Leaving Nobody Behind

After all of the excitement of our Digital evolution events on Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ve finally found time to blog, and what a few days it’s been!

This is the third year we’ve run the Digital evolution conference, and I’ve got to say it gets better every year. It’s just brilliant to bring together such a positive, can-do bunch of people who have a real commitment to making things happen, and making things better, for the people they’re supporting in their communities.

This year, the focus of the conference was on leaving nobody behind, and people saw the conference as a rallying cry to close the digital divide once and for all. I talked to delegates about the enormous social and financial benefits of basic online skills, and I presented our A leading digital nation by 2020 report, that we published in February, which for the first time ever sets out clearly the cost of getting everyone in the UK online. It’s great having these figures as it gives us something to aim for, and a clear ask in terms of investment.

I also spoke about the focus that we need to put on really getting to the hardest to reach. I know I’m preaching to the converted when speaking to UK online centres about this, but as more and more people get online, we need to start trying to reach those who are most excluded, as they’re the ones who can benefit the most from what the internet has to offer.

Rachel Neaman gave a great speech; she talked about her new role as CEO of Go ON UK, and her ambitions for the organisation. One thing that Rachel said really stuck with me, that “1 in 5 of our adult population doesn’t have basic digital skills and this a national problem and a national disgrace.” She also talked about digital as the fourth basic skill, alongside reading, writing and arithmetic. This ambition really resonated with the audience, and with this kind of clarity I’m confident that Rachel will have a big impact in her role heading up Go ON UK.

All the delegates and speakers had such a positive attitude – everyone spoke as a real doer, not just a talker. This was only emphasised by our final two speakers – Steven Roberts from Barclays who leads the bank’s Digital Eagles programme, and Dominic Campbell of Futuregov, who is aiming to revolutionise the delivery of public services. They both have a great can-do attitude, which I think really sums up the conference.

I’m confident that every single person at the conference will go away and do something else, new, additional, to help close the digital divide – whether big or small. I certainly came away feeling really inspired, and I hope that if you were there, you did too. You can take a look through what was discussed through the #digievol14 hashtag, and you can look at our Storify here.

Yay! BIS supports Tinder Foundation for Future Digital Inclusion programme

Blogs are obviously like buses, I don’t do one for ages and then two come along all at the same time!  But, hey, when you’ve got good news, you want to shout about it.

So this is the Big One. We’ve won a contract with BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) to deliver a Future Digital Inclusion programme. This shows a real commitment from government to supporting people in some of the hardest-to-reach communities – to improve their life chances, find work, and learn more about the things that interest them. This new contract demonstrates the Government’s interest – and now investment – in supporting people to develop not only online skills to help them access government services, but to benefit from all the opportunities the internet can provide.

I hear the stories everyday of how starting to use the web for the first time really transforms people’s lives, and with this new contract we’ll be able to help so many more – people like Marita, Edward, Doreen and Stella, Manjula and Rasila, Hitesh and Peter.

Up to March 2015, we will support 200,000 people through the network of grassroots UK online centres, based in informal settings in the heart of local communities; specifically people who are unemployed, on a low income or in low-skilled jobs, people with a disability or learning difficulty, people in rural areas and people who are socially excluded. Hundreds of hyperlocal organisations will get grant funding, and thousands of others will access online resources – such as Learn My Way. We know there are already thousands of fantastic volunteers working in the local community centres and libraries, and with BIS’s support we will now train an additional 750 Digital Champion volunteers.

To help us support our network in engaging the right groups of people, we’ve been busy developing partnerships with several organisations, including Abilitynet, Mind, Scope, Silver Training, UnionLearn and Digital Unite – organisations who can share their expertise with our staff and volunteers working on the ground and help us expand our network.

Here are a couple of great endorsements we got from Ministers for our press release, which you can read in full over on the Tinder Foundation website:

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy said: “In order for the UK to remain a leading digital nation it is essential that everyone has the skills they need to benefit from the internet. Digital can make our economy stronger, by supporting individuals to find work and providing our businesses with further opportunities to grow, innovate and access new markets.  We need to ensure that those without basic online skills are not left behind, and the Future Digital Inclusion programme will play a critical role in ensuring that these individuals develop the digital skills they need to succeed.”

Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities says: “Digital skills are increasingly essential for people wishing to progress in learning and employment.  As the digital inclusion programme shows, we are committed to helping those people most in need to develop the skills and confidence they need to get online.”

In December I’m going to be blogging about our three year birthday, how we’ve diversified, how we work well with a range of Government Departments and bodies, and the amazing partnerships we’ve got with the private sector and Trusts.

But today, I’m going to say how BIS has a special place in my heart, how they gave us the first contract we ever won – the one that meant that Tinder Foundation, the social enterprise, was born alive and kicking.

Today, I’m going to say thank you to BIS for having a contract for digital inclusion, and thank you for choosing us to deliver it for you.

Bulldozing the barriers to digital nation

Today, I’m getting excited about partnerships. In particular, I’m excited about partnerships with corporates, because I believe we can’t remove all of the barriers to the digital divide without them.

We know what the barriers are to full digital inclusion:

  • Motivation: understanding the relevance of the internet to your life
  • Skills: knowing how to use the internet so that you are independent and confident
  • Access: having access to the internet at home or somewhere else affordable and local.

Circles Diagram (1)

Something surprising happened in Ofcom’s latest research shows that in just one year the change in the number of people who say cost is a major reason why they don’t use the web has jumped from 22% to 32%.

We can help people to gain the basic digital skills, in UK online centres, but to really practice using the web and to embed it into your day to day life I think, in 2014, it’s become ideal to have access to the internet at home.

Yesterday The Times reported on some research undertaken earlier this year by Keep Me Posted, a consumer rights group that shows living in a broadband not-spot impacts on your cost of living. And the same can be true of the millions of people who live in an area with good broadband but who lack the motivation, skills and potentially money to take it up.

So we need to see if we can bring low cost broadband into the reach of more people and to look at co-existing barriers and how we remove them.

The fact is the public, and the voluntary and community sector, can only do so much. We need commercial support. And the good news is that our corporate partners are offering it.

We’ve been looking at the issue of home access for some time, and we’ve run various projects and pilots to learn what works, where and how. Currently, we’re working with both Vodafone and TalkTalk on two pilot projects I find particularly exciting.  You can read a previous blog about Vodafone here, and I’ll tell you more when our research results are in, specifically tracking the impact mobile broadband has on internet engagement and use. In the meantime, it’s our work with TalkTalk and the ‘Internet Start’ programme I want to focus on today.

Twenty UK online centres will be taking part in a pilot recruiting Internet Guides (volunteers) to go out into communities and talk to people about the benefits of being on the internet at home. The TalkTalk Internet Start offer is one solution they will talk about – it’s a good value package combining a decent tablet device, a low cost broadband connection and support (including UK online centre guidance).

TalkTalk’s Chief Executive Dido Harding is committed to helping to reduce the number of people who suffer digital exclusion, and I think that’s why TalkTalk have thought through so carefully what the barriers are that stop people from taking up home broadband:

  • People need a solution for both a device and for broadband – which is why Internet Start has a tablet and broadband offer.
  • People don’t know how to set up their router – someone will come and set it up, at no extra charge.
  • People are nervous about it being right for them – there’s a month free up front, to try-before-you-buy.
  • Phone lines are expensive to install – there’s no cost for telephone installation.
  • People know they will get stuck – there’s a telephone helpline staffed by people who specialise in helping people new to home internet.
  • Even a tablet may be too complicated for some people new to the internet – there’s the choice of a Breezie tablet with a simple interface for beginners.

Everything, in short, is covered, and after a free trial period of being online at home for a month, people involved in the programme will be given a no-pressure choice – explained clearly by their Internet Guide at each stage – to keep their tablet at a small cost of £50, and begin a cheap monthly broadband contract.

People can choose from a Lenovo tablet or an android tablet loaded with the simple Breezie interface. It’s too early to tell which is the most popular, although the local partners involved like the Breezie as it simplifies the internet making the web even easier to get started.

The idea is that once you engage someone online and support them, they will either realise the benefits (and indeed efficiencies) of connection, and be prepared to budget for it, or choose to return their devices having given it a proper good go. We’ll see, in time, how many turn down the offer.

