Next meeting: Wednesday 11 March at 1800, Room CR2 in the Scottish Parliament

Our next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 11 March at 6pm. We have confirmed speakers from two organisations:

  • Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Education Scotland/ Scottish Government

Please RSVP to me if you would like to come along and look forward to seeing you there. An agenda and note of the last meeting will be circulated in advance.

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Sign up to Skills Development Scotland ICT and Digital Technologies Update

Ruth Boyle of SDS forwarded a link to their newsletter for members to sign up to if they are interested in this area.

ICT and Digital Technologies Update:  Amongst other stories, it outlines how a new resource for employers in the ICT and Digital Technology Industry has been launched on Our Skillsforce.

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Carnegie Trust report: Making Digital Real

The Carnegie UK Trust has today published a new report which we thought you may be interested in: Making Digital Real: Case Studies of How to Help the Final Fifth Get Online

The Carnegire Trust argues that having access to the internet is now an essential service and is described by some as the ‘fourth utility’. But a fifth of UK households remain offline – and it is often those who could gain the most from internet access who are the least likely to be connected.

Making Digital Real sets out 7 Digital Participation Tests that local authorities, housing providers and other public, voluntary and community organisations can use to help plan their activities to support more people to gain access to the internet. The report also provides Case Studies of successful digital participation initiatives in Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Sunderland, Wiltshire and Fife, illustrating a wide range of different approaches that can be used to tackle digital exclusion. 
Please click here to download the seven Digital Participation Tests and the six Case Studies.

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RSE Digital Inclusion Inquiry: interim report out for consultation

RSE Digital Inclusion Inquiry: interim report out for consultation

Members of this Cross Party Group will know only too well the facts and figures of digital exclusion in Scotland. Some 1.3 million people are either without internet access or lacking basic digital skills. Home broadband take-up stands at 70%. Many of our 113,000 small businesses are not yet making full – or in some cases any – use of digital tools.

But, as importantly, members will recognise what this means for those who are not digitally included. While many people go online to access music and films, to keep in touch with family and friends or to pursue their own hobbies, being online then enables them to do so much more than this. Accessing government services, health care and a huge range of employment, education and training opportunities are only some of the most obvious examples. Digital exclusion is increasingly becoming as considerable a contributor to social deprivation as more traditional measures such as low income, ill health or poor education. In Scotland, as elsewhere, we see a strong correlation between low broadband take-up and areas of multiple deprivation. Without action, there is a real risk that a growing digital divide will only add to existing inequalities.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into spreading the benefits of digital participation is looking afresh at the barriers to digital inclusion and how Scotland – the Scottish Government in partnership with the private and voluntary sectors – can support people and organisations to overcome them. What are the pillars of a successful digital society? How can we achieve a step change in uptake? How can we ensure digital technologies help to narrow, rather than widen, social divides?

Our interim report was published in December, setting out the inquiry’s emerging conclusions and recommendations for consultation. Calling for the Scottish Government to assume overall accountability for ensuring that everyone has access to digital inclusion, and the skills needed to participate, the report also points to international neighbours such as Iceland, Sweden and Norway, where broadband connectivity and use is already above 90%.

We highlight three key factors that are crucial to universal inclusion. Affordable access requires not only having the right communications infrastructure in place in Scotland but also new ways for people to get an affordable connection. The work of the Wheatley Group in providing access to housing association tenants is an innovative example of how this might work. We call also for greater public access to public assets already in place, such as computing facilities in schools.

Of course, people and organisations must have the motivation to make use of this access. We identify the need to focus interventions at the community level: people will only recognise the relevance of the internet to them when their friends, customers, businesses they depend on or others who share their interests are also online.

And, finally, everyone must have skills and confidence to use digital technologies safely, responsibly and creatively. Digital literacy for all is one aspect of this, but a thriving digital society requires an education system – from pre-school through to secondary and tertiary – that embeds the use of digital technologies and thinking across all subjects, and that can be applied to all industries. 

The interim report can be found at and feedback is welcome by 8 February. The inquiry’s final report will be published in Spring 2014.

Michael Fourman, Royal Society of Edinburgh

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Note of the Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Digital Participation meeting – 4 September 2013

MSPs in attendance

Willie Coffey MSP

Fiona McLeod MSP

WC welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked all speakers for presenting and Three for sponsoring the refreshments. Vicki Nash advised members that Ofcom will be presenting on the findings from the Communications Market Report 2013 at an event in the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel on 10 October. Anyone who’d like to attend was asked to contact her.

The minutes from the meeting in April were agreed.

