In April 2014, we launched the UK Digital Inclusion Strategy to ensure that everyone in the UK has the digital skills and capabilities to take full advantage of being online. We’re working with over 60 partners across public, private, and voluntary sectors to reduce the number of people without basic digital skills by 25% by 2016. It is a huge but really important task. In order to make this a reality, all of us need to work together to identify the right tools and solutions. Six months on, we’re taking this moment to reflect and consolidate our approach.
Building the evidence base to track and target our efforts
At GDS, we’re committed to testing and iterating our approach based on learning and new insights. Building the evidence base is vital.
The digital inclusion sector currently lacks a robust way of measuring and evaluating its activity, to track progress and identify what works. So, working closely with Charter Signatories involved in our Research working group, we’re developing a set of shared measures for tracking digital inclusion and an overarching framework for evaluating the impact of our activities. We also need a segmented picture of our target audience, to tailor our responses. To this end, we’re working to develop a better understanding of who is digitally excluded, where and why. This will be complemented with a focus on building a segmented understanding of ‘what works’, and then identifying, piloting and scaling best practice.
Checklist for success
We’re all now relatively well-versed in what the key barriers to digital inclusion are: lack of access to devices or internet connection, lack of skills and, increasingly, low motivation or interest. But each individual experiences their own particular combination of barriers and these vary by age, (dis)ability, income and education, and geography. Because of this, a holistic approach, that puts user needs and motivations at its centre, will be vital. And, a generic, one-size-fits all approach is therefore unlikely to succeed; there will be no single model for success.
However, we know that there are some common elements that underpin best practice. With this in mind we have developed a ‘checklist for success’ that will help us to reach, engage, enable and empower those who are most in need:
- Digital inclusion as a user journey: Digital inclusion is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. Start with user needs and motivations to reach, engage, enable, empower and sustain people on their digital inclusion journeys.
- Use the right ‘hooks’: Tailored, personalised approaches are needed to meaningfully engage people.
- Work through trusted intermediaries: Public, private, voluntary organisations and individuals who have regular contact and trusting relationship with those least likely to be online.
- Embed a systemic approach: Well-coordinated local activities are needed to maximise reach, tackle multiple barriers, and sustain user engagement.
- Cultivate an enabling environment: Align policy, partnerships and funding - by linking digital inclusion with wider social needs and outcomes.
This builds on an earlier checklist that we developed as a guide for any organisation involved in helping people go online.
Building blocks for solutions
Our ‘checklist’ has helped us focus our efforts and identify a set of ‘building blocks’ for solutions. We’re supporting local partnerships, and focussing on delivering in and through local contexts such as libraries, social housing, employers and multi-service community hubs.
We want to give particular attention to harnessing the power of formal and informal networks through peer to peer models - which evidence and experience tell us are key to improving digital inclusion and skills for those least able or motivated. To help with this, in the new year we will promote a Digital Friends Initiative. This will fire up those who have the skills to reach out to disengaged friends, family and people in their community, sell the benefits of the digital world and show them that getting online is easier and more fun than they might think.
We’ve also been directing our efforts at supporting small businesses and charities on their journeys to digital maturity by supporting OCS and BIS in their ongoing endeavours with these organisations. We have recently completed a discovery exercise to unpack the key barriers and recommendations for empowering these organisations.
Creating an enabling environment for digital inclusion
As well as supporting this local tier of partnerships and delivery, we’re also working to create an enabling environment for digital inclusion activity to flourish. This involves bringing together key partners - charities, corporates, government departments and public agencies - to coordinate efforts at national and local levels, showcasing and sharing successes and learning. We want to encourage more targeted investment in digital inclusion, to help frontline delivery organisations who are working with this most in need.
Above all, we’re working to ensure that we use digital inclusion to address wider social and policy priorities and to realise positive outcomes for the most vulnerable - whether it’s helping people into jobs, improving their health, tackling social isolation, or reducing inequalities. This is critical if we’re to realise our ambitions of making the UK the most digitally inclusive nation.