4 People looking at a digital screen.

Towards Better Digital Inclusion

STBY contributed as a research partner to a nation wide project looking at new ways of helping people with low digital skills through the use of AI. A previous exploratory research by STBY already provided insights about many people’s difficult experiences with navigating the online world. Now, STBY was commissioned to do a follow-up research to better understand what types of support are needed for people with limited digital skills. The insights from both research projects informed the further development of inclusive web designs, with an AI detection model and a support mechanism for people who struggle the most with online procedures. 

The overall project title was ‘Tel Mee Met Taal – Experimenten’ (Belonging through language – Experiments), initiated by the Dutch Institute of Image and Sound (Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid). You can read and download the full (Dutch) report on this website (scroll down), including the STBY reports which are part of the Appendix: https://digitaalsamenleven.nl/nieuws/tmmt/ 

Speaking to people with different experiences and perspectives when using digital devices

We knew from previous desk research that there are lots of different reasons why people might struggle online in their day to day life. They can have financial constraints, experience language difficulties and barriers, or feel left behind by the pace of digital transition in society. We used this knowledge to ensure we included people with different backgrounds and experiences to get a broad range of perspectives.

For the 15 interviews we went to people’s homes, libraries and community centres. These locations were carefully chosen together with people to ensure they would feel comfortable in a familiar environment. We asked them to bring a device they’re familiar with or we used a computer they’ve worked on before. 

We also included volunteers to provide a slightly different perspective. They have a lot of experience with guiding and supporting people through their digital challenges. In addition, they might think differently when it comes to imagining the best way forward for providing support for a wider societal group.

People want to become independent but currently need support to do things online

In the interviews we asked people to choose a website, like apply for their state pension at www.svb.nl, and to walk us through the process step by step. While doing this people told us about the types of support they prefer to use when struggling to find what they’re looking for or when not being able to complete a task online. This support could be online, by telephone or in person. 

People appreciate having lots of different ways to contact an organisation for help. For most people the telephone is the easiest and quickest way to ask for help. In person help creates trust and confidence, which enables people to make the next step without fear of doing something wrong. Although most people we spoke to are not able to fully use digital support independently yet, they all wanted to be less dependent on their children or others and don’t want to have such a stressful relationship with government websites anymore. 

Finding a balance of in person, online and phone support

We found that different support types are needed to help people with diverse needs and become more independent. Here are some examples of the types of support people would find helpful:

Many government websites have too much dense text and can be very overwhelming when reading or scanning the webpage. More accessible language and lay-outs is therefore prefered. 

Most people feel they want to become more confident and familiar with governmental websites. Practising the process of doing things online more regularly without the fear of doing something wrong could help people to overcome this feeling.

Some could benefit from a combination of telephone and digital assistance. For example by sharing their screen and being guided verbally on the phone. In this way someone can be supported whilst they on the website going through each step. 

There were also ideas to offer extra support and information on television shows, awareness campaigns or YouTube.

Providing an overarching ecosystem of support

During the interviews we also looked at opportunities for people to be offered structural support, in addition to the immediate help, to become more independent in the long term. People want to have access to diverse, inclusive and accessible support system that interconnect with each other. Websites can play an important role with the integration of this ‘system wide support network’ that enables both people with limited digital skills and volunteers to find each other and share knowledge. 

A starting point for further innovation 

The research findings informed counsellors, web developers and experts to have a much broader and richer understanding about the needs of people with lower digital skills. One of the suggestions is to explore a hybrid support service (both digital and in person). Although, more research needs to be done to provide a firm foundation on how people with lower digital skills can be supported more structurally that can be implemented more widely. 

Download here the full report (in Dutch).