Digital Evolution: A movement for social change

On 30th November we hosted our sixth annual conference – Digital Evolution: Social Change. There were around 200 people there – many of our partners in the Online Centres Network as well as many of our national partners. I wanted to share my opening speech from the event, I hope you like it:

Rather unconventionally I want to start by saying thank you! Thank you to everyone for all of the hard work you’ve been doing this year, particularly our Network Partners and my team who are amazing and who have had an incredible year so far.

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Last year I showed the trailer from I, Daniel Blake. Now, Ken Loach has made it free on YouTube, so if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no excuse. The reason why I showed that trailer was because we know people like Daniel Blake are real. This is not fiction – it’s fact. We meet Daniel Blakes every time we’re in an Online Centre and many of you meet your own Daniel Blakes every day as you work in those tough communities, our poorest communities, where people are finding it hard to find work, to tackle the welfare system, to get on. The thing that I love about the work that we all do is that we don’t just give people digital skills, we give them confidence, resilience and we give them hope.

In February this year, we celebrated 2 million learners and I met two people that I want to tell you about. Marita who won the Learning for Health Award has an amazing story. She was actually someone that we featured when we reached one million learners when she had undiagnosed fibromyalgia and she had used her new internet skills to get diagnosed and get treatment. But, between the one million and two million marks, her teenage daughter Chance was diagnosed with spine cancer and Marita said if they hadn’t had the internet, they would have felt in the dark. It was amazing that she and her daughter can actually use Marita’s new skills, to use the internet for health, to actually feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully, Chance is now in remission.

The other person that I want to mention is Margaret. She was the winner in the Learning for Life category. She’d been struggling with alcoholism her whole life but luckily for her, she was able to get support from Blenheim REAL down in South London and they helped her to focus on something else, to focus on something new – learning on Learn My Way. The reason I’m singling out Margaret is because of my own personal experience in meeting her. When I gave her that award and shook her hand, she wouldn’t let go. She just kept saying “Thank you so much. My family are so proud of me. My family are so proud of me. They’ve never been proud of me before.”

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At Good Things, we have developed five underpinning principles for the work that we do and I hope that they resonate with you. The first and most important principle is that ‘we are committed to helping people improve their lives’.

Often when I talk to people about a ‘Network’ they think it’s a map with some dots on it. They think it’s bricks and mortar. But that’s not the point, it’s really about the people in the network. It’s about the people making that change and having that impact. It’s about us all working together to achieve social change. So our second principle is: ‘We lead a movement for social change’. Please do take a look at the video below to see for yourself the impact of the Online Centres Network.

Our third principle is: ‘We use digital technology to make change happen’ – of course we do! But the important thing here is that the work we do, the impact we all have – with people – is powered by digital. It’s digital in our back office as well, digital to provide you with those additional services, products and content, that really help you to turbocharge what you do. It’s digital to help us to unite, share and organise.

And it’s digital that supports your blended approach to supporting people to develop that digital understanding and personal confidence using Learn My Way. Today, we’re officially launching the new logo for Learn My Way. We’ve done this through working with you – with users. It’s like the conference it’s an ‘evolution’, not a ‘revolution’.

Our fourth principle is: ‘We do what works’. It seems so simple but it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of. We do what works and we’re tenacious. We keep on going. We deliver.

We also advocate and are advisors for government and other partners. We’re not buffeted by the world around us.

We’re also tenacious about piloting and testing and going back to the first principle, working with the people to make sure that we’re not doing anything that we don’t need to do. Because we’ve got to do the right thing.

We always do what we say we’ll do. An absolutely underpinning part of our behaviours is that we have integrity and every single one of the team would say that too. We always do what we say we’ll do.

Our last principle is that ‘we’re ambitious about the scale of our impact’. I’m ambitious and the older I get the more ambitious I get because I realise my time is running out and I want to use every minute of every day to have as much impact as possible in the world. I know my team and many of you feel the same way because the work we do is so important. It’s not just about helping one Margaret, one Marita or your equivalent of a Daniel Blake. It’s about helping tens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people like Margaret, and Marita, and Daniel Blake, and now by working together we’ve actually surpassed 2.3 million people that we’ve helped so far since 2010.

