Defining Digital Competence

In a recent blog I raised the issue that most organisations don’t systematically invest in the digital competence of their team.  Having under invested, they then lament their inability to deliver real tangible value from their technology investments.  You can’t be a digital leader, or expect to realise the full value from your digital investments unless your team members, who use and support your digital enablement and data, are digitally competent.

On the surface that makes sense, right?  But it begs a question – what does digital competence mean anyway? Having asked that question I felt a little uncomfortable that I couldn’t give an immediate answer.  The only thing I knew for sure is that digital competence in an organisational context means much more than being able to use a smartphone and update your favorite social network on the move.

So I did some research.  What I found somewhat surprised me.  There has been a lot of work done on defining digital competence particularly in an education context and by the European Commission, who are interested in the importance of digital literacy to future participation economically and ensuring active citizenship, but I found virtually nothing about digital competency in the workplace as such.

This seems like a massive gap and a real issue if we want to get systematic about building digital competence in our organisations.  So, I have started playing with what I have found and seeing if it is applicable to the workplace. Without going into reams of paper the European Commission work looks like a really good place to start this examination.  The European Commission defines digital competence as:

“Digital Competence is the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes, abilities, strategies, and awareness that are required when using ICT and digital media to perform tasks; solve problems; communicate; manage information; collaborate; create and share content; and build knowledge effectively, efficiently, appropriately, critically, creatively, autonomously, flexibly, ethically, reflectively for work, leisure, participation, learning, and socialising”.

They then break this definition down into 21 competencies grouped into 5 areas as follows:

  1. Information –  Identify,  locate,  retrieve,  store,  organise  and  analyse       digital  information,  judging  its relevance and purpose.
  2. Communication – Communicate  in  digital  environments,  share resources  through  online  tools,  link  with others  and  collaborate through digital  tools,  interact  with  and  participate  in  communities and networks, cross-cultural awareness.
  3. Content Creation –  Create and edit new content (from word processing to images and video); integrate and re-elaborate  previous  knowledge  and content;  produce  creative  expressions,  media  outputs and programming; deal with and apply intellectual property rights and licences.
  4. Safety – Personal protection, data protection, digital identity protection, security measures, safe and sustainable use.
  5. Problem Solving – Identify  digital  needs  and  resources,  make  informed decisions  as  to  which  are  the  most appropriate  digital  tools  according  to the  purpose  or  need,  solve  conceptual  problems through digital means, creatively use technologies, solve technical problems, update one’s own and others’ competences.

It’s a pretty good list however, the Commission’s focus is on digital competence for individual citizens and I reckon it may need tweaking to recognise the organisational context of work.  For example:

  • Their emphasis in safety is around the individual and this focus may need to be expanded to get more balance between individual online safety and corporate online safety and particularly being aware of the growing business of cyber espionage and being able to detect suspicious activity in a corporate context.
  • The framework places emphasis on the ability of individuals to use technology to create content from scratch. While I can see why this is part of a digital competence framework I wonder if in a corporate context the day to day competency that users need is the ability to use tools effectively to get the job done rather than to use the tools for creation per se.

This looks like a pretty good start to digital competence in the workplace to me. I can see how we can take this framework and begin to develop tools and content to support our users to develop their digital competence.  The more you do the more likely you will be to excel in a digital world and reap the benefits of the digital dividend.

I would love your feedback.  Do you see digital competence as a real issue?  Does the European Commission capture digital competence well for the workplace? What would you add or change?

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