Reviewing the year

Today sees the launch of Tinder Foundation’s Annual Review 2013-2014.  I know I say this every year, but looking back I’m incredibly proud of how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve achieved. It’s a totally online Annual Review, interactive and whizzy, and I highly recommend you pay it a visit.

Some of our highlights:

  • The UK online centres network

As ever, the network is top of my highlights list.  It remains Tinder’s unique selling point, allowing us to deliver learning at scale, with the flexibility to respond to very local needs.   This year, we’ve supported 180 centres with grant funding, including the large scale Community Capacity Builders, and our four specialist networks supporting Disabled people, Older People, Carers, and helping people Into Work.  It’s through these networks that we’ve sought to target those most in need of digital skills support, and used our ‘discover, seed, scale’ model to share the best practice and findings from those networks across the wider UK online centres family.  We’ve also given out around 200 small event grants, helping centres run events to engage with new audiences.


  • Working with libraries

I want to mention more specifically our work with libraries, which continue to make up more than half of the UK online centres network, and remain key in helping us deliver outreach deep into urban and rural communities.  Over the last year, Tinder Foundation we’ve worked closely with the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) to help more libraries support more people with digital skills needs, including a new workforce development training programme for the library network.  More than 50 SCL regional leads have completed the training, and have taken away materials to help disseminate what they’ve learned to branch library colleagues.

  • The Widening Digital Participation Programme

Last Summer we started our work with NHS England to create a new Digital Health Information network of 400 centres who use innovation to support people to access health information online. Between them they have reached more than 100,000 people, with  60,000 being trained to access health information online through the Learn My Way health portal and the new Staying Healthy with NHS Choices health course.  You can read the full report on Year 1 of the programme online.

  • The set-up essentials tool and Home Access network

The Home Access project, again supported by BIS, showed how important home access to IT equipment and connectivity is to overcoming barriers to digital inclusion. The diagnostic tool was launched on Learn My Way in January 2014, and by the end of March had already been used more than 4,000 times. Meanwhile, the 60 Home Access pilot centres have received specialist training for their staff and volunteers, and have given personalised face-to-face guidance sessions to more than 400 people about how to get online at home.  Read more here.

  •  Our “Digital evolution, making good things happen” conference

In December, our annual conference supported grassroots practitioners to have a bigger impact in their communities, and speakers from the US and UK, and across the public, private and voluntary sectors talked about why and how they’re supporting digital inclusion, and more importantly how centres can work with new partners and achieve more for more people. Delegates really loved the event and thanks again to BT for hosting us.  Read the full report here.

  •  Marketing campaigns that reached thousands

Our annual Get Online Week (October) and Start Something (Feb – March) community campaigns reached nearly 100,000 people and helped local centres reach out to new audience groups and new community partners. With 11m people without basic online skills these campaigns are so important to reaching new people and linking them with local partners who can help them to get the digital skills they want.

  • Learn My Way goes from strength to strength

The Learn My Way platform has gone from strength to strength this year, with new content and videos, and new courses like our popular Universal Jobmatch guide. We also added the fantastic English My Way portal – an ESOL programme developed in partnership with the British Council and the BBC as part of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s English Language competition. We’ve also piloted content co-creation – helping centres and tutors create their own Learn My Way courses – watch this space for more information on that one.

  • The Digital Deal Challenge Fund

Tinder Foundation delivered and project managed this digital inclusion Challenge Fund for the social housing sector, run as a cross-government initiative supported by the Department for Work and Pensions and Department for Communities and Local Government. The aim is to trial and spread ways of getting social housing tenants to engage with their landlords online, and it’s been a fantastic first year with 12 social landlord partners. We’ll be publishing the findings soon on our Digital Housing Hub which continues to go from strength to strength.

  • Digital nation infographic

Back in November, we created our popular new infographic about the digital world, which you can download here.  It shows the 36 million people on the sunny side of the digital divide, as well as the 11 million still in the digital dark. As well as the key facts and figures it also summarises what we know works to help people cross over to the online world.  The idea was to consolidate key stats and facts from across the digital inclusion sector, and create a single ‘picture’ of the UK as a digital nation.


