The lowdown on our first research symposium

Yesterday, we held our first research symposium (which you might have noticed I’ve mentioned before!) at the LSE in London. It was a great day, full of interesting findings, challenging questions and lively discussion. I’d firstly like to thank Ellen Helsper and the LSE Media Policy Unit for hosting the event, helping to organise the day and sharing their knowledge.

I’d also like to thank everyone that came along to share what they’re doing in the social digital sphere, what they think we’re not asking and what they think has (and hasn’t) worked so far.

I talked in my last blog about how far we’d come in the last seven years getting people online, but hearing from Grant Blank of Oxis I realised we still have a long way to go. The most shocking of the statistics he shared was that only 31% of people with no qualifications use the internet, compared to 91% of those with a higher education qualification. There were also lots of interesting statistics around ex-users, and the barriers (often cost-related) that they face to being online. This is something I found really interesting, and I’m looking forward to delving into this in more detail. Grant also highlighted the extent of ‘proxy use of the internet’: a staggering 62 per cent of ex-users of the internet get someone else to use the internet on their behalf.

Despite the diverse group, which included stats nerds like me, policy people, researchers and academics, we found a consensus around a lot of things – particularly around the issue of how difficult it is to do any measurement on social impact. We talked about this in detail, and one of the conclusions we reached was that maybe to discover what works, we might first need work out what doesn’t. The question of social impact is one I knew would be challenging, and so it’s almost reassuring to know that, while many funders demand a robust model of social accounting, organisations in all sectors are struggling to find one that really works – we’re not the only ones!

Another point of consensus was into to the link between social inclusion and digital inclusion policy and practice. Agreement in the room was clear – we can’t address digital exclusion without addressing social exclusion, and its only by linking action on both that we’ll be able to help close the divide that still exists. 

While we found common ground in many instances, we couldn’t agree on everything. I’m still not convinced that internet TV is the thing that will get everyone online, although judging by the mood in the room I’m in the minority on this one.  

An event like this was never going to answer the big questions, but what it did do was bring a group of people together that made me feel really proud to be working in this field, alongside some really passionate and inspired people. One agreement we definitely did come to was that this won’t be a one-off, so you can look forward to more blogs from me on a similar subject in the future. In the meantime, why not take a look at the LSE’s Social Digital blog series to read the views of some of the symposium’s other attendees.


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