Panel discussion: Digital Inclusion & Participation
Year of production: 2023
What is digital inclusion and participation?
Digital inclusion is about individuals and communities, particularly those that are disadvantaged and underrepresented, having access to and the ability to use information and communications technologies ( ICT). It is about ensuring that technology is up to date, people have access to devices that meet their needs and to good quality, affordable internet.
Alongside this, people need the knowledge and skills to navigate the online world and then services and content that are of good quality to allow full participation. To be able to participate digitally, technologies and tools must be developed in an inclusive manner. They should address the needs of people, especially those who typically do not have access. Co-design of digital systems and services, with key communities and stakeholders, is one way of embedding digital participation.
What are the key drivers of digital inclusion and participation in the youth field?
- Creating online spaces and forums to enable meaningful youth e-participation. These can be platforms, communications channels or virtual spaces.
- Taking a digital approach – most forms of youth participation can be done effectively and inclusively online. Or a blended approach – combining online and in-person activities – often works well.
- Reliable internet access and good quality digital infrastructure are vital to creating a thriving European digital youth sector.
- Tackling the digital divide – digital inequalities are preventing young people, especially those that might be disadvantaged or marginalised, from accessing services and truly participating in online activities.
- Accessibility – we still live in a very inaccessible world, both online and offline and so it is vital to remove obstacles. Digital spaces can immediately be made more inclusive by being more accessible. Think of it in the same way as a physical venue – for example, for a “in person” event, you made need a ramp to make it accessible. Organisers must ask the same questions of online environments, as they would of a physical event venue.
- Anti-ableism – combatting ableism (which is when people are interpersonally or structurally discriminated against based on their ability, for example their physical ability or language ability).
- Safer spaces are more inclusive. Creating safer spaces is an ongoing project – no space can ever be perfectly safe, but it is about ensuring participants have what they need to feel safe and fully included.
Digital youth work
Digital youth work has made huge progress in recent years, partly prompted by the pandemic which, of course, forced activities entirely online almost immediately. And, whilst it may have been a steep learning curve, huge steps were made in terms of innovation and online tools.
Digital youth work has an important, growing role to play and so the spotlight of attention and funding needs to remain in order to improve services and not lose the recent momentum. There are many examples of innovative projects which could be developed further. And digital spaces have great potential to be a safe space and to reach out to young people who might not have traditionally accessed youth work or other services.
Good practice – food for thought
There is a need to continuously search for new ways for young people to participate online. But a good starting point can be the use of tools that young people already have, which are both familiar and accessible.
- For example, a project in Finland, Unelmien Jyväskylä – Minecraft camp (06/2021), Hallintokortteli, used the popular videogame, Minecraft, as way for young people to engage with civil society and build a new world. The project reached a new group of young people (half of the participants were girls), that had not been involved in similar youth work activities before. It also gave them a platform to raise their voices in a new way (the project involved designing an inclusive public space).
- The Flow project, organised by SCI, was a series of online events, which focussed on the challenges of Europe in a globalised world. The organisers wanted to ensure full participation and inclusion and so they set about co-creating the events with participants, who jointly created a set of rules/an agreement, considering issues such as how to communicate with each other; how to deal with different language levels; coping with poor internet connections; who gets to take the floor for how long; including “trigger warnings” for potentially difficult topics. The focus was on ensuring the spaces were safe and allowed for full participation by taking care of people’s wellbeing.
Top tips for ensuring digital inclusion and participation
- Don’t use discriminatory language.
- Avoid slurs relating to disability.
- Practical tip – talk about “needs”, not “special needs”.
- Pronouns – can’t be assumed, ask people how they would like to be referred to.
- Online content must be accessible to screen readers
- Everything must be clear and readable – think about text size and the clarity of the font that is used, for example.
- Visual tips – the contrast on a screen must be good (look for contrast checkers online); Avoid visual clutter in the background.
- Co-creation of digital spaces creates spaces that are designed for the needs of participant
- Co-creation in between participants and trainers allows the opportunity to ask people what they need in order to make them feel safe.
Using an intersectional lens means organiser see what obstacles there may be for different participants.
Panel: “Participation and Inclusion in the Age of Digital Transformation”
This was the second of six panel sessions hosted by SALTO Participation & Information Resource Centre (SALTO PI) and SALTO Inclusion and Diversity Resource Centre (SALTO I&D) on Inclusive & Participatory Digital Transformation.
The event featured:
- Jasmin Rukolainen (Communications Officer in Communication and Accessibility at The Peace Education Institute in Finland)
- Adina Serban (Youth Work Researcher)
- Thomas Schallhart (Political Educator)
- Panu Räsänen (Youth Worker & Planning officer at Verke – Centre for expertise on Digital youth work)