Towards a Minimum Digital Living Standard for Wales: Project Update
We have recently published our interim report on our research into a Minimum Digital Living Standard for Wales, which we are confident can be a significant tool to ensuring Wales is a digitally inclusive nation.
Digital Communities Wales, the Welsh Government’s flagship digital inclusion programme delivered by Cwmpas, is at the forefront of the mission to ensure everyone in Wales is digitally included. As more and more of our lives are spent online, it is essential that everyone is able to access the internet and use digital devices confidently and securely. Given the rapidly changing nature of our technology, and the huge variety of interactions and experiences with digital tools in our communities, it is essential we develop a nuanced understanding of what it means to be digitally included in modern Wales.
In 2021 we, as part of the Digital Inclusion Alliance for Wales (DIAW), called for the establishment of a Minimum Digital Living Standard for Wales. This would be an agreed standard of what it is to be digitally included, aligned with our national Well-being Goals. The initial verbal definition of a MDLS from the UK Nuffield Project is: ‘A minimum digital standard of living includes, but is more than, having accessible internet, adequate equipment, and the skills, knowledge and support people need. It’s about being able to communicate, connect and engage with opportunities safely and with confidence.’ We knew that this would be a complex task, but through the principles of co-design and citizen engagement, the ambitious objective could be fulfilled.
Since we made this call, we were delighted that the Welsh Government supported this ambition. This year, we were commissioned by the Government, alongside our partners at Liverpool and Loughborough Universities, to conduct a research project into the details of a Welsh MDLS (W-MDLS). We recently published an interim report with some initial thematic findings and the next steps for the project, with the aim of the final report being published in November 2022.
This first stage of our research was to conduct a thorough literature review and to hold qualitative in-depth interviews with stakeholder organisations exploring how needs vary in terms of a Welsh MDLS, and the factors that can impact on the ability to reach a Welsh MDLS. So far, we have held interviews with key stakeholders from across the Welsh digital landscape working to address issues of digital exclusion in Wales. This included policy makers (e.g. Ofcom), service providers (e.g. BT), regional organisations (e.g. DIAW) and local groups or charities.
Our research found that stakeholders valued the idea of a W-MDLS. They valued its potential as a tool for enhancing their work, and for improving the lives of those affected by digital inequalities. The W-MDLS definition should make specific reference to affordability as part of accessibility, as well as to Welsh language to ensure that this is not an afterthought. It should be a collectively decided standard with as much involvement and interest from wider civil society as possible, including those who are digitally excluded.
We found that there will be a need for financial and political commitment from both Welsh Government and other organisations, especially where powers are not devolved. There should be a commitment to ensuring the standard is communicated clearly where it is needed most and that strategies to help people meet it are effective, as well as more generally raising awareness about the importance of the digital in enhancing the lives of citizens. The diversity of communities and individuals in Wales should be accounted for. It is important that application takes into account what barriers are likely to exist for particular groups, including disabled people and ethnic minority people, but also allows for more nuanced understandings of individual circumstances in its application, taking the individual as the focus of this standard.
In our discussion with Welsh stakeholders, it is clear that key issues such as the Welsh language, poor connectivity speeds in rural/remote areas, specific community groups and local Welsh resources (e.g., community and charity providers) are all key issues to be taken into account. Our further consultative MDLS groups, to be undertaken in autumn 2022 by Loughborough University, will explore the extent to which these add to or change the MDLS requirements identified in the broader UK work.
We look forward to continuing to work on this vital area of research that has the potential to have a significant impact on the mission to make Wales a truly digitally inclusive nation. If you would like to learn more about the project or our wider work on digital inclusion, get in touch with our Policy and Research Officer, Daniel Roberts, by emailing email@example.com.