DiSTO NL/UK started in 2014 with as its main objective the development of theoretically informed measures that can be used to explain how people use the Internet and what the benefits might be.


Discourses around digital divides typically refer to socio-economic inequalities in access to and use of information and communication technologies. The assumption is that use of such technologies, particularly the Internet, might result in several beneficial outcomes and that non-use excludes people from full participation in contemporary society. In the past decade, digital divide discussions have moved from discussions of use or non-use, to a more nuanced recognition of different types and levels of access, motivation, skills and Internet use in a discourse that centres around digital inclusion and inequality. Nevertheless, challenges continue to exist in measurement and conceptualisation of socio-digital inequalities.

The framework used to design measures of engagement and related outcomes in the #DiSTOsurvey starts from the premise that outcomes of Internet use can be mapped onto different types of offline resources. It argues that a clear separation needs to be made between undertaking different kinds of activities in the digital sphere (i.e. digital resource fields) and the tangible outcomes in different spheres of everyday life (i.e. offline resource fields) that result from this engagement.

To fill this gap, this project aims to develop and test measures and accompanying answer scales based on this framework linked to different levels of digital exclusion. To understand the processes behind digital inequalities we analyse the links between these newly developed skills, uses and outcomes indicators and socio-economic and socio-cultural inequalities.

This is achieved via:

  • A systematic review of the literature to develop the scales
  • Conducting cognitive interviews in the UK and the Netherlands to refine the scales
  • Online survey pilot tests of the instrument in the UK and in the Netherlands with a representative sample of Internet users to test the internal validity of the scales
  • Conducting a full nationally representative survey of Internet users in the Netherlands to test the scales for both internal and external validity of the scales
  • The adaptation of these skills scales for other research projects such as the Global Kids Online and World Internet Projects.


This research was supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund at the University of Oxford, the Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics, and the Department of Communication Science, University of Twente.

Research team


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.

Rebecca Eynon

Rebecca Eynon holds a joint academic post between the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. Since 2000 her research has focused on education, learning and inequalities, and she has carried out projects in a range of settings and life stages. Rebecca is co-editor of Learning, Media and Technology and has published a number of academic articles, reports, and conference papers. Her work has been supported by a range of funders including the British Academy, the Economic and Social Research Council, the European Commission, Google and the NominetTrust.

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.