This year we’ve taken that ambition and that scale a little bit further by going to work in countries in other places around the world. In July, Emily and Michael went to Kenya to launch a new pilot working with libraries across Kenya to see if Learn My Way and the Digital Champion model can work for people across Kenya. Already we know that two people who have used Learn My Way in one of those libraries have now gone on to get jobs that they wouldn’t have got before. And we’re evaluating our work to see how digital inclusion can drive social inclusion and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

And the very big news is that in 2017 we set up a subsidiary organisation in Australia, we’ve set up a new office in Sydney. We have a $25m contract with the Australian Government ($20m of that is for grants, and it’s over 3-years) – to help older people thrive in a digital world. Then we have Jess, our new Director running things over there, and Jess is with us here today. In Australia, we have already set up a movement for social change with over 650 Network Partners joining us since August. Yes, we are ambitious about the scale of our impact.

I asked my team recently if they knew the story of JF Kennedy going to NASA and talking to the man he met sweeping the corridor. He asked him what he does and he said: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” I asked my team what their equivalent is and they said: “I’m helping to create a world where everyone benefits from digital” – “I’m helping at least 3 million socially excluded people improve their lives through digital” – “I’m working not only in digital inclusion but in social inclusion or both at the same time.” They also said – “I’m helping empower and enable people all across the world” and one colleague said, “I’m helping to make the world more equal”. We can be ambitious about the scale of our impact when we all share the passion and commitment to improving people’s lives.

So that’s our strategy: We’re committed to helping people improve their lives; We lead a movement of social change, and that means everyone, not just us and our network partners, anybody that we work with and anywhere in the world; We use digital technology to underpin our work and to make change happen; We do works; and, We’re ambitious about the scale of our impact.

And it’s only by working together that we can make good things happen.

If you’d like to watch my full conference speech, you can do so here.

Why rural areas are still fulfilling the digital cliche

Last week I attended a roundtable on rural connectivity, hosted by Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity. DCMS were there as well in their broadband capacity as opposed to digital skills. When I was invited to attend this roundtable, I was very keen to go, as a lot of our Online Centres are based in rural areas (our Princes Countryside Fund funded centres to name a few) and it’s important to me to be the voice of those centres at events like this.

Digital exclusion in rural areas – the headlines

Most people will associate rural areas with poor connectivity, low digital skills and isolation. Digital exclusion is the same in rural areas as in urban; nationally, c. 10% of the population lack the skills, confidence and motivation to use the internet, however, people in rural areas face additional barriers, such as accessibility. In this case though, the phrase ‘build it and they will come’ isn’t entirely relevant because even when the right solutions are found for rural broadband there are still people who are digitally excluded in rural areas. We need to reach these people.

The cost of connectivity can be higher in rural areas as it often needs to be supplied by alternative methods, such as satellite. Our rural partners have told us about newer organisations like Gigaclear who have different business models, however, specialising in ‘connecting rural communities by installing pure fibre straight into the home – reliable, future-proof and simple to install’.

In relation to the ongoing dilemma that is Universal Credit, connectivity and digital equipment issues are increased in a rural setting for UC claimants. Some of our Princes Countryside Fund Hubs have told us about individuals they have supported who are required to job search daily and complete online claims whilst trying to combat poor connectivity or having to travel large distances in order to do this using equipment and/or connections in community locations such as Online Centres or libraries. As Universal Credit becomes a bigger and bigger issue, it’s important to make sure jobseekers in rural areas aren’t further disadvantaged.

And finally, a stat to round off the headlines, under the Universal Service Obligation, basic fixed line services are required to be available at an affordable price to all citizens and customers across the UK, but shockingly, 4% of the country doesn’t currently have a solution for achieving the Universal Service Obligation.

What are my recommendations?

