Digital: fuel for political engagement

So the big, but not all that surprising, news this weekend was the result of the Labour leadership election, which was won by Jeremy Corbyn. The support that Corbyn has built over the past year, particularly from grassroots supporters, has been impressive and the test now will be whether this can be translated into political activity in constituencies. I’m keen to see how much of this activity will be digital, and whether it will make any difference to the way we do politics in this country.

I’ve written before about having a vested interest in the impact digital technology can have on the political process, having been a Commissioner on John Bercow’s Commission on Digital Democracy. The work of the commission left me inspired but ultimately depressed – although it became clear that technology has huge potential to disrupt our political system, and engage many more people, I’m unconvinced of how much will change in our current system constrained by many things, including, the incentives to support one of just two parties.

Digital exclusion

Right now, it feels like there’s a movement of motivated young people supporting Jeremy Corbyn – this means young people are becoming more engaged in politics which can only be a good thing. It also means that Mr Corbyn has put emphasis on things that interest the younger generation, including the digital skills agenda, evidenced by the recently released Digital Democracy Manifesto, which pledges a £25bn investment in high-speed internet, digital citizen passports and open source software.

I responded to the manifesto with my own thoughts on Politics Home saying that it’s a great step forward but highlighting that Mr Corbyn had missed a couple of important steps that I think need to come first: a clear commitment to ensuring excluded people have the skills they need to really benefit from technology, and a plan to inspire millions to take up the tools he’s promoting as game changers. I’d encourage Jeremy to read the report published by the Commission, Open up!, which not only talks about how we can make better use of technology to affect the democratic process, but importantly how we can engage those who are harder to reach, and less likely to be engaged with politics.

People who are digitally excluded tend to be older and poorer, and although older people tend to engage more with democracy (eg. vote), poorer people are much less likely to be both politically and digitally engaged. Data also shows that people on lower income, tend to explore and experiment less online. These are the kind of people that Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party are hoping to reach, and there’s a real opportunity for the party to use digital not just to engage people who are already digitally savvy, but those that aren’t as well.


There’s a really interesting example of how digital has affected the democratic process in Spain, and I think we should be taking lessons from it. Podemos is a left wing political party and although they’re just a baby (they were founded in March 2014), they’re the second largest political party in Spain by number of members (433,164) and the third largest in the Spanish parliament with 69 out of 350 seats.

Podemos’ views really align with those of Tinder Foundation – they seek to address the problems of inequality, unemployment and economic malaise – and they’re very engaged in digital, believing it can help to tackle social challenges.

It would be great to see a UK political party putting the focus on digital and it’s potential to tackle social challenges. Podemos proves that in Spain at least you can be a successful party rooted in transparency, and digital is the fuel for political engagement.

So why am I still depressed? Sometimes when I look at politics in the UK I wonder to myself whether we have the right political motivations and structure to really change things? Does a two party system deliver us the best options? Do our politicians know what the real issues are that are affecting people across the country, and do they know how to handle them?

I’d love digital to be the silver bullet to cure our political worries, but, as always, it’s the people who need to want to change. I think digital can really help to give power to the people – all of the people – and hopefully, through Jeremy Corbyn’s “new kind of politics” which appears to be attracting new people, we can begin to see some of the impacts of this.

Learn My Way: the next step on our journey

Simpler, prettier, and even more fabulous! Can you tell I’m excited? After a lot of time, hard work, and lots of time spent with users, today sees the launch of our new-look Learn My Way – and it’s the biggest (and best) update to our online learning platform in over five years.


Throughout this deployment we’ve kept two things in mind: simplicity and the user experience.

We’ve long known that many people in the UK have low levels of literacy and numeracy skills, as well as basic digital skills. In fact I recently read some stats which said the 43% of adults aged 16-65 lack the literacy skills that are expected of a 16-year-old, and, 15% of adults are at or below the literacy skills that are expected of an 11-year-old. With these kind of stats in mind, we wanted to make sure that Learn My Way was as simple as possible, so people with low literacy skills – who are most likely to also be the people with low digital skills – weren’t scared off by words and buttons they didn’t understand.

