Cracking Home Access

Motivation, skills, access: the three big barriers to people getting online to benefit from everything the internet has to offer.

Hopefully it goes without saying that Tinder Foundation – and our network of UK online centres – have made a significant impact when it comes to skills – more than one and a quarter million people have got the basic online skills they need in a UK online centre in the last four years.

When it comes to motivation, we’ve also done our part. Our eighth national Get Online Week takes place 13-19 October, and we estimate that around 50,000 people will be engaged to see what they can do online.

tablet2Day to day, our network does some amazing outreach work in places like schools, care homes, mosques, social clubs and community centres proving to those not convinced about the power of technology that it really can change their life.

As for access, the 5,000+ UK online centres throughout the country are an invaluable resource, but increasingly, that’s not enough. We need to get to grips with Home Access, and it’s proved a difficult – and expensive – nut to crack.

For people to really make the most of an online life, for the internet to help them feel less isolated, for it save someone money, or help them get back into work it has to be personal and that means in the home.

We know there are several key barriers to home access (both internet and devices) for many people. While the costs of devices are coming down, for those most in need of the benefits being online can bring, £100 for a tablet is still an unachievable goal.

Even for those who can afford it, the sheer variety of devices, the differences between them and what they all do can be a minefield – with many opting out of buying altogether, rather than spend their money on an inappropriate piece of kit.

Arguably the bigger problem is the cost of the connection to the internet itself. With the vast majority of broadband contracts being linked to telephone contracts, those on a fixed budgets, living with only a mobile phone they top up when they can, sustained and reliable connectivity at home is a pipe dream (no pun intended). For some, there isn’t a bank account from which to set up a direct debit. How do these people reap the rewards of getting online at home?

The team at Tinder Foundation have been trying some new approaches to see if we can bridge the gap and break down at least some of these barriers, our latest Home Access project, funded by BIS, provided UK online centres with a variety of devices, so people looking to buy a device can make sure they get something that fulfills their needs.

The Learn My Way website has also provided online tools to help people find the most affordable connection for their requirements.

The access nut is going to prove a tough one to crack but I think these sorts of pilots and trials are really going to help us figure out what people need and how best to get it to them. Indeed, the evidence is compelling, and you can read our full report here, or just meet some of the people we’ve helped try-before-they-buy, in this short video.

Funding for this kind of activity isn’t always easy to find, or maintain, but out of the three barriers I mentioned above, I think access is the one where corporate partners can have a pretty hefty impact.

Vodafone recently published an independent report – Mobile: A powerful tool for Digital Inclusion – and on the back of this, they’re working with us on a pilot research project. Together we’ll be targeting specific groups of isolated learners (providing both devices and a ‘mobile internet’ course) to try and track the impact of mobile devices on levels of both digital and social inclusion.

We are also working closely with other private sector partners on how to get the most excluded in society online at home. We’ll be announcing the details of these exciting projects in the coming weeks and months, so do keep an eye out!

Arguably, these are companies that have a vested interest in getting more people online and using their services, but I can tell you from personal experience that they’re also organisations with strong sense of social responsibility and I think it’s a big step in the right direction to helping those most in need find a way to joining those engaging with everything the web has to offer, from the comfort of their own home. (Assuming rural broadband gets sorted … ) This a big step in the right direction to getting everyone online by 2020.

A quick look at the new digital ministers

This week’s big news is obviously the reshuffle, and has left me thinking about whether the new Cabinet will be more or less supportive of digital inclusion.

It was bittersweet to see Matthew Hancock leave his role on skills, as we will miss his support, but I was very pleased that he has been promoted to join the Cabinet. He’s been been really supportive to what we do at Tinder Foundation, and was very kind to come along to our event just last week at the House of Lords to tell everyone how impressed he is with our work (you can read my blog on it here). I hope he’ll be supporting the digital inclusion agenda around the Cabinet table, and I wish him all the best in his new role.

There are few appointments which I will be keeping my eye on – obviously Nick Boles who is the new Minister for Skills Enterprise & Equality, responsible for adult skills and informal learning. I was pleased to see he’s looking forward to the new challenge in a statement he made earlier this week: “I am very excited to have a new challenge. I am determined to make sure that everybody can acquire the skills to be able to benefit from the economic recovery.”

