2021-11-01 JB Interview Transcript

2021-11-01 JB (Citizens Online)

Mon, 11/1 5:32PM • 1:17:55


people, digital inclusion, digital, research, data, online, area, bit, question, organizations, big, age, exclusion, happening, excluded, lots, report, community, access, dwp


Kira Allmann, JB

Kira Allmann 00:00

It does this, like, creepy recording thing. But that’s probably good for data.

JB 00:07

Yeah. [Laughter]

Kira Allmann 00:10

Yeah, um, cool. So yeah, I think, um, just to start off, could you just let me know, um, yeah, your name, your your position and what you do with Citizens Online.

JB 00:24

So I’m JB, I’m the Research Manager at Citizens online. I’ve been here for about six years. And the role has changed a bit in that time. But essentially, I do kind of two core bits of work one is to do with project work. So we tend to contract with local authorities, sometimes it’s other types of organizations in the NHS, or Housing Association, or so on. And, as part of those projects, we are often doing research. So sometimes those projects are pure delivery. But usually, even if we do delivery, we do a bit of research first. So that’s usually about landscaping, getting some kind of baseline of digital skills, either of people within the organization, or that the organization is working to support. So it could be residents of a local council area, for example. And we do different types of research as part of that. So we would- we do what we call a digital maturity assessment with organizations and their staff. And we survey organizations in an area. But we also look at open data. So we do the kind of data analysis piece that looks at where risks are. We do a kind of gap analysis, looking at what kind of provision already exists in an area, and those kinds of things. So that’s- one part of the research is around looking at what’s already happening in places and feeding back to organizations or areas about what the digital inclusion landscape looks like where they are. And then sort of Part B of that, I guess, is kind of monitoring and evaluation work, where we we keep track of digital skills or digital inclusion interventions. And then potentially at the end of a project, we write something up about what’s happened. But then the second piece of work that I do is more sort of original research, which might be conducted either by ourselves or on behalf of someone else. For instance, the work that we did with Public Health England, looking at the equalities impact, looking at an equalities impact assessment regarding channel shift of some information about screening programs to online. And so we did some desk research, literary review, number crunching, data analysis around what risks that might present, focus groups, that kind of research, all sorts of different types of research to answer those questions, or a piece of work that we did for the Center for Aging Better recently, which was about looking at the impact of the pandemic on digital exclusion among people aged 50 to 70. So, you know, we did a- we commissioned a national phone poll, we did our own surveys, we did work with organizations, where we, where we interviewed people, and we interviewed people who’d received support, or were in that age bracket. That’s I guess, guess the sorts of things I do. I mean, I also, you know, sit on lots of kind of groups with other people who are in the research community or attend events, read the research that other people are putting out and try and sort of synthesize and keep on top of that, as well.

Kira Allmann 03:26

Cool, that’s great. And you actually answered my my next question in that answer about kind of what the sort of research is that, that you all do? And so I’m actually really interested in what you said about using open data. Could you tell me a little bit more about like, what, what is open data? What are you referring to in that? And how exactly you use that?

JB 03:51

Yeah, sure. And I’m going to be really enthusiastic about giving you this answer, Kira, but I should say at the outset, just in the back of my head, I have a bit of a sting from this lately, because we’ve been talking about some of the open data work that we did in terms of mapping for a number of years. And just this week, another organisation has put out some public mapping work that we were kind of wanted to, but they got there before us, and they maybe got some of that from the work that we’d done. So that’s in the back of my head. But anyway, what we do, in terms of open data, we started off, I think it was about 2015. We we were being asked to do mapping work for local authorities around digital exclusion risk in their areas. And we didn’t really know how to go about doing it, but we had this idea that some of the information from credit registering agencies and the kinds that provide marketing information for the private sector organizations generally might be useful. So we approached both Experian and Acorn or CACI. And we talked to them a bit about their datasets and whether there was information that could be useful to assessing digital exclusion risk. So for a while we were not doing it with open data, we were paying for proprietary data to produce assessments for these organizations and councils in particular had often had some data from Experian. They were doing that kind of profiling of their residents. But a lot of them during that period had cancelled those contracts because of austerity and so on, or otherwise feeling they didn’t need that data. So we did that for a while. And then we started to hit the sort of limits of what we could do with that data. It’s not designed for that purpose. It’s designed for, ultimately, usually, for advertisers or people who are looking to find out where they should build a car sales site or something like this. They want to know which areas are likely to have people who’ve got the money or the interest in their services. So there is interesting stuff in there that they take from, from open datasets and from their own private data sets to combine. And so we just thought, Well, why don’t we try and do something that’s- that does a similar job that we’re fully in control of, there’s no opaqueness to the kind of algorithm behind it, then we know what what’s going on. We know what weightings have been used to produce certain things. So we started out using data from the census, which was less out of date then than it has become now. But since then we’ve supplemented that with data from DWP, which is not quite live, but some of that is very up to date. So people- we can get data about the numbers of people that are receiving housing benefit or pension credit, for example, or Universal Credit, we can get an idea of how far along the transition from housing benefit to Universal Credit has gone, which is quite important given that Universal Credit is digital-by-default. People are largely expected to be able to transact with that digitally. So those are kind of two of the core data sets. And then we also use the Index of Multiple Deprivation. That’s got some information around qualifications in it. And we know from other published research that qualifications as well as age and income levels are really good predictors of people experiencing digital exclusion. Yeah, so we use that we use age data, actually, we use the ONS estimates now rather than census data for age. And we use people living alone. I’m giving you the answers here, Kira, but that’s probably not for quoting in the report. But just to give you an idea of how we how we go about doing it, obviously, that’s, you know, anyone could figure out how to do it. And people are using basically similar datasets if they’re doing- other organizations that are doing similar work. But the idea behind it is that we we either map that stuff individually, if a client’s particularly interested in, for instance, the transition to Universal Credit, and we might map map those things, specifically. But usually we’re providing some kind of digital exclusion risk index. So we put together a bunch of data that’s collated at the smallest geographic level that we can access it. And then we map it at a level that the client wants. So it could be ward level for a council, or it might be a smaller geographic level. And we basically look at risk deciles, or, or whatever. We rate places higher, if there are more people or a higher proportion of people that are in categories we consider more likely to be at risk. And we’re kind of constantly updating that index that we have. So it’s not like we- we don’t have a single national one that we we point people to we, when we talk to the client, we work with them around what we think are likely to be the risk factors in their area. Connectivity, obviously, we include that. Sometimes we keep that out of the algorithm, sometimes we put it in, depending on what the situation is locally and how much it might bias the result. So yeah, that’s the kind of- that’s the kind of open data that we would look at. There’s obviously a big difficulty with it, you know, what we found is when we’re using ONS data that talks about whether people on or- whether people have never used the internet or not, that’s the single binary that you get from kind of really localized data. And that’s still only at kind of district council or maybe not even individual district council level. But that’s not a particularly useful measure for us. You know, we’re much more interested in people’s confidence and skills and access to devices, all of which isn’t well-captured by that, that percentage. It might be kind of proxy- areas that have got a high proportion of people who’ve never been online might imply high proportion have got other issues. But it’s a bit tricky. And obviously our measure is also just a proxy. It’s not a direct indicator, but we think it’s useful for identifying things, and we’ve done a little bit of work in Brighton and Hove, where we’ve compared our initial predictions about where people would be with where people have come to us. And that’s not an entirely fair test, because we’ve obviously- you know, the purpose of identifying areas was to help target support. So it’s not surprising we would get more people from those areas, but if there weren’t people there who needed support, we obviously wouldn’t get them. So we did get a kind of correlation that in particular, unsurprisingly, identified pension credit as a useful indicator because it’s capturing both people who were older and on a lower income.

Kira Allmann 10:17

Sorry for the delay there. I’m just typing.

