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DiSTO: From digital skills to tangible outcomes - Improving measures and models of internet use

This study aims to develop new survey measures of people’s digital skills, digital engagement and outcomes of Internet use.


In the UK and across Europe many policies have been developed to improve individuals' Internet access and skills to ensure they can fully participate in all aspects of the information society. 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 this research domain. In this project, we have aimed 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.

This was 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


We have developed a questionnaire (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. It is intended that these measures can be used internationally, and partnerships are currently being developed with universities in Australia, Japan, the UK and the US. This includes the use of the skills items in a survey of the impact of marketing through social media, online games and mobile applications on children’s behaviour that was conducted across eight European countries (France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK) which enables the team to test the cross-cultural validity of the scales. We have also produced two reports, demonstrating how these instruments were developed and highlighting implications for future work in this area.

Discussions are now also underway with Chile, Uruguay, and South Africa in order to apply the questionnaire in these countries.


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.

DiSTO projects running in other countries: Chile 

Project lead

Ellen Helsper

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.
Three related research projects she is involved in at the moment are the development of a digital inclusion index and Heat Map for the UK’s Government Digital Services and Go On UK, longitudinal analysis of World Internet Project and the Global Kids Online project.




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 is an assistant professor at the Department of Media, Communication and Organization of the University of Twente in the Netherlands. His research focuses on digital inequality. His doctorate dissertation (internationally awarded) focused on inequalities caused by different levels of Internet skills. Recently, Alexander co-authored a book with Prof. Dr. Jan van Dijk named Digital skills, unlocking the information society. Alexander is involved in several projects that concern digital Inequality in the Netherlands and digital skills among the workforce. He has published numerous articles on several facets of digital inclusion.




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.



Go Digital Exclusion Heatmap

Helsper, E.J. & Kirsch, R.M. (2015) Technical Annex for the Exclusion in a Digital UK Heatmap Metrics. The Go ON UK Digital Exclusion Heatmap project.


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.

 Skills report cover

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




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

Measurement instruments

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.

Conference papers

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.

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.

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.

Ellen Helsper
Email: e.j.helsper@lse.ac.uk
Phone: 020 7955 6420

twitter @ellenhel 



Skils uses outcomes