Questioning digital practices of habitants living in low-income neighbourhoods
In 2018, the Lab Ouishare x Chronos launched Capital Numerique (Digital Capital), an action-research to question the digital practices of residents of four low-income neighbourhoods (Bagnolet, Bobigny, Besançon and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni). The project was supported by a number of public and private partners: La Banque des Territoires, l'ADEME, l'ANRU, Est Ensemble, Orange, la MAIF, l'Agence du numérique (The government’s digital agency), Pôle Emploi (Employment center) and CDC Habitat. One and a half years later, after several meetings, interviews and workshops, we are here to deliver our main lessons and avenues for experimentation.
This case study was originally published in French. Click here to access the original version.
Digital Capital was born out of a strong desire: to question the myths surrounding the digital divide in low income neighbourhoods, and propose solutions that increase the power of the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods to act.
This research-action was based on a twofold observation. On one hand, digital technology is a false Eldorado. It has not eliminated social and territorial inequalities. On the other hand, the design of digital services often suffers from a technocentric approach. It is based on an insufficiently detailed understanding of the actual practices, needs and expectations of the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods.
The Lab Ouishare x Chronos, a space for reflection around the city and its emergence, has therefore taken up this critical issue.
A unique research-action project
Digital capital has been constructed over a period of time in a contextualised manner, according to our partners and interlocutors - while affirming from the outset three strong methodological biases:
- A rigorous scientific approach
The first phase of the research consisted of a detailed literature review, allowing us to better understand the issues at hand before confronting it in real life, on the field. Throughout the investigation, we also used semi-structured interviews and we worked with several researchers to compare our work.
- Strong territorial roots
In total, we have spent several months in our four survey areas. We have favoured long and recurring discussion times, both with professionals and with neighbourhood residents. Sometimes, we spent over an hour talking with a local. In total, we interviewed 211 residents and gained their trust.
- An action-oriented exploration
From the beginning, we intended to make this research a real tool for action. Rather than simply producing a final report, we wanted to draw up experimental guidelines so that our lessons could be used by those who experience them on a daily basis. In order to meet this objective, we organised a series of workshops to co-produce courses of action with our partners. It is also with this same spirit that we prepared the concluding event of the study, entitled “Let’s take action”. We have designed this event as a way to facilitate meetings between different people, in order to promote and foster future collaborations.
Digitalisation, not the problem, not the solution
This research-action spanning over one and a half years, in four neighbourhoods, was rich in terms of lessons learned. On digital practices in key neighbourhoods, we have noted:
- A large diversity in terms of digital practices, anchored in very diverse situations, which pushes us to refute the term “digital divide”
- A mismatch between the digital training offered and the needs and expectations of the inhabitants, as well as a difficulty in giving them more capacity to act
- A lack of resources, of training and coordination between people offering digital support to residents
- The absolute need for local places to maintain relationships of trust and mutual aid between support persons and residents
Fertile crossroads between daily life, experiences and knowledge
We have learnt a lot from this research-action, even beyond the accumulated knowledge relative to the initial theme “digital practices of low-income residents”.
Our time we spent on-ground confronting the daily realities of the inhabitants, without counting minutes, proved to be both difficult as well as essential. Both, to understand their life situation and propose appropriate actions, but also to become true and trusted third parties within these neighbourhoods.
Also, at the end of our work, the different and assertive discussions that we had with the neighbourhoods and digital inclusion had several virtues. By putting words into reality experiences by many social workers, educators and associations in the neighbourhoods, we have not only reassured and relieved them, but we have been able to take strong positions at the highest level - positions that they themselves would not have been able to take as stakeholders.
We also highlighted the work of researchers who, although for several years already pointing to findings similar to ours, were not listened to by decision-makers. In this respect, the column we published in Libération - Non, il ne faut pas combattre la fracture numérique! - was a formidable mouthpiece.
By offering spaces for meetings and dialogues between worlds that rarely sub shoulders, (actors linked to “key neighbourhoods”, social actors, actors in digital mediation, entrepreneurs, etc.), we have paved the path to unprecedented collaborations.
Finally, although the exercise of defining experimental avenues at the end of the study turned out to be difficult, we are convinced of its value. By providing a pretext and material for exchange between different stakeholders, it facilitates the development and implementation of concrete actions, in line with the needs and realities of each territory.