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From digital skills to tangible outcomes - Improving measures and models of digital engagement

This study aims to develop new survey measures of people’s digital skills, digital engagement and outcomes of internet use and map these onto social inequalities


In the UK and Europe where this project originated policies have been developed to improve individuals' Internet access and skills to ensure they can fully participate in all aspects of the information society. Other regions show similar initiatives aimed at tackling inequalities in people’s abilities to use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in ways that help achieve tangible, high-quality outcomes in everyday life. At the same time, a great deal of academic work has been conducted which has led to detailed knowledge about who is and who is not digitally included.

As the Internet becomes an increasingly embedded part of everyday life for many people, research on digital inclusion has been criticized. There are concerns about the lack of strong theoretical developments within the field and the limitations of the survey measures typically used in research and evaluations of initiatives. In this project, we aim to address these criticisms through developing theoretically informed survey measures of people's digital skills, engagement with the Internet, and the tangible outcomes this Internet use has in their lives.

In parallel to the development of #DiSTOsurvey measures, collaborations with government, third sector and academic institutions have been put into place using the DiSTO framework as a guide to visualise the links between digital and social exclusion in the #DiSTOmap projects.

This combination of large scale national survey research and mapping of inequalities at the smaller local level makes cross-national, community and individual level comparisons possible, allowing us to answer questions about the processes that drive socio-digital inequalities at the micro, meso and macro level.

We continue to look for partners for both the #DiSTOsurvey and the #DiSTOmap projects. Please contact Ellen Helsper if you are interested in finding out more.

Project leads


Dr Ellen Helsper is Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Media and Communications Department at the LSE. Her current research interests include the links between social and digital inclusion; (digital) media audiences, mediated interpersonal communication; and quantitative and qualitative methodological developments in media research. 

She is currently involved in the following research projects: Socio-digital Skills of Disadvantaged Young People for the Prince’s Trust; Networked Effects Of Digital Inequalities funded by the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute; development of a what works for digital engagement toolkit for the Department of Media Culture and Sports Digital Engagement group and and Exclusion Heat Map of London with DotEveryone (formerly Go On UK), and the Global Kids Online and the World Internet Project.

Alexander van Deursen

Alexander van Deursen is an Associate Professor at the Department of Communication Science of the University of Twente in the Netherlands. He works in three lines of research with the overarching theme of ‘digital inequality. The first line results from his awarded doctorate and concerns digital skills required to participate in society. Performance tests based on a theoretically driven framework of six skills revealed that assumptions about the level among citizens is unjustified. The second line concerns the skills needed in the context of employment. Alexander showed that much time is lost in the workplace because of digital skill shortages and organizations take few initiatives to support the worker. A large project (granted by NOW) that he currently leads focusses specifically on digital skills for workers in the creative sector. The third line concerns use and effects of technology in relation to a person’s position in society. Alexander tries to understand who benefits in what way from the Internet, recently labelled this focus in digital divide research as ‘Third level digital divide.’ Alexander has published numerous articles on several facets of digital inclusion. 



This project develops and tests questionnaires on digital skills, Internet uses, and outcomes of Internet use that can be used by the wider academic community in full or in short item versions. Originally developed and tested in the UK and the Netherlands, these measures are now used internationally, in partnerships with Australia, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and the US.

The skills items are used in the Global Kids Online project, the World Internet Project, in a survey of the impact of marketing through social media, online games and mobile applications on children’s behaviour. The skills, uses and outcomes measures are being used and improved to make them suitable for work across generations in projects involving young people in the Socio-digital Skills of Disadvantaged Youth (i.e. DiSTO NEETs) and the DiSTO Uruguay projects. This enables the testing of the cross-cultural validity and cross generational validity of the scales.

For countries in which resources have been used, and translations of questionnaires, please contact Ellen Helsper or any of the DiSTO partners doing research in regions or with groups that you are interested in (see separate partner project pages).


Questionnaire on Skills (from DiSTO NEETs)

Helsper, E.J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M and Eynon, R. (2016) Internet Outcomes Questionnaire.

Helsper, E.J., Eynon, R., and Van Deursen, A.J.A.M (2016) Internet Uses Questionnaire.

Helsper, E.J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. and Eynon, R. (2015) Digital Skills Questionnaire for Children.

Helsper, E.J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. and Eynon, R. (2015) Revised Digital Skills Items for Adults and Children (to Ask Adults).

Helsper, E.J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., and Eynon, R. (2015) From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes: Full Questionnaire.

World Internet Project (2016) Core Skills Question Set.