Thinking about all of these problems, here are my big recommendations, which I talked about at the roundtable. They are:

  1. Don’t talk about technology and all of the techy solutions but talk about local people and about the benefits that technology will bring:
  • for people, including people on Universal Credit
  • for small businesses and SMEs
  1. Find and empower local community champions
  2. Utilise our model of national systems/models but also allow local solutions and local ownership to flourish
  3. Embrace the concept of ‘doing digital in a place’ eg a digital village where everyone is supported to use the internet. Also, aggregated demand can be a solution to getting commercial or community providers to put the broadband in place
  4. Establish Community Hubs (note not a focus on digital but on community) to help with the holistic needs of that rural community including (and importantly) digital eg. schools, village halls, pubs, et al.

What we need to do is empower ALL communities to take advantage of digital. It’s going to take a lot of hard work but we WILL get there.

A Digital Skills Partnership for everyone

In March the government launched the UK Digital Strategy which, amongst many other things, puts focus on giving everyone access to the digital skills they need to participate in and benefit from today’s digital world. An exciting part of the strategy was the announcement that the government would be establishing a new Digital Skills Partnership Board and I was thrilled when I was asked to be a part of it.

Last week I attended the first meeting of the Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) Board with lots of familiar faces, including Liz Williams (Chair of Good Things Foundation’s board – there with her BT Tech Literacy hat on) and Nick Williams (whom we have worked with as part of our partnership with Lloyds Banking Group). The meeting was co-hosted by Matt Hancock MP and Phil Smith (of Tech Partnership and Cisco) and the first thing that really jumped out at me was the ambition in the room. Everyone in attendance really believes in the cause and are determined and focussed to get things done. The people around that table want real collaboration and real action – like I’ve said in the past, we can achieve more together and by working as a team, the goal of achieving a digital nation seems much more realistic.

Thinking (too) big?

At Good Things Foundation, through the Online Centres Network, we focus on helping adults to develop basic digital skills and confidence. This is a tried and tested model – it works. So although I left the meeting feeling very positive about what we’re aiming for, one thing that did worry me was the scale of the scope. The DSP Board covers all digital skills at all levels – from high tech industries to skills and inclusion – and for all ages – from kids to adults. Of course, I want us to develop a world-leading digital economy so if the people on the Board can represent and can cover this breadth, I’m there to help achieve that.

Local is the way forward

On another note, I’m glad that they’re thinking local – looking to pilot local Digital Skills Partnerships. Local ownership and local planning with some national coordination and support is a positive approach. We’re working with some Local Authorities, we are leading a project with Salford City Council to bring digital skills to 7,800 people across the city, and last week in Sheffield I gave a lightning talk to the digital leaders across the city who want to help make Sheffield a key digital place to live and to do business.

Let’s get going

It was the first meeting of the DSP Board, so it’s still early days yet. I’m keen to see the sub-groups of the Board feeding in. Good Things Foundation has a presence here too through our Director of Digital Inclusion Adam Micklethwaite who recently attended both of these working groups on local pilots and national coherence, advising DCMS officials on their input to the DSP Board.

One thing that can be said about this first meeting was that it felt like there was a real belief in the room that the UK can be a world leader in digital. We have a skilled nation already and we have more than the foundations of the digital infrastructure in place.

All we have to do is make sure we leave no one behind.

You can read Matt Hancock (the Digital Minister’s) blog about it here.

Six things you don’t want to miss at this year’s Digital Evolution conference

I’ll soon be back from Australia – thankfully, just in time for our annual Digital Evolution conference. For me, this is a highlight of the year as not only do I get to meet inspirational and knowledgeable members of the Online Centres Network, but it’s also a great opportunity to catch-up with partners and stakeholders from the various different organisations we work with.

I’m looking forward to the whole event but here are six things in particular that I really can’t wait for.

Design differently

Since we established our new Design and Innovation Directorate in April, they’ve been helping the Good Things Foundation team to do things differently. This includes everything from designing interventions for some of our hardest to reach users, to helping us work more efficiently as a team together. Now, we want to share these new approaches with you, to help you discover new and exciting ways to tackle digital and social exclusion in your community. We’ll be talking about quick techniques used by some of the most successful organisations in the world – something you really don’t want to miss.

