For everyone, not just Whitehall

Today, the report from the Labour Digital Review, has been published, although the official launch is this evening. The Report is essentially a manifesto of digital intentions and ambitions that Labour could use to form policy should they gain power in May’s General Election. It makes a fascinating read. Making Digital Government Work for Everyone explores how technology and digital services could be better used to help citizens. It was written by an independent panel of more than 20 advisers and volunteers, and today it has already gained a considerable amount of attention including in The Guardian and Government Computing.

It won’t surprise you to know that I believe whoever is in government, it’s an absolute necessity they’re ambitious about accelerating the speed at which people without digital skills are able to take part in a digital society. This report acknowledges that simply doesn’t happen by magic.

The vision for a 100% online nation by 2020 (outlined in our Digital Nation report – see my previous blog here) is an achievable one, but it needs not only commitment but investment. It’s gratifying that the Labour Digital Review not only cites our report, but supports the idea that that investment should be a three way partnership between the public sector, private sector, and voluntary sector. The Report acknowledges the transformative impact that use of the internet can have on people’s lives, as well as the huge benefits to the UK economy by supporting people to get basic digital skills more quickly. Put plainly we can’t reap all of the savings that digital transformation will bring without bringing everyone, who can and wants to, into the digital world.

The Labour Digital Review also acknowledges the need for funding to be channelled into the grassroots organisations who can engage the very hardest to reach in our society – great news for the UK online centres network.  What’s more, as the cherry on top, it spells out that the return on investment – in purely monetary terms rather than social ones – will soon offset the initial outlay. The sums are clear. 21% of the population don’t have basic digital skills, 68% of whom are in social group C2DE, and 80% of Government interactions are with the poorest 25% in our society.  The annual cost saving of putting public services online = £1.7bn (each year). The total cost of helping 100% of the population to get basic digital skills = £875m (a one off cost).  It’s not hard to see the value, here.

Last week at our Digital Evolution conference, Go ON UK’s Rachel Neaman told us that there wasn’t any such thing as a digital economy any more, or even digital skills. It’s now just the economy, and it’s just basic or essential skills – with IT right alongside maths and English. And that message seems to have been heard and understood.

Some of the other recommendations include establishing an expert technology ethics body to help address complex challenges, including health monitoring, autonomous vehicles and legal disputes such as the right to be forgotten. It also includes key recommendations about how to approach digital by default services with more sensitivity to core user groups, and how digital inclusion needs to be a central strand in any digital approach.

Today in Government Computing, Chi Onwurah MP said: “Let’s try and build something that works for both central and local government. Let’s build something for everyone, not just Whitehall.” A sentiment it is hard to disagree with, whatever your politics.

Get Online Week: The results

Well, the survey is closed, the votes have been counted and verified, which means that after a suitably dramatic pause (and possibly an ad break) I’m delighted to be able to announce that this year’s Get Online Week was…  a proper cracker!

The campaign – which took place from 13 – 20 October – saw 5,000 local events take place up and down the country – a Get Online Week record – engaging an estimated 80,000 people, and resulting in 50% more registrations on the Learn My Way learning platform in just Get Online Week itself.  That’s pretty strong stuff, and you can read our full press release here on the Tinder Foundation website.

I’ve blogged before about our fantastic national Get Online Week partners, but I’d like to reiterate here just how important grassroots delivery partners – like the UK online centres network – are in achieving this kind of reach and impact.

It’s their hard work that has made this campaign a success, and will continue to ensure technology can make a difference to Get Online Week visitors in the weeks and months to come. They took those paper leaflets and posters out and about, and started those crucial first conversations with new people and partners in their local communities. And it’s their energy and enthusiasm that is really responsible for inspiring so many people this October – the campaign was really just their vehicle.

I’ve always known that when UK online centres and other partners – both local and national – work together, they can achieve some pretty astonishing things. And Get Online Week 2014 shows that in action, with fantastic local referral partnerships, for example between GPs, Post Offices, Jobcentres and UK online centres, all supported by national profile raising from the likes of Argos, Barclays and TalkTalk, leading to a real, measurable impact in getting people to take their first steps online. I’m always proud to do what I do, but today being Chief Executive of the organisation behind UK online centres feels that little bit extra special.

Thank you, everyone, who took part in the campaign. Here’s to next year!

See Get Online Week it in pictures on our Storify report here.

Leaving Nobody Behind

After all of the excitement of our Digital evolution events on Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ve finally found time to blog, and what a few days it’s been!

This is the third year we’ve run the Digital evolution conference, and I’ve got to say it gets better every year. It’s just brilliant to bring together such a positive, can-do bunch of people who have a real commitment to making things happen, and making things better, for the people they’re supporting in their communities.

