Digital evolution, local action: bringing the people and the tools together

Wow! Thank you! Fantastic! Well I would say that wouldn’t I?

After all the planning and tweeting and general anxiety and excitement, yesterday it was our Digital evolution, local action conference.  170 delegates – ready to inspire and be inspired – packed into the BT Centre in London to hear how they can use technology to do more in their communities.
Three great things happened:
– the speakers were great and inspired people to think about what they could do differently
– 95% of what was said I hadn’t heard at a conference before, it was fresh– the speakers
attended all or most of the day and in turn were inspired by the delegates.


Lord Knight who chaired the conference said “It’s been a fantastic day, and I’ve learned a lot not just from the speakers but from the delegates I’ve been chatting with.  We’ve had a day of talk –  now it’s time for the action. I’m looking forward to hearing from delegates on #dela2012 and on the Community How To about how the tips and tools they’ve taken away are enhancing their impact.”

But it’s probably best to hear from the delegates on what they thought of the day. Kim Wood, from Blackpool CVS said: “We heard from some really brilliant speakers and I’ve got some great ideas to take away.It was great to meet and spend time with other community organisations, and to feel like we’re all part of a bigger picture.  Everyone attending was willing to try every trick in the book – and on the internet – to do more for the people we work with.”

The reaction on Twitter was brilliant too, and these are just a few of the top tweets!
@benaldo: wanted to run on stage and high 5 Ken Banks from @kiwanja at the end of his presentation. #dela2012

@corganisers: #dela2012 finishes. Inspiring day. Now lets get to work. Using all the brill things we have learned today. Thx @UKonlinecentres

@thomtownsend: Thanks for the hard work @ukonlinecentres team-#dela2012 was great. See you again next year hopefully!

I certainly came away feeling really inspired about the great people I met, and the truly brilliant things they’re doing in their communities. One of the last things that was said on stage was that – when using digital tools for volunteering – it’s only 20% about the tools, and 80% about the people.  And I think it’s the same for the conference. Of course the tools are great, and it’s really important that we make the most of them, but it’s the people who are working in their communities, and the people they are supporting, that’s what I’ll remember from yesterday.   

So thanks to everyone who spoke – we’ll be sharing the full conference report, video and slides by the end of this week. Thanks to BT and Nominet Trust for their support in running the conference – we couldn’t have done it without you. But mainly, thanks to all of the delegates who came along and shared your views, asked the difficult questions and inspired all of us. It’s not every conference where the speakers go away inspired by the audience, which I think proves just how great the sector we work in is.  Keep up the good work – and I hope we’ll see you at #dela2013!

Here’s the Storify in case you missed it.

Digital evolution, local action: a date for your diary

Ah, November. The nights are dark, we’re all wrapping up warm and enjoying bonfires and fireworks. Christmas isn’t the only thing I’m looking forward to – we’ve got an exciting conference coming up in a couple of weeks about my favourite things – local communities, technology and making things happen at scale.

The conference aims to encourage and support community organisations to do more using technology. The fantastic line-up of speakers are all people who have inspired me personally to do more with technology, so I’m sure they’ll inspire others too.

Marcelle Speller from @localgiving had a massive success with and now she’s using all her expertise and experience to make a social impact. After going on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire show she realised that there would be lots of other people who aren’t millionaires and who want to give to organisations in their own area, so she founded – a site that lets you do just that. She really embodies the spirit of the conference – local + technology + scale.

We’re also really lucky to have Ken Banks from coming along to lend an international angle to the conference. Ken’s a real revolutionary and has done fantastic things with SMS communications in Africa – using the technology that’s widely available to reach the greatest number of people and having the biggest possible impact. I wonder if we can bring social innovation from Africa to UK communities?

Plus a brilliant line up of workshops that will give people really practical and useful advice that they can take back and use in their own communities. This is the principle we built the whole conference around, so I’m pretty pleased with the experienced and diverse group of workshop leaders we’ve got – from Lloyd Davis at #WeWillGather, who will talk about how this new platform can help individual people to find other people to make big and small things happen in their communities, to Will Perrin for Talk About Local, who has masses of first hand expertise about making the web local and has helped lots and lots of communities up and down the country to do just that.  Plus great people from Southern Housing Group, Lasa, Media Trust – and we’ll be running a couple of workshops ourselves.  Just looking at the list of workshops inspires me and I’m disappointed I won’t be able to make them all myself. I do hope if you’re coming you’ll find them really interesting (there are just a few tickets here if you haven’t got round to it yet).

And If you’re not coming, we’ll make sure you can keep in touch with what’s happening. You can follow all the action on the day using the #dela2012 hashtag, and we’ll be putting together a video and report after the event. I’m pretty confident that it will show that we’ve got a bunch of really passionate people in their communities who see the real step change technology can bring them. But we’ll just have to wait until the 27th!

Hope to see you there!

Adding up to everyone

Back in 2010, Martha Lane Fox commissioned PWC to produce a report on the economic impact of digital inclusion. The Manifesto for a Networked Nation became the cornerstone of digital and social policy development. 

