A presentation by Dr Morgan Harvey on egovernment services and the digital divide

Given that my last in-person research seminar was early last year on 19th February 2020 (when I was the speaker at an event at the University of Glasgow), I was very excited to venture onto campus ten days ago on 17th November 2021 to welcome a visitor to the Centre for Social Informatics. At the invitation of Dr David Brazier, Dr Morgan Harvey, Lecturer in Data Science and Information Retrieval in the Information School at the University of Sheffield, kindly travelled to Edinburgh to present the findings from some research that he conducted when employed at Northumbria University. He also took advantage of the trip north to work with David on revisions to a paper that they have recently co-authored.

Dr Morgan Harvey presentation Edinburgh Napier University

Presenter Dr Morgan Harvey

The theme of Morgan’s presentation – delivered in hybrid mode with around half the membership of Centre for Social Informatics on campus, and the rest on Teams – was egovernment services and the digital divide. Morgan outlined a two-part study designed to investigate the impact of digitisation of UK government and council services with reference to digital exclusion. He undertook this research with his former colleagues David Hastings (Northumbria) and Gobinder Chowdhury (ex-Northumbria, now at Strathclyde). In phase 1, they analysed a year’s worth of data from Newcastle City Council’s customer logs to establish the most common support requests made by the public. In phase 2 they discussed these findings in interviews with staff in customer-facing roles at the city’s flagship central library.

Their main finding was that poor interface design, ineffective access, and low levels of end-user digital literacy are the primary reasons for underuse of egovernment services, and that these factors have hidden costs. They also noted that many members of the population rely on others to mediate their online interactions. In their write-up of the study, Morgan and his team adopted the term ‘digital carer’ for this role. This corresponds with the concept of the ‘digital proxy’ developed by Centre for Social Informatics colleagues, as introduced by Dr Peter Cruickshank in a presentation at Information Seeking in Context (ISIC) 2020 in September last year, and since published in Information Research: Cruickshank, P., Webster G. & Ryan, F. (2020). Assisting information practice: from information intermediary to digital proxy. Information Research 25(4).

The findings of Morgan’s study (and similar work that we in the Centre for Social Informatics have conducted) have implications for service design and delivery, particularly in terms of providing online access to under-served groups, such as the elderly and marginalised, for whom digital by default often means further exclusion.

At the conclusion of Morgan’s talk, we enjoyed a lively discussion with contributions from both sections of the audience. David Brazier (as organiser of the afternoon’s proceedings) expertly chaired the Q&A. The questions covered: practical issues such as securing participation of the case study organisation; requests for further contextual information (we discovered that the study was seed-funded by Northumbria University, and Morgan confirmed that Newcastle’s online services are provided in-house); further detail on aspects of the findings such as the communities most disadvantaged by the shift to digital by default, and the extent to which they might be generalisable across all UK local authorities. The conversation continued amongst those on campus when we switched venue for a round of drinks in a pub near Waverley Station. After Morgan left us to catch his train and others in the party also headed home, six of us stayed out to enjoy further social time together over supper at Holyrood 9a.

To find out more about the project that Morgan presented to us, please see the write-up that has been accepted for publication: Harvey, M., Hastings, D. & Chowdhury, G. (in press). Understanding the costs and challenges of the digital divide through UK council services, Journal of Information Science. Copies of the manuscript can be freely downloaded from two university repositories:

Dr Morgan Harvey Napier presentation final slide

Dr Morgan Harvey’s final slide with paper citation and contact details

European Conference on Information Literacy 2021 (#ECIL2021) videos available

Although we have sorely missed opportunities to travel and hear in person about the research of our colleagues from across the world due to the pandemic restrictions, one advantage of the move to online delivery is that much conference presentation material of recent months has been captured as video.

A case in point is the European Conference on Information Literacy 2021 (ECIL2021), hosted by the University of Bamberg in September 2021. The ECIL YouTube channel now holds 113 video-recorded presentations from the conference, including those presented by two Centre for Social Informatics colleagues. Continue reading

Dr Peter Cruickshank leads new collaboration with Trubshaw Cumberlege

Trubshaw logoMy Centre for Social Informatics colleague Dr Peter Cruickshank has recently won Interface funding to initiate a new research collaboration. The project partner is Trubshaw Cumberlege, a consulting firm that ‘helps forward thinking companies maximise profits by addressing social challenges at their doorsteps’.

The purpose of the project is to prototype a software-as-a service (SaaS) platform for the automation of risk assessment and management, and associated security alerts. The practical work involves the implementation of a prototype machine learning platform, and the development of underlying infrastructure. Our colleague Dr Dimitra Gkatzia, and PhD student Aleksander Bielinski will be working alongside Peter to deliver the project.

Evaluation of engagement with hyperlocal e-participation systems by citizens and representatives: thesis PDF now available

Peter Cruickshank PhD title pageIn July 2021 my Centre for Social Informatics colleague Peter Cruickshank was awarded a doctoral degree for his thesis Evaluation of engagement with hyperlocal e-participation systems by citizens and representatives.

The pdf of the thesis is now freely available for download from the Edinburgh Napier University repository. It will be of interest to all who conduct research on information behaviour and use, and particularly those investigating themes such as everyday life information seeking and information literacy in the context of e-participation. Continue reading

An award for Marianne Wilson

Natural language interfaces to support career decision-making of young people Marianne Wilson TMT three minute thesisCongratulations to Centre for Social Informatics research student Marianne Wilson, winner of the Masters award in the Skills Development (SDS) Scotland Virtual 3MT competition 2021. Continue reading

Dr David Brazier and Marina Milosheva present this week at ECIL 2021 #ecil2021 #ecil21 #infolit

The European Conference on Information Literacy 2021 (ECIL2021) opens today, running for three days until Thursday 23rd September. The work of the Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) will be represented in two presentations at this online event. Continue reading

Updated Centre for Social Informatics flyer (v13) and an opportunity to join us

Centre for Social Informatics flyer version 13A new version (V13) of the Centre for Social Informatics flyer is now available from the Social Informatics blog on the Edinburgh Napier University web pages. Please follow the link to read about the work of our research group, including details of research expertise, funders, recent PhD completions, and recent publications. The flyer also profiles the thirteen academic and research staff within the research group, alongside our nine current research students.

Normally we wouldn’t publish a new version of our flyer at this time of year. Instead we would wait until after our next intake of PhD students in October. However, some of our staff have recently changed titles/job roles, so we wanted to reflect their achievements in the document now. Continue reading

Congratulations Associate Professor Dr Peter Cruickshank!

Normally at this time of year, thousands of newly-minted graduates collect their degree certificates at university graduation ceremonies across the UK. Were we not under pandemic restrictions, my colleague Peter Cruickshank would be one of those crossing the stage this month at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, marking the completion of his doctorate in May 2021. Continue reading

‘Workplace information literacy: measures and methodological challenges’ – now published

Journal of Information Literacy logoWorkplace information literacy: measures and methodological challenges is a new paper published this week in the latest issue of the Journal of Information Literacy. Centre for Social Informatics colleagues Peter Cruickshank and Bruce Ryan are members of the team of authors who co-wrote the paper under the leadership of Professor Gunilla Widén of Åbo Akademi University. Continue reading

Introducing the Edinburgh Napier University Social Informatics blog

Over the past couple of months, my colleague Peter Cruickshank has been leading work on the development a new collaborative blog to showcase the work of our research group at Edinburgh Napier University. Continue reading