1.       Three presentation

Jennifer Amphlett and Jessica Tompkinson from the mobile operator, Three, gave a presentation on Three’s work to encourage digital participation.

More and people are accessing the internet on their mobile and it is predicted that more people will be using mobile, rather than fixed broadband, by 2015. Three is the newest mobile operator, having joined the market through the 3G auction.. Data use on the Three network has grown significantly since 2007 –an increase of 2000%. 98% of all traffic over Three’s network is data.

JA and JT ran through Three’s price plans and what Three is doing to support this demand for data. This includes: network rollout/coverage and introducing price plans which encourage people to use data. Fear of bill shock was a barrier to many consumers using data, so Three introduced the One Plan, an all-you-can-eat data plan, in 2009. Three will not be charging consumers any extra to use 4G data services when they launch. Three’s 3-2-1 pay-as-you-go proposition is targeted at low income families and doesn’t require those signing up to have a fixed address or a credit check.

Digital participation is a big feature of Three’s corporate responsibility strategy. In 2009, 9million people had never been online in the UK. Three’s objective is to help unconnected communities get connected. There are three areas which Three is seeking to address:

  1. Social exclusion – the impact of digital exclusion on relationships, such as keeping in touch with families.

JT gave an overview of the project at Glenboig House near Glasgow. The project has digital champions with Mi-Fi devices who go into people’s homes to show them how to get online. The benefits of this is that the champions are trusted people in the community.. JT also cited the example of teenagers who were job hunting and were introduced to job-hunting online and subsequently  engaged more widely on the internet. Three also work in collaboration with Get Online centres and Age UK. A list of all their projects is available at Three estimate that they have helped about 10,000 people get online through these projects.

  1. Geographic barriers – for example, if children do not have internet at home and can’t do their homework

JT talked about Three’s work in providing mobile broadband coverage where fixed broadband is patchy. JT gave an example where Three were approached by the local council in Nottinghamshire to get people online. The community already had 3G connectivity, but weren’t aware they could access mobile broadband through a dongle. Three are currently looking for communities in Northern Ireland who can’t get fixed broadband to work with.

  1. Enabling communities

JT talked about Three’s work with businesses. Three provided a dongle to an East Kilbride business. BT is now installing fixed broadband in the area as wider demand has now been proved there. JT also gave the examples of the Park Run organisation, where Three connectivity allowed runners to upload their running times in real time and another example whereby mobile dongles provided internet access for seamen when they dock in port.

Three also provide low cost packages which social housing providers can buy to get their tenants online. These do not require credit checks and are rolling contracts. JT also emphasised the importance of getting people to enjoy the internet and what it can offer, as an incentive to get them online. JT also gave the example of girl guides training people to use their mobiles and get online.

Three think that Government should be focussed on the outcomes of digital participation, rather than technology, such as 4G. A holistic approach should be taken, with whatever technology works. It costs around £600k to build a mast in rural areas.

WC asked if Three get the sense that the mobile operators are increasingly looking at underserved communities and he asked what Three needed from the CPG. JA said that Three, as one of the smallest providers, has a smaller amount of customers and is focussing on the 9m consumers who are not online. Three is not charging extra for 4G, which would send the wrong message, as they want customers to use their network as much as possible. JA added that with Three entering the market prices have fallen to £7.50 for 1Gb. Three’s focus is on being affordable and being a consumer champion. A challenge for Three is communicating with the hard-to-reach customer base, as they are not online they are hard to find. Three’s basic policy asks are around planning which can be a barrier to infrastructure roll-out.

Michael Fourman (MF) asked for clarification around Three’s pricing and how many Gb people tend to use with all-you-can-eat packages. JA said that on average customers tend to use between 4 and 7 GB.

Douglas White from the Carnegie Trust asked what Three’s annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budget was. JT replied that Three’s CSR doesn’t just focus on digital participation. The majority of Three’s digital participation work is funded by the marketing team. Three has spent roughly half a million pounds in terms of data and connectivity.

Graeme Hamilton from Glasgow Housing Association asked what Three’s view was on the internet being the fourth utility and whether greater collaboration across the UK with providers with large social housing portfolios is needed, rather than one-to-one discussions with providers. JA said that Three had rolled out low cost data to 98.5% of the population without any supplement from Government. There are areas which are more commercially viable to reach, however there are other areas where Government has to step in. JT added that affordability was an interesting point and is why Three work a lot with residents’ associations. Three work on a one-to-one basis to tailor packages and affordability  – they can drive down prices where housing associations buy in bulk. GH added that connectivity was well and good, but that the provision of devices was also important.