I’ll also be following the progress of Esther McVey in employment – as about half of our annual 150,000 learners are out of work and looking for a job – Mark Harper in working with people with disabilities – half of all disabled people don’t use the internet – and Ed Vaizey who has added the responsibility for digital industries to his role at DCMS on culture and libraries.

It was also sad to see Nick Hurd leave the Cabinet Office. He has been a great champion of modernising the community sector, and supported us in our role in capacity building our 5000 hyperlocal partners. Nick Hurd was very modest on twitter saying how much he had enjoyed the role, whilst handing over that particular baton to Brooks Newmark.

I guess we won’t really know how much they support digital inclusion until the Autumn and of course next year when they publish their manifestos, so I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Celebrations at the House of Lords

There must be something auspicious about the 8th of July as last year on exactly the same date we met with colleagues, friends, partners old and new, at the House of Lords, and this year’s celebration was a big hit too. A year ago we launched our new name – Tinder Foundation – and that was just a great way to kick off a very good year.

It’s a year when we’ve helped another 150,000 people get the basic online skills they need taking our total since 2010 to 1.25 million. We completed the first year of our Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England where we helped nearly 60,000 people use health information through the Learn My Way health portal and course (in our first nine months) and I’m pleased to say that has cemented a strong partnership with NHS England.

We’ve diversified with lots of great partners helping us to deliver impact but also it’s good to have partners who help fund our work too. So thanks go to: Vodafone, Talk Talk, BIS, NHS England, Communities and Local Government, Society of Chief Librarians, Comic Relief, Nominet Trust, DWP, Post Office, EON, BT, Argos and Asda. We couldn’t have done it without you.

We have an amazing network of hyperlocal partners, who really do reach and engage people that other projects and initiatives don’t reach – at our event yesterday it was great to celebrate with some of the UK online centres who do all the hard work in their local communities. Nice to share the day with Anne Wallace, Baz Kanabar, Victoria Rodney, Paul Davies, Louise Barbe, Debbie Hale and Nyree Scott – thank you, and all the other UK online centres who didn’t come along, for all your hard work.

I was delighted that the Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP, made time in his very busy schedule to join us yesterday. He spoke very highly of the work which we do, telling the audience that he’s proud to be associated with us and feels that we have one of the biggest impacts of education on people’s lives by bringing together the most cutting edge technology and allowing access to it for people in some of the most difficult circumstances. It was great to hear him speak so proudly of BIS’s support for Tinder Foundation and to hear him say that he sees that basic online skills are essential for both society and the economy.

Those of you who know us, will know that we never stand still, so yesterday we launched the next phase of our five year strategy. We have three strategic objectives; firstly, we will continue to focus on digital inclusion, especially the hardest to reach, and we aim to help at least one million more people to get basic online skills by 2019. Secondly, we will extend our expertise in networks and digital platforms to help adults who are not currently learning to access informal learning – such as English, Maths, ESOL, and learning for fun through digital. And for third objective we will be focusing on deep rooted societal issues – for example poor health, loneliness, debt, worklessness – and, with partners, see how digital can be part of the solution. You can access our strategy here.

I do know that there is no silver bullet, there isn’t one solution to help the last 10 million people without basic online skills. But I do know that there is loads of knowledge and expertise on models that do work: to help us to continue to extend and share our knowledge on digital inclusion, we also launched a new wiki to produce our collective wisdom on HOW we can help this final 10m. Please look at it, get involved, be tactical but be ambitious too. We’ll be discussing and publishing the output in November at our Annual Conference. You can find the wiki here.

I think everyone who attended yesterday would agree when I say that the star of the show was Roger Hamilton, a former learner of a UK online centre who was homeless and found the skills he needed to turn his life around. After developing his own skills he found the best use for the skills he had learnt, volunteering and then working at St Mungo’s homeless charity, by sharing them with others. He is truly passionate about helping people who face multiple barriers. You can hear Roger talking at the House of Lords below. A shining example of how learning digital skills can really change lives!

