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2023 Wits Master's Dissertation

Socio-Technical Factors Impacting Youth Perspectives on Digital Transformation In Resource-Constrained Environments: A Study of Diepsloot Youth

By Lorraine Matanda

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There has been a proliferation of tech hubs in Africa, with more than 80 in South Africa,
forming a foundation for more inclusive digital innovation. However, we do not sufficiently
understand the relationships between tech hubs, digital inclusiveness and poverty. This
study explores the sociotechnical factors influencing access and use of the Internet to
achieve social inclusion in resource-constrained environments. The literature reviewed
focused on social influences on digital adoption, tech hub infrastructure, digital skills, and
trends in Information Communication Technologies (ICT) policies.

The study’s findings are categorised into themes using the sociotechnical systems (STS)
theoretical framework. Each of the seven STS theoretical components (goals, culture,
people, processes, infrastructure, technology and environment) were used as a lens to
explore the social and technical factors that influence the perspectives of the youth on digital
transformation. These themes were then mapped to the four dimensions of the research
questions (social influence of digital adoption, institutional infrastructure for access, digital
skills, and ICT policies for digital enablement) to highlight key findings and interpretations of
the study.

Under social influences, the youth demonstrated resilience driven by a need to improve their
standard of living in a challenging environment. The institutional infrastructure, designed to
support youth to access digital technologies, is constrained by a lack of resources. Tech
hubs are using creative ways with the limited resources to cater to all their patrons, although
there is room for improvement. In terms of digital skills, four youth profiles are highlighted to
demonstrate a solid existence of digital skills and pursuit of tangible outcomes among the
youth. In addition, the youth want to pursue entrepreneurship, meaning that tech hubs can
potentially become mass training centres for digital entrepreneurship. Finally, a review of ICT
policies revealed a chasm between the ICT policy objectives and activities on the ground,
pointing to a lack of implementation and monitoring of ICT policies. Acting as a platform for
digital foundations, tech hubs in marginalised environments must engage policymakers and
reinforce their role in digital empowerment to influence policy development.

This research is located in the qualitative interpretivist paradigm. A total of 21 in-depth
interviews were conducted with 18 youth, with an equal representation of male and female,
and three tech hub managers. Based on the researcher's analysis, access to the Internet
offers the resilient youth a view into "a new world" that makes them feel they can achieve
anything they want. The high literacy level among the youth puts them in good stead for
digital upskilling, and they are motivated to participate in the digital economy. However, ICT
policy objectives concerning universal access look good on paper, but in reality, poor people
are still offline. They are still excluded.

digital transformation, tech hubs, youth, poverty, sociotechnical theory, social inclusion