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.

#Try1Thing

Today sees the start of the eleventh annual Get Online campaign – the biggest digital inclusion campaign in the country. With over 1,000 organisations registered to take part, there will be thousands of events taking place in communities across the country, where people can get free and friendly help to Try 1 Thing.

We’ll be asking thousands of people to do just one thing online that they usually do offline. It could be their first online shopping experience or video call with friends or relatives, setting up online banking, booking a GP appointment, claiming benefits, or applying for a job online: anything that they haven’t had the skills or confidence to try before.

Why are we doing it?

Earlier this year we released a piece of research in partnership with BT and Professor Simeon Yates from the University of Liverpool analysing the 2015 Ofcom Media Literacy Survey – The real digital divide?. This broke down the demographics of people who are not utilising the full benefits of the internet. We found that there were people who did not use the internet very often but also there were people – previously thought of as internet users – who use the internet every day but only use two or three websites or apps. We called these two groups limited users.

In today’s digital society it’s more important than ever not to leave people behind and that’s why campaigns like Get Online Week are so important.

There were so many great stories from our ‘poster men and women’ of the campaign. Ravi Sundararajan is one of them. When he was younger, his prospects for the future were looking better than ever but a change in circumstances meant that he found himself homeless and alone. He was picked up by a homeless charity and eventually found his way to Adult Education Gloucestershire where he’s learnt digital skills, built his confidence back up and is feeling better than ever.

My plans

As always I will be out visiting events throughout the week, as will other Good Things Foundation staff. We’re all really looking forward to it as it’s a great opportunity for us to get out there, on the ground, and experience the great work that the Online Centres Network do firsthand.

There were a couple of fun new additions to the marketing pack this year – the #try1thing cut out and the #try1thing bingo game. Here’s me with the cut out – the one thing that I’m trying online is making a vlog about Get Online Week (and I’m a bit scared about it actually). I’d love it if you could use the cutout and encourage others (colleagues or even friends and family) to do so too to show us what you’ve been up to during the week. The bingo is a great way to engage learners and there’s lots of different ways you can play it. Check out the Get Online Week website to find them out.

Helen's blog

As well as community partners holding campaign events, Get Online Week is also supported by committed private sector partners and I’m delighted that Lloyds Banking Group is sponsoring Get Online Week for the second year running. Lloyds are leaders in digital inclusion, having trained thousands of their staff as Digital Champions and pledged to help millions of people, businesses and charities improve their digital skills. Their support is vital in addressing digital exclusion across the UK. Thank you. 

That’s all from me for now but I’ll be back blogging again after the campaign to share all the wonderful things that I see and do. To everyone taking part, have an amazing week and together we can help tens of thousands of people to #try1thing online.

A movement for social change

Good Things Foundation hosted an event at the House of Lords on Monday. It’s a bit of an annual do where we take the opportunity to launch something new and exciting or to celebrate the end of a big project. Since our last House of Lords event in 2016, we’ve continually built on our successes and grown our organisation both in terms of our scope and objectives and team.

House of Lords collage

Hosted by our Patron Lord Jim Knight, it was great to see so many of our partners – national and hyperlocal – as well as members of our Board and colleagues from the Good Things team too, alongside our Chair Liz Williams.

Those of you who know us, will know two things:

  • We do what works – and we always do what we say we’ll do
  • AND, we don’t let the grass grow under our feet – we’re ambitious about going further and faster.

It’s all about the people. The world for many people is difficult. They feel that life is a series of hard knocks and that they don’t have the power to soften the blows. They don’t have enough money and find juggling with the little they have hard. They feel isolated from family and community. We are committed to helping people improve their lives.

And so we’ve changed internally too to face this challenge with not only staff dedicated to digital inclusion, but we also have staff dedicated to social inclusion too.

That’s Emily and Tim from the Design team out in the streets of Hastings at 4am to talk to rough sleepers about their health needs.

That’s Nicola and Rob and Charlotte, working with almost 100 Online Centres to help migrants learn English, like the Polish woman I met in Luton who just that day had for the first time rang herself to tell the school her daughter was ill. Her daughter is 10 and was born in Luton. It was a huge milestone for her.

Working with partners is important – we’re not just a network but we’re a movement. A movement for social change. Public sector partners, corporates, community organisations, volunteers, and the Online Centres Network. We make lasting social change happen through empowering and embedding new behaviours and relationships.

Our thousands of local partners are very important. They are grassroots organisations who understand the experiences and needs of the people they support every day in their local communities; they engage people that other parts of formal systems fail to reach. Our collective impact, across all our partners, is greater than any one would achieve alone.

I am ambitious – I am ambitious not for me but for all of us – ambitious for the scale of the impact we can make if we do the best we possibly can do. I am ambitious about the change we can make to people’s lives. It’s great to help a few people make a really big and positive change to their lives and to understand those micro journeys we followed 20 people over 18 months – the Longitudinal Learner Study.

It’s essential to help individuals but it’s even more important when we can help millions of individuals benefit. We’re committed to helping people significantly improve their lives and we’re committed to doing this at scale.

I started by saying it’s all about the people – and at the event I interviewed one of the stars of the new booklet, Mark Revell:

We also took the opportunity to launch our new Digital Nation infographic, which demonstrates the current state of digital and social inclusion in the UK, which you can see here.

To finish off this train of thought, I say let’s all be ambitious – and I ask all of you if you can do more. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done already and that you’re already committed to doing. But, let’s do more, reach further and move faster – together.