Innovative, e-Inclusion life changing solutions - workshop VIII at the EU Conference on Innovation for Digital Inclusion

Aleksander TARKOWSKI, PhD, Digital Centre announced the eight parallel workshop of the EU Conference on Innovation for Digital Inclusion at Gdansk, Poland as a session that will show a wide range of different inclusion projects, in a variety of countries.


Rui BARROS, from INESC Porto, Portugal presented the Digital Local Agenda tool, a policy instrument repeatable in cycles of 3 years that empowers local and regional civil servants to improve their local services through ICT as an "enabler" (not as a solution). The tool is also a monitoring instrument that explains the current state, detect needs and points to priority actions for funding. The concept was originated in Krakow at the EU conference for knowledge society and is running in 5 pilot countries that involve 50 municipalities to create a critical mass to share the costs and create a cluster that can work together.

Most small regions and municipalities seem to face the same problems: due to the lack of access and services, the rural areas suffer more from the digital gap. The complexity of the problems is usually too big, as they lack the right expertise and have a very low innovation capacity. Also, senior executives like mayors most likely have insufficient knowledge of ICT and normally immediately delegate ICT issues to their technicians.

So to get the commitment of those politicians, Rui and his team focus on capacity building and organize lectures, discussions, and invite guest speakers form their network of experts. They also have a common platform that helps to detect opportunities, as often the civil servants & senior executives don't know how to find funding for digital inclusion projects in the european and national programs. The Digital Local Agenda tool is also used to align the local strategy with european and national strategies because in regions and municipalities a certain service is often provided "when in fashion” and just because the neighbour has put it into place. 

 

Juan Francisco Delgado MORALES represented the Consorcio Fernando de los Ríos in Spain, an organization managing the 800 telecenters of the Guadalinfo network of Andalusia, a rural region with a high risk of digital exclusion. The network was created in 2004 out of concerns with the digital divide, but as more people became digital literate, it switched its objectives around 2010 to help people develop their ideas using ICT, that is, promoting social innovation.

The process happened in an 'organic way'. Initially, the focus was to provide people with knowledge and skills in the world of ICT, but as people became more skilled in technology, they became more aware of how the internet could change things and they came up with ideas, with different ways of solving their every day problems. This is where the Gualdalinfo network realized they had to evolve their model. Training, skills and knowledge had to be the means to an end. The means to achieve social and economic transformation, taking advantage of the local opportunities and using technology as a catalyst.

An example was the story of Maria José Cara, a telecenter user from a very isolated area called Alpujarras, who discovered the potential of social networks and created a new way of marketing her business of selling Spanish ham. She set up a scheme of "sponsoring a ham", where you could follow up a ham's curing process online until it was ready to sell. She also used her blog in a very collaborative way to gather feedback about her product and to get in touch with other local producers of complementary products (such as olive oil and wine). They created an alliance to sell their products through a 'complete offer' and shared information about market competitors and existing opportunities.

The example shows that people are creating, collaborating and taking advantage of the opportunities that are available, and that a more organic model of innovation is beginning to emerge: a model that turns the value generation pyramid upside down, as ideas are developed from the bottom up and are generating value. This model is based upon empowering people to improve their own lives and those of people around them. At Guadalinfo, they are strengthening this process of creativity and generating collaborative intelligence, through a rich community of people who are creating content and are commited to change.

The social and economic impact of these projects became very clear, as it has been generating new businesses and self-employment. The project has directly created 1000 jobs, and 1500 indirectly. The 1% increase in investment in human capital has generated a 2.3% increase of the Gross Added Value in Andalusia.

Spain, through the Spanish Association of Telecentres is leading this process of transforming telecentres into social innovation centres. This good practice is also being used by the Ibero-American telecentre network that are now following the same path.

 

Mikus OZOLS, from Telia Latvija presented the "Father's 3rd Son" project, that succeeded in reducing the digital gap in Latvia through creating access to ICT and the internet through a massive infrastructure upgrade of the 874 public libraries. For some rural communities, the broadband connection installed in the libraries was their first internet access. Many internet users are dependent on the libraries for access, as 20% of the internet users has no alternative way to access the internet.

The project has contributed significantly to the number of Latvians that now use the internet on a regular basis: while in 2005 this was only 36% of the inhabitants, today 68% of the Latvians use the internet. In the rural regions these figures went up from only 15% in 2003 to 60% today. Not only the infrastructure upgrade, but also the trust people already have in libraries are a key factor for this success, as research has shown that people trust librarians more than policemen or teachers.

