Research Report – Exploring the Meaning and Experience of Digital Exclusion in Limerick

PAUL Partnership Limerick

The Limerick Digital Inclusion Working Group (DIWG) have published the findings from their research study into the meaning and experience of digital exclusion in Limerick.  The qualitative research project, undertaken by the Tavistock Institute on behalf of the DIWG, took place over the past 18 months – both before and during Covid lockdowns.  It provides an insight into who is at greater risk of digital exclusion, the impact of Covid on digital exclusion, the barriers to digital inclusion, and recommendations to responding to the issues raised in the report.

The full report can be accessed here: Exploring the Meaning and Experience of Digital Exclusion – Final Report Nov 2021

Summary of Key Findings

  • Research literature has moved away from concept of ‘digital divide’ to how the experience of digital exclusion impacts on people
  • The findings from this research project reflect the international literature


  • Groups at risk of digital exclusion in Limerick
    • Significant interconnections/interplay between the groups at risk of digital exclusion and groups at risk of social exclusion:
      • Unemployed; People on Low Incomes; Older People; People with disabilities; Migrants; People in rural areas; People with low levels of literacy; Traveller Community
  • Main barriers to digital inclusion:
    • Connectivity:
      • Access (i.e. access to broadband)
      • Affordability (of broadband, devices etc)
      • Accessibility (of websites, and to public wifi points)
    • Inter-subjectivity:
      • Disconnection of technology from everyday life (e., it’s not for me, not relevant to my life)
      • Suspicion and fear
      • Shame, resentment
      • Isolation (no one to ask for help; online social interaction eroding traditional social networks)
    • Usage capability:
      • Lack of skills and confidence
      • Barriers to attending courses – childcare, transport, online application and registration systems, poor equipment and tools,
    • Quality of use:
      • How services are designed and accessed online – application and registration systems; integrated systems; GDPR restrictions
  • Supports/responses required:
    • Tailored training courses:
      • Reflecting everyday life tasks
      • Bring your own devices
      • Patience
      • Build trust and relationship with the target group
    • Types of courses:
      • How to stay safe online
      • Literacy training – digital and general – one to one
      • Blended learning
      • Intergenerational training
    • Designing Services:
      • Service provision should be both offline and online
      • Easy to navigate, and plain English
      • Address transport issues to public wifi points
  • Covid 19 – impact on digitally excluded groups
    • Disruption of routines
    • Increase in isolation and loneliness
    • Lack of devices in households – significant impact on homeschooling
    • But also changes in attitude to technology:
      • Increase in positive attitude to technology by older people
      • Increase in sense of value to being online
      • Reduced fear
    • Some services ‘reached out’ to clients when face to face service provision stopped (e.g. community organisations)
    • Other services – such as GPs and Mental Health services – not as easy to access remotely
  • Supports provided to digitally excluded groups during Covid 19:
    • Role of community organisations, LDCs and education providers highlighted:
      • Patient service
      • 1-2-1 phone supports
      • Help to move to online courses
      • Increase in confidence
    • Increased demand on community-based services:
      • Challenge of providing supports remotely
      • Impact on engagement with clients
      • Difficulties in building relationships with clients
  • Changes observed/reported following covid lockdowns:
    • Increased take up of technology for social purposes
    • Zoom acted as a gateway to technology:
      • Increase in confidence to use technology
      • Reduced fear
      • Increased focus on learning online
    • Online courses gave meaning and structure during lockdown and a means of social interaction
    • Increased in recognition of value of internet, especially zoom and ipads
    • Increased motivation to develop new skills – but through blended learning. People want some face to face.
    • But groups who could not get online during this time became even more hard to reach
    • Increased use of technology for Zoom did not always translate to increased digital engagement elsewhere
    • Barriers such as limited access to broadband and devices still remain
    • Preference still for face to face support (online service provision – not as a first choice, but as an option)


  • Reconsider balance between face to face and online service provision
  • Multi-channel supports and services – give options
  • Provide tailored digital skills courses based on specific needs of group, using easy to use and affordable devices, e.g tablets
  • Evaluate and replicate successful pilot initiatives
  • Provide informal digital learning supports, and ‘Drop in’ community-based digital support centres
  • Improve outward facing service design
  • Strengthen citizens voices in service design
  • Continue to address connectivity issues in rural areas
  • Extend subsidies to support low income groups to connect online

Background to the Project

The Digital Inclusion Working Group is a sub-group of Smart Limerick.  In 2018, ‘Building Ireland’s First Digital City: Limerick Digital Strategy (2017 – 2020)’ and accompanying Smart Limerick Roadmap was launched by Limerick City and County Council.  The strategy aimed to lay the foundation for the ‘Sustainable Smart Limerick City Region and Communities’ – a Limerick that uses digital technologies and embraces new work practices to empower communities, create better services, accelerate sustainable social and economic growth and to improve the quality of life for all.

From the outset ‘Digital Inclusion’ was a key theme of the strategy, and the Digital Inclusion Working Group was subsequently established to ensure that the implementation of the Smart Limerick strategy was informed by current understandings of what it means to be ‘digitally included’ or ‘digitally excluded’.  By bringing together representatives of statutory and community organisations, including the Local Authority, Local Development Companies, local community organisations, and education providers, it aims to identify collaborative initiatives and to promote digital inclusion in a coordinated manner.

In late 2019, the Working Group commissioned The Tavistock Institute to undertake a qualitative study into the meaning and experience of being digitally excluded in today’s society.  The primary research phase commenced in February 2020 before being forced to pause as we entered the first of a series of Covid 19 lockdowns.  While this delayed the completion of the research, it also provided significant new insights into the experience of digital exclusion which were subsequently captured in the later phases of the research project.  The findings from this research will be used to raise greater awareness of digital exclusion as we work with stakeholders to implement responses and to influence relevant policy.

The Digital Inclusion Working Group currently includes representatives of:

  • Ballyhoura Development
  • Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board
  • Limerick Children and Young People’s Committee
  • Limerick City and County Council
  • Mary Immaculate College
  • PAUL Partnership (Chair)
  • Tait House Community Enterprise
  • University of Limerick
  • West Limerick Resources
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