WC asked what Three’s view was on driving down barriers on prices between jurisdictions and roaming. JA said that Three had lobbied the European Commission through the UK Parliament to lower the caps. Three launched the ‘Feel at Home’ tariff so that people can use their package in an equivalent way when they travel abroad. Three can only do this where they have a sister network – the European Commission is looking at other roaming options without caps which could drive prices up.

MF asked what Three’s view was on UK-wide roaming to address coverage issues. JA said that the costs of this were high to reach around 0.5% of the population. Three have not gone down that route due to competition considerations.

Joe Wilson from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (JW)  asked about Mi-Fi tariffs and how to get connected. JA said that Three had worked with the tourist information centre to get some areas connected. JT said to talk to Three or go into a Three store to get further information about how mobile broadband can be provided over Mi-Fi.

2.       Presentation from Ian McCracken and John Crawford

Ian McCracken ran through some common assumptions which teachers have when asking students to carry out research online. IM gave the example of an educational resource without teaching pupils proper enquiry skills, such as Wikipedia citing Edward Jenner as “one of the greatest killers”! Teachers assume that pupils have developed online search skills, that pupils know what keywords are and how to use them and that pupils know how to use a search engine. Accessibility of information is also important – if pupils have ‘googled’ the question, did they get the right answer?

IM ran through the results of a survey conducted in West Lothian of 900 pupils. 5% had no internet access at home, while 75% had no rules in the home about how to use the internet. 84% of pupils use the internet for homework, while 67% trusted what they read online. 70% of pupils did not check where the information was coming from and less than a third checked their sources.

IM also ran through the results of a YOSCI  survey which looked, on an international basis, at how suitable and engaging science websites were for young people. One finding was that the text should be concise and engaging. A concerning finding was the lack of a sound editing process on the websites and the lack of knowledge as to the sources behind the websites in question. There is no correlation between outcomes and teaching pupils how to use information – the normal measure of success is how much information pupils find. If teachers aren’t marking the process of finding information, there is no incentive for pupils to learn good research skills.

John Crawford is Chair of the Information Skills Forum for a 21st Century Scotland. John also directed the Scottish Information Literacy Project from 2003 to 2005. JC’s last major project was to evaluate the information skills at a library. Intellectual Property rights also play an important role in information literacy. JC gave a definition of information literacy as how to find information, evaluate it and communicate it.

The key objective of the Scottish Information Literacy Project was to engage with a wide range of organisations on information literacy. The project evolved from an original idea to develop a framework of a ladder of skills through secondary education to higher education. The Right Information is an online community of practice, promoting information literacy frameworks. This skills framework is in continuous development. There is a need to develop information skills literacy for trainee teachers, in order to teach the pupils to be information literate. Edinburgh Library is a leading institution in the UK in developing e-learning online training packages. JC also ran through some information literacy projects to date, such as Project Blaster which is a project run by the National Library of Scotland with primary schools.

MF quoted the finding that 5% of pupils don’t have the internet at home. He asked whether students do use the internet for studying.

IM said that in most cases, students use the internet for studying, but less so for the younger primary school age students. Primary schools have non-fiction books at certain reading levels, but search terms and academic materials online are less tailored to age. MF said that Vint Cerf had recently visited the Royal Society. He will suggest to Google filtering search terms by reading age.

JW offered assurance that the Scottish Library and Information Council work ties together. The need for information literacy skills is built into the system.

Fiona Mcleod MSP (FM) welcomed the presentations and said that information literacy is the foundation to digital participation. She made a number of points

  • Libraries are clustering with primary schools, so that right from the start pupils develop these skills
  • She suggested that the Right Information applies to the Equality Improvement Fund which SLIC administers and partner with public libraries
  • She further suggested that the Right Information coordinate with SCURL

JC said that they did work with the Head of School Libraries, Claire Jones . One of the problems they are encountering in their work is that libraries aren’t confident in imparting information skills advice. He did write to SCURL some years ago but has not yet heard back.

It was agreed that the Kateri survey of pupils would be shared with members. ACTION: Charlie to circulate slides.


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Updated agenda for next meeting – Wednesday 4 September 2013 – CR 1 (Scottish Parliament), 6-8pm

We have had a slight change to our agenda for our next meeting on 4 September. Ian McCracken and John Crawford, Founders of the Right Information Organisation, will be talking to the group about the important role that information literacy plays. The updated agenda is:

• Welcome and note of the last meeting
• Jennifer Amphlett, Public Affairs Manager and Jessica Tompkinson, Digital Participation lead from mobile network operator Three
• Ian McCracken and John Crawford, Founders of the Right Information Organisation – information literacy
• Members’ points

Three have kindly offered to sponsor our meeting and will hold a reception afterwards.

