It just keeps getting better

I recently visited our colleagues at Good Things Foundation Australia in Sydney, where you might know that we’ve also established a new network called Be Connected. Everyone over there is so enthusiastic about digital and social inclusion and part of the reason for that is seeing and hearing about our impact in the UK – and our latest annual report provides a great overview of the past 12 months.

It’s been a good year for Good Things Foundation

The title says it all – another year and another truckful of incredible achievements. From supporting 320,000 excluded people to improve their lives through digital, helping 7,700 people to learn English language skills through the English My Way programme, to training 5,888 Digital Champion volunteers, the list goes on and we really couldn’t have achieved it without our extensive list of partners big and small and, of course, the Online Centres Network.

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 16.19.49

The 5,000-strong ‘big club’ continues to go from strength-to-strength and I just want to thank you for all your amazing work over the past year. You are a true inspiration to me, to the team, and to our Be Connected network in Australia, and you are important pillars of support to the people in your communities.

I’m so proud of this organisation and all of our amazing staff. I’m looking forward to continuing our work together over the next year and achieving even more great things.

Our annual report has much more in it, do have a read. It’s at https://annualreview.goodthingsfoundation.org/#its-been-a-good-year

Creating a supportive and more inclusive society

Civil society is defined as a community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity. In February, the government launched a consultation to inform a new strategy setting out how it can work with and for civil society to tackle challenges and unlock opportunities to build a stronger society now and in the future.

We’re big advocates of civil society at Good Things Foundation, and together with the Online Centres Network, we have a keen interest in supporting people who are socially excluded to live fulfilling lives and to help strengthen the communities they live in. This means we’re keen to ensure that the new Civil Society strategy represents, and takes into account, the views of those who are ensuring its success.  

The inequality gap in the UK is huge, with 14 million people living in poverty, 9 million people lonely or isolated and 11.3 million lacking basic digital skills. Everyday staff and volunteers from Online Centres work to make sure those most in need can play a full role in society. With funding becoming more and more scarce, consistent support – from government and others – is vital.

Critically, any Civil Society Strategy needs to marry the huge benefits digital can provide, with the importance of community, and of face-to-face support, in building a strong civil society that benefits us all.

Our recommendations

We worked with Online Centres to develop a response to the Government’s consultation, which you can see in full here, along with a number of recommendations, which I’ve shared below.

DCMS, Good Things Foundation, charities and the tech sector should work in partnership to grow the understanding of the role of digital in driving impact across all social outcomes. This is not just about digital skills but also leadership. We should aim to deliver culture change, where digital is no longer a bolt-on but is understood and used as a core element of any public benefit delivery.

DCMS, central Government, local Government and businesses need to connect the power and the money with the voices that need to be heard, involving excluded people and hyperlocal organisations to co-design public services and public benefit solutions.

DCMS needs to understand that policy often undermines the efforts of civil society. Central Government rarely prioritises civil society when considering the key players who will help policy succeed. The Civil Society Strategy should commit DCMS to not just convening other Government Departments to ensure that core public benefit programmes succeed but also intervening where it is clear policies from other Departments are ignoring or negating the needs of civil society’s efforts to deliver public benefit.

DCMS and all partners should develop a Partnership Charter that all organisations working in partnership can commit to. The government could further develop the face-to-face and digital systems and structures which enable hyperlocal civil society organisations to connect and tackle problems together, through network organisations like Good Things Foundation and others.

The government, large funders, businesses and local authorities should work together to ensure we have a funding environment that can support a strong civil society. Funding isn’t always reaching the organisations, and the people, who really need it. Through a cross-sector working group, the government should work with large funders to ensure that funding actually reaches those who can use it for greatest benefit.

Civil society is a term that probably few people have heard of – after all it is a term popular with government ministers, academics, aid workers and the likes – but it’s so vital in ensuring we thrive as a nation. I really hope Government will consider our response in helping to shape a stronger civil society, working with partners like those in the Online Centres Network, to create a better world for everyone.

Love Good Things, Love Sheffield, Love Digital

This blog is written for anyone who loves digital (especially developers), for anyone who wants to do a job they love, for anyone who loves Sheffield (or loves the idea of Sheffield), and for anyone who is struggling to recruit developers.

