Digital Inequality

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Improving digital skills for the use of online public information and services

Citation:
Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. & Van Dijk, J.A.G.M. (2009). Improving digital skills for the use of online public information and services. Government Information Quarterly, 26, 333-340.

Abstract:
There are recent indications regarding the use of online public services that force the government to focus on the more refined conceptualizations digital divide research has produced. This paper addresses one of the factors that appears to be important in several conceptualizations of how to approach the digital divide; the differential possession of so-called digital skills. The problem of being short of skills becomes urgent when governments suppose that citizens are able to complete about every task on the Internet. Operational definitions for operational, formal, information and strategic skills are used to measure the Internet skills of the Dutch population at large, by giving 109 subjects nine government related assignments to be accomplished on the Internet. Subjects were recruited following a two step approach; randomly select a sample from the book/list of fixed telephony subscribers, followed by drawing a selective quota sample for the strata of gender, age and educational level. The results indicate that on average 80% of the operational skill Internet tasks, 72% of formal Internet skills tasks, 62% of the information Internet skills tasks and 22% of strategic Internet skills tasks assigned have been successfully completed. The Dutch government's expectation that every citizen with an Internet connection is able to complete the assignments following tasks the government thinks every Internet user can perform, clearly is not justified. The article provides two types of policy recommendations to change this state of affairs. Recommendations for improving government websites and for improving the skill levels of Dutch citizens are suggested.

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