Two recent reports help shed some light on attitudes and behaviour towards digital, providing insights on how we can target interventions more effectively. Ofcom have published their annual Adults Media Use and Attitudes Report, and Lloyds Bank have published their Consumer Digital Index which covers a 12-month period up to May 2021. Both publications illuminate motivations and barriers to being online, providing insights on how we can better target interventions. 

As a starting point, the Lloyds reports shows that 96% of people in Scotland are now using the internet, and Scotland is ahead of all ‘regions’ across the UK, except London, in terms of improved digital skills (35%) and increased internet usage (63%). This is a great reflection of the outstanding work being delivered across our communities, but we know we still have work to do.  

4% of our population in Scotland haven’t used the internet in the past 3 months, and we can learn a great deal about the reasons why this is the case. The most common reasons given were concerns about privacy and security (51%) and having your identity stolen (51%), suggesting that supporting people to feel safe and empowered online is key to addressing motivation.  

55% of those offline earn under £20,000 a year, and a recent report by NESTA (Data Poverty in Scotland and Wales) found that 1 in 7 people are experiencing data poverty.  The NESTA report also highlights that twice as many households with incomes below £20,000 were ‘data poor’ compared to those with income over £40,000. This tells us that there remains a strong correlation between low-income households and the ability to be ‘online’, which widens inequalities. 

Critical understanding 

The theme of critical understanding is prominent in the Ofcom report. 83% of people who go online consider themselves to be confident internet users, while only 61% were confident in knowing how to manage who has access to their personal data online. The research also highlights that 3% of internet users believed that all information they find online is truthful, 30% thought most is, and 24% didn’t even think about whether the information they find is truthful or not. This tells us that supporting people to be online is more than navigating the mechanics of the internet, it’s equally important to consider how we empower people to make informed decisions about the data they receive and give.  

Motivation  

In exploring what might encourage the ‘offline’ to get online, the Lloyds report indicates that the main reason given is the ability to ‘easily stop organisations from using my data’ (44%, up from 25% in 2020), followed by ‘Getting support from someone to help’ (40%, up from 24% in 2020). The latter reinforces a key principle in many digital inclusion projects that devices and connectivity alone are not sufficient, people need support to help build their confidence and skills. Interesting, one of the biggest shifts over the past year is the number of people who said ‘nothing’ would encourage them to get online, falling from 48% to 32%.  

This is mirrored in Ofcoms’s findings, where 31% of non-internet users said that ‘nothing’ would prompt them to go online in the next 12 months. Reasons that may encourage someone to go online included ‘to buy something’ (28%), accessing health services (22%) and getting in touch with someone (17%), and ‘if I had someone to help me or show me how” (14%).  

Improving digital skills 

This year the Lloyds Consumer Digital Index will publish their findings on Essential Digital Skills separately in September. However, we do have some insights from the recent report on attitudes improving digital skills. Across the UK, 29% of people have improved their digital skills over the past year, and the main triggers or motivations for this were needing to work from home (28%), boredom from lockdown (23%) and keeping in touch with friends and/or family (18%). Of particular note here is ‘boredom’ as a driver for improving digital skills. Interventions that aim to support people to get online need not focus on what ‘meaningful’ use is and how we expect people to use the internet. It should be driven initially by the individual’s motivations, giving them the space and the time to build their skills and confidence in whatever way works for them – playing games, watching Netflix or pursuing hobbies. Start with motivation and confidence, skills will follow.  

Smart speakers 

An emerging trend is the growth in the use of smart speakers. The Lloyds data indicates a growth in the number of people using smart speakers (like Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant), increasing from 39% in 2020, to 44% in 2021. The Ofcom report found that 20% of people in their sample used smart speakers to go online. This is not an insignificant figure. Smart speakers are increasingly used to help connect and support people with reduced dexterity and mobility to support independent living. This steady incline in the use of smart speakers presents new opportunities to rethink how we define the ‘Essential Digital Skills’ that people need to use these devices, thinking beyond tablets and laptops.  

These reports tell us that a lot has changed over the past year, and we can take from that the lesson that things will continue to change in the year(s) ahead. The challenge now is for us to keep up with the pace of these changes. These challenges belong to us all, whether we are providing frontline support in our communities, delivering digital public services, or designing interventions to ensure that no one is left behind in a digital Scotland.