I love living in Sheffield. It’s a proper city but it’s known as a village city – it has great theatres, great galleries, great pubs, and it’s only 10 minutes from the city centre to the Peak District. There’s so much going on, especially in the creative and digital space, and those working in this space are all so generous in passing on ideas and tips and linking you to the next person who might share your ideas and passions. House prices are cheaper than the South. (And I don’t work for the Sheffield Tourist Board!)

I love Good Things Foundation – we do such amazing work. Our vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital – and one of the best bits of working at Good Things is visiting the Online Centres and meeting the people who have been supported by our programmes – they may have now got a job, or said hello to a neighbour for the first time, or they are in contact with grandchildren far away, they always feel more in control of their lives, and as one man told me he “no longer feels like he’s at the bottom of pit of despair”. The hard lives people sometimes have get a bit easier – as they can now use the internet or speak English or manage their health – due to the work of Good Things and the Online Centres Network. And we’re now doing this in Australia and Kenya too. We’re mission led but we’re a staff led mutual and a great group of people – we support each other, we like each other, the team are incredibly talented, and we have great benefits, are family friendly, and have good holidays. All this and we’re also doing what we think is really exciting and interesting stuff with our technology stack! And we’re based in Sheffield.

So here’s the rub! We can’t always recruit developers. We have a Digital Team of nine people (plus one in Australia), and we’re growing. I know similar organisations to ours have a similar problem. It’s the pointy end of being a digital first charity based in the North I guess, but I’m sure it doesn’t have to be like this.

If you’re a developer and live in Sheffield or would like to live in Sheffield – at any level, with any set of skills – then we’d love to hear from you. We’d love to have a chat and a coffee and just see how you could fit into our growing team. Do get in touch, don’t be shy – if you’ve got 30 years experience or if you’re just about to graduate, really, we want to find great people with great digital skills who want to join us.

Check out our work and then email me helen@goodthingsfoundation.org and we’ll fix up a chat, and a chance to meet the team. Really you’ll love working for us and you’ll really love making great things happen.

Taking Be Connected on the road

One of the things I’ve been personally most proud of in the past year is establishing Good Things Foundation in Australia. In the UK, the Online Centres Network is essential to the way we operate. Together we’re a big club with a shared vision – a shared vision of improving lives using digital as an enabler, and a vision of a better society and a better world as a result. I know this is what we do in the UK because of our research and our evaluation as well as by talking to our Network members and to the people they’re helping. In Australia we’re starting to do this too with a new ‘big club’ – the Be Connected Network.

At the end of April I hosted six Be Connected Network Partner events in Australia – in Perth, Melbourne, and Geelong. It was great to take Be Connected on the road and lovely for me to meet organisations who are, or would like to be, part of the Be Connected Network.

It’s so nice to meet people face-to-face. In this digital world it’s great that I can co-work with people on opposite sides of the world virtually (in Sydney and Sheffield) but it’s also nice to meet people face-to-face sometimes too.

In Perth I loved it when one woman, who was thinking of joining the Be Connected Network said to me “I came along today to find out what the catch is; but there’s no catch!” Indeed there isn’t!

In Melbourne it was great to hear new collaborations starting there in the room with Network Partners talking about sharing resources as well as forming new ideas for how they could achieve more together.

And in Geelong a new cooperation was born between three Network Partners talking about how they could share volunteers and signpost between each other as they all helped people learn basic digital skills in Ballarat.

I was amazed and thankful by people travelling long distances to get to the events.

We talked a lot about all of the grant programmes that Network Partners can apply for – including the $50,000 Network Capacity Building Grants. I’m a bit jealous as we don’t have these grants in the UK, and they’re really going to help us to both innovate and scale across Australia with digital inclusion.

Not everything is perfect – a couple of Network Partners said they had older people they were supporting who didn’t want to set up an email address and therefore they couldn’t register on Be Connected. So we responded and we’ve written this guidance note which is now on our Resources page. All the Network Partners love the free online learning courses on the Be Connected website but wanted to know what new content is coming – so we responded with this overview leaflet. I’m glad the Good Things team in Sydney have been able to respond to these issues and are keeping the conversations going.

The thing that I loved the most is how similar so much of our work is in the UK and Australia. One Australian Network Partner said she had been working for 10 years and didn’t know other organisations helped older people to learn how to use the internet – I’ve heard the exact same thing in England. In Australia and the UK I love hearing the stories about people living in our countries having come from all over the world and now being in touch with relatives back home via the internet. Partners in both countries have told me about the 80 something year old or the 90 something year old who is now buying their pet’s food online or video calling a distant grandchild for the first time.