This year, the focus of the conference was on leaving nobody behind, and people saw the conference as a rallying cry to close the digital divide once and for all. I talked to delegates about the enormous social and financial benefits of basic online skills, and I presented our A leading digital nation by 2020 report, that we published in February, which for the first time ever sets out clearly the cost of getting everyone in the UK online. It’s great having these figures as it gives us something to aim for, and a clear ask in terms of investment.

I also spoke about the focus that we need to put on really getting to the hardest to reach. I know I’m preaching to the converted when speaking to UK online centres about this, but as more and more people get online, we need to start trying to reach those who are most excluded, as they’re the ones who can benefit the most from what the internet has to offer.

Rachel Neaman gave a great speech; she talked about her new role as CEO of Go ON UK, and her ambitions for the organisation. One thing that Rachel said really stuck with me, that “1 in 5 of our adult population doesn’t have basic digital skills and this a national problem and a national disgrace.” She also talked about digital as the fourth basic skill, alongside reading, writing and arithmetic. This ambition really resonated with the audience, and with this kind of clarity I’m confident that Rachel will have a big impact in her role heading up Go ON UK.

All the delegates and speakers had such a positive attitude – everyone spoke as a real doer, not just a talker. This was only emphasised by our final two speakers – Steven Roberts from Barclays who leads the bank’s Digital Eagles programme, and Dominic Campbell of Futuregov, who is aiming to revolutionise the delivery of public services. They both have a great can-do attitude, which I think really sums up the conference.

I’m confident that every single person at the conference will go away and do something else, new, additional, to help close the digital divide – whether big or small. I certainly came away feeling really inspired, and I hope that if you were there, you did too. You can take a look through what was discussed through the #digievol14 hashtag, and you can look at our Storify here.

Yay! BIS supports Tinder Foundation for Future Digital Inclusion programme

Blogs are obviously like buses, I don’t do one for ages and then two come along all at the same time!  But, hey, when you’ve got good news, you want to shout about it.

So this is the Big One. We’ve won a contract with BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) to deliver a Future Digital Inclusion programme. This shows a real commitment from government to supporting people in some of the hardest-to-reach communities – to improve their life chances, find work, and learn more about the things that interest them. This new contract demonstrates the Government’s interest – and now investment – in supporting people to develop not only online skills to help them access government services, but to benefit from all the opportunities the internet can provide.

I hear the stories everyday of how starting to use the web for the first time really transforms people’s lives, and with this new contract we’ll be able to help so many more – people like Marita, Edward, Doreen and Stella, Manjula and Rasila, Hitesh and Peter.

Up to March 2015, we will support 200,000 people through the network of grassroots UK online centres, based in informal settings in the heart of local communities; specifically people who are unemployed, on a low income or in low-skilled jobs, people with a disability or learning difficulty, people in rural areas and people who are socially excluded. Hundreds of hyperlocal organisations will get grant funding, and thousands of others will access online resources – such as Learn My Way. We know there are already thousands of fantastic volunteers working in the local community centres and libraries, and with BIS’s support we will now train an additional 750 Digital Champion volunteers.

To help us support our network in engaging the right groups of people, we’ve been busy developing partnerships with several organisations, including Abilitynet, Mind, Scope, Silver Training, UnionLearn and Digital Unite – organisations who can share their expertise with our staff and volunteers working on the ground and help us expand our network.

Here are a couple of great endorsements we got from Ministers for our press release, which you can read in full over on the Tinder Foundation website:

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy said: “In order for the UK to remain a leading digital nation it is essential that everyone has the skills they need to benefit from the internet. Digital can make our economy stronger, by supporting individuals to find work and providing our businesses with further opportunities to grow, innovate and access new markets.  We need to ensure that those without basic online skills are not left behind, and the Future Digital Inclusion programme will play a critical role in ensuring that these individuals develop the digital skills they need to succeed.”

Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities says: “Digital skills are increasingly essential for people wishing to progress in learning and employment.  As the digital inclusion programme shows, we are committed to helping those people most in need to develop the skills and confidence they need to get online.”

In December I’m going to be blogging about our three year birthday, how we’ve diversified, how we work well with a range of Government Departments and bodies, and the amazing partnerships we’ve got with the private sector and Trusts.

But today, I’m going to say how BIS has a special place in my heart, how they gave us the first contract we ever won – the one that meant that Tinder Foundation, the social enterprise, was born alive and kicking.

Today, I’m going to say thank you to BIS for having a contract for digital inclusion, and thank you for choosing us to deliver it for you.