  • A leading digital nation by 2020

In February we published this report, authored by Catherine McDonald and commissioned by Tinder Foundation and Go ON UK, set to take a look at digital inclusion from a different angle, costing out for the very first time the necessary measures to equip 100% of the adult UK population with the basic online skills needed for a sustained internet usage. It revealed that the total cost for a 100% digitally skilled nation is £875m, and split three ways between Government, the private sector, and the community and voluntary sector, this works out at approximately £50m from Government per year up to 2020. Given the £1.7bn savings from moving public services online alone – this investment seems well worth making.

  • Corporate volunteering programme, Online Basics qualifications, Community Development Award and much much more!

Our corporate volunteering programme has seen 140 EE employees and 50 TalkTalk employees trained as Digital Champions and volunteering in local UK online centres.  Meanwhile, another 3,500 people have achieved our City & Guilds accredited Online Basics Qualification, and 23 people have graduated with our Level 3 Community Development Award.  I could go on, but you might as well read the whole Annual Review for yourself!

The past year has really seen us grow, develop in new directions and build our relationship with the hyperlocal organisations who are so vital to what we do. Over the past year, we – and the UK online centres network – have continued to support some of the hardest to reach people in society, with 82% of learners coming through the network meeting one or more indicators of social exclusion. The ability of centres within the network to help those that can’t be reached by other means continues to be vital to supporting so many of those most in need. And although I also say this every year, I think the year ahead is going to be even more significant.

While digital inclusion will always be at our heart, we are continuing to diversify, growing our work in adult learning and supporting the centres in our network to have a greater impact in their communities, not just by supporting digital inclusion activity but in many other ways.

We couldn’t do any of this without the network of wonderful, hard working, and continually inspiring UK online centres.

Thank you all.


Eleven Months and Counting: Will we get the Government we deserve in 2015?

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen a flurry of activity last Wednesday when I was at the launch of the Technology Manifesto by Policy Exchange. I think it’s a great piece and I really welcome it.

If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it, but I’ll summarise here.  There are three key goals in the manifesto:  

  • Build the most connected and digitally skilled society in the world
  • Make Britain the most attractive place outside of Silicon Valley for technology entrepreneurs to start and grow a business
  • Use technology and data to develop the smartest Government in the world.

For most of us gathered at Google Campus for the launch, it is just so obvious that digital is going to be a massive part of our future. But I believe (and the manifesto says) that it’s time for technology to be front and centre of policy making too.  

The challenge for the policy-makers working towards the 2015 elections is clearly stated: “Technology is no longer peripheral to life, and nor can it be to policymaking. From education to healthcare and from energy to transport, no policy area is immune from its influence.It is the foundation on which Britain’s economic future will depend.”

I’m so glad that the manifesto uses our report “A leading digital nation by 2020: Calculating the cost of delivering online skills for all”.  It  feels very much as if digital inclusion has grown up.  It’s not screaming in the corner for attention – it’s clearly and sensibly articulating it’s needs and perspective.  

The first recommendations fit perfectly with our work at Tinder Foundation:

Recommendation 1: Government should set a target for the UK population to have the world’s highest rate of basic digital skills by 2020. This is the most fundamental requirement for increasing internet usage; enhancing social mobility; reducing social isolation for vulnerable people; helping British businesses innovate and lead the world at e-commence; and ensuring that government can reap the benefits of moving to digital transactions. The estimated investment of £875 million thought necessary to achieve this is considerable, but would be offset by savings of around £1.7 billion/year attained by moving to digital transactions. Without this increased funding, around 6.2 million people will remain without basic online skills in 2020.

Recommendation 2. Until the whole population is online, public services delivered by post, telephone or face-to-face should – where appropriate – be replaced with quality, assisted-digital services for the 17% of UK citizens who are currently offline. Government spends around £4 billion each year providing non-digital transactions. Better targeting of assisted digital support, procured from the private and voluntary sector, could save £2.7 billion from this budget.

And I was glad to see SMEs not left behind either:

Recommendation 18: Government should provide a detailed roadmap on how it will maximise the impact of initiatives to help 1.6 million SMEs transact and sell more online. Government is right to make industry and the third sector take the lead in getting businesses online, but for their work to be effective, those organisations require a clear commitment on the extent of funding by government and a consistent team within Whitehall with which they can collaborate. For the 29% of disconnected business owners who are not confident internet users, the government should support targeted, locally-delivered, face-to-face basic training programmes around online skills for business.

With about eleven months to go before we elect a new Government, it was clear at the launch that none of the red, yellow or blue politicians representing their parties on stage thought digital was yet be central to their colleagues’ thinking or campaigning.  