But most of all I loved hearing the passion from the staff and volunteers about spreading the message that the internet can help people to make their lives a little bit better. And then they just get on with it – be it in Geelong (AU) or Gravesend (UK), or in Perth (AU) or Plymouth (UK).

I’m really glad that Good Things is doing our bit to support community organisations and libraries in Australia, the UK, and in Kenya, to help people thrive in today’s digital world.

Thank you to our Good Things team in Sydney for making me feel so welcome.

Good Things Aus

Good Things Aus – hello world!

NOTE: If you’re in or near Townsville, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide, Sydney or Tamworth, you’re very welcome to come along to one of our upcoming Be Connected events. (Sadly I won’t be there but others from the Good Things Sydney team will be.)

Digital and social exclusion are intertwined – let’s tackle them head on

Yesterday, I attended the launch of Lloyds Bank’s UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, where I sat on a panel Q&A session, as did the Chair of Good Things Foundation’s Board, Liz Williams. This Index is an eagerly anticipated piece of research which has been released annually for the past three years – the largest measure of financial and digital capability of people in the UK.

Helen

The headline stats

One of the key findings from this year’s Index is that there are now 4.3 million people (8%) in the UK with zero Basic Digital Skills – this is 470,000 fewer people than in 2017. Though the proportion of UK citizens with the full five basic digital skills has barely changed with 11.3 million people (21%) having limited abilities online.

There are three key tasks that the UK population are unable to do:

  • Create something new from existing online images, music or video – 23.2 million people (43%) can’t do this;
  • Verify the sources of information found online – 13 million can’t do this (24%);
  • And fill out an online application form – 8.6 million people can’t do this (16%).

A stand-out stat is that there are 3.2 million people on the cusp of the full five skills. If they were to gain the missing digital skill, there would be 8.1 million people without basic digital skills.

Making it happen

The big question surrounding this final headline stat is how can we make this a reality? How can we help these 3.2 million people to gain that one missing skill?

It’s Good Things Foundation’s aim to make social change happen through digital. Our UK-wide network of Online Centres support the hardest to reach in society, not just through teaching them about computers and the internet, they are real pillars of support and trust that people can rely on.

A lot of the people who visit Online Centres face some form of social exclusion which can contribute to them being digitally excluded. This year the Index contained key stats on inclusivity as well as digital skills. 3.5 million people with a registered disability are offline – that’s 25% – and 28% of those over 60 are not online, with an amazing 84% of this group saying that nothing at all could motivate them to get online.

The benefits are clear:

  • 10% of the workforce do not have basic digital skills, but if they did, they could be £13,000 a year better off.
  • 4 in 10 people say that being online helps them feel less alone; 21.2m people are less lonely due to digital.
  • 5 in 10 people say that the internet has helped them find a job.

As more and more people get online, the ones who are still left behind become harder and harder to reach. That’s why we need Online Centres. It’s the level of trust and honesty that they offer that these people need and in their own local communities – on their street. They won’t open up to just anyone.

As the digital and social exclusion crevice narrows, it deepens, but thankfully, more and more people are coming together across the sectors, abseiling gear in hand, to make sure we can reach and support those in need to live life to their fullest potential with digital.

Voicebox Cafes: Giving women a voice

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that we’d been successfully awarded one of eight large grants to deliver our Voicebox Cafes project, as part of the Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme, alongside seven other inspirational projects. This is a project that I’m really excited for as it’s about using digital to support some of the hardest to reach people in society and helping them to overcome some of the challenges they face.

Voicebox Cafes will engage excluded women and support them to understand and participate in democracy and public life. We know that there are certain groups of women who are less likely to engage with democracy, in particular women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, young women, and women with low levels of educational attainment.  

As part of my role on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy back in 2015, I spoke to a number of women in sessions in communities up and down the country. These women felt that they didn’t have a role to play in democracy or local campaigning. They didn’t feel that they could make any difference or that politicians would listen to them. And they didn’t have any interest in how laws were made or in what happens in the Houses of Parliament, which for many people I met was hundreds of miles away from where they lived.

 

Speaker's Commission

Me with the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy in 2015. Image courtesy of http://www.parliament.uk.

 

This project has grown from that insight – and from hearing how powerless the women I spoke to often felt to change issues in their own lives, whether that was unaffordable childcare, poor housing, or a lack of part-time employment opportunities.