Global Kids Online (2016) Core Skills Question Set for Children.

DiSTO Projects



#DiSTOsurvey and other projects show striking inequalities between neighbourhoods within large metropolitan areas in engagement with the digital world that cannot be explained satisfactorily by individual factors such as age, education, and gender or access and skills. Network effects and socio-cultural factors at local community level could be as if not more important in explaining these socio-digital inequalities. This is the starting point of the #DiSTOmap projects.

Using the framework developed for #DiSTOsurvey, these heat map projects visualisesocial and digital exclusion at a local level. They take data related to social exclusion from a number of recognised data resources that are added to and iterated on over time, such as health, education, age, and employment. Other industry and national survey data sources are used to generate lower level geographic indicators for digital infrastructure, access, use, and skills. The composite measures for social and digital exclusion are designed by Dr Ellen Helsper at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Background: In 2015 the first heatmap of exclusion in a digital Britain (2nd map published in 2017) which made clear that there is a need for more fine grained data at a local level in large urban areas. This led to calls for further research and mapping of neighbourhoods in metropolitan areas with high levels of inequality and diversity in their populations. Currently mapping of traditional and digital inequalities of large metropolitan areas is underway in the US (LA, Chicago, NYC), Brazil (Sao Paolo, Rio), and the UK (London).  Mapping projects are also in the pipeline for  Chile (Santiago), Uruguay (Montevideo), Kuwait and China (Shanghai).

#DiSTOmap projects aim to:

  • Visualise levels of local digital and social exclusion for policy-makers and influencers to drive engagement, action and funding to combat inequalities
  • Generate a debate and a greater understanding of the network and community aspects of the links between social and digital inequalities in academia and in those involved in designing and evaluating socio-digital inequality initiatives.
  • Create innovative methods and tools that aid researchers, policy makers and stakeholders in improving their thinking and practise.
  • Provide a tool for delivery organisations to target their activity more effectively and efficiently in increasingly digital societies.

Maps and methodology


Heatmap Projects

Great Britain: The Go ON UK Digital Exclusion Heatmap project. This is the original project that mapped social and digital exclusion in Britain. Office of National Statistics and Census data was used to map Social Exclusion. The digital exclusion measure in the UK comprised of verified and publically available data sources from institutes such as Ofcom and ONS and the Basic Digital Skills measures. This project developed the metrics for measuring exclusion at the lower output level by creating indexes of relative exclusion for both social and digital inequalities.

London: This project replicates the British study with a full representative sample of lower geographical areas within London which gives local authorities and neighbourhood councils the opportunity to understand the issues facing their particular community. It will also help create awareness of inequalities between geographical areas which can lead to collective action by multiple stakeholders and local residence to overcome situations of disadvantage in increasingly digital societies.

Partners: Dr Ellen Helsper at the LSE in partnership with DotEveryone (now led by the TechPartnership).

Los Angeles: The Connected Cities and Inclusive Growth (CCIG) project is part of the USC Annenberg Research Network on International Communications. It seeks to map inequities in broadband infrastructure and digital skills in greater Los Angeles, and explore their socio-economic determinants and consequences. By mapping the spatial distribution of broadband access and use at the most disaggregated level available, the project seeks to offer a comprehensive diagnosis that will inform current policy initiatives and debates. Theoretically, it will shed light onto how inequalities in connectivity infrastructure both shape and reflect differences in ICT-related skills as well as other demographic factors at the local community level.

Partners: Hernan Galperin and Francois Bar at the University of Southern California.

London and Los Angeles: Networked Effects of Digital Inequalities project. This project hypothesises that network effects are influential in determining individual motivation to engage with ICTs. That is, individuals’ perceptions of ICT benefits are likely influenced by attitudes and behaviours within family, friend, and community networks. The study develops a theoretical model and empirical instruments around motivational factors and relates these to network effects. Qualitative and quantitative comparative research is conducted in London and Los Angeles. These cities show high levels of traditional inequalities but differ in terms of the homogeneity of their neighbourhood, making them ideal to examine differential network effects. This study builds on existing projects in these cities and will feed into large scale future research. Partners: Ellen Helsper, funded through the International Inequalities Institute Research Innovation Grant.

Sao Paulo

Partners: Fabio Senne at


Partners: Patricio Cabello at PUCV


Partners: Alexander van Deursen at University of Twente

Partnerships in development 

New York – Vikkie Katz at Rutgers University

Shanghai - Prof Wand De at Tongji University

Sydney – Amanda Third at Western Sydney University 




Helsper, E. J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., and Eynon, R. (2016) Measuring Types of Internet Use. From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes project report.


