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“Digital Detours” – How marginalized and underserved communities can overcome the digital divide

Final Report Summary - DIGITAL DETOURS (“Digital Detours” – How marginalized and underserved communities can overcome the digital divide)

Publishable Summary
This project was aimed at understanding the information and communication needs of disadvantaged communities and gaining insight to the ways information and communication technologies (ICTs) can better their lives and raise the level of their economic and cultural participation in society.
The objectives of the project were outlined in the proposal as such:
1. Map the needy populations.
2. Ascertain the specific information needs of the recognized populations.
3. Propose a policy framework to address the needs of the identified populations.
Soon after the beginning of the project, I was awarded another grant as a member in a new Israeli Center for Research Excellence (I-CORE) focusing on "Learning in the Networked Society." Specifically, the project I was to develop within the research center was a project on "Bridging the Educational Digital Divide”: Disadvantaged Communities in Israel and Remedial ICT policies." This additional grant allowed me to expand significantly the work I proposed to do in the original project and while I designate the work I was doing within the CIG to the work I was preforming with one doctoral student, this work is all connected to the work conducted by eight more young researchers whose work I coordinated and supervised in the research center. This has allowed the project to become richer and to use far more sophisticated and innovative tools.
Since the beginning of the project we focused on the mapping of the needy. We conducted the gathering of the data about the digital divide in Israel and composed a longitudinal study. So far the ideas developed in this study have produced a number of conference papers and presentations, presented at the annual conference of the Media and Cultural Studies Association of the United Kingdom, the International Communication Association, a number of smaller conferences in Vienna, Istanbul, Budapest, and Vilnius, and at the prestigious TPRC conference on communication, information and internet policy. The final paper describing these results, which demonstrate that the digital divide in Israel is not closing, will be published later this year in a book edited by professor Massimo Ragnedda of Northumbria University in the United Kingdom titled Digital Inclusion: Be on the Right Side of the Digital Divide, to be published by Lexington Books.
Concurrently, six needy populations were identified: Bedouin Arabs, Jewish-Ethiopians, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, Palestinian-Israelis, African asylum-seekers, and the "Bnei Menashe," a community of North-East Indians who immigrated to Israel in the 2000s. The additional funding we acquired allowed me to conduct a far more in-depth study than planned. Instead of focusing only on interviews, we were able to enter the field by constructing a real-life lab in which members of these populations, whose needs are being identified through interviews and pilot projects, received state of the art ICTs, and through ethnographical work, nentnographical analysis of their web activities and interviews we expect to acquire a rich understanding of how these ICTs serve their needs.
However, since funding for that aspect of the study was really secured through a different grant, I decided to direct my work under this grant to those efforts, which did not require field work. As a result, the Ph.D. student who was paid through this grant, and I, embarked on developing the theoretical background for the study. This two-year effort ended in the publication of a book, A Justice-Based Approach for New Media Policy
In the Paths of Righteousness published this past December by the prestigious Palgrave McMillan publishing house. The book was launched to much fanfare at Ben-Gurion University in January, 2017, in an event in which two senior European scholars took part. In addition, the book won in April the Outstanding Book of the Year Award of the Israel Communication Association. I perceive this book as the highlight of the grant.
Project objectives
The objectives of this study were defined as looking at the demand side of what is known as the “digital divide,” the disparity in full membership in the growing information society, and unlike existing policy designs that assess “need” through the prism of top-down formulated “social” needs, it was to employ a bottom-up analysis as articulated by the needy themselves in order to develop policy recommendations. In its next stage it was to identify policies crafted toward “disconnected communities” in Israel that are currently designed with little if any regard to the needs of the disadvantaged as the needy themselves define them and to propose policies tailored instead with their real needs in mind.
Three objectives were stated in the proposal: Map the needy populations; Ascertain the specific information needs of the recognized populations; and, propose a policy framework to address the needs of the identified populations. All three objectives had been met.
Achievements of the grant
We achieved the objectives of the study. Indeed, the expansion of the study as a result of additional funding received allowed us to cover more ground and do more in-depth work, however that is not work that can in any way be seen as funded by this grant. The Israeli ICORE grant was 8 times the size of the CIG grant, thus all the labor-intensive fieldwork was conducted under its auspices, while the CIG grant was used for the theoretical work.
The first stage of the study, addressing the digital divide, has been completed. We have over the years of the grant presented in a number of conferences and invited presentations the theoretical foundations for a new model for understanding the digital divide, which we developed and the data of the longitudinal study, which we believe reveals the real changes in the divide. The comprehensive compilation of the data was presented in the fall of 2015 at TPRC 43 in the US, and will be published as a book chapter later this year.
In the process of studying the needs of disadvantaged populations, we used as a case study the social protest of the summer of 2011. In two studies we conducted, supported by the grant, we demonstrated how unsuccessful the quest for change in communication and information policy in Israel has been highlighting the difficulty of introducing the "digital divide" into policy discourse. Both of those studies have been published, one as a journal article that was then also included in a book, and the other as a book chapter. The support of the grant is indicated in all the publications.
We also putt in writing the theoretical framework of the project. A number of papers indicating the support of the grant, have been published as journal articles, book chapters, and the highlight of the project – a book.
The Ph.D. student whose studies were supported by the grant has completed his dissertation and was awarded a doctoral degree in September 2016.

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