I know TalkTalk are a commercial company and that they also hoping to win new customers who will stay with them over the years. I also know that they want to make this programme work and that they see UK online centres as perfect partners to reach more people with a new offer that suits them. And actually, that’s fine.

I don’t expect corporate partners to become involved in digital inclusion purely out of the goodness of their hearts, or their CSR policies. That’s simply not going to be sustainable for anyone. Yes, there is very much an ethical and ideological leading edge to Internet Start, but there is also a commercial angle.  I actually think TalkTalk have put their necks out here, and made a real line in the sand other companies might struggle to emulate.

If Internet Start can just help a small proportion of the 3 million people who say cost is still keeping them off the internet at home, then together, we will be doing a good job.

It may not reach the very, very hardest to reach, the most excluded, and those people that just can’t afford broadband at any cost. But that’s our challenge in the public, voluntary and community sector, after all. Imagine, though, if offers like this one from TalkTalk could provide for just a third of the 3 million – then that’s 1 million more people with the motivation, skills and also access to be part of the digital world. Imagine, if in doing so, profits could enable more investment in those very hardest to reach? That’s the beginning of the truly digital nation.  And that’s what’s so exciting.

Get Online Week – working together for a digital nation

This week is our eighth national Get Online Week, and as you might expect, I’ve had a few thoughts about it I wanted to share.  This blog post is a guest post for the Government Digital Service (GDS) which you can read on their website here.  Alternatively, you can read on below…

Over the past ten years, a combination of a competitive broadband market and determined hard work at community level has seen the UK halve the number of people without basic online skills to ‘just’ 10 million people. The end is in sight, so I believe we should be ambitious and strive to ensure that (almost) everyone can take an active part in a digital nation.

High employment, world class skills, lower crime rates, improved education and booming business – it’s all within our grasp, and for everyone. There are three major barriers as to why people don’t use the internet: motivation, skills, and access. With motivation, or a perceived lack of relevance, being the reason most often cited by offliners.

Running between 13th and 19th October, the eighth national Get Online Week aims to inspire tens of thousands of people to go online and see what the internet could do for them – whether that’s finding a job, getting healthy, keeping in touch, saving money, making life a bit easier, or just having fun. More than 1,000 event holders have signed up to hold thousands of events, from Post Offices to mosques, cafes to community centres, job centres, social housing lounges, factories and many more.

This year the Get Online Week posters show real life learners with real life stories about what the internet has done for them, and you can read more about them on our the Get Online Week website. We hope these personal tales will help people connect with the campaign, and identify with someone like them who’s done something amazing with the help of technology.

Reaching more people with partnerships

These learners, however, are just part of what is in fact a huge Get Online Week team. This is a partnership campaign. It is delivered by community partners like the UK online centres network, who in turn are using it to approach and work with trusted community intermediaries – like supermarkets, Post Offices, Jobcentre Plus offices, faith groups and more – to reach the hardest-to-reach in the places they feel comfortable.

These relationships are also reflected on a national level, with Get Online Week’s key supporters including Argos, Barclays, the Post Office, NHS England, TalkTalk, Vodafone, Go ON UK and others. Each one is contributing in a different way. Argos, for instance, are launching a £20 offer of a tablet, training on how to use it, and a year’s free broadband from TalkTalk – all timed to coincide with Get Online Week. Talk Talk is launching a pilot to encourage older people to take the plunge to take up low cost home broadband with an easy to use tablet and lots of hand-holding and support from their local UK online centre. And, Barclays are really pulling out the stops with Get Online Week being promoted on all their ATM cash point machines and branch screens, as well as loads of social media channels.

Digital inclusion is an issue that affects every sector. Better digital skills for all means better, cheaper public services, a more competitive economy, and ultimately social justice. Get Online Week gives us the opportunity to work together to do something practical, which feels pretty special.

National leadership, local delivery

I want to stress that while all our wonderful partners are all equal, next week will be a success  in large part because of the hard graft, planning, enthusiasm and expertise of the thousands of local partners working to engage new people in digital activities, and to welcome and support them long after the campaign is over.

It’s the activity at a local level which changes behaviour and ultimately changes lives. This is where digital inclusion happens. I can’t wait.

