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Digital Participation Scotland a time for action

Over the past few days there have been 3 high profile reports published about Digital Participation Scotland. First to publish was the Scottish Government report Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action which was published on 24 April. The report talks of world class levels of digital participation, which is a big bold statement of […]

Over the past few days there have been 3 high profile reports published about Digital Participation Scotland.

First to publish was the Scottish Government report Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action which was published on 24 April.

Digital Participation Scotland report from Scottish Government

The report talks of world class levels of digital participation, which is a big bold statement of intent and backed up with the current investment in infrastructure it seems world class levels of digital participation could be achievable. The report goes on to say

The development of local digital TV, support for local citizen journalism and new forms of engagement with national and local democratic life are all examples of how digital opens up new possibilities to meet new people and add value to life of a local community.

Yet when you speak to people in Scottish Government the official line when you ask about local websites & citizen journalism is

we are holding a watching brief.

I'm not sure a watching brief rather than supporting development is the right thing to have but if that is what they are doing then who are we to question?

Next to publish was the Carnegie UK Trust report Neighbourhood News - The Time Is Now  on 28 April.

Carnegie Neighbourhood News Report

Carnegie have been running the Neighbourhood News initiative for almost 12 months, supporting 5 projects with £10,000 of funding to help them develop new and innovative ways of producing local news. In their interim report they ask if the Government (Westminster) could expand the Community Radio Fund to be adapted or expanded to include other platforms such as web based providers. Lauren Pennycook from Carnegie goes as far as to say that local websites deserve a share of government's £250m-plus annual subsidy for local news.

On 30 April the Royal Society of Edinburgh published their report Spreading the Benefit of Digital Participation in Scotland.

RSE Digital Participation Report

As you would expect there is lots of data in this report about the number of households online, exclusion, geography and broadband speeds.

We provided evidence to the Royal Society from Talk About Local, some of which I was delighted to see made it in to the final report

The biggest number that was highlighted at the launch of the report in Edinburgh was that there are 2.5million households in Scotland and 800,000 of them are off-line. So it shows the size of the undertaking when the Digital Scotland broadband programme aims to see around 95 per cent of premises in Scotland connected to fibre broadband infrastructure by 2017/18.

Of the key recommendations in the report for Motivation stands out

The Scottish Government, local authorities, the third sector and private sector partners, led by SCVO, must recognise the importance of the network effect and local interests and develop initiatives for local action on digital participation aimed at community level. A large part of this will be about scaling up and accelerating initiatives that are already happening. A national framework should provide coordination, support and resources for local initiatives.

It has been said on a number of occasions in different ways by different people and was used yesterday in the RSE presentation, being able to buy your Road Fund Licence or pay your tax bill online is not a great motivator, people need to have reasons to be online whether that is being part of an online community or keeping in contact with family and friends.

In all three of the reports from the last week there is a common thread of community.

So we have the reports, we have the recommendations for Digital Participation in Scotland, now it is a time for action. What do we do and where do we start? Here are a couple of thoughts to get things started

Communities

I think there should be a move to start working with communities across the country to help them set up community websites, these sites could be about anything, local news & events, a club website, the local beer festival. As the broadband infrastructure is being rolled out there should be a following wave of training and support. For example 80Mbps broadband is being rolled out to rural locations across Aberdeenshire, BT come, they install, they have their photos taken at the box, they leave.

Aberdeenshire Depute Provost Norman Smith and Council Leader Jim Gifford learning more about fibre broadband

Picture credit Aberdeenshire Council

Where is the second wave that comes in after the photographers, councillors and BT execs have left? Where are the community champions & trainers?  All the research points to being online can help to bring a community together, it can also help with things like tourism, if Kirkton of Littleplace isn't online how can they expect to be able to promote their community? Visit Scotland should be picking up the baton on this and using some of it's budget to help rural communities get an online presence to promote tourism at grassroots rather than spending as much on places like Glasgow & Edinburgh where tourists will probably go anyway.

Community Councils

Community Council sites are a rich vein that could be tapped in to and provide a host of benefits to the community, the local authority and Scottish Government. In the most recent data I can find¹, for the 1,156 active community councils across Scotland, 498 had no online presence and 351 had out of date information. Reaching out to community councils and offering basic web skills training for the council and the community would reap huge rewards. Not only would it provide skills and knowledge transfer, it would bring the community and the council together (something that is sadly lacking in places), promote better democracy and transparency and hopefully engage more people in the democratic process.

These are just a couple of thoughts where I think we should be going, I look forward to having some discussions about how we can help communities benefit from having digital and web skills to go with the broadband infrastructure that is being built over the coming years.

¹ Community Councils Online Bruce Ryan & Peter Cruickshank 2012