Dr Kira Allmann (Centre for Socio-Legal Studies) and Dr Grant Blank (Oxford Internet Institute) have published findings from their Knowledge Exchange project, The Oxfordshire Digital Inclusion Project, in Information, Communication & Society. They argue for a new theory of digital skills that accounts for our contemporary world of "compulsory computing."

Rethinking digital skills in the era of compulsory computing: methods, measurement, policy and theory

Dr Kira Allmann & Dr Grant Blank

Information, Communication & Society, 24:5, pp. 633-648.


Around the world, digital platforms have become the first – or only – option for many everyday activities. The United Kingdom, for instance, is implementing a ‘digital-by-default’ e-government agenda, which has steadily digitized vital services such as taxes, pensions, and welfare. This pervasive digitization marks an important shift in the relationship between society and computing; people are compelled to use computers and the internet in order to accomplish the basic tasks. We suggest that this era of compulsory computing demands new ways of measuring and theorizing about digital skills, which remain a crucial dimension of the digital divide. In this article, we re-examine the theory and measurement of digital skills, making three contributions to understanding of how digital skills are encountered, acquired, and conceptualized. First, we introduce a new methodology to research skills: participant-observation of novices in the process of learning new skills along with interviews with the people who help them. Our ethnographically informed method leads us to a second contribution: a different theory of skills, which identifies three primary characteristics: (1) sequence, (2) simultaneity, and, most importantly, (3) path abstraction. Third, we argue that these characteristics suggest the need to change current ways skills are measured, and we also discuss the policy implications of this empirically informed theory.