Open Up! Digital Democracy Commission Report Launched

For just over a year I’ve been on The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy – it’s been inspiring, surprising and very interesting. Today we’ve launched our final report and a micro-site sharing with everyone our thoughts and our recommendations and linking to the responses and evidence we’ve had.

The report – Open Up! – has five key targets plus a number of recommendations which are a route map for the House of Commons to meet these targets:

  • By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does.
  • By 2020, Parliament should be fully interactive and digital.
  • The 2015 newly elected House of Commons should create immediately a new forum for public participation in the debating function of the House of Commons.
  • By 2020, secure online voting should be an option for all voters.
  • By 2016, all published information and broadcast footage produced by Parliament should be freely available online in formats suitable for reuse. Hansard should be available as open data by the end of 2015.

So what’s important to me?

One thing I was keen to do was to make sure that, as a Commissioner, I talked to people who didn’t currently participate in politics. I met lots of people who don’t vote, lots who didn’t know what an MP did, and one person who didn’t know how to vote. I found that by asking people what they wanted from Parliament they then became interested. I’m a massive believer that digital can reach people in new ways  – a “fully interactive and digital” Parliament will be on websites and online conversations where people already are. People won’t have to search for the work of Parliament, it will there in their online lives.

There’s going to be a lot of media (I’m guessing) about our recommendation that secure online voting should be an option for voters by 2020. But I hope people see the breadth of the report. If we can make this digital shift then we really will change the culture of Parliament and it will be more inclusive. People want proper dialogue between themselves and the people who are making decisions about the laws and rules that affect their lives.

The Commission is clear that this isn’t just about things that Parliament has to do by themselves. There are lots of things that tech companies, educators and the average person, can do. If we want Parliament to be more two-way there’s work there for people on both sides of that divide.

And, if we make Parliament better because it’s more digital then we need to make sure that this open and accessible democracy is inclusive to everyone even the 10 million people who can’t or don’t use the internet in the UK. We, the Commission, recommend that resources are made available so that local grassroots organisations can help local people to reap the benefits of these new digital channels – either with new skills or as intermediaries.

Digital inclusion is about:

  • Digital for people lives (saving money, looking for work, communicating, entertainment, et al)
  • Digital for public services
  • and now it’s about Digital for democracy.

In my day job I see the positive and transformative impact digital can have on people’s lives. If we can make Parliament digital and interactive it will make a significant, positive, transformative impact on our society and on our democracy. Let’s focus on a parliament fit for the future and stop talking about the past.

Please do read the full report.   And then let’s start a dialogue.  #digitaldemocracy @digitaldemocracyuk

Open Up! Watch Digital Democracy Commission launch live: Monday 26 January

I’ve been inspired and surprised by the comments and contributions we received on the Digital Democracy Commission. On Monday (from 0:01am) it’s your chance to read our final report and recommendations based on what we heard and our distillation of it.

The launch is on Monday 26th, 8.30/8.40am – 10.00am. It would be great to have you watching and asking questions.

Go to this Webcast Link to watch the launch from 8:30am – there won’t be any official speaking until 8.40am when I’ll be kicking things off and introducing The Speaker and the other Commissioners.

Please ask questions via #digitaldemocracy – there will be someone specifically feeding in questions, so keep them coming. We’re really keen to pull in people not just sitting (literally) in the Westminster bubble. There are three Digital Democracy Cafes being run by UK online centres in Stockport, Leeds, and Saltburn and they’ll be watching and tweeting and Facebooking along.

There is a live Facebook Q&A session with The Speaker, John Bercow, at 9:30am which you can log on to and pose any questions you have. You can find more info here

It will be great to have your questions and your thoughts online. I’ll blog again on Monday about the report in much, much, more detail. Enjoy!

Feeling good at the Digital Inclusion Forum

Last Friday I felt really happy. A great start to the New Year and a feeling that things were fresh and partnerships were warm and friendly. Part of this happy glow was as a result of the  Digital Inclusion Forum run by GDS (Government Digital Service) last Tuesday. It was a chance for the public/private/civil society partners signed up to the Digital Inclusion Charter to meet together for the first time in 2015.

It could have been a lot of boring people pushing their own agendas. It wasn’t. In fact, it was a refreshing update on digital inclusion activities and pledges, and something of a brainstorm on what more we can do – together – to step up activity over the next year. Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said 2015 was set to be a ‘phenomenal’ year for digital inclusion, and I think he could very well be right. (I hope so).

I was particularly interested to hear from Jon Rouse – Director General in Social Care at the Department of Health. He announced his role as a civil servant ‘champion’ working across government at a permanent secretary level – helping teams embed digital inclusion. He was clear he didn’t just want digital inclusion written into policies, he wants Government departments to DO THINGS, and make digital inclusion part of their DNA – standing for Digital Needs Attention! (Jon’s joke). He was genuinely and movingly passionate about how he’s seen digital transform lives in the care sector, including his work with Dementia Friends.

