People and processesDigital SkillsReport outlines ways to tackle digital inclusion

Report outlines ways to tackle digital inclusion

Citizens Online outlines several recommendations that local authorities and partners can use to address digital inclusion

Digital inclusion charity Citizens Online has published a report highlighting how local, cross-sector digital inclusion partnerships can help to overcome the problem. The report also makes a series of recommendations for local authorities, housing associations and private sector partners to take onboard.

The report comes after Citizens Online was appointed by a consortium of social housing providers in Kent to research digital inclusion challenges and report recommendation to address them. The three members of the consortium – Town & Country Housing Group, Orbit, and Golding Homes – commissioned the research in order to improve their tenants’ basic digital skills, and their confidence to access online opportunities and services. The research focused on three boroughs: Maidstone, Thanet, and Tunbridge Wells. During the research, Citizens Online engaged with over 50 organisations involved with digital inclusion work.

Citizens Online’s analysis identified that an estimated 4,417 benefit claimants in Maidstone, Thanet and Tunbridge Wells have low or no digital capability – and recommended the creation of a specific action plan to engage with residents who are likely to find the transition from Housing Benefit claims to ‘digital by default’ Universal Credit claims a challenge.

The organisation’s ‘Switch’ approach advocates building a local, cross-sector digital inclusion partnership to tackle digital exclusion in a resilient way by building an army of ‘embedded’ Digital Champions, as no single organisation can reach all of those excluded.

This partnership could bring together local authorities, JobCentrePlus centres, libraries and voluntary sector organisations, as well as more housing associations, to work jointly and strategically on a programme for greater digital inclusion.

This work is part of the national ‘One Digital’ partnership, a collaborative initiative of five organisations, funded by the Big Lottery Fund to help people benefit from being online. Since the January 2016 launch the One Digital programme has successfully helped more than 11,000 people across the UK to get online, and by 2020 aims to improve the digital skills of another 40,000 people.

The report’s recommendations also include training more “Digital Champions” to help people with digital skills. These Digital Champions could be supporting people as volunteers in a community setting, or as part of an employed role.

It is early days, but already 15 volunteer Digital Champions have been recruited – and between them have provided help with digital skills to over 100 people. The Digital Champions will be supported by the Digital Champions Network, an online learning platform from Digital Unite.

The full recommendations made in the report are:

  1. These findings and recommendations are acknowledged and adopted by Kent County Council, MKS (Mid Kent Services/Improvement Partnership) and EKS (East Kent Services/Civica) with Digital Inclusion forming a central theme and workstream to future strategies and plans.
  2. Ensure that digital inclusion is embedded in the policies, procurement frameworks and work programmes of all local government departments and across organisations as a method for achieving the wider impacts of digital service delivery.
  3. Increase the number of Digital Champions in Kent and the range of contexts in which they work; use triage, signposting and referral tools to support a wider reach and impact among communities of interest and place.
  4. Develop and promote the current programme of available digital skills training for staff and volunteers in housing associations, public and third sector organisations, to specifically cover Essential Digital Skills for the workforce; and where appropriate, Digital Champion training.
  5. Formalise, expand and develop the digital inclusion partnerships across Kent, using a three-tier approach to collaboration: Boards, Strategic Steering Groups and Operational Networks. This approach could be delivered across three focus area projects in Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Thanet.
  6. Create a digital inclusion knowledge store – a central resource or website with digital access and skills signposting, e-Learning for Digital Champions, staff, volunteers and citizens; hosted data sets, case studies and reports.
  7. Create and embed a pan-Kent ‘Triage and Signposting System’ for Essential Digital Skills – empowering employees and volunteers in all sectors to know a) what digital barriers to spot, b) what questions to ask (and when), and c) how to refer people to the help that they need.
  8. Ensure where possible that engagement strategies with social housing tenants and digitally excluded communities include SMS capability and that this method be used to advertise digital skills support and training.
  9. Ensure publicity material for digital skills support or digital opportunities incorporates messaging about using digital tools to improve household finances and potentially leveraging interest in self-employment as a ‘digital hook’ and motivator for employment action.

John Fisher, Chief Executive of Citizens Online, said: “We have been impressed with the Kent consortium’s willingness to work together on a joined-up solution to this difficult issue of supporting digital skills. We want to change the way local service providers and funders perceive the issue of digital inclusion – from being a ‘bolt-on activity’ to a way of working that is part of business as usual.”

Citizens Online still has Big Lottery Funding available for other public sector clients interested in a Switch project. Further information can be found here.

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