A blast from the past – the UK online centres research timeline

I’m really excited about the research symposium we’re holding tomorrow in London – and I was even more excited when I learnt that “symposium” is the Greek for drinking party. Unfortunately, I can’t promise anyone coming to the symposium a glass of wine, but I think I can promise knowledge which is a pretty good substitute, and doesn’t give you a hangover!

Planning for the symposium started me thinking about the great research we’ve done in the past, so I had a scrabble around the office and found a set of UK online centres research reports, dating all the way back to 2005.

One thing that struck me reading them is how much some things have changed, and others haven’t. Our first report, from March 2005, focussed on the delivery of e-government services. Although we now call it “digital by default”, seven years later a different government is as committed to online service delivery as the previous one. In fact, the quote from one of the first digital policy papers, Connecting the UK: The Digital Stategy, applies today: “ICT can either create the new class divide or can reduce barriers. Our policies have to ensure the latter.”

In 2007, we published Understanding digital inclusion, a groundbreaking piece of research that brought together 40 different sources to define what we meant by digital inclusion, and the barriers that people face when getting online. This report was so important to the landscape at the time, and marks a nice parallel with tomorrow’s symposium where again we’ll be bringing together a group of people to share their work and define the landscape.

In 2008, we published a report on the economic benefits of digital inclusion, where we attached a cost to getting the population online, not only to bring savings to the government but to stimulate economic growth. This was one of the most important things we did, and really helped to prove why the internet wasn’t just a nice-to-have, but something vital for the whole country.

Later that same year, we published Digital inclusion, social impact: a research study, which investigated the social impact the web has on communities, something which is again playing a major role in the work we’re doing.

Times might have changed, but our commitment to policy and research, as well as the delivery side of digital skills, hasn’t. We’re not printing the same glossy reports we were a few years ago, but we’re still dedicated to leading the way in digital skills research. In February, we published our Jobs and the internet white paper. It was only available online, because of course we’re digital by default now, but it provided a vital insight into why, with so many people out of work, being online has never been more important. And one thing that definitely has changed is the number of people who are offline. It’s surprising, even to me, to look back on our first research report from 2005 when 51% – the majority of the population were offline. Today, it’s 8.2 million – just 16.3% of the adult population, showing just how far we’ve come. I’m really excited about tomorrow, not because I think we’ll find the silver bullet, but because I think by getting such bright minds in a room together we should all be able to learn something which will make all of our work that little bit easier.

You can take a look through our research on our website here

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