JB 10:19

No it’s ok. I know, I do the same thing.

Kira Allmann 10:23

As you’re speaking… that it’s- that’s super interesting. I have a couple of questions on the back of that, um, that one being sort of why why is it useful to look at such a micro level at sort of like the as local as possible when it comes to this, these this data? Why is it that clients are most interested in that? What is it about the local that’s useful in knowing about digital inclusion, if that makes sense?

JB 10:51

Yeah. I mean, that’s a really good question. And to be honest, it’s it’s a ongoing question. I think I’m going to give you an answer, but I’m not- what I’m trying to say is that, well, I’ve got some reticence about it. So what we always try to say to clients- there could there could be digitally excluded people everywhere. And you need to be providing universal support across the area. You cannot only solve problems in one area and expect that to make the problem go away. And I think there is a risk in what we do that they might- that councils might not take that message on board. We know, for instance, that there’s a lot of this kind of messaging throughout government and public services at the moment of focusing on the most vulnerable or words to that effect. And I think that creates lots of problems, because the processes for identifying those people aren’t necessarily perfect, and people move in and out of categories, and so on. And it can just reduce the level of provision generally, which of course, impacts on those people who are most vulnerable. So you know, you can get rid of a library in an area where there are more affluent people. But what if it was on a bus route for the more vulnerable people, on their way to work or whatever? And actually, it was the more suitable location for them than the one that’s by their home, or whatever, you know, it’s just it’s more complicated than problems being hyper localized. That said, the reason that we do it, and why we think is useful is that you can get very, very dramatic differences within even a local council area. And when the initial digital exclusion heat map was produced by GoOn, and the Tech Partnership, it had things like Brighton and Hove being identified as an area of low risk, and we were working in the area at that time, and we knew that we were encountering lots of people who were digitally excluded. Now, those people are concentrated in particular areas of the city. But a map that looks at the more- the less granular level, therefore doesn’t identify those pockets of exclusion. So that’s one reason. Basically, the authorities can get- can become complacent because they’re scoring quite well overall, and forget about the pockets that they’ve got that need addressing. The other reason is that what we’re doing when we look at that local level is is that kind of gap analysis of looking at what is in that area. So if if it’s the case that there’s a really great distribution of libraries all across a borough or district, then maybe it wouldn’t matter. But we know that that isn’t the case that these these kinds of community assets are concentrated often in particular places. And sometimes they overlap really well with the communities that need those- might need those resources. And other times they don’t. And that can vary a lot, depending on the geographic area. Obviously, when we work with London boroughs, people can be quite close to things. When we work in more rural locations, we find that, you know, bus routes and stuff become very important. Someone might have to travel a long distance to access a library or other kind of community support. And that’s, that’s been quite interesting lately, because we’ve been producing these maps and saying to people, well, you know, COVID’s made all this a bit different because people aren’t necessarily traveling to places or able to even access these venues at the moment. But you still want to kind of know this stuff about what the local provision is like, because it will impact what people feel about these questions. What they what they feel is available in their local community. Because I mean, one of the things that is become a bit of a sort of aphorism, or whatever, in digital inclusion land is that people prefer to get support or are best reached through trusted networks that they’re already part of. So if someone is digitally excluded and live in an area where there are a lot of community organizations, then it’s more likely that they’re in contact with one of them already. So if you can get that community organization to start providing digital inclusion support, then you might be able to reach those people. Whereas if you’re talking about people in an area, there’s just there’s very little in the way of community organization or or asset, then it could be much more difficult to reach those people. Sort of a way of identifying gaps for research as well as gaps for provision, or gaps for marketing. Yeah.

Kira Allmann 15:12

Yeah, cool. And, I mean, related to this, you mentioned the issue of kind of like data compatibility earlier. So, you know, you’ve got different datasets that might come from sort of different sources. And in the beginning, you were working with commercial datasets, and then kind of transitioned to publicly accessible datasets. I’m wondering if you have any kind of thoughts about- on on sort of the data collection side in terms of what you have access to, whether there are challenges in terms of like data, sort of data bias, or algorithmic bias on the back end that can then complicate sort of what you can actually do with that data in terms of analyzing it in terms of digital exclusion factors?

JB 15:59

That’s a good question. I mean, I’ve often thought about the fact that the census data, like, from 2011, I remember that that census was a really controversial census, and a lot of people refused to fill it in as a result. So I’ve kind of wondered about about that. And that obviously affects a fairly small number of people probably, but it indicates that the census data is always going to have a segment of people who don’t fill in the survey. One thing we’ve been trying to think about lately, is that the census has this hard to count index, which they particularly did some research around for the recent census, which is kind of digital, sort of digital-by-default, I don’t know, it’s probably not quite the right term for it, but certainly, primarily done through digital. So they were obviously particularly interested in where people might be who, who wouldn’t be able to do that. And that sort of highlights that bias. Again, I mean, the DWP data, for instance, we take disability benefit data from that, and we- but we also take disability data from the census. And it’s very clear that there’s a big difference between the two. One, obviously, is only some disabled people are on a low enough income to qualify. But also, we know that there are exclusion criteria around applying. So you know, people might not apply, people might have been removed from the list for not complying with some thing that they’re required to, they might have decided that it’s more trouble than it’s worth to apply. There’s lots of reasons. So yeah, there are difficulties with that data. I guess, we don’t, we don’t worry too much about lots of it. Some of some of our data is very- we’re looking at something very basic, like the number of people and the proportion of people aged over 65,. There will be bias in that data, it won’t be perfect, but it’s gonna give us a good indication, I think, of an area with a high number and an area with a low number. The precise numbers might be out, and they could be out significantly, I guess, but they’re not probably going to be up for that order of magnitude to switch the relative position of things around, I guess. I mean, we do have that problem with the census. The Census has got lots of great questions in it. But a lot of it is obviously out of date by the time that you’re referring to it at this sort of point before the new data comes out. So that’s a problem. The DWP data, I mean, that’s interesting in that lots of it is quite weird in terms of the periods it comes out at. Some of it comes out very, on a monthly basis, some of it quarterly, it’s all a bit confusing. That’s obviously getting easier as more and more people are lumped into Universal Credit, which is a single measure, but on the other hand, you’re then- you then get less of the granularity of insight. So it was- it’s quite useful to know if someone is claiming ESA or housing benefit. If you just get told they’re claiming housing benefit, and they’re either on the out-of-work or in-work part, then you’re missing information about what the previous benefits told you. But, I mean, I don’t think that’s a huge concern, really, in terms of terms of what we’re doing. Yeah, I think I think that the main thing I’d say is that yeah, I’m sort of- might not affect our work, but I’m privately quite aware that there’s major problems with lots of the open data. And that there might be biases or issues in how that data has been collected. But because it’s a part of what we’re doing, and we’re trying not to tell people like this is the answer, this is definitive, that hopefully, we’ve sort of couched it enough, you know, that we’re talking about this is to give you a rough idea. We usually hold a workshop where we present the back data back to people, and we’re asking them: does this match your kind of on-the-ground experience, you know, does this feel right? And if people are saying no, then we’d really be looking back at the data and potentially changing weightings or looking at what we can do to focus on a particular metric that they thought was important in their area or something like that, and seeing if there’s a reason why something wasn’t quite right. But the idea is that the map isn’t to tell them anything new. It’s to tell people what they already know, but to have it in a visual form and to compare it against other forms of information rather than to sort of, yeah, reinvent something or tell them a new story. Sometimes we identify things that people aren’t already aware of about particular areas. But that’s quite rare.

