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Guest post: Being a Digital Friend in DWP

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Mark Hatton works for Business Transformation Group at the Department for Work and Pensions. Here he tells us about how people in his department have been taking up the Digital Friends initiative.

We’re transforming DWP to be a modern, efficient and inclusive organisation. Part of this involves delivering a more digital service for citizens, and a standard of services that citizens expect. However, transforming our services does not come easily and the expectation that all of the people who work in DWP are digitally engaged to support our customers is often a common misconception.

In March 2015 the Cabinet Office launched the Digital Friends scheme. The intention is that if just 1 in 4 civil servants helps a colleague, friend, family member or neighbour to use the internet, that means more than 100,000 people will be empowered, not only to use government services, but to access all the economic, social, health and wellbeing benefits of being online.

Our Digital Friends network

For me, Digital Friends is a breath of fresh air, it offers something different, and more importantly an opportunity to build informal networks, provide peer to peer support for colleagues, and tap into what people want to learn rather than being told what they need to learn.

Across the department we have started a transformation of learning and upskilling. Our Digital Friends are at the heart of this. Our Digital Friends networks have been running engagement events including the ever-popular Digital Speed Dating where colleagues across the North East were encouraged to bring in their own equipment and be shown a whole new world of digital possibility!

Colleagues across the Manchester district have run training events highlighting the benefits social media can bring to our claimants. Using the Digital Friends concept, this activity has multiplied as the pupils become the teachers and share their knowledge with even more colleagues.

Our Digital Friends are not just supporting our own colleagues - they've also started supporting the wider community; in particular by helping local councils to deliver upskilling sessions in local libraries and support residents in care homes across the North East.  

Lesleyanne became one of our many Digital Friends. Here she tells us about the rewards it brings:

“I had the pleasure of assisting an elderly neighbour (George), with his first foray into the world of digital. As an 80 year old who has hitherto shunned all things digital I was quite surprised when he asked if I could assist him setting up “one of those laptop thingies”. As it turns out he bought it to keep in touch with his family (especially his grandchildren) as they now live in Bournemouth.

In just over a week, at about an hour a day, we went from the unboxing to the basics. Using a web browser took a little longer: when I wasn’t there, George presumed that if it doesn’t open immediately you just keep clicking until it does. But after a few more visits, he's now using Facebook to keep in touch with his family, using emails, using Skype…. He's even set up a cloud account as an easy way of sharing photos with his family.

He’s now talking about a multifunction printer then possibly a smartphone or digital camera. If he keeps picking things up at this pace, he’ll be teaching me!" 

George said:

I can’t believe that I haven’t done this before now, I feel like I’m with the girls when I Skype them and love being able to get answers for my crossword puzzles from Google when I’m stuck. Everyone should have someone to help them to do this stuff. It makes you feel part of the world again.

What next?

So are we done? Has Digital Friends finished? Of course not, we are just at the start of our digital engagement activities and our ever-increasing number of Digital Friends will be key to helping us achieve true transformation.

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