A Digital Participation Plan for NI

Last Tuesday Ofcom held a symposium to discuss Digital Participation in Northern Ireland. At the event Dominic Ridley from the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills presented the National Plan for Digital Participation (which includes a section on Northern Ireland).  He was followed by Dr Paul Moore, Chair of the Northern Ireland Digital Participation Hub, who introduced the hub’s Digital Participation Plan for NI which is aligned to the national plan.

A reccuring theme through both presentations was the 3 components of digital participation:

  • Digital Inclusion: encouraging and supporting people to get online
  • Digital Life: basic digital skills to increase employability and life chances
  • Digital Media Literacy: using, understanding and creating screen media

The NI Digital Participation Hub will develop an action plan for NI based on the following three phases (the skill level increasing through each phase):

  1. Information: basic skill but requiring high level of encouragement and support – activities can include searching, emailing and online commerce
  2. Participation: more skill and confidence required – activities can include social networking, blogging and online chat
  3. Creative: high level of technical skill – activities can include web design, image manipulation and programming

The plan identifies a number of possible strategic objectives:

  • Launch of a locally focused Social Marketing Programme (SMP) supported Hub members (Feb 2010-Nov 2010).
  • Undertaking of an in-depth qualitative analysis of present provision supported by the University of Ulster (Feb 2010-Jun 2010).
  • Targeting of inclusion strategies to older people (post-55) and rural communities to be facilitated by liaison Hub member organisations and local voluntary organisations (2010-2011).
  • Creation of online social network support groups for young people and adult learners (2010-2011).
  • Establishment of a ‘network apprenticeship’ scheme (2011-2012)
  • Embedding of accredited digital skills in school curriculum (2010-2012)
  • Identification of a sponsor for the supply of ‘affordable’ hardware (on-going).

The driver behind both plans is the Digital Britain report which defined digital participation as:

Increasing the reach, breath and depth of digital technology use across all sections of the society, to maximise digital participation and the economic and social benefits it can bring.

Basically, digital participation is about bringing everyone along in the digital journey. Those who, for whatever reason, do not embrace this journey may find themselves slowly excluded from services and benefits which the digital literate population take for granted.  There are enough significant economic and social benefits for the population and government to ensure that a u-turn in this journey is unlikely.

I would encourage you to read the NI plan and to support digital participation.

National Plan for Digital Participation

Many of us now take the web and the opportunities it offers for granted.  To a greater or lesser extent we all derive some benefit from being online.  However, for 12.5 million people in the UK this is not the case.

The Digital Britain report identified the need for digital participation for these people and the important role it will play in their lives and society as a whole.  It made specific mention of a National Plan for Digital Participation (Digital Britain Report, Executive Summary, point 20 [p12]).

This week the government addressed that need by launching the National Plan for Digital Participation which offers a strategic framework for achieving the shared vision of helping…

… everyone who wants to be online to get online, do more online and benefit from the advantages of being online.
National Plan for Digital Participation, point 15 [p8])

Contributing to this plan and vision is the Digital Participation Consortium which includes government, industry, education and public/voluntary sector; and led by Ofcom.  Like most approaches the key is raising awareness of the potential benefits that are available so people can decide for themselves.  This can only be achieved through the collaboration of all the stakeholders involved.

The National Plan for Digital Participation is well worth a read if you feel you can contribute to this vision.  It is divided into the following sections:

  • Shared Vision
  • Identifying and addressing needs
  • Priority Groups
  • Driving Digital Participation
  • Achieving greater impact
  • Establishing the baselines
  • Timetable for further action

Many organisations are mentioned in the plan including EGSA [p27].

The Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, sums it up well:

Being online is crucial for participation in the 21st Century society – the Internet unlocks a wealth of information and services, giving people more choice in life and access to a range of education, health and financial opportunities.

Lord Carter speaking on his Digital Britain report

Here are two youtube videos of Lord Carter speaking on his Digital Britian report.  There are six in total on youtube.

A users guide to Digital Britain

Increasing online participation

Ofcom – Annual Communications Market Review 2008

Ofcom’s fourth annual review on Northern Ireland’s communications market was released last week.

