Findings from the paper-based consultation among those at greater risk of digital exclusion

28 September 2021
Last updated:
25 October 2021

Research objectives and summary findings

Disclaimer: Within this report, we aim to portray the views of participants and to reflect their words as closely as possible. The findings that are presented therefore reflect the opinions and experiences of a range of individuals and may not be shared by others within the same or other institutions, including the Office for National Statistics. Some quotes have been edited for language and grammar to improve accessibility, without changing the content or meaning.

Research objectives

In April 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducted a qualitative, paper-based consultation with members of the public who are at greater risk of digital exclusion. The aim of this consultation was to gather insight into:

  • how this group accesses data
  • what this group think is important for decision makers to know about their lives and views
  • potential barriers to sharing personal information for research purposes.

Capturing the views of digitally excluded groups is particularly important when considering that most research has now migrated online to comply with coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.

Summary findings

Participants highlighted the news as an important source of facts and figures, with some linking awareness of such information to reporting of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Participants reported seeing facts and figures through various sources including:

  • traditional news media such as newspapers and news programmes
  • websites and internet searches
  • social media
  • word of mouth
  • advertising

Participants identified that the use of plain English to explain statistics and having reassurance that the figures are produced by “trusted sources” were key to accessing and feeling confident about information.

For people with limited digital access, there were examples of using the internet through “other people’s phones” or by “visiting my local library”. To ensure inclusivity, participants suggested that facts and figures should be available in a range of ways to enable access among diverse audiences.

Participants suggested a range of individual characteristics, circumstances, experiences, and values that may be relevant to policy makers when making decisions that impact participants’ lives. Important personal experiences for decision makers to consider included:

  • personal health and care needs
  • household circumstances and living conditions
  • personal or household finances (for example income)
  • political views
  • local issues

Personal characteristics such as age, sex, gender, and ethnicity were seen to be important for understanding individuals’ experiences and perspectives. However, some participants did not want to be defined by these characteristics. When sharing personal experiences, some participants stressed that decision makers should seek to understand people’s unique experiences before making decisions that could have an impact on their lives. Participants also described their difficulties in using online services and suggested that decision makers should be aware of these challenges to avoid excluding people.

Participants explored various circumstances in which they are or would feel comfortable sharing personal data for research purposes. These included:

  • when the purpose is clearly explained
  • when the reason for wanting the data is seen as relevant
  • when the data will be used to benefit society, the participant, or people in their communities
  • when the topic is not overly intrusive
  • when it is clear who will be able to access the data
  • when they retain choice and control over sharing their data or answering questions

Participants highlighted various reasons why they are not or would not be comfortable sharing personal information about themselves for research purposes. These include:

  • when privacy is their key concern and the research is seen to undermine that
  • when they are unsure of data security
  • when they do not trust the researchers (including government)
  • when there is a perception that the data could be used in ways which harm the participant or people in their communities
  • when they feel the data could be “misused”
  • when there is a perception that anonymity will not be respected and they worry that others will know something about them
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