Last Friday I felt really happy. A great start to the New Year and a feeling that things were fresh and partnerships were warm and friendly. Part of this happy glow was as a result of the Digital Inclusion Forum run by GDS (Government Digital Service) last Tuesday. It was a chance for the public/private/civil society partners signed up to the Digital Inclusion Charter to meet together for the first time in 2015.
It could have been a lot of boring people pushing their own agendas. It wasn’t. In fact, it was a refreshing update on digital inclusion activities and pledges, and something of a brainstorm on what more we can do – together – to step up activity over the next year. Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said 2015 was set to be a ‘phenomenal’ year for digital inclusion, and I think he could very well be right. (I hope so).
I was particularly interested to hear from Jon Rouse – Director General in Social Care at the Department of Health. He announced his role as a civil servant ‘champion’ working across government at a permanent secretary level – helping teams embed digital inclusion. He was clear he didn’t just want digital inclusion written into policies, he wants Government departments to DO THINGS, and make digital inclusion part of their DNA – standing for Digital Needs Attention! (Jon’s joke). He was genuinely and movingly passionate about how he’s seen digital transform lives in the care sector, including his work with Dementia Friends.
Anna Easton from BT talked about her work on the Connected Society programme, and BT’s new basic broadband offer at £9.95 per month. Nick Williams from Lloyds talked about their Small Business Digital Skills Matrix, their Digital Champions, and their new ambitions.
Meanwhile, Rob Trimble was also on hand, an old friend from the Bromley By Bow Centre – an innovative East London community organisation with a UK online centre. He called on the people in the room to concentrate on embedding what already exists, and make real use of the trusted intermediaries and individuals already working with hard-to-reach communities. And he stressed the need to make our digital inclusion projects transformative – not just transactional – so they would have a lasting impact which addressed wider social needs.
Like Rob, I was on hand to talk about how we achieve mass and targeted action through local partners, match-making national initiatives with local knowledge and personal delivery. The fact we all have to face is that digital inclusion is getting harder – there are no more low hanging fruit to easily pick off the most accessible branches. Now we have to personalise our motivation and inspiration, combat specific fears and barriers, and as always we’re looking at a long learning journey – not just to get someone online but to keep them there, too.
I was lucky enough to be on a Q&A panel with Francis Maude, Argos, Accenture and GDS, and the discussion was lively and positive. In his conclusion, Francis Maude told us that the bottom line was that more people getting online lifted our economy.
There was a lot of experienced digital inclusion folk in that room, and lots of fresh eyes and brains – we know so much of what needs to be done and we know that we can do more by working together. We can inspire the staff of big employers to be Digital Friends and to help family to use the web a bit better, but we can also target those energies to the groups who we know are most likely to need support. As just one example, I asked Francis Maude if he could make sure all low skilled contractors working in Government buildings (such as cleaners, porters, catering staff) had basic digital skills via their procurement contracts. He nodded.
A new year, a new dawn …. (and some things stay the same) …. and I’m feeling good.