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Digital inclusion in Swedwn Done in the Digidel Way. Talk at IFLA WLIC 2015
In 2009 the so-called digital divide became more and more evident in Sweden. Different statistical
surveys gave varying numbers. It became obvious that most of the statistical surveys were abruptly
cut in the upper edge of the respondent age brackets, leaving the elder seniors outside the sampling
frame. Only one survey included all adults regardless of age, The Swedes and the internet. This survey
estimated that 1.7 million Swedes were excluded from the digital population, either not using the
Internet at all, or if so, very infrequently. Nearly a quarter of the Swedish population was digitally
excluded in the overall data!
This statistical picture gave us clear evidence for what was also seen to be a truism in the library
sector. Certainly the seniors were excluded, as the largest non-users group, but in all ages, and from
all social classes there were even more citizens who were clearly left behind of the developing digital
society. For some reason or other they lack of know-how to make the step towards active
participation. Patrons were increasingly requesting help for assistance in using digital services
outside the library systems.
In 2009, gender, age and income were the major factors for exclusion, especially amongst the
elderly. Between the years 2007 and 2009, internet break-through slowed down, lost its upswing and
the statistical curve for new users became flattened. This was cause for some concern. The optimal
scenario would have been that the curve continued upward on its own.
The Swedish Association for County Librarians decided to take action and hired a national
coordinator. She assembled a group of stakeholders and decision makers both from the libraries but
also from NGO:s1
and national agencies. The major question was: is it possible to commit to a joint
The answer was a resounding yes. On the December 3rd
, 2009 thirteen organizations signed a
common proclamation which expressed commitment to reduce the digital divide in Sweden.
The signatories committed to a common goal:
“Based on our respective organizations' mission and vision, we will cooperate to reduce the digital
divide by at least 500 000 people by the end of 2013.”
From January 2010 the campaign Digidel was formed, a campaign office was set up by The Swedish
Internet Infrastructure Foundation. Staffs were hired, a website set up, events, gatherings and
member meetings were sponsored by the Foundation. A board and an operational group started to
1 non-governmental organization
take action, promoting the campaign and encourage local projects to get started. Projects teaching
basic internet skills, ICT and web usage such as getting an e-mail address, posting on Facebook,
downloading books; all basic steps to become full-fledged internet users.
We had launched the campaign Digidel 2013, the first attempt to a coordinated action taken by the
libraries, NGOs, interest groups promoting life-long learning and some national agencies. The name
Digidel is formed of the first part of the two Swedish words digital delaktighet, meaning digital
The campaign had a common creed, all projects; all operators were obliged to take the pledge. First
of all, the first steps of learning should always be free of charge to the participants.
The campaign offered a wide variety of training sessions and short seminars based on the interests of
the participants. There was an overwhelmingly positive response, because they want to learn. We
started with the assumption that learning is best when it is based on curiosity and a personal interest
Every training session and every tutor should focus on the participants as individuals: what are the
needs of this particular person? It is tempting to focus on the hardware or a particular service,
believing it to be essential to a curriculum that the participants must learn it. But will they be
motivated to learn it if they don’t understand the value or practicality of the subject matter?
Free access to information and knowledge, democratic values, access to culture and opportunities
for lifelong learning are the fundamentals of an equal-rights digital society without exclusion.
The Digidel campaign ran for three years and was a great success! Projects were up and running in all
parts of Sweden; at the end of 2013 there were Digidel projects in 21counties. 435 partners and 56
highly motivated enthusiast had together secured 1 300 commitments, which, in turn, acted as the
umbrella for a massive number of projects.
278 000 individuals had come to learn more about ICT and the Internet. About 75 % of the partners
were a library or a library organization. Many times it was collaboration with one or several NGOs or
other similar parties.
At the end of 2013, a new survey revealed that Sweden had half a million new internet users.
From January 2014, the Digidel network has continued to meet. The network has coordinated both
two “Get Online Weeks” and one E-citizen Week despite of a very limited budget. The network
expanded with a few new member organizations, including the support of the governmental
Commission on Digitization which is responsible for the overall forward-moving momentum in our
The Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, adopted in 2014, focuses on
sustainable development in human-rights based framework, where the goal is to eradicate poverty
and inequality through education and empowerment activities.
“Equitable access to information, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and
privacy are promoted, protected and respected as being central to an individual’s independence.”
In the Digidel campaign the seniors were one of the most evident target groups, and many
educations and training sessions were designed specifically for the elderly’s needs. Support seminars
have been held at the public libraries, but also at retirement homes or other gathering places for
The survey The Seniors and the Internet showed Internet usage was low among the elderlies, but still
new users are making the connection. There are age differences within the group of seniors, with
oldest segment still mainly excluded. In 2009 18 % of the seniors born in the 1920’s used the
internet; in 2014 29 % were on-line. Even if there is an improvement, still about two thirds are
excluded from the digital services, online news and entertainment, health information and social
exchange with family and relatives.
Seniors born in the 1940’s are today as connected as the average for Sweden, around 90 %.
Seniors who would benefit greatly from many services and ICT solutions are also the toughest to
convince to become users. To break the ice and engage an interest, one method is to start with a
specific question or a special interest, and show how Internet can improve or solve a problem.
