Issue 1: December 2011

DIGITAL SOCIETY AND COMMUNITY ENGAGMENT

Government ministers have constantly stressed, as John Swinney did at Govcamp, that creating a ‘Digital Scotland‘ cannot be achieved by government action alone but is an ambition that must mobilise the energies of government agencies, public bodies, private firms, third sector organisations and communities throughout Scotland.

The Carnegie Trust UK is one of the key organisations involved in these developments, not just because it is a significant civic organisation – working across the UK and Ireland, from its base in Dunfermline – but also because some of the key themes and issues the Trust supports are central to the aims of Digital Scotland. Accelerating plans for Digital Scotland therefore have a very good fit with the developments the Trust is already doing and supporting; there is mutual reinforcement going on here, one of the reasons that CTUK is a founder signatory of the Digital Scotland Charter.

As Douglas White, Senior Policy Officer at Carnegie Trust UK, puts it: “Like other organisations, we are very clear that building a Digital Scotland can help us in what we want to achieve for Scotland, and like others we are also working hard to understand all the different aspects of this”.

The themes and issues the Carnegie UK Trust is currently engaging with as part of its current set of policy projects also make it evident that a critical aspect of developing a digital society is not simply the hardware and the infrastructure, it is the social and community developments that both help create that digital society and are themselves reinforced by it.

A good example of this is the link between digital technology and democratic participation. The Trust is currently carrying out a major piece of work on the future of news in the UK and Ireland – and one of the central themes of this work is the critical role that electronic media has to play in the provision of news in the 21st century.

While we know that digital channels may just provide another means for those already active and committed in seeking to change policies and influence decisions we also believe that these channels can provide new opportunities to catch the interest and stimulate activity by those who previously were not engaged.

Douglas White explains: “People who have access to the internet can now get hold of an incredible array of news and opinion – reflecting a broad range of different views and perspectives – on the issues they are interested in. They can also interact with government and with decision-makers through a number of new channels, which are often quicker, easier and more direct than those which were available before. Those who are not online simply don’t have these sources of information and these opportunities, so there is a risk of a democratic divide developing between those who have access to the web, and those who do not”. He continues: “While we know that digital channels may just provide another means for those already active and committed in seeking to change policies and influence decisions we also believe that these channels can provide new opportunities to catch the interest and stimulate activity by those who previously were not engaged”.

Another major policy priority for the Carnegie Trust, and one of longstanding interest, is sustaining rural communities. This is where the government commitment for infrastructure improvement and the needs of widely dispersed communities in sparsely populated areas comes together. It is recognised there is a particular challenge in our most remote areas, and while there is an acknowledgement that digital development will never totally remove the differences in access to services which exist between urban and rural areas, the Trust believes that ”enhanced digital provision can do a lot to narrow the gap”.

Where Digital Scotland and Carnegie UK perhaps come closest together is where such technologies close the gap for information and library access between people living in different parts of the country with different degrees of physical access to those emblematic symbols of Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic investment - the numerous libraries scattered around Scotland. The facilities that are developing online will enable a radical reconfiguration of what libraries mean to people who are not able to easily access them physically. At the same time, for those who can access libraries, they currently represent a very convenient point of digital access. A central task for public agencies and third sector organisations is how such community access can be extended into other locally based physical locations.

A review of the current major interests of the Carnegie UK Trust demonstrates very clearly why they are one of the major civic organisations to become a founding signatory of the Digital Participation Charter.
        

Issue 1: December 2011

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