From mid-October to mid-November 2019, I was in the UK for a research visit. The opportunity to collaborate closely, exchange ideas, learn from another perspective while in a different work environment is always welcome. KAUTE, The Finnish Science Foundation for Technology and Economics, funded the research visit. While in the UK, I worked with Dr Rachel Burrows.

Digital Interventions for the Marginalised in Society

The aim of the visit was to investigate the use of digital interventions to address the needs of the marginalised in society, to understand the challenges in designing these interventions and the opportunities they avail.  The marginalised could include asylum seekers, low-income communities, those without access to financial services, those living in rural areas and so on. In the initial plan, we were to focus on homelessness but decided to first review contemporary research on marginalisation before investigating digital interventions for the homeless. 

Marginalised communities face significant barriers and inequities in entitlement and access to even basic needs. These include limited access to digital content and/or know-how, communication difficulties, lack of social support and other socioeconomic challenges leading to their stigmatisation. This prevents the marginalised from taking part in societal interactions and navigating the complex and ever-changing social system. For these reasons, the marginalised communities represent unique, urgent and poorly understood challenges with the potential for many technological solutions. There needs to be an in-depth understanding of these unique design challenges posed before implementing any digital intervention.

During the visit, we analysed literature on different marginalised communities to find the common themes from research. Among the key findings from our initial research was the important role of social support. Social support from peers who help to relay important information to those without digital means and from social workers. Social workers who act as mediators and help marginalised communities to find relevant information. Another important finding was the role of policies in amplifying or mitigating the delivery of services. Policymakers should understand the unique challenges of marginalised communities in order not to enact policies detrimental to their wellbeing. Welfare policies and systems can influence the delivery of services; and the individual capacity of a homeless person, for example, could impact their willingness to, and the way they interact with the service systems. This is because the way systems are configured affects the delivery of services and the quality of the service provided.

Th next steps after the visit are to submit for publication the results of our review and to integrate the findings from the review into at least one other study. The review focuses on investigating existing digital approaches to addressing the needs of the homeless and the outcomes of these. The following study will focus on understanding inclusion and user values from systems thinking perspective.