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Improving the accessibility of e-readers for the blind community

Ahead of our next meeting, Adrienne Sinclair Chalmers, a member of the CPG who is herself visually impaired, shares her thoughts on developments in the US which could affect the accessibility of Kindle and Sony e-readers for blind consumers:

I have previously raised at the CPG the question of the accessibility of Kindle devices and the Kindle IOS app. The CPG were supportive of an attempt to improve this.

The situation was then that there was only one Kindle device which was partially accessible to visually impaired people who relied on speech output. Many of the titles available to Kindle devices had the text to speech function disabled and it was not possible to cary out many of the functions of the device unless you could read the screen yourself. Amazon had also made Apple disable the inbuilt Voiceover IOS screenreader on the IOS Kindle app.

There were also problems for people using PCs with any screenreader other than Jaws. Jaws is a Windows screenreader which costs several hundred pounds, unlike Voiceover, which is free on both IOS and OSX. There are also free screenreaders to be had for PCs.

In May, Amazon did a huge volte face and announced, completely out of the blue, that it had allowed Voiceover to be enabled on its IOS app and, thus, blind people with iPhones and iPads could use their built-in screenreaders to access all Kindle titles, not just the ones which had had text to speech enabled.

It was a bit of a mystery to the blind community as to why Amazon had had this sudden change of heart. They had stalwartly refused to do anything about this, despite various court actions being raised and being asked to account for themselves by the likes of the In Touch BBC Radio 4 programme. Nevertheless, there was a huge amount of celebration at suddenly having access to over 1.5 million books.

I think we may now know why this change was effected. Recent legislation in the United States had stated that various communication devices must be made accessible. Now we hear that both Amazon and Sony have sought a waiver for their e-book readers from the Federal Communications Commission.

I understand that part of Amazon’s submission to the FCC is that they do not need to make their Kindle devices accessible, because they have allowed Apple to enable  Voiceover on iPhones and iPads.

Now, obviously, there are a couple of points to be taken into consideration here. Firstly, love my accessible iDevices as I do, even I can’t deny Kindle devices are a whole lot cheaper than an iPad. Secondly, if this has, as many blind people now suspect, been a cynical move by Amazon to further their application for a waiver, will they suddenly cease to support Voiceover on the next Kindle IOS upgrade, depending on what the FCC decides?

Although this is clearly a matter to do with US legislation, what is decided by the FCC will affect blind people across the whole world. I would hope that the CPG would consider making some representation to relevant parties on this issue.

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Agenda for next meeting – Wednesday 4 September 2013 – CR 1 (Scottish Parliament), 6-8pm

Please see the agenda below for our next meeting being held on 4 September from 1800 in Committee Room 1 at the Scottish Parliament.

We have decided to reduce our number of speakers to two in order to allow more time for member issues and discussion. If CPG is agreeable we will maintain this format for future meetings.

• Welcome and note of the last meeting
• Jennifer Amphlett, Public Affairs Manager and Jessica Tompkinson, Digital Participation lead from mobile network operator Three
• Brian McLeish from Scottish Enterprise on the technology framework – informatics and data technology
• Members’ points

Three have kindly offered to sponsor our meeting and will hold a reception afterwards.

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Date of next meeting – Wednesday 18 June 2014 – P1.02 (Scottish Parliament), 6-8pm

Our next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 18 June at 6pm. We have confirmed speakers from two organisations:

• Mark Tate from Community Broadband Scotland who will talk about getting broadband to the last 5% in Scotland, and;
• Alasdair Davidson and Neil Moss of Arqiva, who are delivering the UK Government supported £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project seeking to bring mobile coverage to not spots.

Arqiva have kindly offered their sponsorship for this meeting.

Please RSVP to me if you would like to come along and look forward to seeing you there. An agenda and note of the last meeting will be circulated in advance.

The Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Digital Participation was convened in December 2009 to provide a platform for MSPs to engage with a range of organisations on issues relating to digital participation.  The group will provide an opportunity to consider how best Scotland can maximise the social and economic benefits derived from the development of digital technologies. It is convened by Willie Coffey MSP 

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Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee – Broadband Infastructure in Scotland

The committee issued a call for views and is now considering them. Some members have been called to give oral evidence to give their thoughts on what the key issues relating to broadband in Scotland are. The committee plan to publish a report on its enquiry in the new year.

The remit is to assess coverage, availability and uptake of broadband and consider the ways in which different local areas are working to promote access and how good practice might be shared. They also want to consider what work is required by the Scottish Government, infrastructure providers and others in order to expand Scotland’s digital infrastructure.

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