UK Context

  • The UK is 14th on the world ranking list of human development (Source UNDP) with a Gini of 33.2 (Source: Worldbank).
  • 90% of the UK population has recently used the internet (Source ONS)
  • Media studies and the computing curriculum are part of the educational provision in the UK (though not widely taken up – see Livingstone, 2018)
  • The UK government is very active in relation to policy making around digital inequalities. Key are the UK Digital Strategy and specifically the Digital Skills and Inclusion Policy (Coordinated by DCMS but with cross ministerial buy in).
  • There are several multi stakeholder partnerships working on issues of digital inequalities such as the Digital Inclusion Working Group and the Digital Skills Partnership, The National Coherence Delivery Group (see https://digitalinclusion.blog.gov.uk/)
  • There is a plethora of third sector and commercial organisations thinking about measurement and interventions to understand and tackle digital inequalities (see projects in the UK for some of those who have partnered with DISTO UK).

Projects in the UK

In the UK the DISTO project has three components: inequalities in the UK, research of young people, and maps of inequalities. 


Inequalities in the UK

DiSTO surveys with adults

DiSTO UK was part of the original projects (in collaboration with the Netherlands) which started in 2014 with, as their 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.

  • A systematic review of the literature to develop the scales
  • Conducting cognitive interviews in the UK (and the Netherlands) to refine the scales (N=30)
  • 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 (N=300)
  • 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(N=)


  • The measures have fed into the world internet project surveys, the Global Kids and Mobile Kids Online surveys, and are developed and adapted in close collaboration with the other partners on the DiSTO survey projects.
  • The conceptual model has informed the skills and use scale development used by ITU (International telecommunications Union), DigComp (EU commission), and UNICEF and the Essential Skills Index in the UK.
  • The model has been used by various stakeholders to shape tools for evaluation of policies and interventions in the UK, amongst which the What Works Toolkit (by Department of Culture, Media and Sports).


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.

Global representations of inequalities

This project examines media representations of COVID-19 from an intersectional perspective; specifically, the project interrogates how mainstream media reaffirm and/or contest the intensification of inequalities in the context of a pandemic. We address this question through a dual lens: focussing on

  • (i.) the narrative representations (in news-making)
  • (ii.) visual representations (in data visualisations) of the pandemic in mainstream media. 

We will analyse data from across the world  – USA, UK, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Spain, Russia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and Pakistan –  in order to understand how inequalities, especially as these relate to gender, class, and race, are reaffirmed and/or contested in mainstream media. Our key hypothesis is that COVID-related news representations are located within an axis, with economic life at the one end of the spectrum and socio-cultural life (incl. wellbeing) on the other.

 We want to understand how news balance between the two extremes across time and space. We thus concentrate on three key temporal moments in the pandemic (assuming that those moments represent key points in the formation of global debates on COVID-19) and we are examining different spaces, especially as these are understood as distinct national mediascapes (though we assume certain fluidity within and across them). The three periods we focus on are:

  • (1) April 2020 (first period – debate on COVID as a global concern emerges);
  • (2) October 2020 (second period – rising second wave or concerns of second wave and interconnected transnational debates on measures, including travel bans, etc);
  • (3) January 2021 (third period – way to “resolution” with vaccine becoming globally debated and rolled out).

 You can find more information about the project here.


Research of young people

DiSTO Youth UK

The projects associated with DiSTO Youth aim to fill gaps in our knowledge around young people’s digital skills and the outcomes they achieve through use of ICTs.  They combine qualitative and quantitative research methods to construct and test survey instruments and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions related to digital engagement with young people.

The DiSTO youth projects adapt the DiSTO survey measures for skills, uses and outcomes and develop new measures related to motivations, attitudes and support networks in relation to ICTs. Most are focussed on understanding to what extent digital inequalities exist amongst the generation of so-called ‘digital natives’ and which interventions might be most effective in tackling digital exclusion.

