Training and tools needed for genuine digital citizenship

By | 9th September 2019

How can we improve society and help our organisations be part of global collaborative projects?

  • Be an active digital citizen
  • Share tools which are responsible and ethical
  • Encourage learning of digital skills with your friends, colleagues and through open source projects
  • Promote improved understanding of digital issues
  • Be innovative collaboratively
Laptop open showing graphs on the screen. Pencils, paper and coffee mug on the table beside it
Photo by rawpixel on Pixabay 2019

Mia MacMeekin’s infographic at An Ethical Island is a great summary of digital citizenship and useful for implementation and training. It can also, with principles set out by Mike Ribble in education, be applied to open source tech communities and assist members of professional institutes in sharing learning.

In October every year, there is a Digital Citizenship week. Though this celebration week is designed for the education sector, many of the learnings and thought leadership articles that emerge have lessons for the workplace and real life collaborative projects.

The principles of Digital Citizenship are to learn, communicate and collaborate, and to teach each others how to do this in a positive and learning environment. Part of this is to understand privacy, data handling and online security. Another area is about using the management skills of listening, adapting communications appropriately and fostering innovation through upskilling.

Digital citizenship

Terry Heick, from TeachThought, who has written on this topic, defines digital citizenship as “the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community”. He explores how “quality of habits, actions and consumption patterns impact the ecology of digital content and communities.” From Non Stop UK’s research, I have mapped this relevance to the sustainability, growth and outcomes found in many open source communities, including WordPress.org. It has relevance to the interaction and long term motivation of contributors, and can be used as a way of supporting positive collaboration, skills development and lead to greater innovation.

Definition of Digital Citizenship (Terry Heick, December 2018)

Digital Leadership can develop from digital citizenship. The study by George Curos in the education setting has similar examples in the growth of open source communities and their ability to through their contributors’ time and energy raise skill levels and knowledge. Curos describes ‘digital leadership’ as where “the internet and social media is used to improve the lives, well-being and circumstances of others”.

George Couros on digital leadership including a video of his TEDx talk

The works of Heick and Curos have relevance for the open source engagement, community growth, and governance.

One of the best definitions of Digital Citizenship which can be used in working environments is from an article by Mike Ribble. He writes: “Digital citizenship means contributing positively through online communications, respecting the rights and opinions of others while protecting the integrity of oneself.”

Ribble believes there are nine elements of digital citizenship. Though he works in the education sector, this breakdown is relevant to working environments. The open source communities are also championing many, if not all these areas.

Ribble lists the following areas as necessary for good digital citizenship:

  • digital access
  • digital commerce
  • digital communication
  • digital literacy
  • digital etiquette
  • digital law
  • digital rights and responsibilities
  • digital health and wellness
  • digital security 

Nine elements of digital citizenship (Mike Ribble, updated in 2017)

Digital citizenship (Mindmeister) uses Ribble’s 9 elements as a mindmap.

The Digital Council of Europe describes Digital Citizenship as:

“The competent and positive engagement with digital technologies (creating, working, sharing, socializing, investigating, playing, communicating and learning); participating actively and responsibly (values, skills, attitudes, knowledge) in communities (local, national, global) at all levels (political, economic, social, cultural and intercultural); being involved in a double process of lifelong learning (in formal, informal and non-formal settings) and continuously defending human dignity.” (Digital Council of Europe – A conceptual model)

Open source tech projects and local government voluntary sector partnerships are excellent examples of what can be achieved through this kind of lifelong digital learning. They can empower people with skills to be able to contribute and participate not just in their immediate environments but also in wider settings. They can be encouraged through this sharing of digital know-how to potentially play a role in governance and society.

Google’s Digital Citizenship education resources can be adapted to help with skills training in the workplace.

d-cent open source tools

d-cent project stands for Decentralised Citizens ENgagement Technologies. It was a European-wide project, funded in 2013-2016 to bring together tools to help people take part in democracy and develop new open source tools to participate. The tools, according to the project, “enable citizens to be informed and get real-time notifications about issues that matter to them; propose and draft solutions and policy collaboratively; decide and vote on solutions and collective municipal budgeting; and finally implement and reward people with blockchain reward schemes. The tools can be combined in ways to support democratic processes.”

The toolbox and its GitHub ongoing development have many tool ideas and data information to assist other democracy and engagement projects.

Engaging citizens online

The examples below are largely UK-based. With our network, we will be highlighting wider examples in the coming months.

UK’s Local Government Association’s informatic on engaging citizens online for care and health service improvements.

Local Digital

The Local Digital Declaration explores models of good digital transformation and defines five principles for organisations to commit in order to achieve success. It is a joint initiative from the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) and the now Local Digital Collaboration Unit at the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). It has an extensive list of co-publishers from both local authorities and central government departments.

Local Digital Service website – features local authorities case studies and is another example of joint working between central and local governmental bodies. Funding is available for new collaborative digital projects. On its website, Local Digital describes its brief as “Our mission is to support a national ‘Local Digital’ movement that brings together everyone required to make excellent local public services for users and taxpayers.”

First year review of the Local Digital Declaration (GDS, 2019). Some interesting collaborative projects under the banner of #FixThePlumbing.

Local Digital Declaration launch (GDS, September 2018)

How public bodies can get involved (Local Digital). The initiative’s aim is to move to “where technology is an enabler rather than a barrier to service improvements, and services are a delight for citizens and officials to use.” It predicts that through “common building blocks local authorities will be able to build services more quickly, flexibly and effectively” and be able to innovate more.

Engaging Citizens Online

If you are a senior manager in public engagement or social care, the Engaging Citizens Online (ECO) Briefing notes give guidance and case studies to encourage digital adoption. The notes are commissioned by the Local Government Association and from a partnership with Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the Society of IT Management (Socitm).

Local and voluntary sector

Summary of the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) briefing on the role of digital technology and social media within Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations and the implications for local government (full report accessible to member organisations)

Connected councils and empowerment

Connected Councils: a digital vision for local councils in 2025 (Meghan Benton and Julie Simon, Nesta, 2016)

How cities can use digital technology to engage and empower citizens citizens (Tom Saunders, Nesta, July 2016)

Showcase your examples

If you have a case study from the open source tech community or from government communications which could be highlighted here, contact writer and researcher Abha Thakor.