There are 12.6 million people in the UK who lack basic digital skills – with almost 6 million people having never been online – so something that is visually appealing and easy-to-use to me (and people like me), could be the most difficult and frightening thing in the world to those 12.6 million people.

I personally always thought Learn My Way was a simple online platform. Looking at the new website I can see the improvements. It’s now easier and more user-friendly than ever before and the range of courses ensure that we’re able to help everyone who needs it – from jobseekers, and people concerned about their health, to those looking to follow hobbies online.

At our event for libraries and digital inclusion yesterday, one Library Manager said to me “staff can’t say to me they don’t have time to support digitally excluded people, and then spend time making lesson plans! They can just use Learn My Way – not only is it quick and easy to get started, but it also builds independence as the people learning are in control of what they do, and how fast or slow they want to learn.”

Learn My Way is user-focused, and the courses are all mapped to the basic digital skills framework led by Go ON UK with the London School of Economics, Oxford Internet Institute, Tinder Foundation and others. We want people to learn what they want, or need, to learn when they want, or need, to learn it. But at the same time, we don’t want to stop there if we can provide progression from the very, very basics up to job seeking, money skills, and health literacy. Doing it in a simple and pretty way is difficult, but exciting too.

And it’s not just about the learners

I’d describe the new Learn My Way as a bit like a swan. On the outside it’s shiny, simple, and beautiful, but under the water line – away from the eye – it’s working very hard. The learning platform produces sophisticated data to not only track the progress of the learners but to demonstrate the impact that they’re having on people’s lives to Trustees, funders and more. This data is available for anyone in the UK online centres network using Learn My Way.

If you work in your community, and are not part of the UK online centres network already, it is free and simple for any organisation small or large to get involved, please do get in touch to find out more about how we can help you.

Take a look for yourself

I’m so proud of our new-look Learn My Way and I hope that everyone who starts/continues using it will love it just as much as I do. Well done to everyone involved in the process, from the Tinder Foundation team members to the people in communities who were kind enough to help us with requirements and testing.

If you haven’t done so already, take a look at the new website on – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Dementia, digital, and doing things differently

At Tinder Foundation, it’s our job to make good things happen through digital technology – and to make them happen for the hardest to reach, most isolated and excluded audiences. That includes the 850,000 or so people in the UK with dementia – and their carers.


Godfrey, 68, was knocked sideways by his Alzhiemer’s diagnosis. He describes the disease as like  ‘living life in slow motion’. He stopped socialising, and shut himself away. One day, one of our UK online centre research partners (Age UK South Tyneside) visited his care home, and were showing some YouTube videos of old music performances – including Frank Sinatra. He went over to see what was happening.

Gradually Godfrey learned how to use a tablet. He needed a lot of help – a few simple icons to press for each activity he wanted to do – and different smells to help him recall the processes for each one.

Now Godfrey can Skype his son or daughter with just a touch of a button. He can look up his favourite musicians, and find new music. He’s become a fan of Seasick Steve, and his Grandson in Australia thinks he’s ‘cool’. He’s ordering his prescriptions online now, and he’s found out more about Alzheimer’s disease – so he feels more in control. He’s also joined some specialist groups so he’s getting out and about more.

In Godfrey’s own words, “You don’t realise what you can do until you try it out and it has really helped me stop feeling sorry for myself, snap out of my depression and start looking forward to things again.”

I believe digital skills really can help everyone and anyone live better, more fulfilling lives. And at Tinder Foundation we’ve had a look in greater depth at the role of digital skills and community-based support in improving the health and wellbeing of families affected by dementia.

Today, we’re launching a new research report – Dementia and Digital: Using technology to improve health and wellbeing, that begins to track the impact of technology on both people like Godfrey who have dementia, and their carers. It also scopes out the challenges and barriers to engagement and delivery, and what really works to make technology work well for these audiences.