Kira Allmann 20:10

Yeah, that’s an interesting observation because I had a colleague, who was also an anthropologist who once said that, like, the sign that you’ve done really good anthropological work is you put all this effort in, and you come out with these nuanced sort of findings about what’s happening in a community, and then you present it to the community and they say, duh, like, this is exactly what’s happening here. And it’s funny to think about that, but it is true that that’s sort of the stamp of approval is when it you take it to the community, and the community says, yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening here. You observed that correctly, you know. So I think that yeah, that’s an interesting way of looking at research, that is not always the way that people on the outside find-

JB 20:53

Yeah, researchers want to present some new exciting finding, but actually, the best finding is the one that that people consider is- that- well, you’re getting that triangulation, basically, from people’s lived experience that, yeah, this matches what we think.

Kira Allmann 21:07

Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So yeah, speaking of lived experience, because that’s obviously one category of potential evidence to draw on for digital inclusion work. I’m wondering, why do you collect sort of, or why do you why do you collect slash why do you work with the kinds of evidence that you’ve mentioned so far, you know, you’ve mentioned open data, you’ve mentioned surveys, I know that you speak to folks in local communities as well. And I’m wondering kind of why you collect those different kinds of data? Is there kind of one that you use a lot more than others and why?

JB 21:43

I mean, we have been doing a lot of this mapping and data work for a little while. I think we’re moving away from it, to be honest. We’ve we’ve tried to speed it up; it used to take quite a long time. So it was intensive, resource-wise, and it was probably taking away resources from doing other things. One reason why we do it, though, is that we think that it is preventing the need for some additional research. There’s pros and cons to this, but like, there’s loads of research being done on digital exclusion at the national level. And on the whole, we don’t think that local areas are going to have that many particularities. The people who are digitally excluded are largely going to be the ones that national research has identified as being those most at risk for like, a decade or more. So when we use open data, it’s like a quick way of saying, This is what’s going on in your community without having to do a massive survey or loads of engagement work in that community. Now, there’s a big risk with that, that there are distinct things happening in that community that we therefore don’t pick up on, because we’re kind of too reliant on well, these are the things that we know, and so we might miss surprises, or things that are very distinct about communities, you know, that we’re not looking for. So we’re looking for age and income and stuff, but we’re not looking for particular languages that people speak or, or things like that. So there’s a bit of a risk with it. But the idea is that we’re not having to redo that research in every area to say what’s happening. Councils that we speak to, for instance, often have done some of those surveys. They’ve got resident surveys, where they might ask some questions about digital. And we do some of that survey work with those people. We do survey work with community organizations. So we hope that that, can you still hear me? Yeah. So we hope that that gives us some insight into what’s happening. And we tend to hold workshops, so those people can come along. That does give us less of a direct influence from people who are digitally excluded themselves. But yeah, that is something we are internally talking about at the moment. We do- we tend to come across a lot of those people through the digital champion work that that is being done. And we don’t- we haven’t been until recently collecting a huge amount of information from those people. So recording of an interaction will be minimal. We might get their postcode, so that we can do some analysis with the mapping, we might get some information about what they were given help with. And then we might get some feedback from a DC [digital champion] if they were particularly closely involved with us in terms of what happened and how what it was appreciate if we might get a case study, sometimes, people would do a proper interview with them and so on. But we’ve probably done less of that lately than we could have done because we sort of felt it gets repetitive that people are telling you the same things. There’s a lot of things, but they’re telling you broadly similar experiences and stuff. So we haven’t focused on that that much. I think that, generally, in the sector that has been shifting lately with people wanting to do more persona work and things like that, we haven’t done huge amounts of it, but we’ve done a little bit of that kind of thing. And I think there is value to it. Like I said, it will depend on how new that stuff is. So obviously the open data isn’t really new either, but it’s just quick and easy to do. And, you know, you’ll get some value from it. Whereas I think you can put a lot of resource into doing interviews with people, and then you find out that you haven’t really learned anything new. So I guess that is the main reason. I mean, I’ve personally really enjoyed being able to do a bit more of that lately as part of research projects have been funded to do a lot of those interviews, and we’ve had the resource to kind of recompense people for their time as well, which is another aspect that we want to be doing if we’re doing that kind of research. Yeah, and I think you know, the thing about digital inclusion is what people are facing is always changing. So as much as I said that you hear the same things, or it seems to be the same people being affected, what they’re encountering, in terms of what they’re being expected to do, or what they’re seeing other people doing that they feel they ought to be able to do does change. So I think there’s- there’s a lot of value to get there from from people with lived experience. Yeah. I guess it’s about the route. We don’t we don’t, we don’t always treat that as a part of our research. Because it’s sort of in the background from our delivery, I guess that’s the shorter, shorter version of the answer.

Kira Allmann 26:14

Yeah, that’s- it’s just yeah, that’s really interesting, really interesting observation. Also, that tension, yeah, between the fact that sometimes you actually hear quite a lot of the same thing across a number of interviews, but then sometimes kind of being very contextually embedded can reveal community dynamics that are very different in some other context. So it’s kind of getting that balance right is always tricky with limited resources. And-

JB 26:38

Yeah. I guess there’s this difficulty, you know, you’re never gonna have that much ability to do many people if you do the interviews, or the focus group style work. So there’s always that- it always feels like a bit of a risk that you just hit the wrong people. And then you’re not getting something that’s representative. But then on the other side, if you focus all on this data or survey work, it maybe is more representative, but you miss out nuances by not being able to ask people a different question than you’ve put in your design or pick up something that wasn’t in the data you had access to or whatever.

Kira Allmann 27:10

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. What gaps, would you say, do you think there are in the evidence, broadly speaking, around digital inclusion that you wish could be filled? Like if- what what do you wish we knew about the digital inclusion landscape in general?

JB 27:31

I think the main thing that I think about this, because it’s I just know, it’s not research we’re going to do, so sometimes I’m a bit cagey about some of these things, because it’s things I want to get funded to do. But the one that we’re never going to do, but I’d love to see done really well, is that the OECD do an Adult Skill Survey. But I don’t think it’s- I don’t know exactly what the dynamics of it are, but it’s not very frequently done. But it’s the only one that I’m aware of that’s of significant scale that looks at people’s actual abilities, rather than their self-reported kind of confidence. And I think that’s- we need so much more of that because I think whether people are overestimating their ability, because they know that’s what the researchers want to hear, and they don’t want to sort of be even stigmatized by themselves, if that makes sense. They know what the answer is supposed to be, is that yeah, I’m happy doing all this stuff, because that’s how life is like now. Or if people are under-estimating, and they’re saying, oh, you know, I don’t want to say that I can do this really well because, you know, I should be careful and, and conservative about my own abilities. We’re not getting a really helpful indicator. Obviously, we get that around specific things like, I think, the DWP have this research around how many people said they needed help after they did- filled in a certain form, but it’s that kind of thing. I’d like to see research where people are put in front of a computer or put in front of the device, mobile, asked to do a certain task from fresh, they’ve never done it before, and can they can they do that or not? And that’s what that Adult Skill Survey does, as I understand it, and it comes out with these levels, it’s, it’s more, it’s got more levels at the top end than I would like. I would like to see more kind of stratification of the data at that lower end so that we can really see, but there’s a bit in there. I mean, that’s like 2016, I think, maybe 2015 they actually did the research. So loads has changed since then, particularly in terms of take up of smartphones, but also the types of things that people are being made to do or asked to do, expected to do that have become so much more digital-by-default. So yeah, that’s- that’s the- I’d love to see some better stuff around that, and it’s just there’s so many settings for it. I think the Adult Skills Survey that OECD do is very focused on are people ready for the workplace, basically, even if that’s not explicit in the test itself that people do, that’s the purpose of their research, and the digital bit is only a section of it. Whereas I think if you were doing this- if you were creating a new research project, it would be about people’s everyday lives. So it would be question, you know, can you get to the iPlayer on your Smart TV happily? It’d be like this whole range of things from really super important to whether you survive or not, you know, can you access an income to live on? Can you get to your doctor, when you’re ill? To, you know, can you can you do leisure stuff with your family and it not be a pain? Yeah. Let me think of other things. I mean, the big one for us, and this is definitely one where we’re hoping to get paid to do some of it, but the BBC did some research, like even longer ago than that, 2013, which was around the language that people are interested in when they- the the language that appeals to people in terms of engagement around digital skills support. And I think that needs a massive update. It’s really useful research, but we don’t really know what works for people. And the research that we’ve done, finds there’s incredibly low levels of awareness of where people can get support. In the Center for Aging Better research we did with 50 to 70 year olds under 25,000 pounds household income, only 13 percent of people said they knew where to go for digital support. And a whole bunch of them were people saying Google and YouTube and stuff, which is obviously not the kinds of thing that people who were fully offline would say. So yeah, I think there’s, there’s not really great awareness of what’s out there. And, so it’d be great to see more research on that. I mean, you know, what do people know? And, and where do they go? Who goes there, that kind of stuff, but also what language works for people, because we know that lots of the language is off-putting, or, or doesn’t mean what we think it means to the people, we’re talking about. What people think of as the internet, we, we constantly come up with this thing of people saying they’re not online, but they are using Facebook or whatever. That kind of thing. And just to be clear, I mean, I think that kind of work needs doing again, and again, and again, because it all changes. That’s- lots of the stuff that gets done again, and again, and again, it’s frustrating, because it’s not necessarily telling us new things. But I think the stuff about language and people’s perceptions, that is changing a lot.

