Digitally connected citizenship and socially-embedded technology

Posted by Policyhubadmin on 18 February 2014
by Policyhubadmin


Digitally connected citizenship and socially-embedded technology


BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, seeks to ensure everyone benefits from Information technology (IT). We promote wider social and economic progress through the advancement of IT. One of our core values is to advance the role of IT in bettering society, the economy, business and education. To do this, we recognise that we need to ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to use IT safely and effectively for their own, and society’s benefit. This means promoting ethics in the design and delivery of IT projects and products so that citizens are able to access them, feel secure in using them, and know how to remain ‘safe online’ when accessing services provided in the global marketplace.


BCS has several specialist groups (for example, ASSIST, Cybercrime Forensics, Green IT, ICT Ethics, Interaction, Law, Information Security, Information Risk Management and Assurance, Sociotechnical), initiatives, events (e.g. public debates1) and many members in branches throughout the UK and in several countries, who are committed to ensuring that citizens engage safely, sustainably and effectively with the digital world. Over the last few years BCS has endorsed and supported the work of Baroness Lane Fox and encouraged its membership to participate in Race Online 2012 and similar initiatives, to encourage the digitally-excluded to improve their social and economic circumstances by taking advantage of online services. BCS welcome the recent announcement of DOT EVERYONE and look forward to participating, as an organisation and through its members. At a time of public funding constraints, wasting tax-payers money, whether through expensive and inefficient manual process, or by unprofessional IT project management and procurement, is unacceptable.

However, there remain challenges which still result in digital exclusion for sectors of our society. Even if the pool of digitally-excluded is shrinking, the consequences of exclusion grow only more severe as increasingly public services, job recruitment and commerce are conducted solely or partially online. There are the simple matters of the cost and availability of broadband for those of limited income, and BCS urge the provision of free public access through public libraries. This must be both fast enough, and in long enough sessions, to permit citizens to meet their legal obligations such as the requirement, to retain benefits, to provide evidence of online job searching, as well as care and TC licensing, tax returns, and the requirements of the criminal justice system.

BCS also recognises that many in the UK self-exclude, and not just because of the cost. Reports such as those from The Carnegie Trust[1] highlight that in some already-deprived areas, almost half of the households have no access to the Internet. Research into the causes reveals that some find it hard to use, some see no point, and some rely on other people to carry out necessary tasks. Others feel unsafe online and fear becoming the victims of crime and abuse, and some find the internet to be a lawless place with vile content a click away. BCS believes it’s not enough simply to reassure and educate users, in an attempt to persuade them to participate safely online. BCS works to improve the quality and safety of the online experience.

Through our professional code of conduct for members, and by establishing and monitoring standards for professional IT project management, we help ensure that the privacy of users is less easily invaded, and there are fewer opportunities for abuse. Through our specialist groups in the areas of cybersecurity we foster the development of far safer IT protocols and data protection methods. We help governments ensure that laws more effectively prevent invasion of privacy and the use of the internet to exploit, or threaten, the vulnerable. BCS and its members are committed to respect and protect the intellectual properties of those who create software and digital media.

Taken together this work will ensure that IT can be perceived by the excluded as socially useful, socially-embedded (part of the fabric of society) and socially responsible (for example, balancing anonymity with accountability, and minimising abuse such as phishing, cyber bullying and child pornography).

As democracy moves from representative to participative, engagement with excluded citizens is needed to encourage universal e-participation. Broadband availability is only one component of this: if allowing voices to be heard is the first step, demonstrating that these voices are being listened to, is the prerequisite to engagement. BCS believes that rolling out broadband only to areas that ‘justify it’ exacerbates existing social exclusion. Alternative technologies can provide the required channel – wifi, 4G - but these too need to be affordable, or at least publicly accessible in local social infrastructure such as libraries.

Key issues: The following are a series of priority issues for BCS:

1) To engage with those who currently self-exclude. This requires detailed understanding of these citizens' reasons and circumstances, and BCS urges that this should be a research priority, but also to ensure that these citizens are fully able to participate in the design of online services;

2) To include those who are excluded financially, socially and because of impairments. BCS advocates the use of standards (such as ISO9241 and BS8878) to ensure that digital products and services, and the development process that creates them, fully takes into account the needs of all potential users. In particular, this means involving disadvantaged people throughout the design and development cycle, and using language that matches the education level and culture of the end user;

3) To engage rather than simply include. BCS believes that appreciation of the power of IT can increase an individual’s sense of agency in the world. BCS is committed to educating the general public, and enthusing the individual, to achieve their goals more effectively through information technology. Member groups have a duty of outreach – to spread awareness of the benefits of information technology. BCS's members follow a code of conduct that demands that they ‘promote equal access to the benefits of IT and seek to promote the inclusion of all sectors in society wherever opportunities arise’;

4) To get policymakers to recognise that the targets for socially embedded technology are always moving – the technology, its social acceptability, and people's social activity. Through contributions to the school curriculum, accreditation of university degrees, and in its codes of conduct and best practice for members, BCS works to ensure that professionals and policy makers understand the rate of change of technology, and create awareness of social needs for technology. In this, the research conferences and journals of BCS specialist groups continue to add to, and critically evaluate, practical knowledge;

5) To empower active citizenship through IT. To help citizens recognise the warning signs of being a passive consumer to their economic and social detriment, through public events organised by branches and specialist groups, experts can reach deeper into communities.

