Over the last few months, we’ve been carrying out consultations on the Digital Inclusion strategy with a wide range of digital inclusion thought leaders and practitioners across sectors.
This culminated in a workshop with our Digital Inclusion Delivery Board and Departmental Group.
The feedback process has helped us iterate and refine our strategy, and these conversations will help us get the support needed to make the strategy a reality. We’re keen to keep the conversation open and inclusive, so we’ve written this blog to invite wider discussion.
Six priority areas for digital inclusion
We’ve identified six priority areas where we will focus our efforts:
- Partnerships: Facilitate and coordinate delivery through partners by creating opportunities and investment in our digital inclusion goals
- Communication: Communicate, celebrate and promote digital inclusion to shift the discourse and raise the profile with government departments, intermediaries and end users
- Evidence: Build the evidence base to help target efforts and investment towards those most in need, identify what works, and track progress
- Investment: Align existing expenditure and channel in new investment
- Policy & provision: Influence and embed digital inclusion in policy, programmes and services
- Governance: Set up effective mechanisms to enable collective decision-making that supports delivery of the Digital Inclusion Strategy
A snapshot of some of our activities, achievements and future priorities is outlined below. We also highlight emerging insights from our consultations so far. These will help shape and inform our activity in the coming year.
We’ll be encouraging collective ownership from government, private and voluntary sectors across the six priority areas. We will continue to focus on the needs of users, and to tackle the multiple barriers to digital inclusion, namely lack of access, motivation, trust and skills.
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Over 70 public, private and voluntary sector organisations now support activity under the Digital Inclusion Charter. DI Charter signatories have met at our biannual forums which have promoted sharing of good practice, policy development and matched corporate sponsorship to digital inclusion delivery programmes.
Just last month we saw BT and Barclays launch a joint programme of free WiFi and digital support in libraries and community hubs across the country. Looking ahead, we’ll be working on boosting our partnership base strategically to channel investment and build collaboration across the DI agenda.
During our consultations, people have said that awareness of and support for digital inclusion across the respective sectors has increased. Some stakeholders suggested this can be built on and enhanced in the next phase of the strategy implementation, through:
- Greater interaction and collaboration across sectors
- An ‘assets-based’ approach, that matches up the capabilities and resources of partners, across public, private and voluntary sectors with local need
- Senior, joined-up leadership and a galvanised message from across government to ensure that partner commitments are enacted
A primary focus has been establishing the Digital Friends initiative, which encourages and motivates those with digital skills to share them with family, friends, employees, and customers. A future priority for the DI team will be developing persuasive messaging in support of this and a range of digital inclusion activities.
Feedback from our consultations has recognised that awareness around digital inclusion has increased. This, in turn, has led to improved cross-government working, cross-sector collaboration and the growth of digital champion networks. Suggestions for the future included:
- A compelling narrative with clear aims and goals to gain more buy-in at senior levels
- Messaging to focus on why digital inclusion is important, and make clear links with the specific priorities of a range of sectors
- Advocacy from influential leaders to get the message out more widely
A Digital Inclusion Outcomes Framework has been developed as a template for tracking digital inclusion in the UK and evaluating activities locally. This will help evidence the economic and social value of digital inclusion, demonstrate the case for investment, and begin to evidence what works.
Feedback from our consultations has underscored the importance of building the evidence base to drive action and investment, through a focus on:
- Evidencing return on investment, and the wider economic and social benefits of DI
- Quantitative and qualitative, case study evidence - it’s about minds and hearts
- Sharing of best as well as ‘worst’ practice - transparency and honesty is necessary for learning and improvement
The team is creating a procurement framework to facilitate the purchase of digital training and support by departments and local government, with the aim of launching it next year. A number of our corporate partners are willing to invest in digital inclusion initiatives and we’re working with them to coordinate and match resource to need.
Our consultations have indicated that existing funding programmes have gone some way towards supporting this agenda. And there has been notable ‘in-kind’ investment in the form of people, expertise and time. Stakeholders felt that more investment could be leveraged through:
- A ‘top-down’ approach, driven by senior leaders
- Making links to wider agendas, such as productivity and digital transformation
- ‘Funders want to fund what works’ - build a clear evidence base on what works, where, with whom, and with what results
Policy & Provision
The DI team has been working closely with departments to help them identify where embedding digital inclusion into policy can support better outcomes and to ensure services build digital inclusion into the design of government transactional services. We’ve also been supporting the upskilling of civil servants by working with Civil Service Learning to strengthen their basic digital skills offer; and rolling out the Digital Friends initiative across government. Locally, we’ve been developing evidence of successful local tier initiatives that can be promoted and replicated.
Our consultations have emphasised that we need to ensure that digital inclusion is understood as a mechanism for achieving wider policy priorities in areas such as health and employment. To do this, we need to focus on:
- Communicating the benefits of digital inclusion to policy and delivery stakeholders
- Leadership from senior decision-makers to gain traction and embed the agenda into wider policy outcomes
- Greater alignment across government policy agendas
Effective governance is essential to enable collective decision-making that supports delivery of the Digital Inclusion Strategy. We’ve done this through the Digital Leaders Digital Inclusion Sub Group (a cross-government group) and the Digital Inclusion Delivery Board (a cross-sector board that brings together representatives of key sectors of the digital inclusion audience, actors and providers).
The emerging consensus from our consultations is that good work has been done to engage departments and stakeholders to date. Further suggestions included:
- An approach that continues to focus on users’ needs and involves both government and industry
- Better links between the cross-government Sub-Group and Digital Inclusion Delivery Board, to bring all sectors together around shared goals.