Last week, I mentioned that the BBC had released some really interesting research into media literacy, and now I’ve had the time to fully digest the report, I thought I’d share with you what I found interesting.The report makes fascinating reading, and luckily a lot of it reinforced what we already knew – which is always reassuring! Amongst those who are offline, 51% are 65+, 71% are C2DE and 50% have no formal qualification, which pretty much echoes the type of learners who are using UK online centres. People’s motivations for getting online reflect what we hear – 31% of internet newcomers are drawn online by being able to communicate with family and friends, 21% because they could find information to help them with everyday life and 21% to help them research products and services. And amongst all the different groups identified by the report, from the hi-tech influencers to the concerned resistors, all said the first thing they would do to learn more would be to ask someone else for help. But one of the most interesting findings from the research is that 23% of non-users are classed as lapsed users, so they’d used the internet before but aren’t doing so now. On top of this, 4 in 10 non-users class themselves as proxy users, so they would ask someone else to use the internet on their behalf. Together these lapsed and proxy users make up a bigger proportion of the offline population than those who have never been online before, and so it seems only right that we focus more on these groups, and think more about how we can inspire and support them to do more online. 46% of people questioned by the report couldn’t live without the internet – that sounds like me! So for those that don’t use the internet, for whatever reason, it must really feel like the gap is widening, and the online world is further off than ever. It’s great that the BBC has done this new research. Their report provides a really useful insight and we need to make sure future research builds on it; I hope the Social Digital Research Hub can help more people to hear about research that’s taken place. As Secret Affair sang (in 1979!), this is the time for action. Time to work together to support everyone, whatever their level of skill, to take advantage of all the great things the internet makes possible. Time to be seen.
I went to Stratford last Saturday without a ticket for the Olympic Park. My son had got caught up in the Olympic optimism and wanted to see the Park even if we couldn’t go in. We had a lovely day, and when we arrived we were confronted by volunteers with megaphones shouting at us that the only way to buy tickets was online. I know it’s my day job, but I did wonder how that would have felt if you had never used the internet.Which, according to the latest Internet Access results from the ONS, released today, is 7.82 million people in the UK. This is down 10% on this time last year, which is a huge achievement. And there’s more good news. Following our recent research symposiums, the ONS have, for the first time in a long while, started breaking results down according to those who haven’t used the internet in the last three months since questioning, revealing the numbers of people who – despite having been online – aren’t getting any benefit from computers and the internet at all. There are an estimated 14.5 million people in the UK who have been online before, but don’t have adequate skills to use it, and we’re keen to know more about them, so it’s great that the ONS are recognising this third group, the ‘ex-users’. Of all the adults asked about internet usage by the ONS, 97% had used it in the three months prior to being questioned. This might seem like a bit of a clean sweep, but when you break this figure down you see the real picture. Of those aged 75 or over, 83% hadn’t used the internet in the last three months. Add this to the huge numbers in this age bracket who have never used the internet, and it shows that only 24% of those over 75s are getting any real benefit from being online.
The BBC has also recently released some research that shows that, of the total population, 11% are past or proxy users. This research makes a really interesting read, and warrants a blog post in its own right, so keep an eye out for that one! What these figures do show is that while inspiring people to go online for the first time is one of the challenges we face, it’s certainly not the only one. We need to understand better what keeps people coming back to computers and the internet, what encourages them to keep developing their skills, and how we can support ex-users so they too can take advantage of all the benefits being online can offer. I hope we can discuss this further at our next research symposium, and I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts either here or over on the Ning.
One common theme in everything I seem to blog about is the importance of working together. We couldn’t support people to improve their skills, and we certainly wouldn’t have been able to help one million of them in just over two years, without working together with our fantastic network of community partners.I’m a big advocate of working together, so it’s great that I can talk about a project that has done just this, resulting in positive outcomes for a whole city. We kicked off the Sheffield Channel Shift project late last year. Sheffield’s our home city and we’re pretty passionate about it. Unsurprisingly, we’re also pretty passionate about the internet, and what it can do to make people’s lives easier, as well as to save the government money. So it seemed natural for us to bring these two together. Thus, the Channel Shift project was born. The project aimed to bring lots of different partners, including Sheffield City Council, Jobcentre Plus, the Department for Work and Pensions and Citizens Advice Bureau together with some of our local UK online centres, so we could work out just what we needed to do to encourage people to move transactions online across the city. We completed the project in April, and one of the main discoveries was that it’s really all about culture change, and ensuring the staff at every level buy into the project, and can understand the online services that are available and why they should be promoting them. They also need to be able to direct customers to where they can go to find help and support. A joined-up, partnership-led approach is the only way to make this happen. The project was a real success, in lots of ways. 75% of people we surveyed after the project said they could now access services online, with 23% estimating they had reduced calls or face-to-face interactions by 10 a month, representing a huge saving.
And not only did we have a real impact during the life of the project, but we also established partnerships that will continue way into the future. Our partners will continue promoting the benefits of the internet, and will help people find the support they need to use it. They’ll continue to save the government, and organisations, money, and they’ll continue to make people’s lives bigger by opening up new worlds. This is why I think the Sheffield Channel Shift project has been such a success, and why I’m keen to see it replicated across the country. You can read more about the Sheffield Channel Shift project, including the full report, and a video featuring some of our partners here.
This week, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications published Broadband for all – an alternative vision. The report acknowledged something that we’ve known for quite some time – that people and businesses are being left behind due to a lack of access to computers and the internet.
The report focussed on the fact that government is more preoccupied with speed than with universal access, and made a number of recommendations to ensure we can bring access to as many people as possible throughout the UK.
While I welcome the report, and such a public statement of just how important the internet is for individuals, communities and organisations, I for one felt quite bamboozled by all the jargon, and talk of spectrums, dark fibre and point-to-point FTTP had me lost. For me, this is the real difficulty I found with the report, and it brings me me back to an issue I’ve discussed at length before – one of people vs pipes. Of course, having the infrastructure in place is essential to ensuring we can become a fully digital nation, but by putting all of our eggs into the broadband basked we’re ignoring what is a far bigger issue – that of skills.
8 million people have never used the internet before, and around 14.5 million do not have adequate skills to get any benefit from it. That’s over 20 million people, a third of the UK population. Whenever we talk about being a digital nation, and where we want to position the UK in the digital league table, we need to remember these 20 million people, and ensure that by investing in better pipes we are not leaving them behind.
Despite the technical jargon in the Broadband for all report, for me the pipes is the easy bit. Sure it takes investment, and a huge number of people working together, but we know we can achieve it. What I’d like to see now is an equal or greater commitment to the difficult job of upskilling these 20 million people, something that UK online centres throughout the country are doing every day, with very little funding. For me, this is the real challenge, and one I hope will be recognised.
We’re keen to join up the people with the pipes, so we’ll be soon be publishing a link to all of broadband plans submitted by local authorities, and we’re hoping to help support the demand stimulation side of these plans. I’ll blog more about this in the coming weeks.