Kira Allmann 32:28

Yeah, that is a really interesting point about the language. Yeah, I would definitely- I would definitely agree with that. And it’s also very reassuring, because the the draft chapter that I just did for this report, I have a thing in there about longitudinal studies and tracking things over time, which happens not frequently enough, I would argue, in this in this space for this exact reason that you just described. So I’m really glad that you said it. Because, yeah-

JB 32:56

Yeah, so, I mean we did some- just before I arrived that the research got done, and it was being kind of written up and published just when I started at Citizens Online. Did some longitudinal research with people, which was basically a kind of evaluation thing, really, of saying people who received support stayed on- stayed online. And after six months, or whatever it was, they were helping others to get online. And this is obviously in a very different context where far more people were offline, anyway. So yeah, that was, that was probably stuff from 2013-14, the actual, you know, underlying research for it. But yeah, I think following people for a really long period would be interesting. And obviously, that’s weird, because we won’t find out what it shows until- everything will be different by the time, but yeah, I’m interested in people who, you know, in the ONS data, it says people who are lapsed internet users, people who who have been online, but haven’t been in the last three months. So there could be a lot more research into that group. Is that group- I know that a lot of that group it’s about disability is a big proportion of that is made up of disabled people who my understanding is, you know, they encounter websites they can’t use, so they stop using, or they find it difficult because they don’t have- they can’t afford the assistive technology that would help them. So yeah, that that’d be interesting, but also just like, yeah, how people who feel confident, come to feel less confident as things change. So I think there must have been an awful lot of that happening over the last decade or so with people being asked to, or expected to use tablets and video calls and mobile devices rather than old school keyboards. With the Center for Aging Better research, we found, you know, a community organization that was getting hold of laptops to give out to people because the people they were working with were telling them that they had experience working as secretaries or whatever. And they wanted a keyboard. They didn’t really get on with touchscreen devices, which was really counterintuitive to me because we’d been told or we’ve experienced for a long time that people who are new to the internet that are older often prefer those devices because they don’t seem- it doesn’t seem so strange to get used to using a mouse. They’re just, you know, you’re touching where you want to go, and it’s potentially the user experience is better. Yeah. So I think that’s, yeah, it’s interesting how how- the changing things people are being expected to do or interact with and how they, how they feel about them. And then I just want to mention one other thing. I mean, I think a lot- I’ve gone to various things where they present kind of big data projects, nationally representative ones, and found that you get those demographic breakdowns on income, or social grade or region of the country, things like that, but there’s hardly ever anything on race. And the answers that I’ve had for people is, well, the sample sizes would be too small, it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be revealing. So yeah, that feels like an easy gap in the research where people could do some, some better work on that. And I think it needs to be done well because at the moment there’s a lot of the sort of national data sets say, well, there isn’t much of an impact by race, but it’s obviously compounded by age. In the UK, you’ve got a lot of older white people. So you end up saying, well, there’s no real association with race. But yeah, I just think you need some bigger sample sizes that to be able to look at the impact for- within, within different ethnic groups.

Kira Allmann 36:22

Yeah, yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s kind of it’s sort of the two extremes almost that you need, you need the bigger sample sizes on the national scale. And then also probably some really high quality in-depth research in specific communities that are that are contextual, you know, they’re experiencing particular forms of compound disadvantage. And together, you kind of get a better picture of like, okay, what are the racial dynamics that are affecting digital inclusion? But yeah, that’s definitely a huge, huge-

JB 36:51

I mean, I think that the time that I raised that with someone- I think it’s particularly important for the sort of stuff that you’ll be more familiar with around trust and data privacy and things like that. I mean, it could work- I just think there’s- it’s so difficult when we’re talking about digital inclusion and what people are able to do, or what they are doing. So people work could be very online, but at the same time, feel really annoyed about various aspects of their online existence. Or they could be doing lots of things online, but explicitly not doing others because of a level of distrust or- and I just, you know, maybe it’s an unfair hunch. And maybe it’s even perhaps a slightly stereotyped, discriminatory one, but I just- my feeling is that those experiences will be much greater among racialized groups.

Kira Allmann 37:33

Yeah, definitely. And there’s actually some interesting stuff coming out lately about children as well, that they, they have a lot of negative experiences online, and are therefore developing a lot of distrust around the internet. And this is a group that is erroneously considered digital natives, and so we kind of don’t worry about them. But actually, it raises issues about like, thinking about online safety and harms and how that affects people’s digital inclusion. And another one you hear all the time is like there’s no real gap, especially in places like the UK between women and men.

JB 38:04


Kira Allmann 38:05

But actually, women’s experiences online, for instance, are really different from a lot of men’s experiences. And so that goes directly to the point that you just made.

JB 38:14

Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked about that at age level. I mean, I think we talked about this on Ada Lovelace Day, maybe one time because it seemed like an appropriate day, funnily enough. In the older age group, there’s a very clear gender gap. Women are much less likely to be online in the older groups, which are the groups that are least likely to be online. And, you know, there are kind of- we can surmise some obvious reasons for that, like in terms of what people’s workplace experiences have been like, and just and lots of attitudes that are probably unhelpful, well, that were unhelpful during a period where they might have been getting online. Yeah, yeah, which I find really fascinating, just as an aside, that, you know, Mar Hicks’s stuff that she talks- where she talks about how computing was originally a very- was gendered in the opposite way, basically, because it came out of women literally being referred to as computers, because they were the sort of secretarial or whatever admin type person who was doing the calculations and stuff for some fancy men researchers or whatever. But then how that eroded and then you have this situation where it’s, yeah, I think, I think still a very gendered thing among young people- the sort of geeky computer stuff is really coded in that, yeah, in a gendered way, the other way around. So yeah, there’s, I think there’s a lot of- there’s like huge amounts of stuff that happens at that national level and where you get some demographic breakdown, but we could really do with more of that deep dive into specific demographic groups, as you say, or larger sample sizes, but I think it’s that deep dive stuff that’s the bigger one. With- just incidentally, when we did the 50 to 70, I mean, that was really interesting to me that they picked that age group because again- in the same way that the young people get described as digital natives but weirdly, that somehow prompts some research because there’s a bit of push back against the idea. And there’s also obviously lots of kind of think of the children stuff around safety. And then at the other end, we get lots of this, the oldest group are the most digitally excluded, so let’s talk about over 65s all the time. And there’s not that much on that kind of 50 to 70 group. But then, also, when we did the polling, we didn’t just do a nationally representative one. We asked the polling company what kind of breakdowns they could do, what identification- what identifiers they could have in the polling and went for the income one because that was the best kind of proxy that we could think of for greater likelihood to be digitally excluded. But yeah, I think other other organizations could be doing more of their research on a- on a base- a similar basis to that, look at a particular age group, but a subset of that age group.