Sometimes a basic and everyday need can be the key.
One of the most successful Digidel projects is the “IT-Guide”. Today IT-Guide is still running a solid
function, in some municipals in cooperation with a public library.
IT-Guide started as a small project with a project manager and a small group of teen immigrants
having resided in Sweden only a short time, paired together for a need to help to senior citizens with
ICT. They established two small ICT cafés at two retirement homes. There set about helping all the
seniors who wanted to learn about computers, the Internet, surfing tablets, and mobile telephones.
The guides helped the seniors to become digitally included, and in return, the seniors helped the
teens improve their Swedish language skills.
IT-Guide is a good example of the connection to the Lyon Declaration paragraph no 2, “Inequality is
reduced by the empowerment, education and inclusion”, as it facilitated the inclusion of two
separate and previously excluded groups. The seniors become included in the digital society, and the
teens become more active participants in Swedish society, improving their language skills and
learning about Swedish customs and habits. These young adults were able to secure their first jobs
and earn an income for the first time. They gained a sense of purpose, providing a valuable and
important service that they were proud to discover they excelled at, and in the bargain were able to
form mutually beneficial relationships across the cultural and generational gaps.
Even if the gender difference has generally disappeared during recent years, we can still observe a
gender difference in some of our target groups.
It is usually connected with age, level of education and income.
Amongst seniors, the gender difference still is more obvious. In the age group 66-75 years 89 % of
the males are internet users, compared with only 75 % of the women. Of the male seniors older than
76 years, 48 % are internet users and only 27 % of the women are on line.
In Sweden the gender exclusion is found to be related to low levels of education and a tradition of
exclusion activities like using the Internet. Other reasons could be the preconception that everything
technical is too difficult for women to learn. In some cases it may also be explained by differing
cultural patterns where women and young girls are traditionally expected to limit their scope of
experience within the family home. One way of create empowerment and independence for these
women is by giving them the expertise and the tools to become active participants in the digital
Within Digidel we have also had positive experiences in creating special women’s groups for
immigrants and new Swedish citizens, where women in particular are made to feel welcome in a safe
environment and with instruction provided in their native language.
Important for us to remember, is that the digital landscape is not static, it develops constantly which
makes it necessary for library staff to continuously develop their own digital skills. Within library
organizations it is therefore critical to offer professional development and continued education
opportunities to the staff, not just once, but repeatedly, so that library staff is able to meet the needs
We noticed during the Digidel campaign that there was a significant need for staff training sessions,
for paid time to explore and gain personal internet experiences in the range of services in which the
staff are expected to provide support and expertise in towards the patrons. This also is one way of
engaging the staff’s personal interests, and as our finding show some are more eager and quick to
learn, and some others are a little more reluctant.
This will become a central leadership issue in the future!
Every head librarian must make plans for the staff education and create commitment.
Paragraph 4 c reflects the heart of Digidel, connecting, building networks, finding strategic
cooperation or partnerships. I will argue that, with a core of dedicated people, and organizations that
can provide a platform for joint efforts, it is possible to grow strong, forming lasting ties and
influence local, regional and national plans and strategies.
In Sweden the public libraries have made it clear that the network at the national level is important
to give impetus and a feeling of unity, aiming to the same goal.
Project Manager Kira Berg from Östergötland in Sweden expressed it for me: "Being part of a
national network is important from several aspects, but above all a national network has so much
more power than a single region. We needed a locomotive that pulls its weight. When we have that,
we are more motivated and dare to influence even more people to become digitally involved, we
want everyone to get on the digital train."
Notions of digital inclusion has been the main theme for Digidel during these past years. It is of
course a subjective concept; each person will define the necessary skills in a different way, and
during the years, the digital society’s demands on individual skills change. It is impossible to make a
list of skills that will guarantee a person feels included. Even so, it is interesting to follow the
development by statistics. The graph shows the different age groups’ reflections on the notion of
feeling digitally included.
The most interesting developments are found in both ends of the age groups. To the left, in the
group of teens, 12 -15 years, the feeling of being digitally included have increased, from 41 % to 59 %
in four years! And in the other end, the second oldest, 66-75 years, 35 % were feeling digitally
included, and in 2013 this figure have risen to 43%. Of the oldest only about one out of five feels
To build a movement, my short summary will be the Big Five:
Number one: Make it interest driven, it has to be playful and fun, even if we are offering serious
Number two: Secure public access and make sure there is a physical place to go to have access,
and a physical person to ask for help when required.
Number three: Make it free of charge during the first steps of learning. Provide the basic skills
sets for free, and later on it may be possible to charge a fee for more in-depth instruction
Number four: Build networks at the national, regional and local level and provide opportunities
for the different levels to interact with one another. A holistic view of the complete network is a
prerequisite for success.
Number five: Build a brand. Create a great name and a design as your banner that will tie
together the partners in the network. Fill the brand with straight-forward message and good
vibes in connecting together in a joined effort toward the common goal.
Digidel and my special friends at IT-Guide send their regards.
I am grateful for this opportunity to be able to present Digidel for such a great audience. Feel free to
get in touch, if you’d like to hear more about our success story or would like to share your
experiences in projects of digital inclusion.