A big week for politics (and football)

I’m one of those people who listens every morning to the Today Programme (even when I’m in Australia), follows political commentators on Twitter, and who in general feels up to date with politics. However, this week it’s been hard to keep up both on the national level but also here in Good Things Foundation world.

A very French outing

At the end of last week, I sat on a panel at the Local Government Authority conference in Birmingham with three other people, including Debbie Brown, Transformation Director at Salford City Council – a key player in our Digital You project.

From Birmingham, I zoomed off to Paris to attend the France UK Digital Colloque, a meeting of the UK and French digital ministers where they agreed to join forces and share expertise on AI and research, working together to improve digital services, collaborating to develop tech talent. I sat on a panel with some very inspirational women in tech where we discussed inclusion and diversity. It was a great event and I appreciated being invited by Matt Hancock, though this ended up being my last outing with him as Digital Minister.

Digital Colloque

At the France UK Digital Colloque with Debbie Forster and Claire Calmejane

 

This leads me on to…

Following the resignation of some of the Conservative Cabinet the then Secretary of State for DCMS (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Matt Hancock became the new Secretary of State for Health, with Jeremy Wright replacing him as SoS at DCMS.

Welcome to Mr Wright and I hope he gets the importance of driving digital inclusion and basic digital skills as much as his predecessor did. The team here at Good Things Foundation are very excited to develop our relationship and work together to help the country reach its digital potential.

And of course we’re keen to keep working with Matt Hancock – our work on Health and Digital/Social Inclusion is now in its second phase and we’re innovating with CCGs and others around the country – something I’m sure the new Secretary of State at Health will be interested in.

And finally…

I was one of those people who on Wednesday night sat on their sofa and shouted at the telly to encourage our football team. We were all a little blue in the Good Things Foundation office yesterday after England’s defeat to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final.

Luckily, we were holding a workshop in the office for the Online Centres who are delivering our Voicebox Cafes project – that’s giving women a voice in democracy – being run with Helen Jones MP, the Chair of Parliament’s Petitions Committee. This cheered everyone up, as we’re always happy to meet the amazing people who work in Online Centres and we were honoured to have Helen Jones in our offices working with us and the centres.

The workshop was going great… then it got even better when Sheffield Lord Mayor Magid Magid and comedian and actor Rufus Hound turned up with some ‘World Cup commiseration’ sweets to cheer everyone up on their Sheffield #SweetTweetTour. Magid even managed to come in and speak to the people in the workshop and meet Helen Jones.

Workshop

Magid meets Helen Jones MP

 

It was good fun and great to see members of the Green Party and the Labour Party getting along so well!

An interesting week in politics – which has moved onto the Donald Trump visit (which I won’t comment on here).

A slightly surreal rollercoaster of a week but one that ended with the Good Things Foundation team posing for a great photo with Magid and Rufus Hound, and eating Skittles and Haribo. What more could we ask for?

SweetTweet

An unexpected surprise

Happy birthday NHS – let’s embrace more digital to evolve and get even better

At Good Things Foundation we’ve been very pleased this week to celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS. We’ve blogged and published guest blogs, we launched a report (about our pilot project with the Sheffield Perfect Patient Pathway Testbed looking at the digital capabilities of health professionals), and we’ve shared lots of great stories on social media. But as the NHS hits this great milestone, it’s got me thinking, how can we sustain it going forward and can digital play a bigger part?

Innovation isn’t just sexy tech and apps

The first phase of our Widening Digital Participation programme proved that online health information – and importantly, ensuring people having the digital skills to access that information – can have a significant positive impact on people’s lives. We reached hundreds of thousands of people with those digital health skills and found that this behaviour change could save the NHS lots of valuable cash (£6m a year through channel shift eg. using more appropriate and more convenient channels).

The point is, the thing that made the most difference to the learners was the information. There’s so much talk out there about different technologies modernising healthcare but the reality is it isn’t all about sexy tech and apps. People need information to get them started in the world of digital health.

Dr Ollie Hart, a GP based in Sheffield who you may recognise from some of our Widening Digital Participation communications, is working hard to make sure people have the knowledge to use online information to manage their conditions in a safe way. He’s embedded signposting to basic digital information in partnership with a local Online Centre who has been based in the GP’s surgery once a week for the past four years.

One of our first Pathfinders in Phase 2 of the Widening Digital Participation programme is a project in Islington working with young people with mental health needs. The project took the relatively simple step of putting a PDF of young people’s Crisis Care Plans on their mobile phones. It was previously on paper and was often lost or forgotten about.  This solution meant that the Crisis Care Plan was in easy reach whenever the young person needed it. Digital was the solution, but it was very low tech.

