Green light!

Edited on 08/04/2024

Same Journey; new stages…


As I write this, I’ve just changed trains - moving to the next phase of a journey to another country in Europe. Whilst this current train journey is not related to the Digi-Inclusion project, that is a very different situation to the months before the New Year, when Digi-Inclusion travel was pretty much all I knew!


The initial period of any URBACT project is an intense yet rewarding experience, and that time last year was no exception – getting to see first-hand the starting point of all our nine project partners in the network, visiting each one in turn to meet their municipal teams, local stakeholders and partners, and to get a sense of the place and it’s local context.

This baselining process, whilst somewhat travel-intensive, is a crucial part of understanding the network properly and enabling us to decide what we should tackle in the following two years. It helps us to understand the social, economic and environmental context each partner is working with, along with their challenges and their aspirations for change.

I do believe being on the ground, in person, is the only way to do this properly. I think online tools and exchange offer us huge benefits in URBACT networks, but this is one area where remote working doesn’t cut it. You have to see it, feel  it, hear it, taste it to truly understand a place well enough to do the network justice.

I was fortunate that the network Lead Partner shares this fundamental view, and my visits to each partner city / region were done in partnership with Albert Garcia, the project lead from the Lead Partner city (Mollet del Vallès near Barcelona, ES.) Between the two of us we worked as a team to gradually gather (and make sense of!) the insights we gained from all the conversations, visits, presentations and discussions, piecing together a picture of the overall network to guide our future focus.

The final task was for me to then synthesise all this and use it to craft a Roadmap for the exchange and learning activities of the network over the coming two years. That was my final weeks of last year!

The results of that six month period of work are set out within the network Baseline Report, available on the Digi-Inclusion pages of the URBACT site ( and scroll down to the “Library”). On the back of this, we have been given the green light to progress into the next phase of the project, and to start the exchange phase of the work - working with all project partners to exchange, learn, define and test new ideas and understand how we can increase digital inclusion and bridge the digital divide.

This is where all the theory has to start becoming reality…

We will be taking a two-pronged approach to exploring how we address digital exclusion, focussing on two separate (but related) goals:

- Retrospective catch-up - for those already excluded, helping them to benefit form the digital world.

- Future-focused, systematic prevention - to stop new exclusions being created as with go through digital transitions.

In other words, on one hand tackling existing digital divides by implementing new actions to help excluded groups to engage more in the digital world; and at the same time, creating “digitally inclusive” policies, so that new changes (and new digital transition strategies in particular) do not create new digital divides because of how they are designed or implemented.

In the same way that over the last 10-15 years gender inclusivity has become far more routinely considered as part of new policy and strategy development, so we wish to enable digital inclusivity to be routinely part of the evaluation and implementation of new policy instruments as well.

Like in cities all across Europe, Digi-Inclusion partners have been working on digital transition projects and looking to boost digital services and opportunities, but largely without taking into account the digital exclusion this may be creating. With digital transition being a key focal point for EU strategy in the coming decade, it is imperative that we ensure we can make sure these future transitions are just transitions. Currently most projects partners have no underlying strategy for digital inclusion, even though most of them have some form of strategy for digital transformation. This is not a criticism, but the reality of the wave of digitisation that has swept Europe and the world, particularly in the last decade.

Through the Digi-Inclusion network, we aim to change this – helping each partner to develop Integrated Action Plans for bridging the digital divide in their city or region. We will all need to look backwards, behind the wave of digitisation, to identify those left behind by it. Simultaneously, we will look at how to change thinking and approaches to avoid creating new exclusions as the wave of digital transition continues to sweep through our lives.

Over the coming years, Digi-Inclusion partners will be exchanging ideas on core topics, collaboratively testing out potential ideas and actions, and looking at how we can implement these more successfully. The topics will include looking at Motivation, Data on the Digital Divide, Digital Access and Digital Skills, e-Services, Digital Rights, making best use of people’s Digital Capital, as well as Mainstreaming digital inclusion and embedding it in governance structures.

We plan to capture and package up all the knowledge and interventions we create and gather into a Digital Inclusion “Playbook for Cities” – something that helps urban practitioners and decision makers to engage with the theme of digital inclusion more actively and offering concrete, examples, strategies and interventions.

This is not an easy task… digital exclusion is a complex problem which manifests itself in different ways and is experienced differently by each project partner. But it is also an important task. With a strong network and Lead Partner to work alongside, I’m confident we can together rise to the challenge as we start this next phase of our journey, to help cities across Europe to make important steps towards bridging the digital divide in Europe.


Submitted by Ian Graham on 03/04/2024