Kira Allmann 40:51

Yeah, yeah, definitely just kind of more granularity on every level would be really helpful. Because yeah, you’re completely right, we kind of get the extremes a lot of times in the national data. Yeah, so I don’t want to keep you too much longer. So I’ve got just two kind of big questions, which I’ll combine, and you can answer them all at once. And then and then I’ll let you go. One would be, okay, so given all of those gaps that you just mentioned, that would be really nice to fill with kind of different kinds and better data, who do you think is best positioned to do that, like in terms of sectors or in terms of like, type of researcher that that would be best positioned? If you have any thoughts on that, especially coming from a particular sector yourself, what, you know, what, what are you best positioned to do versus someone else? And then my last last question is also just why you think this is important to still be looking at, you know, digital inclusion, at this stage? Why is it an important issue to you, to Citizens Online?

JB 41:57

Okay. I don’t know about that research one, I can’t, it’s hard for me to answer. I mean, I can do the Citizens Online answer, which is that obviously, you know, our organization and others that are working in the sector that are doing that delivery end, have a particular kind of insight. And so it’s good for us to be doing some of that research when and where we can. Because we’ve kind of got some background in it. I do think it’s- I felt really humble or uncomfortable about my level of expertise for a long time, because it wasn’t my academic background, but I had some academic background in other topics. So I sort of felt like I was, yeah, not an expert in the way that academics in the sector would be. But But yeah, now I don’t feel so bad about it. I feel like I’ve got some level of understanding through years of doing the work. And I think, potentially, in some areas, an understanding that academics who, at least academics who haven’t necessarily done as much field work would would have so I guess, yeah, I can big up those research- those kind of delivery organizations doing some of that research. But it’s difficult because they’re doing other things as well. I think the academic stuff is really important, though, because there’s kind of quasi or fully government research, or datasets, like the ONS and stuff. And I just don’t- that’s all really useful, and it’s great for kind of baseline data and for understanding trends and things. But it’s- I think it’s just going to be really unlikely that stuff is ever looking at the really difficult, challenging questions that, that maybe feed back to government that going down digital-by-default line is, is causing problems, really severe problems for people. It’s unlikely to come from those places, I mean, DWP have in their- have in their report that like 40-odd percent- 30 to 40 percent of people need help- more help either making or sustaining their Universal Credit claim. And that hasn’t I don’t think affected the design of that scheme. And I think at all- I mean there is obviously the help-to-claim thing that Citizens Advice provide, but that’s a pretty minimal concession to help support that. And it doesn’t- it’s not supposed to apply to people who are trying to maintain their claim. And I know Citizens Advice branches do support people, they’re not going to turn someone away. But they’re not being paid to support people on an ongoing basis to do that. And yet, we know that people do need that ongoing support. So yeah, I think there’s, yeah, and that- so you see that stuff come out in some of the kind of government department research, but it’s, it makes me wonder about what’s not in the research, when you see even bits like that, because there’s probably even worse things that they find that don’t make it- make it to the public domain. I mean, we’ve been speaking to a couple of Government- people from Government departments, like just in the last few days where they’re doing- there are people in those organizations that are doing really good work on digital inclusion strategies or assisted digital strategies, but the extent to which is embedded across these huge departments of staff is a really open question. And you still, you know, we’ve got that brilliant GDS stuff, the great accessibility guidance, accessibility legislation about public sector websites having to be accessible. And yet, there’s still problems. And still, I think a lot of web designers out there with not a great understanding of the need to design for that. I mean, GOV.UK has got brilliant, I think, on all that stuff, it’s, it’s, it’s so much better than a lot of what you see out there. But yeah, and then there is still that question of what happens in the private sector with a lot of their design. And that’s, I guess, another question about who should be doing that research. I mean, we do have these things in the UK where the big banks or other other organisations are funding research, which is, again, brilliant, lots of that research is great. We really rely on some of the Lloyds stuff. And that’s really useful to us. But yeah, there’s a question about should those organizations be the ones that are doing all the research because- that- we all know, the reason why they’re doing it- I don’t think anyone is naive about why banks are interested in work on digital inclusion. It’s because it makes life easier for them, it saves them money. It enables them to justify closing branches, which is a very unpopular thing to do, generally, that that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I think there’s a real difficulty with those organizations doing the research. Who haven’t I mentioned? I mean, academics. I think academics do great research. And we know lots of them that are very much in contact with the sector. I suppose there are others that are that are not, I’m sort of less familiar with. But yeah, it’s great that they’re doing research. All I can say is, it’s great if some, if more of them get in touch with people like us to just say, can we- can we do joint research with them? Because we’d be up for doing that. And instead, we sometimes get interviewed or something, but we’re not necessarily part of the research. Not criticizing you there…!

Kira Allmann 46:54

And I was like, uh oh, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing

JB 47:00

It’s not. You said you’d share of a draft report and stuff. You know, I mean-

Kira Allmann 47:03


JB 47:03

I mean, I’m not complaining. I mean, I’ve never seen something and been like, God, they should have talked to us because this is wrong, or whatever. You know, I’m just I think that’s all I can say, from our organization perspective of what would be good for us is that we we always welcome people getting in touch and being like, can you help us do this? And I think we have networks that can be helpful.

Kira Allmann 47:29

Yeah, I think that’s a really great point, because we could really use a lot more kind of joined up thinking where it’s sort of like, there’s actually some really good like theoretical work happening, for instance, in academic space, that kind of wants to have impact, but doesn’t have kind of the mechanism to do that. And whereas, you know, you’re kind of more in a frontline position and have more access to kind of actually implementation and tracking and things like that. And so, yeah, it would be great to have a little bit more joined up work on in this area, I think. And-

JB 48:03

I’ve slightly forgotten- you asked me two questions didn’t you, and I’ve rambled and I’ve forgotten what both of the questions were- one of them was about researchers, but the other one wasn’t…

Kira Allmann 48:09

Yeah, you got that one. And then the other one was just why you think this is important…

JB 48:17

Oh, god. Yeah, that’s sort of question I start thinking about in the middle of the night, [laughter] wondering whether I should be doing my job anymore.

Kira Allmann 48:24

Yeah, me too, but I’m in the position of asking the question this time!

