Exploring an inclusive digital society

A project by the University of Groningen

Inclusion Lab

Digital literacies and digital inclusion of (digital-) low-literate citizens


Digital literacy and digital inclusion have become an essential part of an increasingly digitized society. To participate in society as informed and digital citizens, individuals must develop digital skills, and master the functionalities and practices of digital media. However, this proves difficult in practice for many citizens with lower digital and language skills. All the more so since research has shown that about 2.5 million Dutch citizens are more or less low-literate, struggling to keep up in digital society.

In a knowledge-based society where digital literacy has become increasingly important, it has become crucial to examine how low-literate and similarly marginalized groups, through media use and associated experiences, give their own meaning to complex all-encompassing terms such as informed and/or digital citizenship, digital inclusion/exclusion, the digital divide, and digital inequality. This research offers a situated perspective on this, by studying in a qualitative ethnographic manner how (digitally) low-literate citizens self-determine their use of digital media, based on their language and digital capabilities and barriers.

Project information

This study explores how low-literate people experience, understand and translate digital literacy, digital inclusion, digital exclusion and (digital) inequality within their own personal daily digital practices. The focus is on socio-material contexts, through which (digital) literacies are learned and applied. Through observations, interviews and focus groups, various teaching forms and practice situations are studied. Tracking low-literate people within these situations in different contexts in a longitudinal manner is important, as the lives of these groups today are characterized by constant exposure to digital media. This while subgroups with greater distance from (digital) society tend to have difficulty using and integrating digital media into their daily practices without difficulty. In particular, low-literate people who struggle to read and write are at potential risk of digital exclusion, with negative consequences for their civic participation and digital citizenship.

Research objectives and questions

This project examines the causes that promote or prevent the development of digital literacy, the human-technology relationships that contribute to it, and how digital literacy and digital systems can be made more inclusive for “marginalized” groups such as the low-literate. The central questions are how low-literate Dutch adults perceive digital competencies and skills as useful within everyday practices, what the individual, social and technological implications are in the development of digital literacy, how they interpret digital inclusion/exclusion, informed and digital citizenship based on their own capacities and barriers, and how educational programs can be designed more efficiently based on the everyday issues experienced by the low-literate.

Researchers and partners

This research is being conducted by Alexander Smit (Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen) under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Marcel Broersma (Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen) and Dr. Joëlle Swart (Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen). The project is supported by the following partners:

– Alfa-college

– Biblionet Groningen

– Koninklijke Bibliotheek

– Ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken en Koninkrijksrelaties (Ministry of Internal Affairs)



For questions about this project, please contact Alexander Smit by e-mail (a.p.smit@rug.nl).

Image: ©UG – Silvio Zangerini

Digital literacies and digital inclusion of (digital-) low-literate citizens