Written by: Adam Micklethwaite
In my previous blog I wrote about digital inclusion as an issue of social justice. This time my theme is scale: why it’s important and why it works particularly well in the social/digital space.
Operating at scale is important for any service with a large target audience, whether you’re Google, Tesco or the NHS. So what about digital exclusion? As you read this, around 15.2 million people in the UK aren’t getting the most from the internet, of which 7.8 million don’t use it at all and 7.4 million use it less than weekly. That’s between 19%-25% of the population depending on where you are.
These are big numbers and represent an acute problem. So how do we tackle digital exclusion at the scale it requires?
Driving social change through trust
At Good Things Foundation we’re interested in lots of things: but one of the most important is how you scale what works. And when you’re driving social change through digital, some themes keep coming back.
Helping people learn how to use digital for the first time requires knowledge, access to digital technology and the space to learn. It needs an understanding of how people see digital and what stops them from using it.
But in the end it boils down to one thing: trust. Knowing and understanding the person, building and maintaining the relationship. People who are great at digital inclusion have commitment, empathy, patience and the dedication to build trust, and there are thousands of them across the country, including in the Online Centres Network.
So how do you scale trust? This is what we know so far:
- Empower the people and organisations: put them in the driving seat, remove as much as possible of the process friction so they can get on with delivering.
- Provide a movement to get behind - something that resonates and unites, whether a simple call to action or a network promise.
- Provide tools that are easy to use, but have the flexibility to let people adapt them as they need - we’ve created Learn My Way, but there are lots of great tools out there that can help people to build basic digital confidence and skills.
- Keep it simple - don’t overwhelm people with KPIs and metrics, and focus on outcomes not outputs.
This is what we've done through our Future Digital Inclusion programme, funded by the Department for Education. We’ve been working with 200 Online Centres to deliver the programme, and I’m pleased to say we’ve just reached our 800,000th person. As well as helping them to cross the digital divide, Future Digital Inclusion has driven substantial re-engagement in learning for people who’d given up, and is driving further progression of between 80%-90% to the formal education and skills system. From digital inclusion we’re seeing social change: creating opportunity and transforming lives.
So scaling trust is possible. We’ve done it through a community network. But you can do it through public services and private sector workforces too.
And when the right ingredients are in place, what about delivery?
Scaling digital social change through partnership
At Good Things Foundation we understand that no one approach works everywhere or with every audience. That's why we're design-led, using insight and data to build projects that have both reach and impact. But what we always look for is that magic ingredient that means the model can be adopted easily by others.
Our Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS Digital is trying to find interventions for digital health literacy that can work across different parts of the NHS. Our partnership with the Prince’s Countryside Fund is testing what it takes to create a rural digital inclusion hub that can be replicated elsewhere. And it’s not just about direct delivery. Get Online Week, the UK's biggest digital inclusion campaign will be here in 2 weeks and has proved successful in driving behaviour change at scale.
So scale is important in addressing digital exclusion, and scaling digital social change has some key ingredients. But none of this is possible without partnership.
Now is a great time for digital inclusion. Lots of organisations are interested and prepared to commit time, expertise and funding, reflected in the fantastic support for the Government’s new Digital Skills Partnership.
When Matt Hancock launched it in the summer, focusing on ensuring the UK economy has the digital skills it needs at all levels, he made no secret of his ambition for the Partnership to tackle the big questions and set its sights on the big numbers. This ambition and leadership from DCMS should prompt partners from the public, private and third sectors to design and test solutions that can work at scale.
Ambition, design, learning and scaling what works: all driven through partnership. These have to be the key ingredients for success in helping the 15.2 million who remain locked out of the digital world. Maybe in five years we’ll be able to look back on digital exclusion as a thing of the past.