Celebrity guests

For the past two years, our conference has been chaired by the wonderful Maggie Philbin OBE, and we’re delighted she is chairing the conference again this year. Maggie is the co-founder and CEO of TeenTech CIC and has presented for the BBC, including on TV shows that I love such as Tomorrow’s World and Bang Goes the Theory. She’s always interested in hearing about how people are using digital for good and I just know, as always, that she will be a wonderful addition to the conference agenda.

Industry experts

We’re welcoming a great variety of speakers who are all bringing something unique to the table. The conference will cover a range of themes, including the power of technology for good and how we can achieve a stronger Britain through digital, so I’m sure you’ll unearth plenty of questions and ideas to discuss with fellow delegates during the day – and afterwards.

A problem shared is a problem halved

The conference is a great opportunity to meet other Online Centres and those working in the fields of digital and social inclusion. We’re all in this together as a big club with a shared vision, so whether you’re meeting over a coffee or a sandwich, or if you simply get chatting to the person you’re sitting next to, it’s a great opportunity to make new contacts, share new ideas and get some advice to help you tackle any problems or issues you may be facing.

Our showcase session

We’ve brought together three very knowledgeable individuals to really get into the nitty-gritty of digital and social inclusion and tell us how those two things are so very closely linked: our COO & Director of Social Inclusion Charlotte Murray; Good Things Foundation board member and programme lead at Starting Point Online Centre, Nicola Wallace Dean; and Amy O’Donnell, ICT in Programme Lead from Oxfam. This is sure to be a thought-provoking session and one not to be missed.

Raise a toast with us

And sixth, I’m really looking forward to our post-conference drinks reception. Those who have attended previous Digital Evolutions will know that we usually have a pre-conference event or an unconference. This year, we’re doing things differently hosting this informal gathering at the BT Centre after the event. This is a great opportunity to mingle with those who you haven’t yet spoken to and with the drinks included in the price of your ticket, it’s certainly a less stressful alternative to pushing your way through the busy London rush hour, and helps that hanging around for the off-peak tickets home.

See you there 🙂

Sold? Book your tickets now.

Making good things happen in Australia

I’ve been spending the last few weeks in Australia and this week was a big one. Christian Porter, Minister for Social Services, launched the Be Connected programme on Wednesday; he said: “Be Connected is another important step towards the Government’s goal to foster digital skills, access, and inclusion to empower everyone to thrive in a digital world.” We care about this as we’re working with the Australian Government to grow a digital inclusion movement for older people all across Australia. There is a great video about the programme you can take a look at here.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me and the team – both in the UK and in Australia. It’s felt at times like we’re working for a start-up – meeting very important people in Canberra one day and getting phone lines installed, buying stationary and moving office furniture around the next. Of course, we’ve been working hard, meeting hundreds of new partners – national partners, state partners, and many, many local partners. And we’ve been getting used to our new policy and sector landscape and partners in Australia.

We’re excited to be working with the other Be Connected partners – the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and we’re learning lots from them.

 

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Me with new director Jess Wilson at the Online Safety – On the Edge conference

 

Looking back over the few months, I’m amazed at how much we’ve achieved; recruiting a team, including a great new Director Jess Wilson, holding nine events, meeting over 200 people and growing our network, which is now over 400 organisations strong.

I’ve met so many enthusiastic people, who are already having a huge impact on supporting older Australians to improve their digital skills and who are brilliant members of the network.

None of what we’ve done in Australia would be possible without the experience we’ve gained through running the Online Centres Network in the UK, and I’m proud that the UK government has been so forward-thinking in investing in a network which is now being replicated internationally.

The impact we’ve had in the UK has been amazing, as showcased at our 2 millionth Learner Awards earlier this year, and I’m already ambitiously planning on having a similar impact in Australia.

