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ISPs Could Use Behavioural Economics to Help Get Elderly People Online

Thursday, Nov 29th, 2012 (12:12 am) - Score 638

A report from the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) has proposed new ways in which broadband ISPs could use behavioural economics to get more elderly and disadvantaged people online, such as by offering “discounted installation” deals or “guaranteeing” that they can return to a “paper service” if the online experience doesn’t work out.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed in August 2012 that the number of adults who have never used the internet has shrunk to 7.82 million (16% of the UK), with the majority of “non-users” being either older, suffering from disabilities or in the “lowest social classes“. Meanwhile Go ON UK recently estimated that 16 million people in the UK still don’t have the basic online skills needed to benefit fully from the internet.

According to ILC-UK’s new “Nudge or Compel?” study, people who actively use the internet tend to feel more in control of their lives and more able to learn new skills. By comparison those who reported not using the internet were more likely to say that they “oftenfelt isolated from others and less able to learn new skills.

David Sinclair, Assistant Director of Policy at ILC-UK, said:

Public policy aimed at getting older people online has tended to focus how we can develop skills and ensure access to new technology. But far too often, we have overlooked the role played by behaviour and choice.

We have recently seen the use of behavioural economics to encourage a new generation to save for the first time. We must better explore how we can use these techniques to tackle the other challenges faced by an ageing society.”

The concept of “Nudge” was apparently developed by Thaler and Sunstein in 2008 and is based on the field of behavioural theory, which suggests that individuals’ actions and decisions don’t result simply from a “rational overview of external circumstances“. Instead they are equally likely to be based on systems of habitual behaviour based on learned traits and biases.

But some of the recommendations being proposed by ILC-UK aren’t exactly new.

ICL-UK Recommendations for Tackling Digital Exclusion

* Service providers [should] attract older customers by finding ways of discounted installation and connection deals, and initial periods of free internet access.

* Companies advertising technology and opportunities [should] learn technology [that uses] imagery appealing to both older and younger people.

* Government and the private sector [should] support local digital champions to make the case at a community level for the use of new technology.

* Government and the private sector [should] invest more in adult learning, particularly if certain services are going to be made available exclusively online.

* The technology sector [should] place more emphasis on “co-design”.

Broadband ISPs already offer discounted or free connection deals and initial periods of free service are now quite common within the wider internet access market. Similarly many of the other ideas, such as the ones surrounding “digital champions“, are already being used.

On the other hand offering people the “opportunity” to Return to Paper‘ if they are unsatisfied with their digital experience is something that should be happening anyway, although the government often seem far too keen to push everybody online in order to save money.

In either case there remains no easy solution to getting people online, especially if they’re reluctant to take the plunge, so anything that gives them a choice in the matter and offers help if they seek it out is to be welcomed.

UPDATE 9:52am

The full report is now available for download.


By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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