JB 48:26

[Laughter] I think it’s difficult like when I- let’s start with when I’m not feeling like it’s useful anymore, I’m thinking like, it’s it frustrates me because to an extent, I think the problem around, well, particularly for digital poverty, the problem around digital poverty, my response to basic questions around it is increasingly like you have to sort the poverty. Soting the digital side out of this is not really particularly helpful. We- at the start of the pandemic, we put out this piece, which I was sort of the prompt for in our organization, saying that the Government should make internet access free for everyone during the course of the pandemic, I mean, which which was the point where we thought the pandemic was going to be that early wave of people being shutting indoors and everything, not just like two years of complexity. But- but nonetheless, like I, I still think that that is- I’m still interested in that. And I still think there’s a good question to ask around universal public services that should be free at the point of delivery and then funded through some other route. And I think, good arguments that Internet access should be funded through some kind of taxation on the beneficiaries of people being- having universal access, i.e. the companies that are making money out of people being online, it seems like there’s more than enough money there to kind of do that. But on the other side, I’ve thought a lot about it since and thought, well, you know what, it’s not that people need free access to the internet, really, it’s that they need incomes that they can live on. And you know, as I’ve seen these schemes roll out around kind of donating data or means- kind of means-tested, cheaper tariffs, social- so called social tariffs, I find some of it personally a bit frustrating, I don’t know, this is not quite an organizational perspective yet, we haven’t had the conversations internally about it. But we did, we were going to put something out, and we didn’t quite find the time to do it. But when the- when the cut to Universal Credit was announced, you know, it’s like feeling like, we should really say something at that point to say, it doesn’t matter- you can talk about social tariffs all you like, if people have their basic amount of Universal Credit cut, that’s not going to help them to be online. That’s going to be one of the things that they cut, as a response to things like that. And it’s not, you know, it’s not gonna be the only impact. It’s people’s food and heating is going to be really significantly impacted. And so it feels a bit strange to be saying, all these people are not gonna be able to go online anymore. But that’s- it’s what happened. We know from people that we spoke to during the pandemic, it was, it was the first thing for people to go. If they lost their job, they could quickly lose their access, because they would, they would stop paying their home internet broadband deals, and they would lose access to devices that were associated with work. So yeah, I think- So that’s a weird way of answering the question, because it’s like, well, maybe it isn’t important. But at the same time, it is saying it is important, because the internet is a big part of people’s experience today, it’s really necessary for accessing things like Universal Credit, I don’t think it should be, but it has become so. And similarly to access healthcare. Again, I mean, I think there’s lots of benefits to tech in healthcare. But there, there’s a real risk of creating additional barriers. And that’s such a problem already in healthcare, that there are so many people who have barriers to access and adding to them is just really not going to help. A recent example is that they’ve- I mean, they’ve- it’s a really minor thing, people can still pick up lateral flow tests, they can still access them somehow, the Government is encouraging people to do that twice a week. And they used to have a system where you could just go into a pharmacy and pick them up. And lots of people maybe weren’t doing it, but now, you have to get a code from a website before you can pick them up. And it’s really unclear to anyone what the purpose behind that is. I mean, I can make guesses, but it’s not communicated in any way that anyone can understand it. So I think that just really comes across as a, a bizarre and the type of barrier that not only prevents some people doing it, but it puts them off the internet more generally. It’s like, why am I being forced to do this thing? Why do you have to have all my information before I can access this thing that you want me to do? It’s not as if it’s something that I- it’s not like me claiming an income or something. It’s just something you want me to do, and you’re making it hard for me, you’re making me have to go through this process. It’s really weird. So that’s one reason why I still think it’s important. And the other I guess, is the bigger, more future-gazing type one, which is that I think the impact of the internet on all our lives is so huge now, particularly gets attention through things like social media, the way that it shapes politics, or people’s attitudes and behaviors. But I mean, it’s bigger than that. It’s like how whole public services are run, how people’s interactions with each other are, not just because of how they behave on social media, and whether that impacts their day to day, but just, you know, a general sort of approach of binary decision making where either you qualify for something or you don’t, and that then starts to impact human relationships. And then all this stuff about AI and algorithmic bias and the data that’s been collected about us and the way that’s being used, all those questions are so huge. And if people can’t, people can’t democratically participate in decisions about that, but can’t even participate in conversations about it, can’t even conceptualize it and think about it in their own heads and make decisions about what they want to do as an individual, let alone collectively, if they don’t have like essential digital skills, doing basic stuff. So we have to do that basic stuff for them to be able to participate in those those bigger scale questions. And that’s the sort of negative way of saying it. The positive way of it is that there’s loads of democratic participation that can happen online. There’s lots of negativity about social media. But I think there’s- we can also take a really positive view of a lot of what happens there that people are better enabled to organize collectively or at least organize collectively in different ways and to intervene in how the world is and how they’d like it to be. And so for me, it’s quite important to sort of enable people to take part in that process, because there’s a risk that we have a very specific class of people who are getting- are more able to shape the political future, and they’re not necessarily- it’s, it’s not a fair representation of society. But in particular, it’s a very unfair one that that cuts out those that are already being discriminated against and harmed and marginalized, and if they’re not involved in conversations about policymaking or about what should happen, then policies will continue to harm them and continue to marginalize them. So yeah, I think there’s- that’s a sort of civic participation angle on it. Yeah. I think I gave it- I gave- someone asked me a question about this a few weeks ago that I’ve remembered now, where I, where I talked about, yeah, how there’s a moral case that people shouldn’t be being excluded from things that are benefit to them. There’s an economic case that it’s a benefit to, you know, companies, and there’s probably the economy as a whole, that people are online, and they’re saving money, and they’re doing things in a theoretically more efficient way. But yeah, then there’s the civic case about participation and democracy and those kinds of things.

Kira Allmann 55:53

That’s great. Yeah, no, I think you put that, yeah, I think you put that really well. Especially looking at the civic case, in terms of both like active participation on the positive end, but also potentially being excluded from important conversations that need to happen around technology and data. And not having digital literacy is now kind of becoming a threat to your citizenship, actually, your ability to participate as a citizen.

JB 56:18

I mean, both- in both ways, as well, I mean, there’s, there’s a real threat in terms of your immigration status and your actual physical citizenship could be- you know, the EU settled status scheme requires you to do an online process. We have all these things we’ve- it’s come up in our work with, with people we’re supporting today that people are being asked for their national insurance number when they- before they even get an interview for a job, probably as part of the sort of hostile environment provisions, but either way for someone who’s digitally excluded, and we’ve just been trying to gently explain to them about, you know, not just giving your personal data to everyone. And then they get asked these weird questions before they’ve got a job. Yeah, there’s a whole stream of stuff that is happening that, yeah. Yeah, is a threat to people’s- yeah, citizenship or access, yeah. Sorry, I interrupted you there. And it wasn’t for a particularly well thought-out point. [Laughter] It just reminded me of this story from the other day.

Kira Allmann 57:11

No, no, to be fair, I’m here to listen to you. I’m not really the one that should be talking. So, yeah, no, that’s, that’s brilliant. And I think I’ll leave it there. Because we’ve already run over the time that I allotted. I don’t want to take up too much of your day. And I really appreciate you making the time, J-, to have the conversation with me. So yeah, so as I mentioned, if you do think of anything else, do let me know, in particular, if there are kind of like policy recommendations that pop into your head that you’re kind of like, I really just wish this was stated somewhere, like in a report or something.

JB 57:46

I mean, like I said, the clear one is that one about- like, we put one in our Center for Aging better one, let me just send you the text so that I can find it.

Kira Allmann 57:53


JB 57:56

Hopefully, I can find it really quickly anyway. Find a version of it. So yeah, we did this interview with… Helen did this interview the New Statesman, and we basically used a version of the recommendation in this one. It feels really weird for a digital inclusion charity to be saying, like, don’t make stuff digital.

Kira Allmann 58:26

I know, but it’s what- I find myself saying this kind of like all the time. I’m sort of like, actually, the most inclusive strategy is to have offline options.

JB 58:37

Yeah, so basically, that’s, that’s, that’s what I’m sending to you now is our kind of- some language that we had around that. This isn’t actually the recommendation, but it’s the quickest version of it, I can find, but it’s, I’ll find a version of the report and sending it to you.

Kira Allmann 58:51

It’s something- Oh, excellent. That’s great. Yeah, it’s something I’m really interested in is actually like, how much of like, our digital rights should include a right to refuse being digital? Like, a right of refusal, which I think is completely fair, especially given how kind of problematic and biased and harmful the online world can be, especially for some people, it seems increasingly important that you have a right to opt out from it.

