The Digital Neighburhoods research project investigates the role of superfast broadband access on rural neighbourhoods. It studies the impact of the integration of online social networks with place-based networks for rural communities. The study aims to investigate the link between the use of public spaces, such as libraries, and social integration, through community based online social networks, as an approach to overcoming digital divides.
Research is being undertaken in a series of case study villages in Cornwall, beginning with studies to identify a pattern of social connections at neighbourhood places and how people operate within ICT social networks. In the second stage of the study we are working with local community centres and village halls in our case study villages to study how they form digital hubs. We are using action research will be undertaken to measure the effect on social inclusion and sense of place of the inclusion of a level of access to superfast broadband in public spaces.
The research has three objectives:
· Work Package 1: Identify a pattern of social connections in a village, how people operated within ICT social networks and how this might relate to the place in which they chose to enact social behaviour through analysis of qualitative data from diary studies and interviews with residents in five neighbourhoods. This will establish how people understand and act upon their interactions with technology in their everyday life not necessarily in a purely spatial sense, but more importantly how they are situated within their social networks.
· Work Package 2: Through the results of an observational study of digital interactions within key public spaces within five neighbourhoods it will be possible to understand how public or communal spaces within a neighbourhood are affected. Drawing on the knowledge gained from the empirical diary and public space studies to develop a design-based intervention to directly impact upon the possibility for connecting mediated networks and public spaces in order to reinforce and strengthen local social cohesion and to overcome digital divides.
· Work Package 3: To share and disseminate the results of the research with four key audiences; local community, academics, general public and agencies or organisations concerned with future planning of communities.
The motivation for the project is to understand the impact on communities of the introduction of a large-scale technological infrastructure to a rural, deprived region. Funded by the EU, BT and Cornwall Council, and managed by Cornwall Development Company, Superfast Cornwall is a project that involves building a brand new fibre-based superfast broadband network. The project aims to ‘improve the lives of the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, giving a much needed boost to the economy. Learning, playing and working will be transformed, encouraging innovation amongst the regions businesses’ (Superfast Cornwall website).
The PhD work is part of Superfast Cornwall Labs: a collaborative project investigating current thinking, research, technological developments and trends to push the boundaries of what is possible through superfast broadband in Cornwall, adding value to the economy.
The project will deliver both a theoretical framework and in-depth empirical results on how interaction in social networks enabled by technological infrastructures such as high speed broadband affects social cohesion and overcomes digital divides. It will also result in a model for creating high quality public spaces that engage people through their digital social networks that will impact on planning and policy for regional ICT access and neighbourhood renewal.
Pamela Varley (Superfast Cornwall part funded PhD)
Title: 'A Study of the Social and Spatial Effects of Technological Transition in a Rural Village'
This project seeks to develop an advanced understanding of the interplay between broadband use, social interaction and the place in which people live. Fieldwork has involved working in an embedded manner within a central case study neighbourhood - a rural Cornish village, as well as complementary research in a number of additional villages. A wide range of methods have been employed, including social network analysis, survey research, qualitative interviewing and a diary study. Results are painting a picture of how a community is structured, how it operates (both socially and spatially), and how technology infuses with this. The reliance of a rural community on the 'local' and upon more traditional means of communication is evident at every juncture, posing an interesting question as to how superfast broadband can be made applicable in the local rural setting, harnessed as a community asset, and hence used for positive social transformation.
Director of Studies: Dr Katharine Willis
Second Supervisor: Professor Alessandro Aurigi
Third Supervisor: Nigel Ashcroft MBE
We have worked with the following communities, and we are grateful to them for their time in contributing to the research:
Pendeen (The Centre of Pendeen)
St Breward (St Breward Memorial Hall and the residents of St Breward)
Stoke Climsland (the Old School)
St Dennis (ClayTAWC)
Liskeard (Liskeard library)
Treverbyn (Treverbyn Together)
This has partnered with the Superfast Cornwall Digital Inclusion programme of digital inclusion training in village and town venues in Cornwall