The interim report of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into spreading the benefit of digital participation in Scotland – published on 4 December 2013 – calls on the Scottish Government to recognise that every individual has an undeniable right to digital inclusion and for steps to be taken to motivate individuals and businesses to engage in the online world. Digital technologies, the report notes, can offer opportunities for people to explore interests and share and access knowledge, and to achieve this
…we must ensure that all public, private and third-sector organisations in Scotland have unfettered access to the infrastructure, tools and skills they need to make effective use of digital technologies.
The word ‘unfettered’ is important. Our experience at IRISS is that while people who work within organisations can be motivated to try out new ways of sharing information, for example by using Dropbox, employers offers little encouragement to use this form of communication. Some block access to Eventbrite (on the ground that is is a ‘shopping site’). Others have stopped their staff from using Doodle which takes the pain out of scheduling meetings. Unfettered access must mean allowing to staff to engage with any web-based service as and when required, bearing in mind that it is often the client who chooses the tool. To refuse to use, say Doodle, is simply to transfer costs onto the client.
The report goes on to say that enterprise agencies should develop simple checklists of free online services and tools -such as business listings, appointments diaries, blogs and calendars – and use these to help businesses to engage with the online world. The problem is that staff in enterprise agencies are themselves often blocked from using these tools (Google Docs, Flickr etc) and are therefore hardly in a position to offer advice.
Organisations need to develop a culture that supports and encourages their staff to engage in web-based communication, By engaging they will acquire the digital literacy skills necessary to be digitally included.
Along with former DCC Gordon Scobbie and Ian Watt, representing SOCITM, I’ll making a presentation to the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Digital Participation on this topic on 10 December 2013. We’ll be suggesting that to tackle digital exclusion and promote digital participation, it is absurd on the one hand to wonder why people don’t engage while, on the other, actively block them from doing exactly that.