Study highlights need for digital enlightenment

Digital worry

New research shows the Scottish public continues to mistrust some of the new technologies that are increasingly shaping our world

28th July 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

New research has highlighted the need for a digital enlightenment in Scotland

Despite increased use of digital technologies as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, the Scottish public continues to mistrust some of the new technologies that are increasingly shaping our world and are concerned about the impact of automation on jobs.

A new study from Nesta in Scotland and Mark Diffley Consultancy conducted both prior to and throughout lockdown, makes the case for improved access to learning and skills development as well as a more active role for the public in shaping how new technologies are used across society. 

The research, a combination of detailed regional workshops and national polling, showed that concerns about data collection and the loss of jobs influence people in Scotland’s perceptions of new technologies.

In addition, technological developments are often seen as elitist and out of reach - particularly for those on a lower income and for women.

However, the results show that as people’s knowledge and understanding of technology increases, so does their positivity towards those technologies.

Adam Lang, head of Nesta in Scotland, said: “This research shows that while people in Scotland are engaging with and viewing technology in a new light as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, for too many the benefits still seem out of reach and beyond their control.

“The technologies that are driving the fourth industrial revolution are increasingly shaping many aspects of our personal and professional lives. That’s why it’s vital that we work to shift control and better engage the Scottish public, increasing the provision of high-quality training and skills development and considering new ways for citizens to shape and inform how these technologies are used in the delivery of public services. All of this must be done with a focus on driving trust through open, ethical and transparent processes.

“The social upheaval caused the Covid-19 pandemic is a chance for Scotland to set out a bold ambition for a new digital enlightenment that creates more opportunities for people to learn about and be engaged in shaping a tech-driven future that benefits us all as citizens more equally.”

Summary findings from the report

● Participants in the research reported that lockdown had increased their use of technology, particularly to stay in touch with friends and family. However, they worried about overreliance on ‘contactless’ or ‘faceless’ communication – with loved ones and services providers.

● People who are more knowledgeable about new technologies are more likely to hold a favourable view of their impact on the economy and society.

● The most significant predictors of knowledge of these technologies are gender and social grade with men and those in the ABC1 social grade category are more likely to know a lot or a little compared to women and C2DEs.

● Three quarters of people believe lots of workers will lose skills as a result of automation and that there will be more jobs lost than gained as a result of automation over the next 15 years.

● While people believe technology can improve public services, they are concerned that new technologies may exacerbate a ‘postcode lottery’ of unequal provision of services in different areas.

Sanah Zubairi, senior research manager at Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research, said: “This is a seminal study into public attitudes to new technologies in Scotland. The methodology was a cumulative process, with each stage building on the other as respondents to the nationally representative survey were invited to participate in regional workshops.

“This comprehensive design enabled us to track views over time. We found that with learning and discussion on the issue, participants became more positive about the adoption of new technologies and expressed an appetite for increased citizen engagement. There was also a call for more community ownership of new technologies to ensure a more equal distribution of benefits flowing from the fourth industrial revolution”

Commenting on the findings from the report, Dr Poonam Malik, board member at Skills Development Scotland, said: “We must empower the underserved and disadvantaged populations by creating more and better opportunities to learn, train and have equal access to digital skills and technology usage to build a just, gender-balanced and inclusive society.”

Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said: “This report shines a light on the challenges for Scotland during the fourth industrial revolution, illustrating the importance of communication, inclusion and trust. We are living through a changing world and for Scotland to succeed we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”