Reducing the digital divide for marginalized households

Last registered on February 14, 2024


Trial Information

General Information

Reducing the digital divide for marginalized households
Initial registration date
February 09, 2024

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
February 14, 2024, 4:43 PM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

University of Bologna

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
University of Bologna
PI Affiliation
University of Bologna

Additional Trial Information

In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Our study aims to address a critical challenge in contemporary society: the integration of low-income families into the rapidly growing digital society. We implement and evaluate a program designed to achieve this goal through three primary channels. Firstly, it ensures families' access to internet connectivity. Secondly, it provides them with digital devices, thus reducing economic barriers to technology adoption. Finally, it fosters the development of digital skills among family members, enabling them to effectively utilize available digital resources.
The program is implemented in an Italian city and involves approximately 900 participants, assigned to two treatment groups and a control group. We anticipate that implementing this intervention will promote increased online participation among treated families, enhancing their ability to access digital services, resources, and opportunities. We believe that sustainable digital access will encourage consistent and long-term engagement in the digital society, leading to improved quality of life for these families. This, in turn, should positively impact their job-seeking efforts, interactions with public services, and the education of their children.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Barone, Guglielmo, Annalisa Loviglio and Denni Tommasi. 2024. "Reducing the digital divide for marginalized households." AEA RCT Registry. February 14.
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Experimental Details


The intervention focuses on low-income families with school-age children, aiming to enhance their digital access and skills through a program that provides tablets, a year of free internet, and digital training for one adult per family. In collaboration with an Italian ONG, we implemented a RCT allocating over 850 applicants into a control and two treatment groups.

All treated individuals receive tablets and internet access for a year. The two treatment groups differ in duration and content of the training. In fact, all courses cover basic digital skills, and the second treatment includes additional specialized topics. Applicants filled the baseline survey between September and November 2023, the application outcomes were disclosed in November 2023, followed by information sessions in December for the treated. Courses began in January 2024, running once a week for two hours, concluding in April for one treatment harm and May for the other. Throughout the program, participation is monitored, culminating in a final test during the last class.

A follow-up in October 2024, approximately one year after the baseline survey, will revisit applicants with the same questions from the baseline, along with inquiries about changes in digital competencies, work attitude, and digital activities conducted with their children.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Our primary outcomes are the variables targeted by the training. These outcomes are evaluated in October/November 2024, roughly 6 months after the training, in comparison to baseline measurements collected in October/November 2023, 12 months prior. We categorize our primary outcomes as "short-term." They are divided into five sets of categories:

1) Adoption: This category focuses on assessing whether participants are adopting the provided device and internet connection.
2) Digital literacy: This category aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the training program in enhancing participants' digital literacy skills. We use an index derived from Eurostat, comprising five sub-indices.
3) Social inclusion: This category focuses on assessing whether participants have taken steps towards improving their socio-economic status, particularly whether participants searched for or requested income measures against poverty.
4) Human capital transmission: This is assessed through a series of questions, partially derived from PISA, focusing on parents' engagement in activities related to their children's education.
5) Labor market: This category assesses participants' readiness for and engagement with the labor market, focusing on their attitudes, motivations, and efforts related to employment.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
1) Adoption:

This category delves into evaluating the extent to which participants embrace and integrate the provided device and internet connection into their daily lives. It encompasses not only the initial acceptance and utilization of the equipment and connectivity but also ongoing usage patterns and integration into various aspects of their digital activities. This assessment examines factors such as frequency and duration of device usage, the range of tasks performed using the device, proficiency in navigating digital interfaces, and the extent to which participants leverage internet access for educational, professional, or personal purposes. Additionally, it considers any barriers or challenges encountered in adopting the device and internet connection, as well as strategies employed to overcome them. Overall, the adoption variable provides insight into the practical implementation and integration of the provided digital resources within participants' households and routines.

2) Digital literacy:

We have an aggregate index based on sub-indices, and we will use both the aggregate index and the sub-indices to clarify the most relevant dimensions. These indices measure different dimensions of digital literacy, such as proficiency in using digital tools, understanding of digital concepts, ability to navigate online platforms, and awareness of digital safety and security practices. By utilizing these indices, the training program can quantitatively assess the extent to which participants' digital literacy skills have improved as a result of the training.