Many women nowadays are using both social and traditional media to campaign for these issues – but the women who often have the most to gain are the ones that are missing out on these opportunities.

We’re hoping this project – which will work with 35 local organisations in the Online Centres Network – will find ways to make democracy relevant and to engage women and show them how they can make a difference. This might be through hearing from influential female politicians or changemakers, showing women how to develop their own local campaigns or teaching them about the importance of their vote. We’ll be making democracy, politics and campaigning relevant – and I hope in a world where what goes on in Westminster often feels very far away, this will make a real difference to the women who get involved.

I don’t think what we’re planning is easy – as I found on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy many people felt that politics, democracy and politicians were irrelevant to them. I don’t think it will be easy to engage these women, and I don’t think everything we do will be a success. I promise that we’ll share some of the lessons we learn along the way.

I’m sure, however, that Voicebox Cafes will be a powerful example of the role digital can play in addressing social challenges.

If you think you can help or would like to get involved, do get in touch. I’ll be sharing stories from the project as it develops, so don’t worry as I’m sure this is one project I’ll keep coming back too.

I can’t wait to get started.

The Digital Health Lab

What does it mean to stay happy and healthy? Some people would say it’s eating well and exercising, others would say it’s being able to stay ‘in the know’ and in control of existing health conditions. What these tasks have in common is that the internet can be used to make them easier. And that’s where our Widening Digital Participation project with NHS Digital comes in.

This week we’re shining a spotlight on this project, not least because the project has been shortlisted at the Digital Leaders 100 Awards for Cross-sector Digital Collaboration of the Year, but also because we’ve engaged 104,300 people through this second phase of the programme so far since April last year.

Building and developing

In the first phase (September 2013 to March 2016) we supported a total of 221,941 people to learn digital health skills. In the third year, through our research, we discovered that the behaviour change of people moving more of their health transactions online would mean potential annual savings of £3.7m in saved GP visits and £2.3m in saved A&E visits. That’s savings of £6 million in just 12 months. These savings alone represent a return on investment of £6.40 for every £1 invested in the programme.

At a time when the NHS is increasingly strapped for cash, we’re happy to help them save a bit of money and alleviate pressure on services by teaching people to use the internet to manage their health. Just to be clear, we’re promoting the use of digital as one channel to help with how people manage their health, and this channel sits alongside the other telephone and face-to-face support people can and should continue to have access to, such as NHS 101, Pharmacists, GPs, Health Clinics and A&E.

Our second phase (that started last April) has identified ‘pathfinder’ partners, that’s CCGs, GPs, Online Centres, third sector organisations, Councils and more with a specific idea to test if (a) it works and (b) if the idea can be replicated and scaled.

What are our pathfinders doing?

There are 13 live pathfinders currently and they’re piloting different ways to embed digital inclusion into healthcare. Here’s a little taster of what they’ve been up to:

  • Digital Health on the High Street, Nailsea: Nailsea Town Council purchased the old butcher shop on the High Street, turning it into a community space that can help Nailsea residents improve their lives through engaging with digital technology and their health. They’ve engaged 870 people, supported 120 people in-depth and recruited 21 Digital Champions.
  • Young Carers, MYMUP, Bradford: We’re working in partnership with MYMUP, local third sector organisations and education establishments in order to support young carers. MYMUP is an online platform that is helping support young carers with their resilience and mental health. We’re working with them to discover the ways that digital support can improve the lives of young carers and also increase access to health information for the people that they care for.

There is so much more to read about what our pathfinders have been up to on our ‘micro-site’, so please do have a look.

It’s not just about digital skills

Good Things Foundation is social change charity. We believe in helping people to improve their social outcomes powered by digital, so through programmes like Widening Digital Participation the health benefits aren’t limited to reading NHS Choices or booking a GP appointment through an online booking system or ordering a repeat prescription for delivery to your home. It’s other things like reducing social isolation – learners who normally live alone and spend most of their time alone can get some company when they go along to their local centre to learn about digital – or improving their mental wellbeing and confidence by interacting with other people.

The benefits to individuals, their communities, and to the NHS of the Widening Digital Participation programme are potentially huge. We’re looking forward to finding out the new and exciting ways that our next 7 pathfinders will help the most vulnerable in our society to become happy and healthy.

And here’s just one story to bring it all to life…