The users' activities on these public access computer range from 43 % for culture, leisure & communication, 29 % for education & training, 25% for employment, 19% for health, 13% for e-governance and 9% for agriculture. Also, for 72% of them, the internet access has helped them to access the labour market, 68% saved time & money, 63% accessed e-services and 50% found opportunities for entrepreneurship.

The project started in 2006 and is still running until 2012. A final impact study will be delivered in 2013.

 

Steve BARNARD, from Hft in the UK presented the social and economic impact of "personalized technology", i.e. a range of technology systems (telecare, telehealth, ICT,…) that makes the life of older people, people with physical & learning disabilities and mental health people more independent and in control of their own safety. They can spend more time alone at home, which reduces the costly daily presence and/or "sleep in" of health care staff or social workers at their home.

Steve gave several examples of real life cases where personalized technology was saving money to the public health & social sector. This is especially the case for people with learning disabilities, who cost more to society than the elderly or the physically handicapped.

He sees a problem in the "silo thinking" of funders who want the communication & independence technology to fit into categories like safety, health & employment. He calls out for a partnership between users, carers, providers, policy makers & manufacturers and would like to see a more mainstreamed approach, more consumer led instead of the idea of "service delivery".

 

Marcella TURNER-CMUCHAL, from the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education presented five key propositions related to the role of ICT in education to meet the individual learning needs for people with disabilities:

 

  1. ICT is to promote equity in educational opportunities - it should be a means, a tool for inclusive education for people with disabilities, not an end on itself. An example was a telecenter network in Syria that offered digital literacy training and help to find job opportunities while they dealt with assistive technology in the same way they dealt with gender equality.
  2. Access should be given to appropriate ICTs, promoting positive attitudes to teachers and taking into consideration the multiple barriers that can be in play (e.g. poverty combined with learning disabilities). An example is the MagicKey project in Portugal that customizes the technology for people with disabilities, offering tools to communicate and monitor themselves.
  3. Training of educational staff on the learning process of people with disabilities. An example is the dedicated website www.leerzorgsite.be in Belgium where teachers share their own solutions with the solutions of others, exchanging and discussing what they are worried about and what they didn’t learn in their original training.
  4. Promotion of ICT research and development: the end users of the technology (people with disabilities and their families & caregivers) must be involved in its design and development. An example is the EV-Tech project in Finland where children and their families are involved in the design & research of technologies for children with disabilities.
  5. Data collection and monitoring: all countries need to track the implementation of their ICT & education policies in relation with the education of people with disabilities. An example was Moldova where they scanned all schools and collected data on the possibilities for inclusive education possibilities: does the school has computers, elevators, etc.

 

Sylwia STASIAK-KAKAVOU from European Dynamics in Greece presented ePractice.eu, an interactive community building platform which is not an action but a tool that permits eInclusion practitioners to interact with each other and to meet, share & learn from their experiences. The project also offers offline communication, through presentations & meetings.

Sylwia gave an overview of the most interesting website sections and pointed to:

  • the library section with 9 knowledge repositories
  • the news & events/workshops section
  • the blog section that supports the interactivity of the website
  • the factsheets that show the progress in eInclusion per country and who are the main players in the field

But the bulk of the ePractice project lays on the repository of "real life cases" of eInclusion projects throughout Europe, as the website is "the place to be" on the net for sharing those experiences and to find out what other practitioners are doing. Every user can easily publish its own case through a template with a section for filling an abstract, the policy context, the project size, the implementation, the management approach, the impact and the "lessons learnt".

Sylwia picked several examples of cases, each dealing with another aspect of eInclusion:

  • needs
    • infrastructure: public access to computers & support, through the cases of UK online centres, telecentre-europe and Pane & internet
    • digital literacy: volunteering in eInclusion, through the cases of Grandparents & Grandchildren, Making IT Personal - Joining the DOTs 
  • target groups: elderly, disabled, unemployed, minorities & migrants, youth at risk of marginalization, people living in poverty, through the cases of KleurRijker+ReadSpeaker, Start Progressive Learning in a New Culture, European Website on Integration, Bridge IT thematic Network, Online integration for third country nationals, Virtual Neighbourhood, Key Competences for All
  • objectives: participation, job prospects, eLearning, eGovernment, eHealth
  • study & research: investigation, policy, tools, good practices, through the cases of "Implementing digital inclusion: technical & pedagogical barriers", Surfing to the job, eFacilitator for social inclusion

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