Helsper, E.J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. and Eynon, R. (2015) Tangible Outcomes of Internet Use. From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes Project Report.


Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., Helsper, E.J. and Eynon, R. (2014) Measuring Digital Skills. From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes. Project report.


Journal articles and book chapters

Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., Helsper, E.J., Eynon, R. & Van Dijk, J.A.G.M.  (2017) The compoundness and sequentiality of digital inequality. International Journal of Communication 11,  425-473.

Helsper, E.J., & Van Deursen, A.J.A.M.  (2017). The collateral benefits of Internet Use. New Media & Society. doi: 10.1177/1461444817715282

Helsper, E.J. and Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. (2016) Do the rich get digitally richer? Quantity and Quality of support networks for digital engagement.  Information, Communication & Society, doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1203454

Helsper, E.J. (2016) Inequalities in Digital Literacy: Definitions, Measurement, Explanations and Policy Implications. TIC Household Survey Book. Sao Paolo (BR).

Deursen, A.J.A.M. and Helsper, E.J. (2015), The Third-Level Digital Divide: Who Benefits Most from Being Online?, in Laura Robinson , Shelia R. Cotten , Jeremy Schulz , Timothy M. Hale , Apryl Williams(ed.) Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Studies in Media and Communications), 10, 29 – 52. doi: 10.1108/S2050-206020150000010002

Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., Helsper, E.J. and Eynon, R. (2015)  Development and validation of the internet skills scale (ISS). Information, Communication and Society. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1078834 

Conference papers

Helsper, E.J., Dodel, M., Menese- Camargo, P., Claro, M., Cabello, P., Navarro, D., Senne, F., Sozio, M.E. & Alfaro, A. (November, 2016) Panel on Digital Inequalities: Why they matter in Latin America. COES_LSE 2016 conference: Inequalities. Santiago, Chile.

Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., Helsper, E.J., Eynon, R. and Van Dijk, A.J.A.M. (June. 2016) Compound and Sequential Digital Exclusion: Internet Skills, Uses and Outcomes. 66th Annual ICA Conference, Fukuyama (JP).

Helsper, E.J. (October, 2015) Digital Skills and Digital Learning. ICT2015 DG Connect, European Commission Conference, Lisbon (PT)

Helsper, E.J. (July,  2015)  Measuring Skills and Outcomes of Internet Use. The 15th World Internet Project Conference. Johannesburg, (SA).

Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., Helsper, E.J. and Eynon, R. (May, 2015). Measuring Internet skills. International Communication Association Conference 2016. Puerto Rico.

Helsper, E.J. (May, 2015) Cómo la competencia mediática amplifica y contrarresta la desigualdad social. (How media literacy amplifies and counters social inequalities) CIDEC conference Keynote. Santiago de Compostela (ES).

Van Deursen, A.J.A.M., Helsper, E.J. and Eynon, R. (November, 2014). Measuring Internet skills. European Communication Research and Education Association Conference 2016. Lisboa.

Helsper, E.J., Van Deursen, A.J.A.M. & Eynon, R. (November, 2014) Difficulties in operationalising digital literacy and resilience cross-culturally and organiser of the panel ‘Defining and Measuring Literacy and Resilience in a Digital World’. 4th Annual ECREA conference. Lisbon (PT).

Eynon, R. (2014) Measuring outcomes of Internet use. ECREA 5th International Conference, November 2014, Lisbon, Portugal.

Helsper, E. J. (2014) Differences in Operationalising Digital Literacy and Resilience Cross-Culturally. ECREA 5th International Conference, November 2014, Lisbon, Portugal.

van Deursen, A.J.A.M (2014) Operationalising Digital Skills and Digital Divides. ECREA 5th International Conference, November 2014, Lisbon, Portugal. 



Internet use increases social inequalities, LSE study shows. Press release, February 2016.

Internet use translates into greater economic than social benefits in real world. Press release. May 2015.

Helsper, E.J. (2015) New Forms of Digital Inequality: Disparities in tangible outcomes from internet use. Media Policy Project Blog.


Helsper, E.J. (2015) Measuring inequalities in a digital Britain. Media Policy Project Blog.

UK's first Digital Exclusion Heatmap launched. Press release, October 2015.





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Published: the #DigitalReach report which used an evaluation tool for youth programmes based on the DiSTO framework……

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@DiS2O and @MediaLSE well represented at the Conferencia Desafios de una Sociedad Digital!…

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