Anna Easton from BT talked about her work on the Connected Society programme, and BT’s new basic broadband offer at £9.95 per month. Nick Williams from Lloyds talked about their Small Business Digital Skills Matrix, their Digital Champions, and their new ambitions.

Meanwhile, Rob Trimble was also on hand, an old friend from the Bromley By Bow Centre – an innovative East London community organisation with a UK online centre.  He called on the people in the room to concentrate on embedding what already exists, and make real use of the trusted intermediaries and individuals already working with hard-to-reach communities.  And he stressed the need to make our digital inclusion projects transformative – not just transactional – so they would have a lasting impact which addressed wider social needs.

Like Rob, I was on hand to talk about how we achieve mass and targeted action through local partners, match-making national initiatives with local knowledge and personal delivery. The fact we all have to face is that digital inclusion is getting harder – there are no more low hanging fruit to easily pick off the most accessible branches. Now we have to personalise our motivation and inspiration, combat specific fears and barriers, and as always we’re looking at a long learning journey – not just to get someone online but to keep them there, too.

I was lucky enough to be on a Q&A panel with Francis Maude, Argos, Accenture and GDS, and the discussion was lively and positive. In his conclusion, Francis Maude told us that the bottom line was that more people getting online lifted our economy.

There was a lot of experienced digital inclusion folk in that room, and lots of fresh eyes and brains – we know so much of what needs to be done and we know that we can do more by working together. We can inspire the staff of big employers to be Digital Friends and to help family to use the web a bit better, but we can also target those energies to the groups who we know are most likely to need support. As just one example, I asked Francis Maude if he could make sure all low skilled contractors working in Government buildings (such as cleaners, porters, catering staff) had basic digital skills via their procurement contracts. He nodded.

A new year, a new dawn …. (and some things stay the same) …. and I’m feeling good.

New year, new priorities

January is a time we traditionally all stop and think about where we’re going, why and how.  So – in keeping with tradition – this blog sets out Tinder Foundation’s 2015 resolutions – and solutions. And we’ve got big plans.

For us, 2015 is a transformative year that will see us fighting the good digital fight on two fronts. Digital inclusion remains our core business, and this year we plan to do even more of it – working with our brilliant local and national partners. However, we also want to expand and grow the other parts of our strategy in 2015  – and do digital (and social) good that goes beyond digital participation.

1. The Digital inclusion front

As regular readers will know, the key ingredients in digital inclusion are motivation, skills and access, and – as ever – Tinder Foundation, the UK online centres network, and our partners, will be doing all three.

  • Motivation-wise – our next campaign Be Online takes place from 23 February – 8 March.  It follows a massively successful Get Online Week back in October, and will focus on health and skills for work.  It’s a great opportunity for partners to work with us to spread the digital inclusion word, and help inspire more people to see what possibilities open up when you’re online. Hundreds of event holders have already signed up to take part, and packs will start heading out early next week. If you’ve made a resolution to do more for digital inclusion this year, get in touch and get involved.
  • In terms of Skills, it’s our job this year to ensure we create ‘confident and independent internet users’ with a little bit of help from our learning platform Learn My Way, which continues to develop to reflect the needs of both learners and centres. Yes, that still means online basics like getting to grips with keyboard, mouse and touchscreen. But it also means helping people develop skills that they continue to use to help and empower themselves – from shopping, to banking, keeping in touch with our new email course, and even democracy – taking part in local and national politics via digital means.  Watch this very space for more before the end of the month…
  • When it comes to Access, I’m looking forward to seeing the results of two exciting pilots in the first quarter of 2015 – our project with Vodafone to see how mobile broadband can affect internet use, and the Internet Start project with TalkTalk offering customers a cheap device and free broadband trial. It’s only with the support of key technology partners that we can crack the access gap, and I’d like to see this kind of project scaled up for UK online centres customers – and others – before the year is out.

2.  Doing good via digital – the second front

Just as exciting as our plans for digital inclusion are our wider plans for doing good via digital – a new strand of our strategy that will grow throughout 2015. In essence, we want to address social challenges with digital solutions, and you can read more here in our five year strategy, published at the end of last year.