Today, Race Online 2012’s successor Charity Go ON UK have launched another seminal report – This is for everyone – again bringing together cross sector data to provide a socio-economic case for digitising the UK. I hope – again – that it’s going to shape future attitudes, decisions and investment. 

The figures here are compelling. The key number is the estimation that the UK could have increased annual national GDP by up to £63 billion if it had achieved global leadership as a digitally ‘mature’ country.  This maturity is defined with a complex matrix but amounts to a combination of digital infrastructure, online services, advanced human capital (educating the next generation of Berners-Lees – from whom the This is for everyone quote is taken) and usage (getting everyone engaged in the online world).   

It turns out that digital strategies are rather like buses, actually, because This is for everyone follows hot on the heels of this weeks’ Government Digital Strategy, which sets out how government will redesign its digital services to make them so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will prefer to do so.  While this provides action plan detail, the potential impact of improved government services is one of the strands which makes up Go ON UK’s £63 billion.  

The report is in fact broken down into several chapters, looking at Individuals – enhancing health, wealth and wellbeing in society, Enterprises – supercharging the economy by putting even the smallest of SMEs online, Charities – using technology to make a bigger impact for less, and Government – achieving universal digitisation for both services and citizens (already in hand in the GDS plan). 

Under each heading the numbers are equally fascinating  –  if not more so because they’re small enough to be comprehensible!  As you’ll see from my previous blog, I’ve recently been doing some of my own maths, based on the economic impact of UK online centres case studies.  This is for everyone cleverly ties economics with politics and social reform, looking at the potential of technology to improve education and pupil achievement, get people into work, and reduce social isolation and mental health issues for older people. 

Did you know, for instance, that 9 out of 10 students improve their grades when online learning is blended with traditional classroom work? Or that regular usage of the internet by people over the age of 50 can reduce depression by 20-28%?  Reading on we find that only one in three British SMEs sell their products online, 20% of charities have no digital presence at all, and less than half of central public services have been placed online.  For a stats-nerd like me, this is heady stuff – I actually had to have a little sit down.  

Each of these stats has an economic impact that adds up to that £63 billion. To start realising some of that lost potential, the report recommends that the UK needs to continue to build its digital foundations – the pipes, the platforms and the programmers. However, the more pressing need is identified as People – music, of course, to my ears. As Martha says in her introduction to the Report: “The lack of basic digital skills for millions means “digitisation” is unbalanced—we will increasingly fall short of the UK.’s potential if we do not start to address the problem.”

The fact is that to make sure this really is for everyone, and to ensure technology really does give the nation the lift this report dangles tantalisingly before our eyes, we’re going to need every single hand on deck. I for one am looking forward to getting stuck in. 

Read the full report here – highly recommended!

The people and the pounds: how we’re measuring our value

We’re in difficult economic times, which isn’t easy to forget with the news reminding us every day. Every pound the government spends needs to bring back many pounds of value and so it’s important that organisations like ours can measure the financial impact of what we’re doing – which isn’t always easy. 

I got thinking about this on the back of the European Congress on e-Inclusion, which I’m speaking at today in Brussels. If you’ve seen me speak recently, you’ll know that I’ve got a favourite figure that makes it into most of my presentations. The number is £157m, and it relates to the money we have saved government by encouraging 43% of 1m people to shift government transactions online between April 2010 and July 2012.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m more about the people than the stats – although I do think this statistic is a pretty good one. Contributing to this £157m saving are 1m people, who have all been supported to do more online. They’re all individuals, with different motivations. Some of them have shifted contacts online, but they’ve also found jobs, improved their health, began volunteering, and even ended their own homelessness. 

Clive has found work since visiting his local UK online centre after being made redundant- and he says would be long-term unemployed without the support he received. Even with a prudent estimate of £8,000 a year saving if an unemployed person gets a job, Clive will save the government £80,000 over the next ten years. Our evidence shows us that 8% of our 1m learners have found work – which equates to a not-insubstantial 80,000 people. If these 80,000 people all follow a similar path to Clive, that will lead to a total saving of £650m – and that’s a prudent estimate!

Roger was homeless, but he gained the skills he needed to find work – and now he’s helping others to do the same. Our evidence shows that 2% of our centre users (20,000 people) are in the same position as Roger was – and I think he’s single-handedly helping a lot of them! One homeless person costs the government £26,000 a year, and so by supporting these people find a place to live the government is savings £520m. 

Cheryl is one of 20,000 volunteers within our network, who all give their time to support people to do more online. And although all of our volunteers are priceless, we know they all contribute at least £1,100 each to the economy – a contribution of £22m across the network. 

And that’s just three people. Norah’s health has improved so dramatically since getting online and losing weight, that her health has begun to clear up. An improvement in her diabetes alone will mean she’ll save the NHS £5,000 – not to mention her high blood pressure and arthritis.  (You can watch Norah’s video here).

For me, and for our network, it will always be about the people. These stories are so great because these people have changed their lives – they feel happier, healthier and more fulfilled. But when we do have to prove just why we’re doing what we do, and why the government should continue investing in us, numbers like £157m, or £650 million, doesn’t hurt.

You can take a look at my slides from the European Congress on e-Inclusion here