Get Online Week – working together for a digital nation

This week is our eighth national Get Online Week, and as you might expect, I’ve had a few thoughts about it I wanted to share.  This blog post is a guest post for the Government Digital Service (GDS) which you can read on their website here.  Alternatively, you can read on below…

Over the past ten years, a combination of a competitive broadband market and determined hard work at community level has seen the UK halve the number of people without basic online skills to ‘just’ 10 million people. The end is in sight, so I believe we should be ambitious and strive to ensure that (almost) everyone can take an active part in a digital nation.

High employment, world class skills, lower crime rates, improved education and booming business – it’s all within our grasp, and for everyone. There are three major barriers as to why people don’t use the internet: motivation, skills, and access. With motivation, or a perceived lack of relevance, being the reason most often cited by offliners.

Running between 13th and 19th October, the eighth national Get Online Week aims to inspire tens of thousands of people to go online and see what the internet could do for them – whether that’s finding a job, getting healthy, keeping in touch, saving money, making life a bit easier, or just having fun. More than 1,000 event holders have signed up to hold thousands of events, from Post Offices to mosques, cafes to community centres, job centres, social housing lounges, factories and many more.

This year the Get Online Week posters show real life learners with real life stories about what the internet has done for them, and you can read more about them on our the Get Online Week website. We hope these personal tales will help people connect with the campaign, and identify with someone like them who’s done something amazing with the help of technology.

Reaching more people with partnerships

These learners, however, are just part of what is in fact a huge Get Online Week team. This is a partnership campaign. It is delivered by community partners like the UK online centres network, who in turn are using it to approach and work with trusted community intermediaries – like supermarkets, Post Offices, Jobcentre Plus offices, faith groups and more – to reach the hardest-to-reach in the places they feel comfortable.

These relationships are also reflected on a national level, with Get Online Week’s key supporters including Argos, Barclays, the Post Office, NHS England, TalkTalk, Vodafone, Go ON UK and others. Each one is contributing in a different way. Argos, for instance, are launching a £20 offer of a tablet, training on how to use it, and a year’s free broadband from TalkTalk – all timed to coincide with Get Online Week. Talk Talk is launching a pilot to encourage older people to take the plunge to take up low cost home broadband with an easy to use tablet and lots of hand-holding and support from their local UK online centre. And, Barclays are really pulling out the stops with Get Online Week being promoted on all their ATM cash point machines and branch screens, as well as loads of social media channels.

Digital inclusion is an issue that affects every sector. Better digital skills for all means better, cheaper public services, a more competitive economy, and ultimately social justice. Get Online Week gives us the opportunity to work together to do something practical, which feels pretty special.

National leadership, local delivery

I want to stress that while all our wonderful partners are all equal, next week will be a success  in large part because of the hard graft, planning, enthusiasm and expertise of the thousands of local partners working to engage new people in digital activities, and to welcome and support them long after the campaign is over.

It’s the activity at a local level which changes behaviour and ultimately changes lives. This is where digital inclusion happens. I can’t wait.

Best of luck to everyone running an event. Let’s all keep in touch on Twitter – #GOLW14 – and make the biggest possible impact we can!

Digital changes everything, for everybody – not just the geeks

This week it’s been the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, and I popped along to talk digital with MPs and sector colleagues, and of course to compare and contrast with last week’s Labour offering.     

Again, what was fantastic here was the support from key people for digital matters in general. Ed Vaizey, Matthew Hancock, Jeremy Hunt, Francis Maude – these are people very much on the leading edge of this agenda, supporting it, shaping it, and understanding its nuances.   

I was delighted to hear even George Osborne check off technology and innovation in his speech as the ‘key to our future prosperity’, and heartened to hear Ed Vaizey say he wanted the Government to talk about digital more and more often. The latter was in a very interesting fringe about the Internet of Things.   

In its simplest form the idea of an ‘internet of things’ is a fridge that spots you’re out of milk, and automatically orders you more. Or a smart pill-box, that can tell your Dr if you’re taking your medication, and generate a repeat prescription. The implications, however, are much wider and far reaching than that.   

I was particularly struck by something David Evans from the British Computer Society said, that we were soon going to live in an age with more sensors in our homes than the UK meteorological sector has in the whole country. That’s pretty life changing stuff, and a vision of a new, efficient, competitive digital world that everyone should be able to choose to be a part of.   

The following discussion was interesting and wide-ranging, and I was struck by the number of Tory MPs – and Ministers – who really ‘get’ it. However, if there was a problem for the wider digital agenda at the Conservative party conference, it’s that the number of people who ‘get it’ seems limited.  It has not embedded in their general consciousness in quite the same way as it seems to have done in the Labour camp. There are staunch and committed supporters, yes, but for everyone else this is still seen as a technology issue – a bolt on. A matter for the Government Digital Service (GDS), all tidied away over there.     

I attended a fringe about the benefit system and was surprised that when asked what more needs to be done to help people get into work, the only mention of digital came from White Dee from Benefits Street, someone with recent experience of unemployment. This got me thinking that the internet is the norm for normal people but what I really want to see is digital at the centre of policy making – everywhere. I don’t want this to be a matter for just Francis Maude as Minister for GDS, or Ed Vaizey as Minister for Digital & Culture and Communications, because it is also pivotal to other key agendas – to Disability Minister Mark Harper MP, to Minister of Care and Support Norman Lamb MP, to Minister for Pensions Steven Webb MP – to everyone in every department.   

If we are going to be that globally competitive, fair and successful nation George Osborne described, digital is a cornerstone.

The fact is that this should not be about technology; it should be about policy. Digital changes everything for everyone and I’m looking to the Conservative early adopters to lead from the front, and bring the rest of the party along for the ride – up to the election and beyond.

 This time next year we will know the Government that the people have chosen. Whoever they are I really hope they understand the massive potential that technology can bring for positive change to our nation.