But that’s 11 months to make the case for digital, and I’ve never been one to say never.  I believed Chi Onwurah, Nadhim Zahawi and Julian Huppert when they said they were all working and hoping to raise the profile of digital as a defining element of the 2015-2020 Government.

My personal assessment from the day is that Chi Onwurah and Labour seemed much more on top of this brief.  Chi stated in her short speech that she thinks the Government’s current Digital Inclusion strategy is woefully unambitious, and she spoke about the plans of the new Labour Digital Group that is active across a number of key policy strands (and on Twitter at @LabourDigital).  

Now it’s up to the Lib Dems and Conservatives to meet this same level of commitment.  Julian Huppart was obviously personally passionate about bringing digital to LibDem policies, and Nadhim Zahawi was an extremely interesting speaker on Conservative digital planning.  So let’s see what the next 11 months bring.  

Our government in 2015 (whoever it may be) should pay attention to the work and thoughts documented in the technology manifesto and ensure that our nation’s digital needs are met to make a strong and inclusive nation by 2020.  The manifesto is split into three strands: Individuals; Businesses; and Government.   My top tip for all parties is that they’d do well to read the first section particularly carefully – Individuals – because after all,  policies should really have people at the heart of them.  

One idea from Chi was that all of us – yes, all of us – should email our MPs and ask them what they think the priorities for them will be if they are re-elected next May. I’m going to give that a go – if you do too, let me know and we can compare notes.  Watch this space.  


Could digital bridge the apathy gap?

Over the last week or so I’ve been watching with interest the results of the recent elections, and the various interpretations of winners, losers, damned lies and statistics.  

Whatever your political persuasion, I think we can all agree that by far the biggest loser was democracy itself.  A whopping 65% of the electorate didn’t choose to vote at all.  

Let’s think about that in real terms for a second.  Look around you now.  In your office, at home looking down the street, on the train, the bus, in the queue at Tesco.  At least 6 out of every ten people you see didn’t cast their vote.  

If you’re in a position where it isn’t too awfully rude to stare, really look at them.  That little old lady.  That student.  That harassed father.  That businesswoman.  WHY didn’t they vote?  Perhaps for some it’s disappointment in the system – the feeling ‘they’re all the same anyway’, or that politics ‘doesn’t affect me’.  Perhaps others were abstaining in considered political protest.  Maybe they were held up at the office, or couldn’t get the kids to bed on time, or lost their postal vote form under a pile of washing.  It could be that they didn’t feel they knew enough about the policies, nuances, and local or European issues to have their say.  

And I wonder (as I do) whether technology could be a solution to all of these many and varied reasons for not voting – especially in the run up to a general election just a year away.  Could digital bridge the considerable apathy gap Britain faces?  

Just think.  What if we could use technology to revolutionise the back-office and security systems so that that harassed father could have gone and voted in the centre of town near his office, rather than trying to fit it in around the school run at his local polling station?  What if that student was following his local MEP on Twitter and actually knew about the issues being debated?  What if after a hard day of deadlines that businesswoman could have used her smartphone to find and register at a polling station on her way to the pub?  What if that little old lady was so connected to her local council she already knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t want for the next term of office?  

If they knew where and how to look for the information on policies and plans beyond the contents of party political broadcasts, I wonder how many more might have felt empowered to find out the differences and make their choice.    

I read recently that the more people now use online channels to book holidays and manage their bank accounts than any other method.  In that sort of digital world, surely we can do more with technology to improve the processes and information around something as important as democracy?    

In my mind, digital democracy has the potential to be the biggest revolution in our voting history since women were first given the vote in 1918 after the war.  It might not be a big bang.  There might not be parties in the streets.  It may not go down in history as a milestone for equality.  But it could help just as many people find and use their political voice.  

That’s why I’m so passionate about it, and so excited about my role on the Commission on Digital Democracy set up by Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, at the end of last year.  Because these are the issues we discuss, and the ideas we’re bringing to the table.  And we need your input.  What do you think?  Could it make a difference?  UK online centres – would it have made a difference to your learners?   

If you want to talk more about digital democracy, its potential and pitfalls, then please do join me to discuss it further.  I’m running a focus group for UK online centres on Tuesday 15 July 2-4pm, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Contact me at if you’d like to take part, or follow us on Twitter using #digitaldemocracy @digidemocracyuk