Digital evolution – leaving nobody behind

We’ve just announced Tinder Foundation’s third annual conference – Digital evolution: leaving nobody behind – which will take place at the BT Centre in London on 19 November.  This year I’m keen to make sure we’re concentrating on the three main barriers to digital inclusion – motivation, skills and access.

If we can overcome these obstacles, I’m pretty convinced our vision of a 100% digitally included Britain can be realised. High employment, world class skills, better health, lower crime rates, improved education and booming business – it’s all within our grasp, and for everyone, if we look to target these barriers at a hyper-local level.  

The idea of the conference is for us to come together to share and develop fresh ideas for digital inclusion, and I’m really looking forward to talking to UK online centres and guests from the wider world of digital participation to galvanise and focus our collective action for 2014-15.  

We’re delighted to have new CEO of Go ON UK Rachel Neaman speaking, as well as founder of FutureGov, Dominic Campbell, joining us. Boasting years of digital experience and a track-record of innovation within the digital sector, I’m looking forward to hearing their insights regarding tackling the barriers to digital inclusion, and their vision for our future.  

Workshops are being developed in order to examine key themes and innovations, where delegates will be able to break out and brainstorm best practice, and their own barriers and solutions at grassroots level.  

For me, one of the highlights of the conference is always the chance to network and meet the people who work at the coalface of digital inclusion on a daily basis. It can be easy to forget with all the facts and figures, reports and policy changes, that it’s the people working within communities who really instigate change and inspire participation.  

I’ve said it before, and I think it’s worth repeating, but it’s people who help people – technology is just a tool to do it. And having so many of those people in one room is pretty special.    

If you want to be a part of this celebration of all things digital inclusion, then why not book your tickets now? Earlybird tickets are still available, so grab them while they’re hot! You can also read about last year’s conference here, and see what previous delegates said about it here.  We’re looking to make this year’s event even bigger and better.

I’m already excited to see you all there!


21st Century Libraries – Are we there yet?

Anyone who knows me will know that one of the things I am truly passionate about is libraries. I was honoured to be asked to speak at the 100 year anniversary of the Carnegie UK Trust last October (you can see my speech here) to celebrate the work of the ‘Grandfather’ of public libraries Andrew Carnegie.

One hundred years ago when Carnegie had his inspiration for libraries he envisioned buildings full of books which were free to access, the public free to discover, learn and educate themselves – as he himself did. A century later and public libraries can’t just be buildings with books in anymore, people want more. They want to research their family tree, apply for benefits and look for work. Libraries have to offer local communities wide-ranging services and support in life-critical areas from careers to health, personal and family issues to finances. And increasingly they need to do it both offline and online. I’m so glad that so many of our libraries are evolving with the needs of their users and the times we live in.

I am very keen for Tinder Foundation to be a part of the library ‘revolution’ as over half of UK online centres are based in libraries and really help to make a difference. We have been working closely with the Society for Chief Librarians (SCL) who are the strategic lead for libraries. It’s a partnership I am excited about.

Over the last few months our fantastic training manager, Aniela Kaczmarczyk, has been developing a workforce development programme for customer-facing library staff. It was commissioned by SCL and funded by the Arts Council. Working so closely with SCL has meant that we have been able to gain access to many front line staff we wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to reach, and they have all been both committed and inspiring.

The task was simple – develop a programme to help ensure customer-facing staff in libraries have the skills, knowledge and confidence to deliver the new public library Universal Information Offer.

It’s becoming increasingly important for local communities to have access to the internet – and the skills to be able to use it. As more and more services go online, library staff have to be prepared to support individuals to access information that can be very personal – and in some cases essential to someone’s quality of life.

It’s a tale we’re familiar with – the multiple demands on libraries and library staff as tutors, advisors, supporters and sign-posters. The good news is that there are some really great libraries out there doing amazing things.

Frankley Library, for example, is a centre for excellence specialising in the support of people with disabilities. They have dedicated training suites to support disabled people. Lancashire Libraries, are delivering digital skills training across the whole library authority with a focus on supporting job seekers and great partnerships with local Jobcentres. Southampton Libraries are a part of our NHS Widening Digital Participation programme working with MacMillan Cancer support to deliver training to inform volunteers and those affected by cancer.

In delivering the library workforce programme, and working with such fantastic library ambassadors, we’ve learned a lot about libraries ourselves.

● Libraries are an extremely valuable resource in the local community. The breadth and depth of support library staff provide on a daily basis is phenomenal. Like the community-led UK online centres local staff responding to local needs is essential.

● There is more to helping people access online services than helping them gain basic online skills. It’s about people skills, building trust, confidentiality, and knowing when and how to refer to other service and agencies.

● There is lots of good work already happening in terms of library workforce development, and consultation with frontline staff has been essential in creating and building a programme that can really share that best practice and build on existing expertise.