Introduction: Communications Market Report: Northern Ireland

Report: The Communications Market 2009: Nations & Regions – Northern Ireland (pdf)

Here are some highlights from the report:

“A third of households in Northern Ireland have watched TV or video online…”

This includes catchup TV services such as BBC iPlayer and uplayer (utv),  user generated content on video sharing sites such as YouTube and video embedded in social networking sites.

“Radio listening through mobile phone, and MP3 ownership highest in N Ireland”

15% have said they have listened to radio through their mobile and 46% own a mp3 player/ipod.

“One in four households in Northern Ireland use social networking sites”

These are websites such as facebook, myspace and bebo which enable users to upload content and communicate with friends.

“…people in Northern Ireland spent 11% less time watching television than people in the rest of the UK”

This seems to match a wider trend where people are spending less time watching television and more on other devices including accessing the internet.

“Mobile take-up in Northern Ireland was the highest in the UK at 93% in Quarter 1 2009, up eight percentage points year-on-year”

Mobiles are now becoming the primary means of communications for many people (BBC News Article)

Other points:

1. A Media Literacy Network was established for Northern Ireland in February 2009.  Its purpose is to:

“… provide a forum for the sharing of expertise, information and best practice on the development of media literacy … [and to] … act as a vehicle for the development of strategic thinking and co-ordinated activity with a view to achieving greater media literacy in Northern Ireland.”

The network steering partnership includes Ofcom, BBC NI, Northern Ireland Screen, EGSA and Department of Finance and Personnel NI.  Membership is open to others who have similar interests.

2. New online learning portal launched for Northern Ireland, mylearningni, during Adult Learners’ Week

“The facility is designed to help adults access information and support about learning and careers choices, learn more about media literacy and share and communicate ideas with other users online.”

The mylearningni portal is being developed by Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA), in partnership with the Department of Finance & Personnel, Ufi Learndirect and MMC Consulting.  It will go live to the general public later this year.

3. Ofcom NI have supported a pilot project that allows volunteers from Business in the Community to help residents of the Cedar Foundation to obtain internet and digital literacy skills.

“Business volunteers were recruited and trained to deliver one-to-one sessions. A special training manual was developed to take the participants and volunteers through the basics of using computers to accessing the internet and sending emails.”

The Communications Market report for Northern Ireland is 123 pages and can be downloaded as a pdf from the Ofcom website.

Technology – a spending priority

According to Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2009 we value technology above that of holidays and meals out and have adjusted our spending to reflect this in the current economic climate.

When consumers were asked where they would cut back on spending:

  • 47% said meals out
  • 41% said DIY
  • 41% said holidays
  • Only 10% would cut back on broadband services

Peter Phillips from Ofcom said:

Despite the recession, people are spending more time watching TV, using their mobile phone or accessing the internet.

They would rather do without meals out or holidays than give up their phone, broadband or pay TV package.

Within this internet use, social networking sites were becoming very popular.

19 million (50 per cent) of internet users now visit Facebook

Learn more by:

Technology ‘priority for Britons’

Digital Britain – The Final Report

Tuesday saw the publication of the Digital Britain report which outlines the actions needed to remain competitive and inclusive in a digital future.

The foreword notes:

It offers a strategic view of the sector, backed by a programme of action:

  • to complement and assist the private sector in delivering the effective modern communications infrastructure we need, built on new digital technologies;
  • to enable Britain to be a global centre for the creative industries in the digital age, delivering an ever wider range of quality content, including public service content, within a clear and fair legal framework;
  • to ensure that people have the capabilities and skills to flourish in the digital economy, and that all can participate in digital society; and
  • for government to continue to modernise and improve its service to the taxpayer through digital procurement and the digital delivery of public services.

The third point is encouraging for the promotion of media literacy amongst those who still have to fully embrace the new digital world.  Chapter 6 titled “Research, Education and Skills for Digital Britain” expands further on this point and references the issue of “basic ICT skills”.

The Prime Minister said:

Digital Britain is about giving the country the tools to succeed and lead the way in the economy of the future.

Investing in areas such as broadband access for every home and business and the move from analogue to digital technology will bring benefits across the board, driving growth, enabling businesses to thrive, and providing new opportunities and choices for households right across the country. It is an essential part of building Britain’s future.

I’ve listed a range of articles and posts commenting on the new report – all with their own different viewpoints:

Please post any other relevant links or comments you may have.