Playing chess – how do we end data poverty?

Our Policy and Research Officer, Tom McGrath, provides an update on our work to end data poverty through the Data Poverty Lab.

It’s slightly ironic that the solutions needed to unlock an affordable internet may be inspired by a hit Netflix show. As a show set in the 1960s, it might not surprise you that The Queen’s Gambit makes no mention of the internet. But the shows key focus – chess – may help us to identify good solutions to data poverty.

At Good Things Foundation, we see data poverty as a key component of the digital divide, and it’s an issue we’re trying to solve through the Data Poverty Lab. We recently held our first two workshops with people with lived experience, in which we wanted to see how data poverty had impacted people’s lives and what ideas they had for potential solutions.

To recruit participants and design solutions, we are continuing our partnership with APLE Collective. Their aim is to ensure that policies designed to tackle poverty take account of people with lived experience. We believe that appreciating, understanding, and acting upon these experiences is the only way to design effective, sustainable solutions to data poverty.

One of the core focuses of these workshops has been to determine what the key features of good solutions to data poverty are. We think there are many different things which need to come together to make a good, affordable internet service. But we’ve focused on five, which we refer to as our ‘Chess Board’:

  • Cheap – is the solution affordable? And can this be sustained over a long period of time?
  • Handy – is the solution easy to apply for and easy to access?
  • Enough – does the solution allow me to meet my needs online? Is it fast enough and is there enough data?
  • Safe – does the solution ensure my privacy is protected, and that I’m not at risk from harm?
  • Suitable – is it suitable and flexible for my circumstances? Does it help to tackle stigma?

The Chess Board reflects some of the concerns raised in the workshops about internet affordability and existing solutions to data poverty. Researching data packages is time-consuming, complex and can even be misleading, discouraging people from finding more affordable packages – so solutions need to be ‘handy’ to address this. Existing solutions to data poverty may place a bias either towards fixed line or mobile internet, which may mean they are not ‘suitable’ for people’s needs. And participants mentioned how the internet is now essential for people on low-incomes to meet their basic needs, so the solution needs to provide them with ‘enough’ data.

We know from our workshops that data poverty is very real. We know that 2 million households struggle to afford their internet bills and that at least 100,000 are completely offline due to cost. And we know that the combination of the Universal Credit cut, rising inflation and spiking bills will only make data poverty worse.

That’s why we need to work hard with communities to understand their needs and address data poverty now. We’re working hard to come up with the ideas that will help everyone get online. As Anya Taylor-Joy demonstrated, there is no one way to win at chess – and there is no single solution to data poverty!



Image by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Tom McGrath

Policy and Research Officer

Tom coordinates our Data Poverty Lab and fellowship scheme, helping to design more affordable solutions for the internet. He supports our advocacy by writing consultation responses and working closely with parliamentarians to fix the digital divide for good. Tom also monitors external statistical releases and designs qualitative research projects.