  • Digital health has been an area Tinder Foundation has been working on for some time now, in partnership with NHS England (see my latest health blog here). The NHS does a great deal of social good, but its survival and development is a very real social challenge, and digital is one of the solutions I really believe can help it thrive. By April of this year (for instance) all GPs will have to offer at least 30% of appointments online, and I think Tinder Foundation is uniquely placed to support both GPs and patients reap the rewards of online health. The models piloted within our programme – like the work of Heeley Development Trust with Dr Ollie Hart – is something we plan to build on during 2015.
  • English My Way launched last year, and has already helped hundreds of people use free digital resources to get to grips with English as their second language. This is just part of the work UK online centres do across the country to support integration, facilitate understanding and build successful local communities. Digital is a gateway to community participation and cohesion, and it’s another area we want to explore, track and share this year.
  • Digital access to learning is a third strand for social good we will focus on for 2015.  I wrote back in December about our Innovate UK research and development project, which will see us look in detail at how we might improve access to and participation in wider community and adult learning by using digital tools.

Beyond these examples, this year Tinder Foundation is resolved to continue exploring how we can work with hyper-local partners in the very poorest of communities, reaching out to those experiencing the biggest challenges in their lives. We already work in pockets with the long term unemployed, people struggling with little money or debt, homeless people, and people with long term and debilitating health issues. What more can we do to make good things happen for those people, with the help of digital technology? How can we identify best practice, share it, and most importantly scale it across the country?

As ever, let me have your thoughts and ideas.  And let’s see where 2015 takes us – blog by blog – over the next exciting 12 months.

Happy New Year.

Reimagining a Library for the 21st Century

Anyone who knows me or who reads my blogs regularly will know that I have a particular passion for libraries. I love everything they stand for, they have something for everyone, no matter what your age, gender, ethnicity or social class. However, I also think that there are a lot of libraries who need to be brought into the 21st century. I spoke at an event last year on this very subject, please do read the transcript here. So yesterday I was particularly excited to see the launch of the Independent Library Report by William Sieghart which suggests that every library in England should be equipped with free Wifi enabling people to get access to the internet whenever their local library is open. The internet is fulfilling, rewarding, and challenging. The internet is free and universal. It should be open to everyone.

At the end of the report you can read how some libraries – who are also UK online centres – demonstrate just how having access to the internet can revolutionise the running of a library service. Outreach classes for the hardest to reach, one to one support sessions and flexible convenient computer classes are just a few of the examples our partners have told us about. A shining example of how libraries in the 21st century can make a difference.

Libraries need to be reimagined not rebranded, I hate to say it but there are still some libraries which are not good at all, not offering the kinds of services which we see in Cambridgeshire or Barrow-in-Furness. I’m not saying that free wifi will transform all libraries but it will go some way towards changing the image of libraries, they can become the ‘go to’ place in local communities and allow people access to the gateway of information and engagement that the internet holds!

I love libraries but what I love more is when I see libraries (and other community-run UK online centres too) operating as the community hub pulling young and old alike into a world of information, learning, fulfilment and enlightenment.

I hope the Government finds the cash to pay for the upgrades in technology, and upgrades in ambition, that William Sieghart’s report calls for.

Health for All in a Digital Age

Last week, I had a healthy breakfast. I quite often have a healthy breakfast without the need to blog about it – but this one was particularly memorable. We met at the House of Lords with a group of partners and stakeholders to discuss the Widening Digital Participation in Health programme supported by NHS England.

Guests included some of our key programme partners, like Tim Kelsey – National Director for Patients and Information at NHS England, Alan Taylor from the Post Office, Andy Simpson from the Family Fund and Paul Scott from the BBC.

The results of the programme – now in it’s second year – are compelling:

  • 199,375 people have had their awareness of digital health raised
  • 113,427 people have been trained to improve their digital health skills
  • 38% of participants feel they have saved time by doing something health-related online
  • 72% reported saving money – for instance through avoided travel costs
  • 30% who had not previously done so have since used the internet to look up health information
  • 78% have started eating more healthily or taking more exercise
  • 51% report having explored ways to improve their mental health.

However, it’s also not just the impact of this work we were interested in, but it’s wider implications for the future – not just of the programme itself but of the NHS, and of wider social, digital and health equality in the UK.

The NHS is an important global brand – it makes UK stand out as a nation that believes not only in high quality health care, but in health care for everyone – no matter their age, status or income.  We are also a nation that leads the way in digital. Tim Kelsey noted yesterday that digital is a leveller and is more important that it has ever been.


We are still not an entirely equal nation – socially, economically, digitally, or medically.  The more articulate you are, the more connected you are, the more educated you are, the better able you are to get the most out of life under each of those headings.  And that simply won’t do.  Because the NHS is there to support the most vulnerable – and we’re proving that digital can help that happen.
What’s more, we’re also proving that it’s well worth the effort.  For instance, of our learners who would have previously gone to their GP or A&E for non-urgent medical advice, more than a third would now visit NHS Choices (22%) or a pharmacy (13%).  If each person did this once in the next year, this would present an overall saving to the NHS of over £470,000 within a year.

Digital health, I believe, will pay for itself, while creating the equality in the UK of which the NHS is both an integral part and a leading symbol.

