Social Housing & Digital by Default

Great meeting today chairing the Social Housing & Digital Inclusion Group. We scoped our ambitions for digital by default and plotted our progress using old fashioned flipchart paper and pens. Feel it’s time for this sector to really take off.

Tapping into my inner stats nerd: Internet Users 2011

Back in 2007 Freshminds drew a graphic for one of our joint reports that showed that as more people got online the deeper the barriers were for those who remained left out. At the time we were having a go at predicting the future, and the latest stats from the ONS shows that this hypothesis has now come true.

I’ve done another slide deck – Internet Use in the UK: The Evidence June 2011 – which I’ve put on slideshare so you can see all the stats; you can download and use this if you want to. It brings you stats from the ONS’s new Internet Access Quarterly Update now embedded as part of the Labour Force Survey, and Ofcom’s latest bi-annual UK Adults’ Media Literacy Report for 2011.

The UK really can become a digital nation.

  • 40.8m people in the UK use the internet everyday.
  • Over 93% of everyone under the age of 45 is online
  • and more than 85% of people who live in London and the South East.
  • 85% of all men are online.

However the people who are being left behind is similarly stark. 8.7m have never used the internet. Only 17% of women aged over 75 are online; so now I know that Mum’s special in yet another way. 1 in 3 of all people who are disabled have never used the internet – that’s 4.2m people. And almost a third of the people in Northern Ireland have never been online.

The people who are offline and need targeting are: older people, people in the DE socio-economic group, people with disabilities, and women.

I’m the kind of person who would love to get my hands on the data behind the published stats so I could see the overlaps – especially based on disability and age. Maybe a future project.

Interestingly only a half (54%) of all adults in the UK have ever used a government or local authority website or other online service (eg email). This shows that there’s still a lot of persuasion to do with the online as well as the offline population where online government is concerned.

The best thing about these stats is that it really does feel as if it’s within our grasp to fulfill the vision of a truly networked nation. With a targeted approach we can make sure no-one is left behind.




Children dream of electronic communications

On Monday I read this tweet from @nyreescott: “overwhelmed. Given 20+ handwritten thank u letters from school kids after Skype session with teachers +St Lucia”. I remembered that Nyree had told me last week that she had a session with a class of Year 6 children in the Cambridgeshire fens to show them (and especially the teachers) how to use Skype. Just to make it especially interesting she make contact with a friend in St Lucia to show the very real power of the internet.

So 98.6% of under 25s are on the internet, we hear talk of Digital Natives, but – just as I did in the 1980s – we often under estimate the pure WOW factor of this tool we access everyday on our multiple devices.

Back in 1984 I worked on the Microelectronic Pilot Project at the National Assocation of Citizens Advice Bureaux as part of a small team whose job was to try to persuade 50 CABx that a computer was a good thing. In 1985 I left there to join TTNS – a News International venture on the back of the Microelectronics Education Programme; I was the National Database Manager (basically in charge of making web pages).

In 1985 I watched as children were thrilled with emailing eachother across a room, in 2011 I am thrilled at seeing a 50 year old woman sending an email for the first time. In 1986 I helped children to link up with other online children on the other side of the globe via the Computer Pals Across the World programme*. By early 1987 I had dismissed this computer pen pal thing as being a bit limited; after all I had devised and delivered an Online Schools Election with the BBC (with John Craven’s Newsround) and I was about to launch a WorldTour taking school children around the world using bulletin boards (a bit like social media in black and white).

Nyree reminded me that I was wrong in 1987. Children and adults love to learn about other cultures, other places, the more remote and different the better, and if it’s just an email then that’s fine. This wonderful tool we have which links people together through a phone line or something similar is just amazing. Nyree had a 20+ letters from delighted children, one of them said: ” I enjoyed the day you came so much I actually had a dream about it. I wish you come again and help. Thank you.”


This is a picture of Nyree with Vicky (who went from terrified to award winning evangelical volunteer).


Fish and chips can make communities healthier

Okay, this is a slightly misleading title, but I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some incredible community organisations yesterday at the Technology 4 Good awards organised by AbilityNet.

One of them was Taylors Fish and Chip shop in Woodley, Stockport, who won the prize for Community Impact. All the finalists were excellent and are having an enornmous impact on their community. It’s fair to say though that I am completely in awe of what Taylors have achieved. Anne Wallace took over running the family Fish and Chip shop when her father died, as the recession hit, more and more of the shops on the precinct closed down, Anne and her husband considered early retirement but instead they supported training for their small team. Then they opened a coffee shop called Starting Point (Anne says “and I don’t even like coffee”) which has became the heart of the community. When the young people wouldn’t come into the cafe they then put computers in, and it’s grown from there. Now young and old learn together and help eachother out on eBay or emails or whatever they need.

Anne Wallace says that it was a selfish act as “for the Fish and Chip Shop to survive then the precinct had to survive”, but I think Anne is a great example of a brilliant community leader – she saw the community needed help urgently and she stepped up to the challenge and made sure the community got their community spirit back.

Seed funding for these local partnerships is vital, and delivers an economic return which far outweighs the initial investment. In this case, the partnership began with some funding from Edge and the project’s now being supported to grow and develop through funding from the UK online centres’ £2m Community Capacity Builders Programme.

Nicola Dean from Starting Point wrote in her application: “If ever a project proved that a small amount of investment from a few organisations who understood our dream, this is it. There is now a waiting list of businesses wanting to invest here at the precint. This is becoming a great place to live and do business.”

Persuading businesses to invest time in their local communities can be challenging, as I know from my own experiences of trying to set up a skills exchange in a disused shop near to where I live in Sheffield. (I’m still trying by the way!)

Examples like Taylors Starting Point show that economic, as well as social returns, are possible.


Does anyone have a game changing idea?

The government’s Giving White Paper published last week highlighted to me one of the key issues I’ve been wrestling with for some time in the context of the government’s Big Society plans: the tension between the devolution of power and money to local communities and the economies of scale and impact which can be achieved by central co-ordination.

It’s good to see the White Paper gives a framework to some of the rather nebulous ideas that have been floating around for the last year. The package of measures outlined, including a new Social Action Fund, investment in the Do-it website, and a planned Giving Summit in the autumn, help organisations like UK online centres to get a clear understanding of how our activities align with wider priorities.

Another reason I liked it is that it allays one of my earlier fears: that with the renewed focus on localism and self-organisation, national frameworks would become a thing of the past. Since my day job is as the Managing Director of a national organisation supporting 3,800 community partners you might expect me to advocate for national co-ordination, but my concerns go much wider than my own self-interest.

Take volunteering, for example. Without Do-it, the national volunteering database, each local area would have to create its own volunteering database, leading to duplication of effort and wasted expenditure.

In the early days of UK online centres, local centres would run their own local awareness raising campaigns, with patchy success and frustrations with inadequate local marketing expertise. We now have a highly successful national Get online week, which in partnership with Race Online 2012, the BBC, the Post Office and other major national partners, saw the monthly number of new people going to UK online centres double last October.

National co-ordination has got a bad press in recent months with stories of over-inflated quangos and pointless targets. But delivered in a light-touch way, in collaboration with community partners, it can achieve scale, impact and efficiencies which are simply not possible if everything is devolved to the local level.

The direction of travel signalled in the Giving White Paper seems to me to be the right one. With a national framework which sets out clear and practical initiatives but stops short of setting targets, organisations at all levels have the freedom to decide whether this is something they want to be part of.

And the Social Action Fund asks if there’s something truly game changing and scalable. Well I think I may have an idea …..