Bulldozing the barriers to digital nation

Today, I’m getting excited about partnerships. In particular, I’m excited about partnerships with corporates, because I believe we can’t remove all of the barriers to the digital divide without them.

We know what the barriers are to full digital inclusion:

  • Motivation: understanding the relevance of the internet to your life
  • Skills: knowing how to use the internet so that you are independent and confident
  • Access: having access to the internet at home or somewhere else affordable and local.

Circles Diagram (1)

Something surprising happened in Ofcom’s latest research shows that in just one year the change in the number of people who say cost is a major reason why they don’t use the web has jumped from 22% to 32%.

We can help people to gain the basic digital skills, in UK online centres, but to really practice using the web and to embed it into your day to day life I think, in 2014, it’s become ideal to have access to the internet at home.

Yesterday The Times reported on some research undertaken earlier this year by Keep Me Posted, a consumer rights group that shows living in a broadband not-spot impacts on your cost of living. And the same can be true of the millions of people who live in an area with good broadband but who lack the motivation, skills and potentially money to take it up.

So we need to see if we can bring low cost broadband into the reach of more people and to look at co-existing barriers and how we remove them.

The fact is the public, and the voluntary and community sector, can only do so much. We need commercial support. And the good news is that our corporate partners are offering it.

We’ve been looking at the issue of home access for some time, and we’ve run various projects and pilots to learn what works, where and how. Currently, we’re working with both Vodafone and TalkTalk on two pilot projects I find particularly exciting.  You can read a previous blog about Vodafone here, and I’ll tell you more when our research results are in, specifically tracking the impact mobile broadband has on internet engagement and use. In the meantime, it’s our work with TalkTalk and the ‘Internet Start’ programme I want to focus on today.

Twenty UK online centres will be taking part in a pilot recruiting Internet Guides (volunteers) to go out into communities and talk to people about the benefits of being on the internet at home. The TalkTalk Internet Start offer is one solution they will talk about – it’s a good value package combining a decent tablet device, a low cost broadband connection and support (including UK online centre guidance).

TalkTalk’s Chief Executive Dido Harding is committed to helping to reduce the number of people who suffer digital exclusion, and I think that’s why TalkTalk have thought through so carefully what the barriers are that stop people from taking up home broadband:

  • People need a solution for both a device and for broadband – which is why Internet Start has a tablet and broadband offer.
  • People don’t know how to set up their router – someone will come and set it up, at no extra charge.
  • People are nervous about it being right for them – there’s a month free up front, to try-before-you-buy.
  • Phone lines are expensive to install – there’s no cost for telephone installation.
  • People know they will get stuck – there’s a telephone helpline staffed by people who specialise in helping people new to home internet.
  • Even a tablet may be too complicated for some people new to the internet – there’s the choice of a Breezie tablet with a simple interface for beginners.

Everything, in short, is covered, and after a free trial period of being online at home for a month, people involved in the programme will be given a no-pressure choice – explained clearly by their Internet Guide at each stage – to keep their tablet at a small cost of £50, and begin a cheap monthly broadband contract.

People can choose from a Lenovo tablet or an android tablet loaded with the simple Breezie interface. It’s too early to tell which is the most popular, although the local partners involved like the Breezie as it simplifies the internet making the web even easier to get started.

The idea is that once you engage someone online and support them, they will either realise the benefits (and indeed efficiencies) of connection, and be prepared to budget for it, or choose to return their devices having given it a proper good go. We’ll see, in time, how many turn down the offer.

I know TalkTalk are a commercial company and that they also hoping to win new customers who will stay with them over the years. I also know that they want to make this programme work and that they see UK online centres as perfect partners to reach more people with a new offer that suits them. And actually, that’s fine.

I don’t expect corporate partners to become involved in digital inclusion purely out of the goodness of their hearts, or their CSR policies. That’s simply not going to be sustainable for anyone. Yes, there is very much an ethical and ideological leading edge to Internet Start, but there is also a commercial angle.  I actually think TalkTalk have put their necks out here, and made a real line in the sand other companies might struggle to emulate.

If Internet Start can just help a small proportion of the 3 million people who say cost is still keeping them off the internet at home, then together, we will be doing a good job.

It may not reach the very, very hardest to reach, the most excluded, and those people that just can’t afford broadband at any cost. But that’s our challenge in the public, voluntary and community sector, after all. Imagine, though, if offers like this one from TalkTalk could provide for just a third of the 3 million – then that’s 1 million more people with the motivation, skills and also access to be part of the digital world. Imagine, if in doing so, profits could enable more investment in those very hardest to reach? That’s the beginning of the truly digital nation.  And that’s what’s so exciting.