Like all project managers I’m kept busy with the day to day. It can be hard to find the time to sit back, review and reflect. I am therefore super excited that through the One Digital project (funded by the Big Lottery Fund) we have been able to part fund a PhD studentship focusing on digital inclusion.

This is a chance to really get under the bonnet of our work and look the impact that it makes. Digital Inclusion expert Irene Warner-Mackintosh has taken on the challenge and here she describes why she wanted to do the research, and how she plans to go about it:

“I’ve been working in the field of digital inclusion for the best part of a decade now- initially with our fantastic friends at Citizens Online and, since 2016, with an amazing team of women who came together to form Mhor Collective, a Scottish based organisation which works collaboratively to tackle digital exclusion . Linking both of these is the glue provided by One Digital: a multi-agency, test and learn approach to working with digital champions, who can disseminate and share their digital skills, helping those they work with every day to get online- and we’ve been lucky enough to be involved through our work with the fabsters at SCVO.

“Having worked in the third sector all of my adult life, I’m particularly interested in the link between social exclusion and digital exclusion- my ‘gut feeling’ as a practitioner in the field has always been that there’s a clear correlation: that those of us who are already facing challenges such as unemployment, disability (both hidden and visible), poverty, rurality, growing older- are more likely to also be struggling with the basic digital skills which could help overcome some of these hurdles: I’ve seen this in my work with job clubs, lunch clubs and with the disability charities we’ve partnered with. And fantastic research is starting to prove this to be the case- if you haven’t had a look at some of great work led by Douglas White over at the Carnegie Trust, then you should follow this link.

“But perhaps the most important thing to me is to try and work out what we do about it. And that we do something, now, because it isn’t fair. One Digital is a reflective approach – with evaluation and learning at the heart: it’s looking at a model, working closely with partners who are all experts in what they do, and thinking about how the digital champion model works, and what impact it’s having on those who need it most.

“And so, when a colleague over at the NHS drew my attention to an exciting, jointly funded research stdeuntship sitting within One Digital and in partnership with the University of West Scotland, I was desperate to get involved. I’d also worked with UWS a few years ago on the Digital Commonwealth project, with David McGillivray and Jennifer Jones– and knew we were on the same page in terms of the social justice agenda and how academic practice can absolutely be field-based, transformative, and not purely theoretical. I loved that dynamic approach, combined with the focussed consideration of impact and effect.

“So I applied (with some lovely support from great womenI’ve worked with ). I was crazy nervous as it’s been a long while since I’ve been in the academic field (and in a previous incarnation, I was researching contemporary Swiss Feminist Literature – not exactly transferrable for this particular opportunity) – but everything flagged up in the proposal just felt ‘right’: exciting, relevant, in line with my own politics and professional experience- and with an in-built aspiration to make a positive social difference in addressing digital inequality.

“Amazingly, wonderfully, I’ve been selected. And here we are! I’m literally buzzing with excitement- and gratitude. For the next few years, I’m giving myself over to exploring evidence-based models of digital inclusion, to thinking about our practice in the field and about how we can do more to help folk access the benefits of the online world. It’s a participatory action research model – where we’ll learn from each other- and where we will work together to explore solutions… I’m particularly excited about this element of the process, as it draws on my experience over the years, with a whole range of organisations, and it means I can continue to work collaboratively with all the incredible digital inclusion projects that are happening across Scotland.

“I’m really hoping to meet many of you along that journey, to learn with you, and I hope you’ll get involved in our work. See you soon!”