Last week I was at Inkluderaflera in Copenhagen sharing successes and experiences with digital inclusion policy makers and practitioners from across Scandinavia. Quite often I quote the high digital user stats from Norway as a shining beacon of what is possible – “if Norway can have 96% of their population as digital users then why can’t the UK?”. I was in Denmark and they too have 96% of their population online too. So I was surprised to hear they thought that they had things to learn from us.
I learned many things from the Scandinavian Experience, but one big take away is around digital by default. In Denmark they have decided to scrap paper correspondence with all citizens. Everyone has a national ID number and a digital post box. Everyone has to use it. On first look it’s very much like our own Gov.UK, but it’s obligatory and personalised. Here’s their page to set up the ‘digital box’ and digital signature.
I think the UK Government should think about doing this too; the Danes have shown it’s possible. This scale of obligation then makes helping those who can’t use digital services essential and not just a nice-to-have.
So what can we learn about the Danish experience?
- People can apply for an exception if you really can’t interact with Government online: 11% of Danes have applied and been successfully granted an exception
- Plus there are others who have applied for a family member to be officially allowed to go onto the digital box and help a loved one to use it
Three groups of people have problems using the online system – and the Danish Government have developed initiatives for them:
- Young People (who have no intellectual understanding of why they would want to interact with Government)
- Recent immigrants with no Danish and poor/no education in country of origin
- Socially excluded such as homeless people and others.
Young people having a problem was a big surprise. But they have tackled it by designing the Digital ABC where all 15 year olds get a paper letter on their 15th birthday to tell them that they have to go online to engage with Government.
The big difference between the UK and Denmark is scale. We have almost as many people in the UK without basic digital skills (10m) than the total population of Denmark and Norway combined (5.6m + 5m = 10.6m). If we could do what we do in the UK (with the right investment) then we could wipe out the 220,000 digitally excluded in Denmark in a year – since we currently help around 220,000 people a year in the UK. Right? Wrong.
Wrong because the number is actually much bigger than 220,000. Just like in the UK the big issue isn’t about helping people take their first few steps in the online world – nor is it about broadband availability for the majority – it’s about what people can do online. It’s about relevant and purposeful use of the internet. Digital inclusion is helping people to be confident and independent users of the internet to do whatever they want to do today and what they will need to do tomorrow and next month and next year. The Scandinavians want to learn from us as we all need to crack helping the whole population to be confident and frequent users of the internet – and that’s hard.
It’s great to hear that we’re world class in what we do in the UK – even in the eyes of those who we think have achieved so much. But it just brings home how big the task is and how we really need to accelerate our pace in the UK if we’re not going to leave millions behind.
As always happy to share my slides with complete freedom for people to download, edit and use. Here are my slides from the conference in Copenhagen.