT @pepnetfeed: Reflecting on NDI09: 6 themes and 3 that got away:

  8. Peter says:

    Thanks – I like PEP-NET!

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