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Online civic activities continue to rise



Ofcom research shows that people are increasingly going online for public and civic activities, but there are still pockets of resistance

People in the UK are increasingly likely to go online for information from and transactions with government, with last year's figures showing a significant increase on those for 2013, according to new research from communications regulator Ofcom.

Its Media Use and Attitudes 2015 report, the 10th it has produced, shows that in 2014 the majority of internet users carried out at least one of three activities it identifies in the section: 78% of respondents to its survey had looked for information on public services; 69% had looked at websites or apps for news on their local area; and 69% had completed government processes online.

Significant minorities had engaged in the other three online activities: 44% had investigated political and campaign issues on the internet; 35% had signed an online petition; and 19% had contacted a local councillor or MP.

All of the figures show notable increases, ranging from 6% to 16%, over those recorded for the previous year's report.

They come from a much broader survey on how the public uses the internet, which shows that people are spending twice as much time online compared to 10 years ago, with the growth fuelled by increasing use of tablets and smartphones - although these remain less important overall than laptop and desktop computers.

Age factor

For the public and civic activities it comes as no surprise that 35-44 year-olds were the most active online, recording the highest percentage for five of the six activities: they are the group that combine being comfortable with digital technology with taking public services seriously.

The exception was for signing an online petition, which was most likely to be done by 25-34 year-olds.

Social differences have also made a difference. People in the AB groups were the most likely to go online for public services, although even in the C2 group more than half of the respondents had found information, looked for community news and completed a government process online.

A big majority of users in all groups had accessed the services mainly through a laptop or desktop computer, accounting for 52% and 26% respectively. But there were figures of 9% each for tablets and smartphones, with older people more likely to use the former and under-35s the latter.

Cautionary element

Most of the findings will encourage the cheerleaders for taking more government services online, but the report produces a note of caution in its finding that there were still 31% who had not completed a government process through the internet.

The most commonly cited reason was a preference to fill out a paper form and/or use the post (24%), followed by a preference to talk with someone in person (22%) or on the phone (16%). Relatively few people cited problems with the online processes, with 7% saying it takes too long to do the job online and 5% claiming the websites or apps are difficult to use; and another 11% were worried about providing personal information online.

But the difficulties can be qualified by the fact that 22% said they didn't need to carry out any of the processes, and 8% were not aware they could be done online. This provides some fuel to the argument that the more services become available through websites and apps, and the more familiar they become to the public, the more people will use them.

Picture by by Matthew Bowden Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.

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