This Friday, from 2 to 5 pm, we will have an open discussion about the past and future of ICT related social policies in the UK.

The aim of this meeting is to outline an analysis of media and technological policies based on changing digital participation agendas in the previous and current governments, in addition to considering strategic policy proposals for the white paper informing Jeremy Hunt’s proposed Communications Act.

We plan to introduce the Media Policy Project, address key digital inclusion issues in UK policy and research, identify research trends and open up discussion regarding digital inclusion and accountability.

As a conversation starter a short brief on the history of digital inclusion and ICT policies in the UK is presented in which the evidence for effective policy making is discussed.

Three key questions are:

  • What can and should be done beyond improving ICT access and infrastructure to promote inclusion?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of government, the commercial and the third sector in promoting digital inclusion?
  • Who should be held accountabile for digital exclusion?

A loose outline for the discussion paper is as follows:

This paper revises the evidence that sheds light on the possible effectiveness and impact of the UK’s ICT policies, such as the Universal Service Commitment and the Cabinet Office’s ICT strategy. The paper questions whether digital inclusion, an important term in previous government initiatives and in the current government’s election promises, will feature as part of government responsibilities.  The role of digital inclusion in the current government’s political agenda is otherwise unclear.

The paper addresses two separate issues that play a role in the evaluation of the possible impacts of Universal Service Commitment (USC) and other digital inclusion policies:

  • (dis)continuity of policy in this area
  • (mis)representation of the evidence for impact

The UK was at the forefront of policy making in the digital inclusion arena and many EU policies looked to the UK as an example of best practice. Nevertheless, Europe seems to be taking evidence-based policy making forward by focusing on the social as well as the infrastructure aspects of digital inclusion.  In contrast, the UK is regressing by relying on the market and on business as a driver of inclusion – a strategy that has proven to be insufficient in the past.

The argument set out in the discussion paper is that a narrow focus on speed and infrastructure means a step back for UK policy in this area.

Years of research have shown that access to the internet in itself, no matter the speed of the connection or the ubiquity of access points, does not solve inequalities in how people make use of the opportunities available online. The evidence shows that in some areas a digital under class has emerged composed of socially isolated individuals with lower levels of education, who may become further entrenched in a digital underclass if policy remains narrowly focussed on access.

The discussion of impact will address the research evidence which shows that infrastructure interventions are likely to be insufficient in dealing with issues of digital exclusion. Policies that focus on access and infrastructure and ignore underlying social inequalities have led to the consolodation of a group of people who are disadvantaged in terms of their digital skills and how they use the internet and for whom it will become harder and harder to reconnect with the rest of society.

If you’re interested in participating or would like to share in the discussion, send an email to Zoe Sujon at Z.T.Sujon at lse.ac.uk