UK National Delivery Plan 2023
Develop our understanding of digital poverty and enhance knowledge and information sharing through the creation of research sharing networks.
What already exists
Digital poverty has been extensively researched by universities including the University of Liverpool, the University of Sheffield, Oxford Internet Institute, and the London School of Economics, as well as influential think tanks and private companies. The Nominet Digital Youth Index and the Lloyds Banking Group surveys provide valuable insights into various aspects of digital poverty and official statistics are captured on aspects of digital poverty by the Office for National Statistics.
Building the evidence base around digital poverty is critical to ensure that we can accurately quantify the scale of the problem and better understand the types of social, economic and policy interventions that will lead to long-term solutions. As the DPA Evidence Review highlighted, there is a wealth of empirical studies within the UK and internationally that investigate digital poverty and the related concepts of digital exclusion.
Yet despite a wealth of evidence, there are still notable gaps that merit further investigation. By building a more comprehensive evidence base, policymakers can better understand the factors contributing to digital poverty and develop targeted interventions. The NDP will also be iteratively updated with plans prioritised according to ongoing research into the efficacy of digital inclusion interventions. Areas where good practice occurs can be highlighted, shared, and pushed forward to relevant government and public sector organisations and integrated into future iterations of the NDP.
This section focuses on the need to define, measure, and quantify digital poverty, understand the lived experience of digital poverty, and share insights and evidence.
Actions for 2023/24 Phase 1
5.1 Advocate for the adoption of the minimum digital living standard across governments and other organisations.
5.2 Continue with proof-of-concept work to evaluate the benefits of technology among specific groups.
5.3 Build the evidence on the lived experience of digital poverty.
Actions by 2030 Phase 2-4
5.4 Create and develop mechanisms for research and information sharing in relation to digital poverty.
5.5 Advocate for a question on digital poverty in the 2031 census.
5.6 Advocate for a longitudinal study to measure changes in the rate and experience of digital poverty over time.
5.7 Consult on and build cross-sector support for a definition of digital poverty.
5.8 Build the evidence base on the intersectional nature of digital poverty and the understanding of how existing structures of inequality compounds its experience.
5.9 Conduct a social return on investment analysis for investment in digital inclusion.
Theory of Change
- UK Digital Poverty Evidence Review
- National Delivery Plan
- National Delivery Committee
- Digital inclusion ecosystem
- Stakeholder engagement and support
Defining, measuring and quantifying digital poverty
Addressing digital poverty requires a clear and consistent definition that is recognised across sectors. Therefore, it is crucial to establish a comprehensive definition that is practical and understood by all stakeholders. While the current definition provided by the DPA is useful2, it is deliberately imprecise and lacks clarity on when, for example, digital exclusion becomes digital poverty. One potential approach to developing a universal cross-sector definition is through research and consultation to arrive at an agreed definition and understand how it relates to linked concepts such as digital exclusion and the digital divide. A concrete definition could also provide the basis for more accurate measurement of digital poverty. Various indicators, such as essential digital skills, internet usage, and broadband and mobile coverage, give some idea of overall levels of digital poverty, but there is no holistic measure. A more focused definition would allow for more robust measurement to capture the true extent of digital poverty. Over the long term, advocating for a question in relation to digital poverty to be included in the 2031 Census survey would be hugely valuable.
The research project, led by the University of Liverpool, to develop a Minimum Digital Living Standard51 provides a useful benchmark to aid practitioners and researchers in developing clearer meanings around the concepts of digital inclusion and exclusion. The project applies the minimum income standard methodology to digital inclusion and sets benchmarks for what people need to have a minimally acceptable standard of digital living. Initially, the project relates to households with children, but there are opportunities to utilise the same approach to other household types and for government, employers and the third sector to consider how they can build the Minimum Digital Living Standard into their plans and strategies to tackle digital exclusion. This can be seen in the work of the Welsh Government to embed the standard as part of efforts to become a more digitally inclusive nation.
Additionally, there is a need to conduct a long-term longitudinal study that tracks changes in digital poverty or digital inclusion/exclusion over time. While the Office for National Statistics collects data on internet usage, demographics, and geography, their sole measure of interest is whether an individual has accessed the internet in the last three months11. However, this measure fails to capture the quality of internet access or whether individuals feel adequately skilled to make good use of their access. Therefore, there is a need for better time-series data that tracks the broader range of determinants that affect digital poverty over time. However, consideration will need to be given to how those who are at high risk of digital exclusion, such as those who are unhoused or those who are involved in the legal system, are included in the sampling process.
There are also additional areas where further research would be useful. One area would be to build a case that quantifies the social return on investment in digital inclusion. Similar studies have been conducted previously17, but it would be valuable to revisit to quantify the positive social externalities produced by investment in digital inclusion. Another fruitful area could be to develop international digital inclusion benchmarking to analyse how the UK compares to other similar economies. This could include developing, for example, a range of indicators with respect to the availability of full-fibre broadband, the relative affordability of communication services and the range of support available for those who are digitally excluded. This evidence would be valuable in communicating with policymakers about why investments in digital inclusion are necessary. Framing the digital inclusion conversation as a moral and ethical duty is important, but for some politicians, appeals to the UK’s status as a ‘world-leading’ digitally inclusive society at a time of fierce global economic competition may be more appealing.