JB 59:17

Yeah. And just, you know, just 'cause everyone has this experience, but you know, when people come up with some language around that, it needs to be really tight because we’ve obviously had that experience of GDPR where people have just like, you get these ridiculous things, where know everyone’s going to click “Agree” because it’s impossible to wade through. So it’s like people should have a really clear option. Some of the websites do it, you know, you reject that stuff, or you or you agree to it, or you have the middle option where you agree to only, you know, what you have to, but yeah, a wider opt out- I mean, I just there are some difficulties around that because I think, you know, we know with like Facebook and stuff, they build profiles on people, even if they’re not online, even if they’re not on Facebook. So it’s not a- it needs again, to have that sort of caveat, that that’s not a solution completely. People should have that option, but it doesn’t solve the wider problems of accountability and stuff. Yeah, I don’t know. Like, I guess I’d like to see that policy. I mean, this is me talking rather than Citizens Online, but I’d like to see some more development of that policy proposal. I know, it was kind of in that Labor Party manifesto, that obviously, easily gets disregarded by everyone. But the idea that the beneficiaries of everyone being online should have to pay some, not only the tax that they’re supposed to, but some very specific hypothecated taxation that’s around like, well, you’re benefiting from this, so what are you paying towards helping people do it? There’s complexity there, because it’s like, well, in a way, maybe they’re getting out of other tax commitments by just paying for people to do things which benefit them. So it turns into a kind of form of tied aid or something. But, yeah, I still think there’s, there’s there’s room for like, basically, the equivalent to kind of what the Tobin Tax in financial services, right? And the Tobin tax is maybe an interesting example, because that- the idea, as I understand it behind that wasn’t just to raise revenue, but was to slow down the rate of speculation because of the problems it caused. So if there’s a similar way to sort of apply a taxation on on digital companies, where it’s like, well, if you behave in these particular ways, that’s when you hit- that’s when you hit the tax. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, yeah. I guess it’s not the digital inclusion ones. But I think that that stuff about the mergers and accusation- acquisitions, there’s, I don’t know. Is there a way to turn that into digital inclusion policy recommendation? I don’t know. But I really- I really feel like that’s, that’s a big part of the problem with the digital is just you have these huge organizations that have so much, so much data and power. And unless unless they’re broken up, it just is impossible, really, for the rest of us to have any kind of chance really. Yeah, maybe that makes sense with all this Meta announcements, you know, that kind of works. I mean, I basically agree with the thing that Good Things say around, there should be a place in every town where people can go. I think, I guess the added bit that I would say about- which you- might be of particular interest to you is- I don’t know if you remember, DotEveryone put out those reports where they sort of included the sort of ombudsman-y type role where it’s like, if you have a, if you have a sort of consumer rights issue, or a data issue with being online, there should be somewhere you can go in your town. And yeah, I quite like that sort of more, I don’t know, just thinking a bit about what, what the- what is the resource that’s going to be in every town? Is it just going to be a volunteer in a library who can help you like click a button on a screen? Or is it something more complex, where it’s like, you can go and have a- I mean, my ideal is like you get basically like this, you know, digital counselor that’s really schooled in critical thought about the internet, a policy proposal, really, that’s going to happen. But you know, that’s, that’s what I’d like, I want someone to go to in my community who’s read, like, all the stuff and can say whether I should be on Facebook or not, you know?

Kira Allmann 1:03:21

Yeah. No, yeah. It’s like, kind of like legal aid, but for data. [Laughter]

JB 1:03:27


Kira Allmann 1:03:28


JB 1:03:31

Legal Aid has been destroyed. But that’s what we need is like digital- yeah, what they had sort of the Law Centers movement. Sort of need that, but around digital. Yeah.

Kira Allmann 1:03:43

Yeah, that was exactly what I was just thinking of, although, yeah, like you say, they’ve kind of been gutted over recent years, which is not super heartening. But I had the exact same conversation with a colleague at, at Ada the other day, actually, about a digital ombudsman role, and how people just do not have a place that they can go, if they have a concern about data, or they have something- they think something’s not being handled correctly. In, you know, the digital world, where do they take that complaint? There’s nowhere to go. Whereas if you have a dispute with a business or something, there’s an ombudsman for that. And, yeah, it’s, it’s, you know, at this point, it seems like kind of an essential thing for people to have access to, and links to what you were saying about how people don’t even know where to go for basic help, let alone if they have a broader concern.

JB 1:04:32

But also, it’s like this weird thing where, I mean, this is a stupid example, but it’s what occurs to me- like my partner set up a Facebook account, just- our son was just about to be born and she was finally like, oh, it’ll be useful. You know, there’s all these parenting groups, it’ll be useful for me to be on there, not just you, whereas for ages we both avoided it and then for work, I ended up going on. So she set up the whole profile and was just about to- for it to go on. And it had been on for like three minutes and then it got removed. I think because we were like logging in and out of accounts on a device and it thought it was a spam thing. Anyway, she appealed. And she appealed again, but it’s all automated. So she never got a response. She was never able to repair it or anything. But their system is, you know, it’s Facebook, who cares? It’s just one private company. And it’s just a social media thing. It doesn’t matter. But it’s a quasi, like, public service. You know, if you’re not on there, you’re sort of excluded from stuff. So, yeah, where would she go if she wanted to really pursue that and, and be able to have a- I mean, she could set up a new account, probably, and it might not have been a nightmare. But in the end, she decided not to, but I think that sort of thing must happen to people where they get shut off from something. And their only means of communicating is through some kind of automated or at least digital thing that they potentially can’t do.

Kira Allmann 1:05:46


JB 1:05:47

And then, I mean, we’ve talked about this with courts and tribunals service- they, they’ve digitized lots. And so there’s been lots of chatter about it. The people that- the user group that they’re working with are people who could potentially be accessing tribunals, because they’ve been denied their benefit, because of digital reasons. And then they have to transact digitally to appeal that. And it gets very, like, kind of a Kafka or Douglas Adams-style thing, where you’re just stuck. Yeah. And I mean, the ombudsman thing is like, there’s a lot for that ombudsman to do, basically. [Laughter]

Kira Allmann 1:06:17

Yeah, exactly. I think the list is like, is really long and like recovering- recovering account information from private companies is actually a really big, big issue. I mean, what you were just describing reminded me of some work I was doing not that long ago with a homelessness charity here, where they were saying that a really big issue is that homeless people rely- a lot of them rely heavily on Google Drive and on Google- on Gmail accounts. But they aren’t- they don’t remember passwords very well, for a lot of reasons related to mental health and drug use, and things like this, and then when their phone gets stolen, they can’t get back into the account. And so they no longer have access to all of the information, sometimes medical documents, employment history, things like this, that they’ve been storing in Google Drive, and there’s no way to retrieve it. And that’s the kind of thing where you’re kind of like, well, this is not- it’s not a good system for a lot of people who, who are not the kind of people who can easily remember passwords. So…

JB 1:07:22

Yeah, it’s really difficult to understand what the solutions are to stuff like this, I find, because like, you get the feeling the tech companies will be like, oh, that’s fine, we’ll just make everything facial recognition or fingerprint, right? And then that’s just another problem.

Kira Allmann 1:07:34


JB 1:07:35

Or, you know, you get people who say, well, we’ll just go back to all paper record keeping, it’s like, well, yeah, that’s also not great.

Kira Allmann 1:07:42


JB 1:07:43

It just feels like we’re in this, yeah, really difficult situation. But I think- I think that- I guess the thing, yeah, that leads me back to that thing about- I mean, we’re talking about this for us, and you sort of asked me about it, but I guess like Government departments- it could go in as a policy recommendation that government departments have panels of people with lived experience, around exclusion, when they’re developing digital tools, where they basically get the strongest possible pushback from people about how this is actually going to impact their lives before they roll something out and say this is digital-by-default. I mean, I think that Government stuff is starting to change, they’re starting to realize that it’s not great for the people that they’re supposed to be serving. But yeah, there can be really good policy recommendations on that, that just say, just like, maintain your other routes, and don’t do this thing where you force people into it, because, yeah, it’s really harmful. I mean, the other one, I guess is going back to that poverty thing. You know, for you to think about how you phrase it, but I just think there needs to be in all the digital inclusion stuff, it should be just a standard thing that people say regardless of all the social tariffs and stuff, which might be in there as well, but like, that needs to be some kind of line about livable income and the benefits system and and how that- if people don’t have incomes that are sufficient, they’re not going to be able to do this stuff, regardless of what kind of means tested schemes you put in. Because yeah, like, a cheap social tariff is no good for someone who’s who’s struggling to heat their home or buy food.