2 Responses

by Philip Lim

On the subject of this position statement I think it provides a starting point with a list of some issues.

Interestingly I also came across a letter from 'L Bates to B Lane-Fox re: Debate on World Wide Web' that was published on the UK GOV website. It mentioned important subjects such as the 'digital inclusion check list'. See:

On the subject of this position statement. I also noted that other initiatives exist where 'lessons could be learned' or where 'synergy' might exist. This includes:

(a) UNDP Democratic Governance Focus Area - Access to Information and E-Governance (I would argue the UK is a leader and good role model in this area):

(b) EC Digital Agenda for Europe 2020 Initiative:

by Daniel Bowen

I have feedback/suggestion on three areas:
1. Update the accessibility sections to better reflect the impact of social media etc
2. Tweak the wording around the internet being 'safe and civilised'
3. Explicitly include mention of regionalisation and the availability of IT/digital content in a range of natural languages- specifically, I suggest the position statement takes the line that this should be an area for further study and development of standards/good practice.

My detailed comment and references...
1. Accessibility
The standards mentioned are well known and reasonably well applied, to the extent that some IT professionals have come to see implementing BS8878/WCAG 2.0 (aka ISO40500) as synonymous with implementing accessibility. Although its an excellent standard, I would argue it presents very much a 'Web 1.0' view of accessibility on the Web, in that it doesn't really address User Generated Content (UGC). Sites that are WCAG 2.0 compliant are not necessarily equipping users to produce accessible UGC, nor providing accessible features for UGC creation. Similarly a Web application on a WCAG 2 compliant site may not offer an especially accessible user experience. The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has other standards/draft standards such as ATAG, WAI-ARIA etc that address these issues in more detail. I think the statement should mention these - either specifically or in the general sense of continuing to re-evaluate which accessibility standards should be applied, in the context of how technology is now being used.

2. 'Safe and civilised' wording
I'm concern that the language focuses on perception of the Internet as safe and civilised. I believe it is accepted that the Internet as a whole has different standards of acceptable behaviour from face-to-face,  derived in part from the global scope of the user base and in part from the nature of the medium. By coincidence, as I'm making these comments this article appears on the front page of BBC news, technology category -> with 2 trolling related stories.
I view it as dangerous to suggest that the internet is inherently safe, civilised etc; my experience has been that a perception that 'civilised' norms as understood by digitally excluded groups inherently apply on the Internet leaves them particularly vulnerable to internet based fraud, trolling etc - particularly if an ultimate goal is to have them engage in political dialoge online.
I suggest the wording of the position be changed to 'the Internet can be a place which is civilised,  lawful...' rather than 'the Internet must be perceived as a civilised place, lawful, safe, moral and well-charted'. Or perhaps reworded more extensively, along the lines of the government digital service wording - that there is a need to 'build trust' in digital services.

3. Language and regionalisation
There is nothing specific included about language and regionalisation. As I see it, failing to design IT products, services and content on the web with multi-lingual audiences in mind can be a barrier to digital citizenship (e.g. prevents access to digital services, information or online debate) and has wider societal implications (e.g. could affect the decline or growth of minority languages). Arguably this is just a special case of accessibility (it is mentioned in WCAG 2.0) but there are wider technical and good practice issues with regionalisation (the best guide I'm aware of has been produced by the Welsh Language Commissioner's office -
My impression is that this issue has a relatively low profile but it has been raised by major players such as Google ( and in evidence to Parliamentary committees as early as 2008 ( There has been some study of the value existing internet users place on properly regionalised Web presence vs things like price of goods & services ->
I'm not aware of much formal study having been done on the impact of this on those who are not digitally engaged, nor of the practices discussed in the Welsh language commissioner's document having been formalised - I suggest the position statement takes the line that this should be an area for further study and development of standards/good practice.

On the scale and scope of the issue...
Within the UK, in the England & Wales 1.6% of the population did not speak English well (or at all) at the 2011 census (see There is also the question of the role of digital technology in preserving (or not) Cymraeg, Scottish Gaelic and so on.
On a global scale, it seems logical that users who can't get user interfaces and content in their native language may be further disadvantaged when attempting to become digitally literate - beyond the usual socio-economic factors, which often apply as well.
In general, even where a person's language is catered for, bad regionalisation practice can cause disengagement/annoyance - particularly for people not used to a global context (I.e the digitally excluded). As a trivial example using a national flag to represent a language group can disengage or annoy users of that language not from that country (e.g. use of USA flag to represent English language is not well received by Canadian, UK users etc)

ICT Ethics Specialist Group Committee Member

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