Research plays a crucial role in The Digital Poverty Alliance’s work to end digital poverty in the UK (by 2030). We use research in two key ways to support work on digital inclusion. First, we collate existing research, which helps to support policy-makers and practitioners to identify the most effective strategies for addressing digital poverty. Second, we carry out research to evaluate our own interventions to better understand the barriers to digital poverty in specific contexts.  We believe that using research to inform decision making allows us to better target policies and programmes aimed at ending digital poverty.

One of the main benefits of research is that it can provide a comprehensive understanding of the enablers and barriers of digital poverty, highlighting particular groups or geographic areas who are most in need. For example, we know that low-income families and rural communities are disproportionately affected by digital poverty. This information can be used to develop policies and programmes to ensure that they receive the support they need. To ensure that research on digital poverty is easily accessible, we have created our Directory for research and insights, which provides access to a growing database of reports and insights.

Last year, The Digital Poverty Alliance published the UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review, which is a landscape review of quantitative and qualitative evidence, organised around the five determinants of digital poverty: devices and connectivity, access, capability, motivation, and support and participation. It synthesises a lot of great work on digital poverty and exclusion, and led to the creation of The Digital Poverty Alliance’s Five Policy Principles:

  • Policy Principle 1: Digital is a basic right. Digital is now an essential utility – and access to it should be treated as such.
  • Policy Principle 2: Accessing key public services online, like social security and healthcare, must be simple, safe, and meet everyone’s needs.
  • Policy Principle 3: Digital should fit into people’s lives, not be an additional burden — particularly the most disadvantaged.
  • Policy Principle 4: Digital skills should be fundamental to education and training throughout life. Support must be provided to trusted intermediaries who have a key role in providing access to digital.
  • Policy Principle 5: There must be cross-sector efforts to provide free and open evidence on digital exclusion.

The other core aspect of research in our work is to evaluate our proof of concept projects, which we carry out to provide support for, and to better understand, digital poverty in specific contexts. Each of our proof of concept projects is aimed at a specific demographic, and entail an evaluation of the impact and a report summarising the key learnings. For example, Tech4PrisonLeavers is one of our proofs of concept, which is a scheme aimed at young men leaving prison, to provide them with access to digital technology and skills training. We are working with Trailblazers Mentoring charity, as well as partners, including, We Are Digital, CGI, Nacro, iDEA, and Vodafone to provide mentoring and support to the young men to help them re-enter into society. The programme is being evaluated by the Institute of Community Research and Development at the University of Wolverhampton, and our aim is help to reduce re-offending rates by providing much-needed support to the young men, while providing insight into the specific challenges they face.

If we are to achieve our aim of ending digital poverty in the UK by 2030, it is important that we are evidence-led. We use research to help inform policymakers and practitioners by providing them with the knowledge they need to make decisions. We do this through collating the evidence, e.g., our Directory for research and insights, and our UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review, as well as evaluating our own proof of concept projects, e.g., Tech4PrisonLeavers. Research is critical to the work we do at the Digital Poverty Alliance, as it allows us to understand the extent and nature of digital poverty, as well as the factors that contribute to it. It also helps us to identify the groups that are most affected by digital poverty, as well as the specific needs of these groups. 

Written by Dr Keelan Meade, Head of Research and Insights at the Digital Poverty Alliance