3) Social inclusion:

This category focuses on assessing whether participants have taken steps towards improving their socio-economic status, particularly in relation to poverty alleviation measures. The variables are constructed based on whether participants actively searched for or requested income measures aimed at addressing poverty. This assessment provides insights into participants' engagement with social support systems and their efforts to access resources and opportunities to improve their financial well-being.

4) Human capital transmission:

This category evaluates participants' engagement in activities related to their children's education, specifically focusing on their ability to effectively contribute to their children's human capital accumulation. For instance, we will measure the frequency of tasks such as assisting with homework and maintaining communication with the school.

5) Labor market:

The variables are constructed based on participants' beliefs, willingness to work, and job search effort. Beliefs may include attitudes towards work, career aspirations, and perceptions of job opportunities. Willingness to work reflects participants' eagerness and commitment to securing employment and advancing their careers. Job search effort encompasses the actions taken by participants to actively seek and apply for job opportunities, such as networking, submitting applications, attending interviews, and participating in job training programs.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Our secondary outcomes are the variables targeted by the training beyond the 10-month period. We categorize them as "long-term." They are "secondary" for us because it is less likely that we have the power to observe the program's effects on them directly and because we need to request access to Italian administrative data to study them. These outcomes are divided into three sets of categories:

1) Social inclusion: The variables are constructed based on whether participants obtained and benefited from income measures targeted at reducing poverty.
2) Human capital transmission: This category focuses on evaluating the long-term effect of the intervention on the educational outcomes of the participants' children.
3) Labor market: This category evaluates the long-term impact of the training program on participants' labor market outcomes, including their employment status, wages, and engagement with employment services.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
1) Social inclusion:

This assessment might involve examining participants' access to and utilization of various social welfare programs, subsidies, or financial assistance aimed at improving their socio-economic well-being over an extended period beyond the initial 10-month training period.

2) Human capital transmission:

The variables included in this category aim to measure children's educational achievement and attainment. In particular, we plan to explore their school participation (number of absences) and performance (grades, graduation, results in standardized tests...) over time. This examination aims to discern whether the participation of their parents in the program has influenced the development of their human capital and educational outcomes.

3) Labor market:

The variables included in this category are participants' employment status (e.g., employed, unemployed), wages earned, and registration with employment centers. By examining participants' labor market outcomes beyond the initial 10-month period, the training program can assess whether participants experience sustained improvements in their employment prospects, earnings potential, and access to employment support services as a result of their participation in the program.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We received approximately 859 valid applications, each indicating participant's preferred class locations and time slots. Our experimental design is based on block randomization (stratification) at the individual level. We randomize participants to one of three treatment statuses - Control (C), Treatment 1 (T1), and Treatment 2 (T2). 522 applicants are allocated to treatment (261 to each treatment group) and the remaining 337 to control. We use five dichotomous variables for stratification, which means that we have 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32 strata. We group participants into classes based on class location and time slot preferences.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office using Stata
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
102 classes
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
- 25 classes (261 eligible individuals) in treatment 1
- 26 classes (261 eligible individuals) in treatment 2
- 51 classes (337 eligible individuals) in control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
We conducted power calculation only for the primary outcome "2) Digital literacy" because it is the only one for which we have reliable data for the specific population of analysis. Our power analysis on this outcome is based on four key factors: 1) Effect size of the treatment: This is calculated from the pilot conducted 1 year ago. In the pilot, the effect sizes on the digital literacy index ranged from 0.40 to 0.60 standard deviations (SD), which is relatively large. 2) Intra-cluster correlation coefficient (ICC): We assess how variable the output is between classes. We calculated this from the baseline survey we collected using the command loneway predicted_index class_assigned. It's quite low at 0.001, which is favorable. 3) Predictive power of strata fixed effects: We employ a stratified random assignment using five variables expected to predict the output variable. While a precise calculation could be based on the pilot study, we lack some variables there. We can only make a rough estimate using a subset of the stratification variables (education, nationality). Based on the pilot results, a conservative estimate is that strata fixed effects explain 20-30% of the variation in the output variable. However, this estimate may be too conservative given that we collect the output variable at baseline, which aids in predicting future outcomes. 4) Number of clusters: We have 25 clusters in T1, 26 T2, and 51 clusters in C. Based on this information, we can conduct a rough power analysis. Presently, the experiment is powered to capture a treatment effect that is 25% of a standard deviation, which aligns with standard practices in the literature.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Comitato di Bioetica - Università di Bologna
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Prot. n. 0019200 del 23/01/2024