[This article was originally published in English by Mathieu Muselet. Translation : EPALE France.]
The lockdown accelerated the practical working conditions for digital mediation professionals, confirming what were previously only controversial intuitions. Among these, three are significant in our view: solutions that work in close proximity with inhabitants, the broad recognition of skills and resources, and conditions for the widespread application.
- A paradox lies between the global spread of the virus and the hyper localization of digital exclusion
We have made observations in the Centre Val de Loire region within a consortium that has been working for a year to identify mediation practices in the 23 catchment areas of the 6 departments. The consortium included the Ligue de l'enseignement, CRIJ, Mouvement associatif, GIP Récia and Région CVL. 500 mediation professionals were able to express themselves, from volunteers to local elected officials, from agents of public digital spaces to public service agents. Clearly, the term “digital exclusion” previously suffered from a kind of condescension in the technocratic language since it qualified the eternally excluded, poor, hyper urban, hyper rural, hyper invisible. Categories that are spoken of so often, yet are left to one side and not helped. For example, the projects for installing fibre in France or satellite access, have never been prioritised for these populations, instead aiming to connect economic centres. The lockdown has highlighted the obvious: a lack of access to digital technology speeds up the exclusion of populations. The issue has become central to debates, and communities have ceaselessly tried to mobilize funds and logistics to assist the affected audiences. However, our children, seniors, craftsmen, associations and mayors more than 30km from a major city have not had proper access to all public services of education, training and employment.
Although the major schemes for the installation of fibre are well under way, there are many problems given that fibre cannot be broken when the cables are installed. What is a community to do about the wobbly post covered in ivy near a wall that even the cousin of the grandfather of the local notary's uncle can’t remember the owner of? It is no laughing matter. I'm sure you see exactly what we're talking about. Well, think about this article the next time you're out in the country. In my opinion, the 2022 objective of 100% fibre coverage cannot be met even if so-called "mixed" solutions are developed. A forecast of 20% of households with low data speeds seems more realistic. If this 2-year period includes a resurgence of Covid and the economic crisis that is currently taking shape, the highly vulnerable will disappear from the radars altogether.
Why not campaign for massive European intervention to redirect a two-year emergency plan to fix white spots? (pending the arrival of the solutions mentioned) With adapted solutions co-managed by associations and supported by a solid endowment fund of contributions by: Departmental councils, CNAF, employment centres, private and public entities. Caisse des Dépôts, which is always interested in making major investments (which by their very nature exclude local associations). It is important to build an agile intervention force and not a white elephant that will take 6 months to set up since each institution would be immobilized in its positioning.
- the rise in competence of individuals and recognition
We have suggested using open badges for the recognition of skills, communities of professionals working together, that have produced social ties and economic strength for the future. Organising one's personal space, organising one’s family during lockdown, self-training, staying strong, keeping an eye on current events, living in expectation and developing a project, eating differently, becoming aware of the body's adaptation, etc. These active skills mustn’t go unrecognised, they should be leveraged for employment, training, social life. This is the scope of the research and proposals we are currently carrying out within the association RECONNAITRE, founded in February 2018. With the "Badgeons le centre Val de Loire" project (badgeonslecvll.fr), financed by ERDF funding, we want to model this recognition system in each region to, once again, make digital inclusion not an artefact but a reality of action. The public service of recognition is our vision.
- practices, or rather conditions of access to practices
We take a critical look at the users’ adaptation to all the offers that the market has produced since the beginning of COVID: free videoconferencing, extended cloud services, extended Smartphone packages, etc. While we can congratulate the virtuous but temporary efforts of some major operators, we must also work on what comes next. For us, the European Union must provide strong support for the installation of free and open solutions for all inhabitants. Let us recall that ergonomic solutions, (like the Framasoft “chatons”: a sort of free Google suite, which is functional and located in France). Why? The last few years have led to the emergence of thousands of start-ups that only partially meet social demand since public procurement is fragmented in our decentralised state organisation.
If we want to accompany practices: understanding teleconsultation, helping children use a VLE, accessing rights, talking with family and friends, archiving data, protecting oneself from digital intrusions, etc., we need to use virtuous tools in terms of individual freedoms and solidarity in the community.
Following a year of work aimed at identifying digital mediation sites in the Centre Val-de-Loire region, the professionals and the consortium have identified a new need: inclusive support for everyday use. Many digital mediation spaces are able to provide this, and are legitimized by the public itself through hyper proximity. But we are running up against the economic model. The CVL region is pursuing a considerable effort of a general public training act called “VISA Numériques” but it is necessarily part of the public training market and by nature excludes small associations which have neither the desire nor the engineering to respond to this type of market. We would like to test a sort of digital voucher, much like the cultural voucher that allows audiences to visit digital mediation spaces with vouchers paid for by institutions. It would be complementary to the VISA training offer, and would provide a way for the territories to adapt their solutions to their inhabitants.
A provisional conclusion: yes to start-ups, but at the service of all! Start-ups are here to create and help us innovate, public policy making these solutions accessible is the link that is currently missing in mass digital inclusion. There is no use demanding digital inclusion if Europe, the French government and local authorities do not rebalance their efforts for access to digital technology for all as a matter of urgency, reflected in terms of resources, with confidence in the territories to organise themselves without excessive supervision.
Since 1992, Mathieu Muselet has been undertaking projects that combine support engineering and digital mediation in order to concretely embody the ideal of individual and collective emancipation, of which popular education is the source. His career has been marked by the creation of educational and cultural projects with young people and socially vulnerable groups, and by personal experiences in France and abroad, particularly in Cameroon. He experiments with and deploys the “Open Badges” scheme, which for the League of Education is gradually becoming an obvious tool in engaging a society of recognition that will be more attentive to highlighting the values, experiences and knowledge of individuals. He created the third place "la Grange Numérique", and runs the “Badgeons le Centre Val de Loire” network.