e-Inclusion actors in the European Union: Theories and frameworks
Information and communication technologies (particularly computers and the Internet) are widely acknowledged as important resources for socio‐economic advancement in both developed and developing countries. This is doubly so against the backdrop of the global economy which is driven by the “information age”. Developing and developed countries, however, face enormous challenges in their ability to utilize these resources for their socio-economic growth agendas, particularly for marginalized populations. Limitations range from infrastructural constraints to an individual’s ability to convert access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) into tangible benefits in light of other environmental constraints. In this context, shared forms of access such as telecentres, libraries and internet cafés, are important means of making ICTs available. Not only do they bring the technology closer (physically and financially) to people who would otherwise have no access, but they may also provide additional value by offering unique teaching and learning environments.
Thus, governments, non‐governmental organizations, and business entrepreneurs have invested significant amounts of human and financial resources in telecentres, public libraries and other community-based initiatives. Such initiatives provide a concentrated space within which to observe the dynamics of ICT use in achieving policy objectives. Consequently, alongside these initiatives, a body of research has also emerged to assess the outcomes of specific projects or general trends. Work in this area spans multiple fields and disciplines from computer science, information systems, and communications, to anthropology, sociology and economics. While each contributes a unique lens through which to explore and understand the role of ICTs in the pursuit of public policy goals, there are likely to be overlaps in their approaches, perspectives and findings that could enable the building of firm conclusions about when and how public access ICTs are successful in meeting policy objectives.
The range of theoretical frameworks and conceptual explanations to understand the role of eInclusion actors is broad and multidisciplinary. In order to navigate the available literature and research we designed a two-phase research approach that included: 1) An extended mapping of the literature from the last ten years. This phase allowed the team to identify the most dominant and/or common explanations in relation to the work of e-Inclusion actors; and 2) A selection, categorization, and in-depth coding of these explanations vis-à-vis different impact areas (Digital Inclusion, Social Inclusion, Economic Inclusion, Youth Development, Lifelong Learning, and E-Government), as well as in relation to institutional capacity. Institutional capacity is an important addition because it covers analytical elements at the organizational level that can potentially expand or limit the ability of e-Inclusion actors to advance social and economic goals for the people they serve.
Over 150 articles, reports and books were reviewed and coded. The coding results were grouped around the different areas of impact and further examined for the following overarching trends:
- Dominant theories/frameworks and less used theories/frameworks with potential
- Existing critiques of the theories/frameworks (strengths and limitations)
- Research team's additional critique of the theories/frameworks in context of their particular use in the reviewed materials (e.g., does the theory support the findings?)
- Patterns of application of the theories/frameworks (e.g., are they applied holistically, superficially, rigorously, in combination with other frameworks, etc.)
- Apparent linkages between theories/frameworks and the resulting research conclusions
This approach to the analysis allowed the researchers to identify relationships between explanations and to provide evidence on what is currently known about the relationship between e-Inclusion actors’ initiatives and socio-economic impact. The analysis for each impact area was organized by:
- Theory/explanation group definition and main analytical building blocks behind
- E-Inclusion actors impacts (providing evidence from the findings in our in-depth coding)
- Strengths of theory or explanation group
- Weaknesses of theory or explanation group
- External factors that affect impact as identified by the literature
We identify three main objectives:
- Provide a comprehensive and multidisciplinary landscape on theories and analytical frameworks aimed at explaining how, why, and under which conditions public access to ICTs through telecenters, and to a lesser extent through libraries and cybercafés, contribute to advance social and economic inclusion goals among marginalized communities.
- Analyze the value of these theories and analytical frameworks based on predefined criteria that includes: academic discipline, availability of empirical evidence, target groups, geographic relevance, contextual factors, research methods, impact areas, etc. All this effort must be geared towards solidifying the theoretical underpinnings of the future research “Measuring the impact of eInclusion actors on Digital Literacy, Skills and Inclusion goals of the Digital Agenda for Europe.”
- Develop recommendations on the most promising theoretical pillars that could inform the future research mentioned above.
Arriving at a common definition of what constitutes “impact” has eluded researchers and policymakers alike. On one end of the spectrum, increased usage and the attraction of new population groups to public access ICTs signal impact. On the other end is the higher bar of measurable changes in people’s lives (e.g. acquiring a new job). In between are behavioral changes (e.g. changes in one’s nutritional habits). Using one set of terms that are widely used, the range is from outcomes (e.g. uses and usage) to short-term impacts (e.g. behavioral changes), to long term impacts (e.g. changes of status in such areas as health, income, civic participation, and education). For the purposes of this proposal, we will adopt this broader range of impacts, thereby allowing a more comprehensive assessment of theories and what they say about impact.
There are four main guiding principles that bound the research:
- The landscape will include academic articles and grey literature sources published since 2000 to date in English.
- The extensive review of academic and grey literature will not include articles or reports which only describe particular projects, or only discuss public access typologies and definitions. Also excluded from the literature landscape are documents that discuss the socioeconomic impact of ICTs in general without linking this impact specifically to public access venues.
- In the first instance, the review of grey literature will be limited to those sources that are well known, have strong standing in the ICTD space, and/or have an established tradition of scientific inquiry, e.g. UNESCO, InfoDev. Although we recognize the value of less prominent organizations, in the absence of sufficient information to judge their scientific standing, we will only include such sources where their research has achieved high profile and we judge their research to be of sufficient rigor. Notwithstanding this approach, after a first round of reviews, we will assess the literature obtained to determine if it would be appropriate to expand the search to include a broader variety of grey literature.
- The review will not include practical assessment frameworks, that is, frameworks that are solely designed to evaluate particular projects and which do not have any theoretical or clear conceptual foundations.
This research will help develop metrics that will contribute to the following key priorities of the EU 2020 policy highlighted in the Flagship Initiatives 1:
The Digital Agenda for Europe
To promote internet access and take-up by all European citizens, and make the benefits of the digital society available to all. This includes enhancing digital literacy, skills and inclusion to facilitate empowerment and emancipation, for employability but also for learning, creating, participating and being confident and discerning in the use of digital media. This is particularly important for the 150 million Europeans – some 30% - who have never used the internet a population is largely made up of people aged 65 to 74 years old, people on low incomes, the unemployed and the less educated. Digital literacy and skills are also essential to educate European citizens to use ICT and digital media and particularly to attract youngsters to ICT education to improve the supply of ICT practitioner and e-business skills. This calls for multi-stakeholder partnerships, increased learning, recognition about digital competences in formal education and training systems, as well as awareness raising and effective ICT training and certification outside formal education systems.
An Agenda for New Skills and Jobs
For individuals – helping people acquire new skills, adapt to a changing labour market and make successful career shifts. Collectively – modernising labour markets to raise employment levels, reduce unemployment, raise labour productivity and ensuring the sustainability of our social models.
European platform against poverty
Aims at ensuring economic, social and territorial cohesion; guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights of people experiencing poverty and social exclusion, and enabling them to live in dignity and take an active part in society; mobilising support to help people integrate in the communities where they live, get training and help to find a job and have access to social benefits.