Best of luck to everyone running an event. Let’s all keep in touch on Twitter – #GOLW14 – and make the biggest possible impact we can!

Digital changes everything, for everybody – not just the geeks

This week it’s been the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, and I popped along to talk digital with MPs and sector colleagues, and of course to compare and contrast with last week’s Labour offering.     

Again, what was fantastic here was the support from key people for digital matters in general. Ed Vaizey, Matthew Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Francis Maude – these are people very much on the leading edge of this agenda, supporting it, shaping it, and understanding its nuances.   

I was delighted to hear even George Osborne check off technology and innovation in his speech as the ‘key to our future prosperity’, and heartened to hear Ed Vaizey say he wanted the Government to talk about digital more and more often. The latter was in a very interesting fringe about the Internet of Things.   

In its simplest form the idea of an ‘internet of things’ is a fridge that spots you’re out of milk, and automatically orders you more. Or a smart pill-box, that can tell your Dr if you’re taking your medication, and generate a repeat prescription. The implications, however, are much wider and far reaching than that.   

I was particularly struck by something David Evans from the British Computer Society said, that we were soon going to live in an age with more sensors in our homes than the UK meteorological sector has in the whole country. That’s pretty life changing stuff, and a vision of a new, efficient, competitive digital world that everyone should be able to choose to be a part of.   

The following discussion was interesting and wide-ranging, and I was struck by the number of Tory MPs – and Ministers – who really ‘get’ it. However, if there was a problem for the wider digital agenda at the Conservative party conference, it’s that the number of people who ‘get it’ seems limited.  It has not embedded in their general consciousness in quite the same way as it seems to have done in the Labour camp. There are staunch and committed supporters, yes, but for everyone else this is still seen as a technology issue – a bolt on. A matter for the Government Digital Service (GDS), all tidied away over there.     

I attended a fringe about the benefit system and was surprised that when asked what more needs to be done to help people get into work, the only mention of digital came from White Dee from Benefits Street, someone with recent experience of unemployment. This got me thinking that the internet is the norm for normal people but what I really want to see is digital at the centre of policy making – everywhere. I don’t want this to be a matter for just Francis Maude as Minister for GDS, or Ed Vaizey as Minister for Digital & Culture and Communications, because it is also pivotal to other key agendas – to Disability Minister Mark Harper MP, to Minister of Care and Support Norman Lamb MP, to Minister for Pensions Steven Webb MP – to everyone in every department.   

If we are going to be that globally competitive, fair and successful nation George Osborne described, digital is a cornerstone.

The fact is that this should not be about technology; it should be about policy. Digital changes everything for everyone and I’m looking to the Conservative early adopters to lead from the front, and bring the rest of the party along for the ride – up to the election and beyond.

 This time next year we will know the Government that the people have chosen. Whoever they are I really hope they understand the massive potential that technology can bring for positive change to our nation.

The countdown to election – Labour Party Conference

In eight months, we’ll be heading into booths for a General Election. I’ve said before that we’re in a digital decade and I’m keen that the next Government puts digital at the heart of their policies. On 7th May 2015 our digital future will be decided: is digital a key plank for our economy; are digital skills for children and adults a priority; is it OK to leave people behind?

So this year’s Party Conferences are particularly important, and a chance to find out the plans and pledges from each party. Labour kicked off this week in Manchester, and I was there to represent Tinder Foundation and the work of the UK online centres network.

The good news is that I wasn’t the only person banging the digital inclusion drum. Six years ago, mine was the only voice piping up about the need to support basic online skills for all. Last week, there were digital inclusion and digital skills conversations all over the place – most of which I didn’t even start! That’s pretty heartening stuff.

Digital was in fact a key feature of the conference. There was a Tech Central marquee organised by Big Brother Watch, and sponsored by Microsoft, TalkTalk, EE, Moneyhub and Facebook.  It was a hub for digital ideas, thinking and challenges, and bloggers, and the focus of the ‘digital fringe’.

I got to take part as a judge in TalkTalk’s Digi Factor – a cross between X factor/Dragon’s Den/Tech4Good where we heard about some great new tech innovations from Charities. I also spoke on a panel with TalkTalk’s Alex Birtles, the wonderful Maggie Philbin (a heroine of mine from her Tomorrow’s World days), Tinder Foundation’s Lord Jim Knight, Camden councillor Theo Blackwell and Iain Wright MP (Shadow Minister for Industry). We were all there to talk about skills for the digital economy.