Kira Allmann 1:09:15

Yeah, and it’s actually a great point because it it further drives home the issue that actually digital exclusion is linked to other factors like education and confidence and things like this. And that’s all-

JB 1:09:26


Kira Allmann 1:09:27

All of those things are linked to being able to live on an income. So that, you know, the more secure you are financially, the more equipped you’ll be to be able to think about the the digital.

JB 1:09:40

Exactly, exactly.

Kira Allmann 1:09:42

Yes, that’s yeah, it’s a really good point. And I mean, it’s already kind of threading through the bit of the report that I’ve drafted, but this is making me think that it needs to be pulled out, like sort of spotlighted a little bit a little bit more- especially as the title is-

JB 1:09:55

Yeah, I don’t know if I- yeah, I don’t know if I’ve got there completely because I haven’t done the data analysis on it fully, but like, we say, like, oh, digital exclusion is higher among older people. But when we did 50 to 70 research from, you know, our sample was 500 and the ONS one is obviously much larger. But pretty much all the people who are offline in that group are on under 25,000 a year, according to my- the way the data worked out. And probably the remaining 2 or 3% are the ones that are on just over 25,000. Right. So for ages, people have been saying, oh, age is the most predictive factor because you see these things bump up through the ages. But if the proportion in all of those is defined by the proportion who are the poorest, then it’s not really age that’s the factor at all. It’s the it’s the income. It’s just that it’s interacting with how much experience people will have- people have had access to. I don’t know about it, though, because the barrier that when people- when you ask people what the barrier is, they don’t often say cost.

Kira Allmann 1:10:59


JB 1:10:59

But my feeling is that, that’s because you’re not going to say cost if you’ve got 100 barriers before that. That they’re about whether you want to do it or not, or your attitude to it. But of course, you would say cost if you overcame all those and you still couldn’t afford it.

Kira Allmann 1:11:14

Yeah, exactly. It’s actually something that- so one of the chapters is going to be on motivation. And I haven’t written that one or drafted that one yet. But one of my aims with that is to really emphasize that when people say they’re not interested in the internet, there’s often a lot behind that like that, that things like they’re a pensioner on a low income, and so they can’t afford the internet, and so they’ve been offline for a long time. And because they can’t afford it, they’re not interested. And so it gets reported as disinterest. And it’s exactly this issue that you’re describing. A lot of people don’t list things like cost as like a reason for something like staying offline, but often it is actually an underlying factor. And yeah, and if you kind of like spend time with people, you realize that really quickly, because you sort of like, oh ok, like, it’s the it’s because it’s not something you feel like you should be spending money on when you have a limited income.

JB 1:12:13

Yeah, or, or you can afford to or like you’ve had to adapt to living without it for so long that, like, why would you be interested in it? Because, you know, it doesn’t seem necessary. And that’s the thing that we really were saying about the COVID stuff, is it- for people- you know, I was surprised that there wasn’t this greater take up in the research that we did- I think it’s only, like, what did we end up saying that like, only 1% of people moved online, but that’s only even still only, like, 4% of the people that were offline. I can’t remember. Either way, not that many people, and Age UK found this too. Certainly from the first wave. I mean, maybe it changed later on. But from the first wave of the pandemic, and the first bits of stay-at-home, lockdown, isolation. They didn’t move people online. And I think that’s because if you’ve- yeah, even if you suddenly find that you have to do it, if you don’t know where to go, how to go about it, don’t have the money for a device, you’ve got like, all these barriers in your way. You’re just going to figure out some other system, whether that’s relying on someone else to do things for you, or like, persisting with a non-digital route, even if the GP doesn’t like it or whatever, or, or missing out. And then, yeah, bad things happened from that, but we don’t really necessarily hear about them.

Kira Allmann 1:13:34

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Totally. Well, I won’t keep you on any longer, J-, you’ve been-

JB 1:13:40

Sorry, Kira, you’ve said that a few times, and I’m like, well I’ve been enjoying the chat, so let’s carry-

Kira Allmann 1:13:45

Cool. I’m just conscious of like, I don’t want to, you know, take up all of your time, I’m also really enjoying it. And so many of the things- like pretty much everything you said, actually, really resonates with pretty much everything that I’ve thought in the time I’ve been working on digital inequality. And so it’s just really helpful to hear it from your perspective. And also being that you’re, you’re a quantitative researcher, more so- it’s also super helpful to hear kind of where you see some gaps on that side of the research as well. So I really appreciate that.

JB 1:14:18

I feel really, like really uncomfortable being described as a quantitative researcher, but then on the other hand, like some, some guy from the Royal Statistical Society, like I mentioned, that COVID stuff at the beginning and some guy from the Royal Statistical Society replied to me on Twitter was like, oh, good scientific detective work on your part. And I was like, maybe I can call myself a data analyst now!

Kira Allmann 1:14:36

Yeah, I think I think you’re pretty legit.

JB 1:14:39

But for ages, I was like no, I don’t understand this stuff.

Kira Allmann 1:14:44

It always takes a little while to like, get, you know, get your bearings and stuff. But yeah, I think you’re definitely I think you count as an expert on this now.

JB 1:14:52

Thanks [laughter]

Kira Allmann 1:14:53

Yeah, it definitely sounds like you know what you’re talking about to me, so good. Great.

JB 1:15:00

There was something I was gonna- there was something halfway through this there was something I was gonna send you. I’m trying to remember what it was because there was that there was that policy thing. Can you remember I said at some point what was it? No, maybe not. Maybe I’m wrong. Don’t worry.

Kira Allmann 1:15:15

Yeah, I don’t remember to be honest, I remember the thing about the Center for Aging Better report, which I’ve got in the database already for this report. So…

JB 1:15:26

Ahh, maybe I was just- maybe it was- what was I gonna say about the health inequalities stuff? I was thinking about that… Doesn’t matter.

Kira Allmann 1:15:35

If you think of it just ping me an email or something, that’s completely fine. Yeah, and if there’s anything that like any reports, or anything that you want to make sure that I kind of glance over for this report, I’m kind of creating like a massive database of of research that’s come out on digital inclusion over like the last three to five years or so mainly, although I do go a little bit further back than that, and in some cases, but…

JB 1:16:05

Ah, ah, I know what I was gonna say- it was a lot it was the longitudinal stuff that I was gonna send.

Kira Allmann 1:16:09

Yeah. Excellent.

JB 1:16:10

That is really old and you probably wouldn’t find it otherwise. I’m just gonna see if I can, can- can I attach a file here? Just be quicker for me then send in you in an email.

Kira Allmann 1:16:20

Yeah, I think it’s supposed to work that you can do that.

JB 1:16:23

Longitudinal… report… that’s the interim report. Funny seeing old documents from 2012 and how have dated they now appear.

Kira Allmann 1:16:45

Yeah. Oh, I see. Okay. Oh, yeah, look at those graphics.

JB 1:17:00

I know!

Kira Allmann 1:17:15

Oh, cool. Yeah, this is great. Yeah, 'cause something that I’m then trying to do in the report as well as like, you know, give credit where credit’s due. And that involves kind of saying, like, there is a lack of data, this type of data, but there have been some efforts to do it. And so I’d like to be able to sort of say, you know, here are some examples of, you know, attempts at that.

JB 1:17:37

Yeah. This isn’t the right when either sorry.

Kira Allmann 1:17:43

No, that’s fine. I’m just gonna, I’m gonna stop the recording there.