The DiSTO NEETs (with the Prince’s Trust) and the Digital Reach (Nominet Trust) project are direct applications of the DiSTO surveys and more information about these is given below. The Benessere Digitale (Milan Univeristy) and the Global and EU Kids Online projects (multi-stakeholder collaboration) have integrated measurement instruments from the DiSTO projects for their research project. This project is also involved in ySKills. Please visit their websites to find out more.

Digital Reach Evaluation

The Digital Reach programme by Nominet Trust was set up to reimagine the delivery of digital skills training by putting expert youth organisations at the heart of a multi-stakeholder endeavour. All 12 delivery partners have existing and trusted relationships with the hardest-to-reach young people. As part of this programme six pilot projects, across the UK, will test a range of new models to meaningfully improve the digital skills, confidence and resilience of those young people on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’

LSE’s participation in this project consists of:

  • Developing a framework that will help evaluate the impact of the programmes in the Digital Research consortium.
  • Identifying a clear baseline and distance travelled for each young person participating in one of  the programmes
  • Comparing and contrasting the impact of the different projects
  • Evaluate the overall programme against the framework of a ‘Theory of Change’


This project officially called ‘Socio-digital Skills of Disadvantaged Young People’ (aka DiSTO NEETs) intends to contribute with both a better qualitative understanding of how the most vulnerable young people in Britain experience the increasingly digital world around them and tries to establish what the baseline distribution is of a wide range of digital skills and the influence of (the lack) of these on young people’s current and future prospects and well-being.

 Little is as of yet known about how positive skills related to social interaction (i.e. networking and communicative skills) and informal creative and participatory skills (i.e. creating and sharing texts, images and videos) are related to well-being of disadvantaged young people both in terms of future employment and education prospects as well as in terms of psychological and physical well-being. There is also a particular gap in baseline data around the digital skills and engagement of young people who fall outside of or who are ‘marginalised’ from the mainstream education system such as young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). DiSTO NEETs aims to fill this gap.

This is achieved via:

  • A review of the literature and evidence around digital literacy, motivation and attitudes in relation to disadvantaged young people.
  • 6 Focus groups with NEETs across the UK
  • A nationally representative survey of 800 young internet users between 16 and 24 and a quota sample survey of 400 internet using NEETs.

Researchers:  Ellen Helsper & Svetlana Smirnova

Funding: This project was funded through LSE Enterprise by the Nominet Trust.



Networked Effects of Digital Inequalities

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.

This was achieved via:

  • A systematic review of the literature on neighbourhood and network effects of inequalities.
  • Selection of four neighbourhoods in London and Los Angeles which had different combinations of high/low digital and high/low social inequalities (based on LA exclusion heatmaps)
  • A survey with at least 75 individuals in each of the selected neighbourhoods (Final N=828)
  • Elicitation interviews using the survey with 3 individuals in each of the selected neighbourhoods (Final N=23)

Researcher: Ellen Helsper

Funding: Funding was provided by the International Inequalities Institute Research Innovation Grant.

Exclusion in a Digital Britain

The Exclusion in a Digital Britain Heatmap project (2015-2017). 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.

This was achieved via:

  • The development of metrics that would allow for the visualisation of social and digital inequalities at the local area level.
  • A review of the existing (opensource) databases that could provide data for social (age, education, income, health) and digital (infrastructure, access, skills and use) inequalities indicators.
  • The mapping of inequalities at the neighbourhood level across the UK based on the available data.


  • The UKs standard definition for broadband was changed after the first mapping exercise took place, from 2MB/s to 10mb/s because it turned out that 2mb was not enough to push uptake in use and skills.
  • The measurement of skills was expanded when many local authorities realised that this data was not available and they were hindered in decision making

Researchers: Ellen Helsper  & Richard Kirch

Partners: DotEveryone, Technpartnership, Department for Culture Media and Sports, Lloyds. 

London Heatmap

This project replicates the British study with a full representative sample of lower output 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.

Researcher: Ellen Helsper

Partners: Under discussion with the Major of London’s office