It’s a subject that has very much captured the imaginations of policy makers, media and the public, but which I think is too often focussed on children and schools. I certainly wasn’t alone in championing adult skills. Iain Wright was particularly keen to stress the need to help everyone update their skills in order to reap the opportunities from our emerging digital economy.

Perhaps the biggest digital news of the conference was Tuesday’s launch of the new Labour Digital Strategy – Number One in Digital, after Ed Miliband’s speech. It contains Labour Digital’s 82 crowd-sourced recommendations to transform Britain into THE digital world-leader through investment and reform in infrastructure, investment, regulation, skills and public services.

The report calls for a new national programme led by Digital Board of Britain’s digital leaders, reporting to the Prime Minister, to guide this change over the next decade. Other key recommendations include a National Fund for Digital Creativity to fund digital innovation across private, public and third sectors, and e-voting for all elections.

It is particularly gratifying to see the recommendation that the entire adult population should be equipped with basic digital skills by 2020, and the reference to our Digital Nation graphic and Digital Nation by 2020 report. Labour Digital has embraced our ambition to get 100% of people skilled in the next six years, and this recommendation was welcomed and supported by several members of the Shadow Government during the Conference. It feels like the first time the problem of basic online skills – and it’s wider implications – has been acknowledged, so fully, and by so many people, and the need to fund it properly acknowledged too.

I think historically it has always been much easier for the Labour Party to join the dots between digital skills being good for the economy, and good for communities and society too. Social justice has always been more palatable to Labour’s core audience, but I think now that message has almost transcended political agendas.

Our Digital Nation report also features in the Tech UK manifesto, and is both recognised and recommended by right wing thinktank Policy Exchange’s Tech Manifesto – who will be one of the ‘digital fringe’ leaders at next week’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham. The fact is that good ideas are good ideas, and I’m expecting to see similar commitments to the digital skills agenda next week. I’ll let you know.

Who knows – with momentum building so beautifully for digital inclusion, I might not even need to show up at party conferences next year!

Back with a bang

This blog has been a little quiet for a week or so, because I’ve been off on my summer holidays! Okay, I’ve done a bit of work, but it’s been a lovely break, and I started back with a bang last week as a witness at the House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills.

It was a two day investigation into the digital competitiveness of the UK, but on day two, the committee focussed it’s interest on digital inclusion, and their support for this agenda was fantastic.

At one point Lord Kirkwood even said that he thought there would be rioting in the streets if we didn’t get this stuff sorted out! I’m not entirely sure digital inclusion is set to trigger full scale revolution (and I think he was perhaps referring to social reform more widely) but it was great to see how well the issues were understood, and how passionate the committee was to find and support solutions.

The committee was led by Baroness Morgan of Huyton, and my fellow witnesses included David Hughes from NIACE, Martin Weller from the open University, James Thickett from Ofcom, Patrick Barwise from London Business School, and Phil Fearnley from the BBC. Together we laid out the picture of digital inclusion, those affected, the barriers, the challenges, what works and what doesn’t.

They were very interested in Tinder Foundation’s work and experience, and in the role local UK online centres play in engaging and supporting hard-to-reach communities.  I was very clear in expressing the need for investment, and the challenges community and voluntary sector organisations face in doing more to support vulnerable people (in multiple ways), for considerably less funding. Providing support for hyperlocal organisations to engage “people like me” in the communities is essential, and organisations like mine can bring the networked effect of coordinating and supporting this hyperlocal action with tools and online courses as well as leadership.

I quoted our Nation 2020 Report: A Leading Digital Nation by 2020 – Calculating the cost of delivering online skills for all and pointed out that the Government can afford to make a much bigger investment in solving digital exclusion over the next five year. And, that they can’t afford not to.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can find out more about the Digital Skills Committee here, and watch the full recording of evidence here.

Now they’ve got the evidence, the question is of course what they plan to do with that knowledge. I for one look forward to seeing this formidable and highly engaged group of Lords and Ladies take up this mantel. Interesting times ahead.