Our training programme is now coming to an end, and the 50+ library reps that Aniela has trained will now be responsible for engaging other library authorities in their region and cascading the training down library by library. The roll out will start in September and the expectation is all authorities will have trained 99% of their workforce by March 2015.

I for one will certainly be watching with interest to see how the training is put into practice on the ground. Libraries are brilliant. I hope we’ve played a small part this year in making them even better.

Six year olds and digital technology: it’s time for a grown-up conversation

I was annoyed to read today’s Guardian article “Ofcom: six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults” and to hear a simplistic discussion on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. It reminds me of those awful meetings where people tell me digital inclusion is not worth worrying about as all young people know everything about the internet and they’ve all got smartphones, and we just have to wait until all the older offline people die. God give me strength.

The research being quoted is part of Ofcom’s Communications Market Report – that “measures confidence and knowledge of communications technology to calculate an individual’s ‘Digital Quotient’ score, or ‘DQ’”. The research report itself is fine, it’s the trivial DQ test and the shallow way that BBC Radio 4, The Guardian and Ofcom’s press team are promoting it that is so frustrating.

Under the heading “How tech savvy are you?” you work out your DQ via a series of questions to find your score. The questions involve: how much you know about 4G, Google Glass and 3D Printers for example; how much you talk to your friends and family about new technology or new gadgets; and questions about online activities such as watching TV shows, uploading photos and videos, SMS and instant messaging. Maybe the most worrying question is “I wouldn’t know what to do without technology” (Agree/Disagree) – which I disagreed with – I love technology and my gadgets but I know what to do if I didn’t have them. As you would expect, my DQ score is 129 and above average and 16 points higher than the highest scoring age group in the DQ chart – the 14 – 15 year olds.

The “children know more about technology than their parents” simplistic rhetoric was wheeled out again this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Although a bit of simple maths shows that the mothers of the “six year olds” (trumpeted in The Guardian) have an average age of 36. The average DQ score of a 36 year old is 103 and the DQ of an average six year old is 98 – even using the same silly metric, the parents have a higher DQ than their kids.

My main issue with this reporting is that using technology isn’t the same as knowing what it means to use it – skills aren’t the same as knowledge, digital society isn’t the same as 3D printers and Smart Watches. Being a person is about thinking, creating, communicating, building things – it’s not about clicking and gadgets. A great programmer is a great programmer because of their thinking skills and most importantly their ability to determine the outcome they want to achieve.

I have lots of respect for the work of Dr Ellen Helsper of the LSE, who has led research that shows any equation that says young people = good digital and old people = bad digital is just far too shallow to be useful in debates about the digital world we live in. Ellen says “The discourse around young people being tech savvy because they are online all the time and feel comfortable in a digital world is dangerous. It plays to the myth of young people as digital natives, as if there are no individual differences between children, it ignores the fact that research has shown over and over again that some young people require help, that even those who are confident are often digitally naïve and make rash decisions about where to go, who to talk to and what to do online. It takes away responsibility from adults (parents, educators, governments) in helping young people navigate and learn how to live in a digital world, a digital world that is our world, a world with which adults actually have a lot of experience.”

Emma Mulqueeny’s blogging about 97ers stems from her experience working with amazing young programmers through YRS, and being a parent of a 97er (someone born in 1997 or after). She says: “The 97ers are already immersed in this web of learning. ….  they are there playing, interacting, growing up, making mistakes, testing boundaries, making boundaries, exploring things they find interesting or funny and more importantly – sharing their discoveries. .. But it is not the internet that is doing this, it is the networked communities the children find online, people stripped of physical boundaries and prejudices they face daily in school and life, an open forum of communities they can opt into or out of.” Emma is talking about a digital world where young people are creating a very different community than I did when I was young – they are young people who are inquisitive and articulate, and that’s a long way from an Ofcom DQ of ‘knowing about 3D printers’ or ‘not knowing what to do without technology’.

I’m excited to know that the young people of today will be shaping the digital world that I will grow old in. They will shape that world with experiences different to mine and some of them will do brilliant, important, things with technology that none of us have even dreamed of. Some of them will be brilliant politicians, plumbers, charity leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, chefs, nurses, programmers, data analysts, social workers, and gardeners. They will have the potential to use digital tools that make their, and other people’s, lives better and they will face new challenges and problems.

We are not robots – adults and children alike. We have different luck and different lives to one another. Ellen Helsper will be publishing research later in the summer that shows again, sadly, the massive gulf in the digital knowledge and expectations of children who do or don’t have the internet at home.

Yes, I love technology. Yes, young people have a difference digital experience that adults. Yes, we should embrace change. Yes, many adults constrain young people with out-dated constructs. Yes, digital is a tool for good and for evil.

Isn’t time we reject the shallow discourse about youth and digital, and have a grown up conversation about it?