Understand the lived experience of digital poverty
In addition to quantitative measures, it will also be important to document the lived experiences of people with digital poverty to develop a more fine-grained understanding of its practical consequences and how it intersects with other types of inequality and disadvantage. Quantitative surveys are a valuable tool for gathering information on digital inclusion and exclusion, but they may not always capture the experiences of the most vulnerable populations. For example, people with disabilities, older adults, unhoused individuals, and children may be less likely to participate in surveys or have the necessary digital skills to complete them accurately, leading to an underestimation of the extent of digital exclusion among these groups.
As such, a combined focus also on quantitative and qualitative research will be necessary. This can help policymakers and researchers gain a more nuanced understanding of how digital exclusion intersects with other determinants and characteristics such as financial poverty, ethnicity, gender, and disability.3 These insights can help build knowledge and understanding of the complex factors that contribute to digital exclusion and the unique challenges that different groups face.
Qualitative insights can also provide nuances that quantitative data may miss, such as the emotional impact of digital exclusion or how people cope with limited access to digital technologies. These insights can inform the development of more targeted and effective interventions.
Coordinating and sharing insights and evidence
Sharing best practice and research insights is important to help policymakers and practitioners identify strategies and solutions that have been successful in other contexts. There is a huge amount of evidence relating to digital inclusion, but more can be done to synthesise and communicate research to those involved in providing digital inclusion support. There are a range of higher education institutions that are undertaking hugely valuable research. The DPA has established a research directory as an open access repository for high-quality evidence on digital inclusion, which we will continue to build and develop as an authoritative source for research on digital poverty.52 Alongside this, the DPA will continue to develop and deliver proof of concept projects to analyse the ways in which priority groups use technology.
An additional mechanism to facilitate the sharing of knowledge is through networks and platforms that enable collaboration and information exchange among researchers and practitioners. Conferences, workshops, and online forums can provide opportunities for researchers to share their findings and experiences, exchange ideas, and collaborate on new research projects. Additionally, research institutions and organisations can develop databases and repositories of case studies, which can be used to inform and guide the development of new policies and programmes. The DPA has started to use its community hub to facilitate information and evidence sharing, and we will aim to build on this going forward.
A “what works” network focused on digital inclusion could be developed to help to coordinate and disseminate research and insight. Such a network would aim to provide a central hub for research, policy, and practice, where stakeholders can exchange ideas and collaborate on new initiatives. The network could include researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders involved in the digital inclusion field, and could be supported by a range of resources, including databases, research reports, case studies, and toolkits. One potential model for such a network is the UK’s What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth53, which brings together researchers and policymakers to share best practices and evaluate the effectiveness of different local economic development interventions. The centre has developed a range of resources, including a database of evaluation studies and a toolkit for practitioners, which have helped to guide the development of evidence-based policies and programs. A similar network focused on digital inclusion would provide a much-needed platform for collaboration and knowledge exchange in the field and help to accelerate progress in addressing digital poverty and inclusion.
Why digital access matters:
Enhancing our understanding.
Why understanding digital access matters:
The key problem is that we don’t have very good measures of digital exclusion and digital inequalities and they’re overly individualistic. Do you, individual person, have this. Yet many of the surveys ask questions about households. So, is it really for the person or the household? Second, they’re based on top-down assumptions of what’s good. If a survey asks: have you used the Internet in the last three months, it’s a measure of something, but it’s not digital inclusion.
– Professor Simeon Yates, Minimum Digital Living Standard Project Lead
I think it provides a tool for policymakers that reminds them if you just put the wires in the ground, you’re missing two other parts, the functional skills and the critical skills. If you just put the wires in the ground, you’re not doing the equipment. If you just give somebody a mobile, it’s not enough for their kids to get an education. It shows that digital inclusion isn’t a quick fix, single tick box activity.
– Professor Simeon Yates, Minimum Digital Living Standard Project Lead
Developing a Minimum Digital Living Standard to Address Digital Inequalities.
The Minimum Digital Living Standard (MDLS) (mdls.org.uk) is a major research project led by the University of Liverpool in partnership with Loughborough University, City University, and Good Things Foundation. The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, Nominet and the Welsh Government. Alongside the development of the MDLS the project team has worked with the Welsh Government to develop a MDLS for Wales.
The project was initiated to address the lack of holistic measures in relation to digital exclusion and digital inequalities. Current measures can be considered overly individualistic and based on top-down assumptions of what constitutes digital inclusion. The research team sought to develop a measure of digital inclusion that was generated by citizens based on their own experiences and needs.
The team developed MDLS by adapting the methodology of the Minimum Income Standard (MIS), developed by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. MIS is developed through deliberative research with households of all types to determine the basket of goods and services necessary to live with dignity. The team adapted this methodology to identify the devices, connectivity and skills, to have a basic level of digital inclusion. MDLS has been developed not to reflect a minimum for survival but rather a minimum for remaining socially engaged.
The MDLS project team conducted a series of deliberative focus groups that involved parents and young people. The participants were carefully selected to ensure a diverse representation of households with varying income levels and across different geographic locations.
The MDLS developed by the research team provides a citizen-generated measure of digital inclusion and provides the basis for policymakers, organisations, and researchers to better understand digital exclusion. While the initial focus of the project has been on households with children, the team intends to expand the scope of the project to include other types of households over the longer term.
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Read the overview
We have condensed the following National Delivery Plan 2023 into a 10 page PDF. This provides an overview of our approach, the six missions and their suggested actions.