Inclusion and social media: report on state-of-the-art of IT-based inclusion initiatives
The state-of-the-art (SotA) report on IT-based inclusion initiatives shows that many policy plans are being set up on different policy levels as well as concrete initiatives by practitioners. Nevertheless, results are often not evaluated or communicated, which impedes the coordination of the efforts taken. In addition, cooperation between different government levels and other parties remains problematic. Finally, a large part of the initiatives still aims at providing access and training. Improving empowerment by actively involving users however, is chosen by a very small fraction of the initiatives found. The SotA report discussed here originated in the Inclusion work package of EMSOC. The report is based on a literature review, contacts with practitioners in the field and an extensive internet search.
Empowerment or disempowerment?
The past decade, social media have known an exponential growth. Facebook, for example, has become the largest social networking site worldwide since its launch in 2004. By the end of 2010, the site had 650 million registered users (Libbenga, 2011; Online Schools, 2011). A potential benefit of social media is that they can be used to support the production of social capital (INCLUSO, 2010). Also, when using social software – or, more broadly, technology-mediated communication – the interaction between large groups of people becomes easier since it is no longer necessary that the interaction partners are at the same location at the same time (Resnick, 2002).
Along with the rise of digital technologies like the internet, e-mail and social media, the concept of the digital divide became increasingly important to describe mechanisms of social exclusion that have been caused by digital exclusion (Mariën, Van Audenhove, Vleugels, Bannier, & Pierson, 2010). Today, the digital divide is seen as less polarised and more complex than in the early years (Brotcorne, Dekelver, Mertens, Nicolay, & Valenduc, 2010).
As a result of the growing attention to developments like the digital divide and digital or social exclusion, an increasing amount of IT-based inclusion initiatives have been put into action. These initiatives are of great importance because they stimulate a greater level of inclusion and empowerment for their target groups. Consequently, they were the focus of the report discussed here.
The objective of the currently presented report was to provide an overview of currently existing IT-based inclusion initiatives in order to get an insight into what has already been done and which strategies are being used. The initiatives are sorted according to their main objectives. The aim of this overview is to create a comprehensive categorisation of initiative types rather than an exhaustive overview of all existing initiatives. To achieve this categorisation, existing subdivisions of initiatives were employed and categories were derived from the initiatives that were found during search operations. This resulted in the following categories of aims:
- Increasing skills
- Providing access to computer/internet
- Cooperation with others
- Changing attitudes
- Providing a sense of belonging
- Promoting accessible e-Government
- Increasing visibility
- Adapting to personal wants & needs
- Digitalising content
Besides these more classic IT-based initiatives, specific social media initiatives were also considered. A difference between the classic initiatives and the social media initiatives was found to be that the former possibly incorporate social media to achieve increased computer and internet use, whereas the latter specifically aim at using social media to realise goals like social cohesion and social or digital inclusion.
Conclusions & recommendations
The research described in this report showed that an increasing amount of IT-based initiatives have been and are being set up by governments as well as non-profit organisations. Although social media initiatives are still less common than more classic IT-based inclusion initiatives, we will keep monitoring the evolution of the former closely since they provide possibilities for bottom-up user empowerment and we expect their number to grow in the following years.
Although progress is being made, key problems like project-based funding, communication and dissemination still remain. The project-based funding which is common nowadays can be harmful for the continuity of inclusion efforts and may increase competition between different initiatives. Regarding the issues of communication and dissemination, results and evaluations are not conducted or made public sufficiently. Consequently, new initiatives cannot build on the previously gained experience and often redo what has already been done.
In summary, it is recommended in this report that evaluations of initiatives should be conducted on a regular basis and that results should be made public so that other players in the field can learn from the knowhow that was gained. Also, we agree with a previously formulated recommendation to appoint an e-inclusion spokesperson to give the initiatives more visibility and to coordinate efforts (Brotcorne et al., 2010; Race Online 2012, 2011).
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Brotcorne, P., Dekelver, J., Mertens, L., Nicolay, K., & Valenduc, G. (2010). MIIS/2010/02: Voorbereiding van de tweede fase van het nationale actieplan ter bestrijding van de digitale kloof 2011-2015 – Eindrapport (p. 59). POD Maatschappelijke integratie.
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Libbenga, J. (2011). What would Facebook do? – Mark Zuckerberg geeft Google het nakijken. Emerce, (101), 14-33.
Mariën, I., Van Audenhove, L., Vleugels, C., Bannier, S., & Pierson, J. (2010). De digitale kloof van de tweede graad inVlaanderen. Instituut Samenleving & Technologie. Retrieved from http://smit.vub.ac.be/files/publications/862/20101020114937.pdf
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Race Online 2012. (2011). About Race Online 2012 and Our Vision. Retrieved March 21, 2011, from http://raceonline2012.org/about-us
Resnick, P. (2002). Beyond Bowling Together: SocioTechnical Capital. Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millennium (pp. 647-672). New York NY: ACM Press.