Professor Simeon Yates BA BSc DipNatSci PhD

Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research Environment and Postgraduate Research Vice Chancellor's Office

Research

Citizens data literacy

Me and My Big Data

This project seeks to understand the levels of and variations in UK citizens data literacy, and to develop policy and educational materials to support improving this. Led by Professor Simeon Yates, the outline for this project was developed just before the “Cambridge Analytica” scandal broke. This made clear the extent to which we as citizens are unaware of the uses and abuses to which our data can be put. Improving digital literacy was already a key policy goal of governments worldwide. A key component of citizens digital literacy is an understanding of the uses of their personal data. Unfortunately, evidence from UK (Ofcom) and USA (Pew) indicates that many citizens have limited understanding of the data they share, its use by organisations, nor basic data protection behaviours. Nor are they aware of how they can utilise publicly available data to undertake both personal and civic action. This lack of “data literacy” opens citizens up to risks and limits their ability to operate as active citizens in a digital society. Also, evidence is growing of inequalities in data literacy that mirror broader social inequality. This project will examine and address these issues in four broad ways:

1] explore through survey data and citizen workshops the extent of citizens’ data literacy
2] analyse the social basis of variations and inequalities in data literacy across a range of factors
3] develop training and support materials for schools, universities and third sector groups in order to enhance citizen’s data literacy
4] develop policy recommendations for stakeholders on enhancing citizen data literacy.

Digital inequalities

We have been exploring the impacts of digital inequalities for over two decades working with key stakeholders such as DCMS, Ofcom, Charities such as Good Things Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust, as well as regional governments such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Greater Manchester. COVID-19 has laid bare the long standing challenges of digital inequalities in the UK. Inequalities that impact all aspects of life, be that work, education, leisure, health, or wellbeing. In education, the team found that 23.4% of 5-15 year olds in the poorest households do not have access to both an educationally useable device (laptop, desktop, or tablet) and broadband. This equates to 524,871 UK children, of whom 74,225 are likely studying for their GCSEs. In health, it has been found that digital exclusion is one the main predictors of citizens not engaging with testing. In our current Nuffield funded research we find that citizens of all ages with low digital skills are at greater risk of online harms and more likely to be exposed to and accept dis/mis/mal-information. As a result the nature and consequences of digital exclusion have become a renewed focus for policy makers. Our long term collaborative work has been underpinned by ESRC, AHRC and charitable funding - developing a model of relative digital inclusion and exclusion.

Two consistent themes arise from this collaborative work. First, as already noted in academic research, standard policy measures of digital exclusion (based on access to or recent use of internet services) significantly underestimate the challenge faced by households. As a result local government and agencies have been significantly underprepared for the digital inclusion challenges presented by COVID-19. A mobile internet connection and an old laptop makes you “online” under standard Ofcom and ONS statistics, but this is well below the minimum needed for a family trying to undertake working and schooling from home. Second, families and households have become the focus of attention. Prior work has tended to measure individual levels of access, skills and capabilities. COVID-19 has highlighted how households require a complex mix of access, device types and skills for work, education, leisure, health and wellbeing.

Our next project supported by the Nuffield Foundation project will develop a proof-of-concept “Minimum Digital Living Standard” (MDLS) for UK households. This proof-of-concept will focus on households with children. This innovative approach will be grounded in the proven Minimum Income Standard (MIS) method and provide a clear benchmark by which assess relative digital poverty and inequalities.

Future directions for digital research

Simeon has recently led the Economic and Social Research Council review of "Ways of Being in a Digital Age" (https://waysofbeingdigital.com) in collaboration with 17 UK and international universities. The aim of the scoping review is to undertake a systematic literature review and synthesis that will identify gaps in current research and determine where future initiatives by the ESRC might add most value. A further aim of the review is to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners. The review examined:

Citizenship and politics: How digital technology impacts on our autonomy, agency and privacy – illustrated by the paradox of emancipation and control.
Whether and how our understanding of citizenship is evolving in the digital age – for example, whether technology helps or hinders us in participating at individual and community levels.

Communities and identities: How we define and authenticate ourselves in a digital age. What new forms of communities and work emerge as a result of digital technologies – for example, new forms of coordination including large-scale and remote collaboration.

Communication and relationships; How our relationships are being shaped and sustained in and between various domains, including family and work.

Health and wellbeing: Whether technology makes us healthier, better educated and more productive.

Economy and sustainability: How we can construct the digital to be open to all, sustainable and secure.

Data and representation: How we live with and trust the algorithms and data analysis used to shape key features of our lives.

Governance and security: What the challenges of ethics, trust and consent are in the digital age. How we define responsibility and accountability in the digital age.

Other recent funded projects have examined digital inclusion, exclusion and participation. Along with my colleagues Dr. Eleanor Lockley and Dr. John Kirby we have been studying the differences in access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This work has taken an empirical approach – both quantitative and qualitative - and has documented inequities in access, rates of use and the impacts of this on other aspects of social life. A cursory review of contemporary media coverage would lead to the impression that digital media have become pervasive and ubiquitous in UK society. Yet our analyses show two fifths (41%) of the UK population have no access, limited access or are limited users of digital media. Our own qualitative action research has found evidence of considerable 'churn' in access to ICTs for those on lower incomes and evidence of structural market barriers to access for these citizens (Yates, Kirby and Lockley, 2014, 2015a, 2015b). Yet we live in a context where assumptions about the pervasiveness of digital media now influence and shape educational, social, economic and welfare policies in many developed nations. This interplay between new social policies and the material realties of digital access has been a focus of our recent research work in collaboration with UK city governments, national charities and local groups.

Research Grants

COVID-19: Being alone together: developing fake news immunity

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (ESRC)

May 2020 - September 2021

Recruit Of The Future

BAE SYSTEMS (UK)

February 2020 - March 2020

#SharedStories

BAE SYSTEMS (UK)

February 2020 - February 2022

Me and my big data- developing citizens data literacies

THE NUFFIELD FOUNDATION (UK)

February 2019 - October 2021

Beyond the Multiplex: Audiences for Specialised Film in English Regions

ARTS AND HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL (AHRC)

June 2017 - May 2020

Protecting and recording Yazidi heritage

BRITISH COUNCIL (UK)

June 2017 - September 2018

Ways of Being in a Digital Age: A Systematic Review

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (ESRC)

August 2016 - October 2017

Liverpool 2018: Evaluating the legacies of the European Capital of Culture 10 years on

ARTS AND HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL (AHRC)

January 2016 - June 2016

Cultures of Everyday Internet Use in Arab Societies

THE SOCIETY FOR LIBYAN STUDIES (UK)

November 2014 - May 2016