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Digital inclusion, a Scotland perspective

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The Government’s Digital Inclusion Strategy sets out how we will work to reduce the number of people without basic digital skills and capabilities by a quarter by 2016. We know we can’t achieve this goal alone: the cornerstone of our strategy is working closely with partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors to increase digital inclusion. We now have over 60 signatories to our UK Digital Inclusion Charter. This series of blog posts showcases the activities that our charter signatories are undertaking in support of the Digital Inclusion Strategy and Charter.

By Chris Yiu, Director of Digital Participation at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)

Digital exclusion is one of the great social challenges of our generation. On a global scale there’s a vast amount of work to do to help billions of people get online for the first time. And here in the UK we know that there are still far too many people who lack the confidence and basic online skills to get things done on the web.

The last few years have seen an increasing recognition of the role that local action has to play in this important agenda. In fact, when it comes to changing lives, a lot of the stuff that really matters is hyperlocal. But there’s also an important role for national organisations to play if we’re serious about getting the job done.

This post is about what we’re up to in Scotland.

Digital participation

If you’ve been hanging around the digital inclusion debate for a while, the first thing you’ll notice is that we tend to talk about digital participation rather than digital inclusion.

For the most part this boils down to the same thing. But it’s an interesting angle to think about, because it says something about what we’re trying achieve. All the things we’re doing are about empowering people to participate fully in society - to make their voices heard, to create, to engage, to take part. This is so much bigger than buying things online or using digital public services (important though both are).


Our programme

Because communities and civil society have such an important role to play in reaching the people who are furthest from the confidence and skills to get online, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has stepped up to lead a national movement on digital participation. We’re the membership body for charities and voluntary organisations in Scotland, and our forte is supporting and promoting civil society to get things done.

We’re working closely with the Scottish Government (who published a strategy for the devolved administration around about the same time as the UK strategy from GDS) and with partners across the public and private sectors in Scotland. A lot of what we’re doing is practical stuff:

  •   Setting up a directory of places offering face-to-face help for people
  •   Making resources available to support community digital inclusion projects
  •   Organising staff and mentors to help charities make the most of digital
  •   Encouraging partners to get involved and help us do more
  •   Opening up more data to encourage innovation
  •   Providing lots of opportunities for people to network and share ideas

Of course we’re using everything we’re learning to further our understanding of the challenge and to refine the programme. But we’re acutely aware of how many people are missing out as a result of digital exclusion, and are trying hard to balance seeing the big picture with practical support for the people and communities we’re here to serve.

Where next

Digital inclusion remains a big challenge for Scotland, just as it does for the UK as a whole. We’re looking forward to doing more with partners of all sorts: public sector, businesses and civil society; European, UK, national and local. Three big priorities are on our radar:

  1.  Securing more resources to help scale up digital inclusion programmes. There are millions of people to reach, and the truth is this will take time and money to do properly.
  2. Getting a better understanding of who is not using the internet, and why. Lots of us know this intuitively and from case studies, but for such a big challenge we need better data.
  3. Helping join all this up with what’s going on with digital public services and our democracy. There’s huge potential here to make government better as we support people to get online.

Across all of this the important thing is that we work together, aim high and do our best to ensure that the web really is for everyone. All of us have a role to play, and all of us will gain from a more digitally inclusive society.

Chris Yiu is Director of Digital Participation at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). Follow him on Twitter @clry2


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