What is Technology-enhanced inclusion?
Technology-enhanced social inclusion (TESI) is an emerging field of research and application, which is cognate with e-inclusion, but with its primary roots resting in the field of technology-enhanced learning (see for example the UK TLRP-TEL programme pages for information about the nature and scope of the TEL field).
For a long time, the debate on social inclusion and technology (e-inclusion) focused on the physical resources, for example, access to computers, portable devices and game consoles, which depend closely on the financial and the physical capital available, as well as on digital literacy of the users. However, technologies (both hardware and software) are increasingly attainable to a wide population of users at relatively low cost (provided that highly specialised hardware is not needed) and users are becoming increasingly technology savvy, or – for the youngest adults – are already digital native. A small survey conducted during TARDIS’ knowledge elicitation studies in London at Media Citizens and formative evaluation studies at Mission Locale has shown that regardless of their socio-economic status, youngsters have access to digital technologies, both devices and software, and this access and usage follows the known trends as outlined in the recently published EU-funded DGEI report (2013).
An increasing number of ICT related projects (nationally and internationally funded) focuses on delivering software that fosters social inclusion (SI) through improvement of skills and quality of life for individual users. As a consequence of this, the e-inclusion debate is now shifting beyond that concerned with the issue of digital divide (Warschauer 2004), to questions and issues that are more familiar to the fields of technology-enhanced learning, learning sciences and human-computer interaction. Specifically, the main focus of what is now becoming explicitly a field of technology-enhanced social inclusion (TESI) concerns:
- How digital resources are created and how can they accommodate individual communities’ needs, as they are articulated by the different communities of practice, prior to being (re-)used, customised and deployed. Involvement of users does not only inform the design but also create a sense of ownership and co-responsibility that is conducive to social inclusion (SI) and to fostering individuals’ participation in society.
- The usability and the relevance of different technologies; how can the digital resources and systems be integrated with existing practices? Language, cultural contexts and community structures affect the relevance, use and effectiveness of technologies in supporting social inclusion. Furthermore, aspects such as the age of the users, whether they are motivated or coerced to use the technology, and ethical considerations, such as data protection and privacy, can also impact the efficacy of technology in fostering social inclusion.
- The interpersonal relations of users with communities and institutions: what strategies are available that take into account the social nature of accessing digital resources, that recognise the difference between and respective value of face-to-face versus online communication, and that combine the old practices with technology-enhanced ones?
TARDIS’ contribution to technology-enhanced social inclusion
As technologies become both ubiquitous and pervasive, they enable outreach for diverse needs in different contexts, but the question of how such outreach can be achieved most successfully, that is, in a manner that will bring a real change to people’s lives, is still an open question. This question sits at the heart of TARDIS’ engagement with the public and of the methods employed to foster such engagement.
The TARDIS project aims to contribute to the definition of the scope of TESI as a research field and to the definition of its future goals. Based on TARDIS work to date, coupled with input from other projects, in which the individual members of the TARDIS consortium are or have been involved, the working definition of TESI adopted in TARDIS differs in a number of important respects from that of e-inclusion, even though many of the aspirations of the latter remain relevant.
The TESI definition adopted in TARDIS places significant emphasis on the importance of robust technologies to fostering TESI. The consortium defines robustness as being reflected in (i) technology encapsulating best practices that are relevant to the context of its use (ii) its usability, usefulness and credibility of the technology in the real-world context of use, and (iii) best software engineering practices, which the consortium believes will lead to independent use of the technology by the lay stakeholders (i.e. non software engineers or technicians) and to the technology being re-usable and extendable beyond the life of the project.
TARDIS’ user involvement philosophy
As demonstrated through the substantial research that is available in the field of TEL, building robust technologies for learning and social inclusion requires access to detailed knowledge about the users, context of technology use, existing practices and expertise involved in delivering a specific intervention. Much of successful TEL research adopts a bottom-up approach, whereby a small number of relevant stakeholders provide the necessary knowledge base needed for developing intelligent complex systems, such as TARDIS. Once a prototype is developed it can be deployed, tested and validated with the help of further stakeholders in other contexts of potential use. While such bottom-up approach is necessary for the development of the initial prototypes, it also allows for all core stakeholders to develop mutual understanding of each other’s needs and to foster their equal participation in the co-creation of technology-enhanced practices that has been identified as one of the crucial elements of successful interventions for young people for whom TARDIS is being built. The process of co-creating the TARDIS technology and of its use constitutes an explicit part of the TARDIS’ philosophy of what it means to engage in a technology-enhanced social inclusion project.
useful links (these are updated on ongoing basis):
Stewart, J., L. Bleumers, et al. (2013). The Potential of Digital Games for Empowerment and Social Inclusion of Groups at Risk of Social and Economic Exclusion: Evidence and Opportunity for Policy., Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Editor: Clara Centeno, 25900, EN, 9/2013.
Spielhofer, T., T. Benton, et al. (2009). Increasing Participation: Understanding Young People Who Do Not Participate in Education or Training at 16 and 17 (DCSF Research Report 072). London: DCSF.
TLRP-TEL programme briefing on Digital Inclusion by Jane Seale (2009).