I already know how fantastic the Tinder team are and how wonderful our network is but it’s great to hear that it doesn’t go unrecognised. It’s events like yesterday that really brings home just how big an impact we can have on peoples lives. We’ve helped 1.25 million people get online since 2010 but there are still another 10 million who need our help, so we’re not resting and it’s great to have the support of some many friends and partners …. and the Minister too.

Do watch Roger’s film – it will be a few minutes of your life and you will be so glad you did.

“Parliament is something you do, not a place where you go”


This week I’ve had the opportunity to chair two round table events for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. The first saw me leading a session in Chesterfield, primarily with people who had learning disabilities and/or other disabilities, and the second saw me chairing a table discussion at a meeting with the Digital Marketing sector in London.

Both groups had similar views, thoughts and feedback, and here is my summary of the week’s key themes.

1. Culture
In order to bring digital democracy practices and tools into parliament, we need to recognise that we’re really talking about a change programme and not a technology project. MPs and Peers need to be supported and empowered to understand how digital is a change for good and tools and training need to be provided so that this culture change brings an increase in efficiency, interaction and representation.

2. Process & process re-engineering
In order to help positive change happen and to ensure that digital democracy actions are successful, we need to go back to basics and look at what is important to parliamentarians and citizens, and see how digital can make that more effective. The roundtable in London suggested the Commission could host a process re-engineering workshop to help us.

3. Opaque and confusing language
Everybody I spoke to at these roundtables said that if Parliament wants to be more inclusive through the use of digital media, then the language it uses has to be modernised too. People want to hear Parliament speak the everyday language that they use in real life. In London the group said that using old-fashioned language actually disenfranchises people as it makes them feel stupid. Modern language is needed to make it easy and simple to engage with what Parliament is doing and what Parliamentarians are saying.

4. “What if Parliament was a brand?” – idea for a competition
Modern businesses and organisations know that communications in 2014 are human, personal, and interactive, where staff are trusted and empowered to converse for their employer. An idea was suggested for a competition where people – brand agencies, students, voluntary organisations, everybody – could decide what ‘Parliament as a brand’ would look like.

5. Using digital to make Parliament more accessible to everyone
In both Chesterfield and London people said to me that they think MPs and Peers should spend more time out and about meeting people and discussing what ‘normal’ people are thinking and feeling. Both videos and video conferencing could be used to help people see and hear more about Parliament, and video conferencing could be used to help MPs and Peers engage with Parliament when they are not in Westminster, and citizens when they are. All kinds of digital channels provide enormous opportunity for opening up Parliament and helping more people to discuss ideas and issues with more Parliamentarians.This was paraphrased as “Parliament is something you do, not a place where you go” – a concept I love.

6. More awareness and information
There was a plea from everyone this week that people want more information about what’s happening in Parliament, when sessions (such as Select Committees) are being held, and where people can make an impact on decisions that are being made. People also wanted to be given a decent amount of time to respond.

People were in favour of adverts on Facebook promoting opportunities to have a say in parliament, and the use of non digital media such as TV news or newspapers too. In Chesterfield people said that the voluntary and community organisations who work with disabled people could be supported (with help and grants) to gather feedback and to help people who are disengaged with Parliament to have their voices heard.

7. Don’t leave anyone behind
There are 11m people in the UK who don’t have basic online skills and those that do have skills need access to the internet if they are to engage with Parliament online. Even for people who do have access via smartphones and low-cost broadband packages, using lots of data and downloads can be very expensive. People asked that Parliament consider the digitally excluded, the cost of digital for people on low incomes, and consider improving non-digital channels at the same time.

8. Changing behaviour is hard
A phased roll-out to a change programme is a good idea. People at the London roundtable suggested that a proper plan is needed to help move ahead with digital engagement. Role models and peer (small p) support will be important to show how digital can be used to make Parliament more accessible as well as being manageable by MPs too.

Everyone I’ve met this week was interested in democracy when they came into the room, and were interested and EXCITED about being more engaged with Parliament when they left.

I’m telling the people we’re consulting that The Speaker is keen to have some pragmatic and solid actions in the report we’ll be publishing early in 2015, and after this week I know we won’t be short on ideas. Thank you to everyone who took part with such enthusiasm, thought, and creativity.

Please do get in touch with me or the Commission if you’ve got something you’d like to share with us. All the information can be found on the Digital Democracy Commission webpages here.