The numbers and stats are all great, but I have to remind myself – and I like to remind others – that each one is a person whose life, and health, have been improved due to this programme.  You can hear from some of them in this video, which I think demonstrates the personal impact of our work far better than I could in my own words.

There were two key themes discussed at the breakfast. The first was how do we make sure that we leave no-one, like Betty or Pat from the video, above.  And the second was how we could achieve even more by working in partnership.

Of course we work with the fantastic UK online centres network – some of whom were in the room to talk about their individual health projects. Dave Edeson from Inspire Communities in Hull gave some particularly stark accounts of how digital health is transforming the lives of homeless people in his area.  We at Tinder Foundation provide them with great resources – like the Learn My Way health courses – and support, and (as I’m sure the UK online centres would want me to stress) grant funding to help them deliver.

Through their hard work, we are also forming relationships with local health partners.  25% of centres, for instance, are now receiving referrals from their local GP, and 61% have formed at least one new partnership to help them deliver digital health training.  We are also beginning to form relationships with CCGs, and with national health charities – like Macmillan cancer support, who were also part of the healthy breakfast.

But it’s foolish to try and divorce health from it’s wider social context, and the other partners – both local and national – who support wellbeing, reduce isolation, and work with vulnerable groups.  The Post Office, for instance, were also on hand this morning, as staff with low basic online skills have been training with local UK online centres, and then acting as digital champions within branches – signposting customers back to us if they too need digital skills support.  The BBC was also in attendance, one of our key partners in delivering our English My Way language programme for people who are excluded from their communities – and often health care – through a lack of English speaking skills.

The fact is, that if you know how to use the internet you can take greater control of your life in all sorts of ways. That includes employment and family and saving money. And clearly it includes your health too. That’s where partnership is essential.  And that’s how I’d like to see the Widening Digital Participation in Health programme grow in the coming months – in partnership.

We would love to know about your ideas that will help us to ensure we leave no-one behind as the nation becomes more and more online.  Because that’s what a ‘healthy’ nation will look like.

And whoever you are, we would love to work with you to make it happen faster, deeper, and better.  Get in touch.

Tinder Foundation is Three

On Friday, we held our third Annual General Meeting, and the 40-strong team (together with our Board) took a collective deep breath and blew out the three candles on our Tinder Foundation cake – which had our own faces printed on it!

Turning three felt good and was a bit of a pinch-me moment – at three, maybe I can think that this is real and no-one is going to wake me up and tell me it was all a dream. At the AGM we had a good look back on where we’ve come from, and a look ahead to the exciting times still to come.

Today we launch a new Tinder Foundation microsite. As a team, we spent some time on Friday taking a bit of trip down memory lane to look back at where we’ve come from – and it was great to relive some of these achievements, which I’m so proud of. They include us winning our first non-Government grant as an independent organisation from Nominet Trust, to develop the Community How To website, which is still going strong. We’ve since won contracts from DCLG to develop the English My Way programme, delivered the Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England, won contracts to deliver activity with both Vodafone and TalkTalk and much more. And just a couple of months ago we won a contract with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to deliver the Future Digital Inclusion programme.  So it’s been a pretty busy few years! Do take a look at our timeline of achievements on the microsite at the bottom of the About Us section.

While it’s great to take some time to look back on where we’ve come from, we’re keen to look to the future, and what will be coming next.

Digital inclusion will always remain close to our hearts, and we’ll continue to work hard to close the digital divide. When I talk to our hyperlocal partners and the people who have often overcome so much hardship, I’m aware that we can and should continue to work hard to do more. We’ve done a lot of listening to develop our strategy, listening to people separated from families, people struggling with worklessness, family tragedies, ill health, and people who have travelled thousands of miles to escape wars and poverty, as well as people living on the streets. These people are now using digital to help them in their lives, and they tell me how thankful they are for the help and support the local community staff and volunteers have given them. The staff and volunteers have told us how we at Tinder Foundation in turn provide them with essential tools and inspiration to help them, and we asked them what more would they want and need. And that’s our strategy.

People have told us that they want more online learning in other things they struggle with such as reading and writing. We will explore ways in which technology can support learning – just as we’re doing with the the Innovate UK programme, and supporting the UK online centres network to deliver learning to their communities

And we’ll look at finding digital solutions to social challenges, including continuing on our work with NHS England to support people to improve their health outcomes, and developing sub-groups within our network (for disabled people for example), and piloting approaches to tackle a number of social challenges through digital technology.

But why not take a look at the microsite yourself. Everything we’ll achieve will be in partnership – with grassroots organisations, companies big and small, government departments and everyone in between. So if you’d like to chat more about it, do get in touch.

A big thank you to all the team at Tinder Foundation, the Board, and of course the truly inspirational local people we work with in the UK online centres network every day. The past three years have been pretty great, but I think the next five could be even better.