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Learning more about digital inclusion

Emma Davis
Red counter pieces grouped together with one black counter piece set apart from the group

I recently had the opportunity to help out at a digital inclusion workshop being held by the Phoenix Project in Ipswich.

I was keen to take part to get a better understanding of what accessing digital services might be like for those who face barriers or challenges to getting online, as well as being able to help people gain skills and confidence.

These workshops were introduced by the mental health charity after it was clear that some of its members struggled to join Zoom meetings during lockdown, leaving them further isolated and unable to join in with group activities.

The pandemic has highlighted for many people the importance of being able to use and access online tools and services. People who don’t have this ability are also often more difficult to reach and engage in user research too, particularly with more of this work being done remotely.

The workshops worked on a ‘drop-in’ basis, where myself and the other volunteers were each set up at a workstation and members could come along with their questions or any tasks they wanted help with.

Waiting for members to drop in at the digital inclusion workshop

Queries ranged from how to connect a smartphone to wifi, to downloading playlists in Spotify, as well as lots of questions about storing and sharing photos.

One member was faced with the challenge of proving their covid status in order to attend a music festival the next day, but without a smartphone or printer, and with limited confidence in using online services, this was proving difficult for them.

We went though how to enter a lateral flow test result online using one of the laptops on loan. After deleting some of their existing text messages (as their phone only had storage for a maximum of 10 messages), they were able to receive text confirmation of a negative test and to get to the gig.

The ‘Report a COVID-19 test result service’ allows users to receive text message confirmation of their lateral flow result

The reasons for the digital exclusion were really varied, and included not having the technology, not having the skills to use it or just not having the confidence.

It was clear from speaking to people that often it was more than just one of these barriers that people faced, and how they experienced these barriers was different from person to person.

Understanding the needs, behaviours and motivations of potential users of a service is the bread and butter of what we do as user researchers. Going along to the workshop was a great reminder to me of how different one person’s experience of accessing a service online might be from the next and offered me a real insight into some of the challenges people may face.

I will definitely be looking for further opportunities like this and incorporating what I’ve learnt into future research.


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