Understanding the Digital Divide

By Rachael Walker


Last week, at the Cooperative Councils’ Innovation Network annual conference, CCIN published a report on their policy lab approach to the digital divide. We all talk about the digital divide, and traditionally there has been a binary approach to digital services – online or over the phone/in person. CCIN’s research tells a different story, where digital exclusion is complex and individualized, affecting people in every part of our communities.


What is digital exclusion?

Exclusion is a binary term – you’re in or you’re out. The reality is that some people don’t want in, they reject digital access, perhaps there are concerns over data security and identity theft. Some people can access SMS or email but would struggle to complete an online form. Some people are confident users but their tech is dated and doesn’t support the latest release of software needed. Some people don’t know where to start and for many, the cost of online services is prohibitive. Digital exclusion is a sliding scale and is increasingly exacerbating inequalities.

 What do we know about digital exclusion?

So, it’s complicated. We know that. But the more we know the better and the CCIN policy lab approach has been to start by learning as much as we reasonably can about digital exclusion in order to form realistic policy responses. Great! – but the data is patchy and disparate.

Enter the Digital Exclusion Risk Index…

Being able to map your borough brings oversight and insight and if you’re not already mapping your area, it’s something you need to think about. Waste complaints, environmental health interactions and anti-social behaviour trigger points are often held in different data sets, mapping them provides an aerial view of hot spots for proactive policy. Overlay that data with other seemingly unrelated data and you may (or may not) find other correlations – Council Tax arrears, school absences, noise nuisance, vaccination rates are great examples. For digital exclusion however, socioeconomic factors are scattered as age plays a role across all income brackets and for some digitally excluded residents, they are well equipped but lack skills and confidence.

The Digital Exclusion Risk Index (DERI) is based on a model created by Salford City Council, expanded by CCIN policy lab to include the whole of the UK. The input data includes board mapping data used commonly such as the Index of Multiple Deprivation and compares it with proportions of the population over 65 and 75 as well as lesser-used data sets such as average download speeds and a Guaranteed Pension Credit claims.

By producing a heat map at Lower Super Output Area level, local authorities can begin to build a picture of their digital exclusion risk areas to target interventions.


What can we do to help? 

The Digital Exclusion Risk Index does not include data crucial to further understanding; data some local authorities hold but don’t publish:


  • Proportion of contacts made online. How we measure this varies and in the chaos of customer services provision, more so over the last two years, this can get lost. We want to increase online services, we want to demonstrate gains, but do you collect your data in a meaningful way? 
  • Proportion of council tax bills paid online. Why council tax? Great question – and the topic of another blog/book/rant – but Council Tax behaves differently, always has, always will. Direct Debit take-up and payment methods for Council Tax tell a multi-level story of dysfunctional systems and inequalities. But if your residents pay online, they are more likely to be regular, confident users of the internet and mapping them provides a unique, local picture.

If local authorities were to publish their data, innovation labs such as the CCIN Digital Exclusion collaboration could provide an even richer picture of digital exclusion. The pandemic has propelled our online lives forward at a pace we wouldn’t have considered two years ago, but if you’re digitally excluded, in any way, accessing services and taking part in community life could be slipping further away.

How can we learn more?

Firstly, read the CCIN Digital Exclusion Report. The report gives an overview of the methodology behind DERI, links to further information and rich learning from this approach and collaboration.

Secondly, take a look at CCIN as a whole. We are proud to be an affiliate member of the Cooperative Councils’ Innovation Network, we share their values and we love their work.

And lastly, contact us. Our work includes extensive collaborations with traditionally disengaged communities through consultations and policy initiatives and we are passionate about local government change (and Council Tax – because someone


By Rachael Walker | 22nd February 2022

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