This small, in-depth research follows on from our three year programme with NHS England to widen participation in digital health. Our aim has always been to reduce health inequalities – recognising the huge crossover between those who are digitally excluded and those at risk of poor health.

It is important to note that carers deserve as much of our time and support as the people they love and care for, and have equal prominence in our report. With so much on their plates already, they were often reluctant to add digital skills to their to-do lists, or to facilitate the learning of those they cared for. Once engaged, though, carers have found digital technology a lifeline. It is a way to create space in their lives for themselves, accessing support, saving time on everyday tasks, and helping the people they care for find both coping strategies and memories.

Ken Brown looks after wife Val, who has vascular dementia. As her appetite has faded, he’s been able to use the internet to research if this was part of her illness, find reassurance and new recipes and tactics to help her start eating more. For Ken, the internet has just made life that bit easier. “It means I’ve got somewhere to go, rather than sitting and thinking ‘what do I do now?’”

Digital doesn’t solve any problems all by itself. But it can help us do things differently, and in doing so make a difference to health, wellbeing and quality of life. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the NHS, with frontline health and care professionals, and with organisations that support people with memory loss and their carers, to ensure these benefits can be realised as widely as possible.

The full Dementia and Digital report can be found on our website. I do hope you enjoy reading it. If you can help us expand our work and take these findings forwards, please do get in touch –


Miles together

At the end of August I spied the Australian Digital Inclusion Index – a new report highlighting the extent of the digital skills gap in Australia and setting down a benchmark to measure future action. I found it particularly interesting as we’ve just started working with an Australian organisation called Leep – and their CEO, Cecily Michaels, is coming to speak at our conference in November.

Helen and Cecily

Me and Cecily at Harbour Bridge, Sydney


As I read the Index, although we’re about 9,500 miles apart, I couldn’t help but feel like there are a lot of similarities between our two countries when it comes to digital exclusion – and here’s why.

In the UK there are 12.6 million people who lack basic digital skills; in Australia the key barrier for some people to getting online and maximising the benefits that doing so can bring is digital ability. It’s clear to me that there is a digital divide in both of our countries and it’s important for organisations – like us and like Leep – to make sure we’re bringing digital skills to those who need it most.

The UK online centres network supports several different groups, from jobseekers to homeless people to older people, and one group that we focus on in particular is disabled people. There are 5.9 million people in the UK who have never used the internet before, and of those 3.3 million are disabled. In Australia the stats are similar: the report states: “People with disability have a low level of digital inclusion (44.4, or 10.1 points below the national average). However, nationally, their inclusion has improved steadily (by 2.6 points since 2014), outpacing the national average increase (1.8 points).”

Leep and Tinder Foundation are now working on a project together in Western Sydney, called the “Leep in Network” – a movement for digital inclusion and people with disability. The aim is to support people with disabilities to develop the basic digital skills needed to participate in society and experience all the benefits that being online can bring. Anyone can join the network: organisations, businesses and councils who are offering services to increase digital inclusion for people with disability, such as learning opportunities, access to free WiFi or computers.

Partners will feature on the network’s free online searchable database – created by us here in the UK – so that people with a disability in Western Sydney can find an opportunity that suits them to develop their basic digital skills. We’ll also be keeping partners up-to-date with newsletters and resources to support them with their digital inclusion programmes.

We will be sharing and tweeting the new tools very soon, so watch out for those, especially if you’re working in or interested in Western Sydney.

It’s all about teamwork

I couldn’t be happier that we’re working with Leep to deliver this project, and hopefully this is just the beginning of working together. We may be 9,500 miles apart but we’re working very closely together.

As an organisation, Tinder Foundation wants a world where everyone can benefit from digital – not just people in the UK. We want to take the digital inclusion message far and wide and we want to reach out to those who need our help.

I really can’t wait for Cecily to share our partnership journey at the conference later this year – make sure you don’t miss out on that one. And in the meantime, please do take a look at the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. It’s a very interesting read and proves that digital exclusion isn’t a nationwide problem, it’s worldwide – and there’s work to be done.