We’ve got exciting plans for the coming months, as we’ll be growing the network further, going out across the country to meet lots more people, and building many more partnerships that will help Good Things Foundation Australia to grow. Our mission is a world where everyone benefits from digital – and that’s just what we’re planning on making happen.

Seeing is believing

I’m currently in Australia working on the Be Connected project, setting up a new network of digital inclusion centres in Australia, quite similar to the Online Centres Network in the UK. A lot of what I do is inspired by the amazing work of the Online Centres and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about using our UK experience here on the other side of the world. Now, thanks to two new videos which we launched in the UK last week, I can share that amazing work with others too.

The first video is about the impact of the Online Centres Network. The story is told by a handful of network members and it’s their passion and commitment to improving people’s lives and their communities through teaching digitals skills that really puts the point across in this video. I always say that Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network is a big club with a shared vision and I think this video really shows that we’re all in it together. Take a look and see for yourself.

If you run a community organisation or you know of one and you’d like to explore the benefits of joining the Online Centres Network more, take a look at our second video because not only does it summarise everything that being a member has to offer, it shows how great it is being a part of this big club.

If you’re a member of the Online Centres Network, if you believe in the work we do and share our vision for a world where everyone benefits from digital, or if you simply love the videos and feel inspired by them, please do share them on your channels (websites or social media) and spread the word about the Online Centres Network and all the amazing and dedicated individuals who are working hard everyday to help people overcome social challenges.

We did it… We helped tens of thousands to #Try1Thing!

This time last week, I was sad to wave goodbye to Get Online Week. That’s right, it’s over for another year and it really has been another great week.

Organisations of all shapes and sizes across the UK held events to help learners both old and new to #try1thing different online.

I was personally pretty nervous to try one thing that I didn’t know how to do online. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it! If you recall my blog from last week, the one thing I was going to try was creating a vlog. Well, here it is. My colleagues at Good Things Foundation have said it’s a really impressive piece of work considering I’ve never filmed or edited a video by myself before. I think it’s OK, and I really enjoyed being challenged. What do you think?

A well-travelled team

The Good Things Foundation team were out and about visiting events in lots of different places. Harriet, one of our learning designers went to a couple of events, including Joining Communities/Leigh Hackspace. She says: “Becca at Joining Communities had organised a 4-day course for learners and I joined them on the 4th day. Learners had spent the first few days of the course researching the history of Leigh online, learning about their local community in the archives and then taking pictures of the town as it is now on tablets. We went to Leigh Hackspace and edited the images of Leigh past and present and then made jigsaws of their creations!”

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My colleague Kevin went to the Library of Birmingham for an event organised by Catalyst Mutual CIC. He said: “The team were really passionate about helping their local communities, the library event was just one of several in different locations during the week. I met some lovely Brummies who all felt they could do with learning more online. Learning new languages was popular so we got some DuoLingo practice going.”

Kevin on DuoLingo

And one more story came from Online Centres Network Specialist Jonathan who went to Cottsway Housing in Oxford, a social housing organisation who offer their residents the opportunity to develop their basic digital skills. He said: “One learner that stood out to me was called Susan. It was the first time that she had seen Learn My Way and was really enthusiastic about how much this would help her. She thanked me numerous times for helping her register. It was a really great event. The Online Centre received one of our £500 Get Online Week grants and had a professional photographer and catering from a social enterprise that employed people with learning disabilities.”

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And me? I went to one of two events at Whitehall, organised by Chad Bond of the Government Digital Service. I went to a similar event last year but they were so successful Chad organised them again this year. It was a great event with lots of people from different government departments turning up, keen to chat to us and find out what one thing they could try online. This was also a great opportunity for me to record footage for my vlog.

Chad Bond

I really do love Get Online Week. It always reminds me of the thousands of organisations and people who are all determined to reach and support others to do more and thrive in a digital world.

We think we’ve reached over 50,000 people but we won’t know until the numbers have been counted in a couple of weeks.

As I say, it’s about people, not technology. People coming together to share their experiences and their willingness to help others.

That’s the true beauty of Get Online Week.