As Juliet Bauer, Chief Digital Officer at NHS England, says “Technology is here to extend humanity not replace it.”

Digital can bring so much to the prevention piece

Too often the conversations I’m part of about Health and Digital tend to be almost all about curing people. But for better health for more people and for people to not get sick in the first place then digital has a big role to play in prevention as well as cure.

We have many stories of people who have lost weight by getting support from other dieters online or by using the internet to find easy recipes – and therefore preventing a number of illnesses associated with being overweight or obese.

In June, in Sheffield (where I live), there’s a Move More campaign that got me walking 30 minutes to work and back because of a simple app on my phone and a league table where organisations compete against one another to do the most active minutes per person.

But it is getting the people involved that is crucial. Our Pathfinders show time and again that people need to help design their own solutions – whether this is an old butcher shop turned digital health information centre in Nailsea or better access to healthcare for homeless people in Hastings.

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Digital is a tool that helps to drive behaviour change – and that behaviour change means individual people making better decisions about keeping healthy rather than waiting until poor health strikes.

It’s about making people feel healthier and better

This week has been such a huge milestone and I’ve seen and heard so many great things in the news about our national treasure. It makes me proud.

I’d also like to say a big thank you to the people at the NHS who are working with us to test some new approaches and to see what works (and what doesn’t). Thank you to all of the people in the NHS, in the CCGs, and the GPs involved. Thank you to Nicola Gill (who wrote a great guest blog this week), Juliet Bauer, and Bob Gann, who have helped to drive this initiative forward.

The NHS will hit 80 in ten years, and there’s no doubt that it will be a big decade for digital – in making the NHS even better, more accessible, more convenient and flexible, There will be many more opportunities to create services with people, not just for people.

In the UK there are still over 11 million people who aren’t proficient at filling in an online form or downloading an app – our mission is to help all of them to be confident at using the web for good, and to have better lives, and that’s going to be really important for the NHS in the next decade and beyond. Let’s not forget these millions of people as we design the next tech innovation and as we embrace the next ten years of an even better NHS.

Happy Birthday, NHS. And thank you.

#NHS70

Becoming a Group: One Team, Two Offices

Pinch me. It’s all of a sudden become real for the whole team and our two Boards at Good Things that we’re a lively, committed Group of real people working hard to make a better world for excluded people in the UK and in Australia.

How did we get here?

Today Jess, our National Director in Australia, boarded a plane to head back to rejoin the team in Sydney. She followed Allison, Dur-E-Shahwar, and Robert, who had left at the weekend, and Greg, our Chair of Good Things Australia who left on Friday. They had all been in the UK to take part in a week of Good Things Foundation Group working, team building, and celebrations.

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A photo of Dur-E-Shahwar, Jess, Allison, Greg, and Robert, with me in our Sheffield office, shortly after they arrived last week

Last Thursday it was, coincidentally, exactly a year since we got the news from the Australian Government that we had won a big contract to establish, recruit, and support a pan-Australia digital inclusion network as part of their Be Connected programme. And wow what a year we’ve had! As well as helping 320,000 excluded people improve their lives in that year in England, and much, much more (see the Annual Review here) – we’ve set up a new office on the other side of the world, recruited a new team, and started our work with such energy and expertise that we’ve established a network of almost 1,400 hyperlocal partners in just 10 months.

The day after our first Group Board with both Jess and Greg in physical attendance, we had our first Group workshop – a morning of collaboration, joint planning, developing ideas, and importantly getting to know each other. The words I’ve heard from my colleagues since are words like pride, vision, enthusiasm, impact, and about not just knowing we’re a Group but feeling like a Group.

How did we do this?

We’ve reflected on this and something that comes through strongly is that we had a vision, we have clear values and we stay true to our core purpose, and then we just believed in one another (in the UK and in Australia) and used our energy, experience, and can-do attitude to make it happen.

This isn’t all about the UK experts exporting our knowledge and passions to another country, it’s about recruiting a great team in Australia and it’s about reflecting and listening and adapting and evolving for a new context. And doing this at pace.

It’s about having an amazing team of people who believe in the vision but who are also committed to collaboration and to working hard (very hard) for what they believe in, and in parallel to growing and doing amazing things in the UK at the same time. A colleague coined a great phrase for this last week “One Team, Two Offices”. Two offices on opposite sides of the world and in very difficult time zones (especially hard in the British winters!).

What else did I learn last week?

Being in the same room instead of being on Google Hangouts is different, is better sometimes, and now we’re a Group something we know we’ll be doing again.

I can’t wait to see what we get done between now and when we meet as a Group same time next year.

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Team selfie taken by Jess, our National Director of Good Things Australia and includes some of our great UK and Australian Team Members as well as our Group Chair, Liz Williams

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.

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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.)