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Digital inclusion – a CS perspective Alex Poulovassilis ESRC TLRP-TEL Inclusion and Impact conference, 10-11 June 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "Digital inclusion – a CS perspective Alex Poulovassilis ESRC TLRP-TEL Inclusion and Impact conference, 10-11 June 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 Digital inclusion – a CS perspective Alex Poulovassilis ESRC TLRP-TEL Inclusion and Impact conference, June 2010

2 Computer Science Computer Science is a relatively new and evolving discipline It has its roots in multiple disciplines and continues to have strong affinities with these: – maths, logic, physics, engineering, psychology, organisational psychology, management, philosophy … Computer systems involve both hardware and software: – this is sometimes blurred by references to (digital) technology – but there is a distinction between digital devices (and networks of these) – and the software that runs on them The discipline of Computer Science mostly involves research into, and development of, the software running on digital devices, not the devices themselves (the study of hardware is part of Computer Systems Engineering)

3 Computer Science – User Focus Within the discipline of Computer Science, the development of computer systems has always been strongly user-focussed: – 1940s/50s: individuals played roles of user, programmer, hardware engineer – 1960s/70s: increasing application areas for computer systems; formal career structures emerged for computer scientists; but users still involved in most phases of the software development process: Requirements analysis Specification Prototyping and user interface design Testing – 1990s onwards: advent of Agile software development methodology: user stakeholders are full members of the development team, with programmers team communication by face-to-face discussion rather than documents rapid feedback from testing and evaluation of small system increments

4 Computer Science & Digital Inclusion Importance of understanding the needs of users – how do the proposed services match with their current and evolving goals; what are their preferences for how to access these services? – Such concerns are naturally part of the design, evaluation and maintenance (evolution) of computer systems – It is important to involve user stakeholders as equal members within development and maintenance teams c.f. Agile methodology – All these aspects are part of the CS area of software engineering

5 Computer Science & Digital Inclusion Important that services are easy to understand, easy to use, non-threatening, appealing... so as to remove technology barriers and draw in previously excluded people: – These concerns are of relevance to the Human- Computer-Interaction (HCI) area of CS

6 Computer Science & Digital Inclusion Important not to lose sight of the individual user in designing new services Users individual needs should not be assumed to be fully catered for by addressing the perceived needs of a particular group of users (even if user stakeholders are involved as equal partners): – Importance of personalisation of service delivery, provided by the use of appropriate adaptation techniques within the software code – Importance of gathering and analysing information about users actual usage of services – hence need for information management, data mining

7 Computer Science & Digital Inclusion Importance of providing equivalent services with different interfaces or running on different hardware, for different user groups, according to their access needs and preferences: – Same core functionality but with some differences of interface or deployment – Modular software development, and management of multiple software configurations is part of the CS area of software engineering and has the potential to make more economically feasible the development and maintenance of multiple versions of software services

8 Computer Science & Digital Inclusion Importance of defining, and designing for, the role of new services within the broader processes that people and organisations will be using them within Importance of monitoring how deployment of new services alters these processes – This is part of information systems design

9 Conclusion Computer Scientists may be able to contribute to Digital Inclusion through their expertise and research in areas such as: – software engineering – software development methodologies – HCI – personalisation and adaptation – information management and data mining – information systems design

10 A note on Sustainability Hardware and software have a natural lifetime For the prototypes that are output by research projects, this may be quite short Open-source software and service-based software development can mitigate against this More importantly, the knowledge gained, methodologies developed and employed, fundamental computing techniques researched and developed, and evaluation results obtained, are all sustainable into the longer term future, to be built upon by new projects and initiatives


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