Voicebox Cafes: Giving women a voice

A couple of weeks ago, we learned that we’d been successfully awarded one of eight large grants to deliver our Voicebox Cafes project, as part of the Women’s Vote Centenary Grant Scheme, alongside seven other inspirational projects. This is a project that I’m really excited for as it’s about using digital to support some of the hardest to reach people in society and helping them to overcome some of the challenges they face.

Voicebox Cafes will engage excluded women and support them to understand and participate in democracy and public life. We know that there are certain groups of women who are less likely to engage with democracy, in particular women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, young women, and women with low levels of educational attainment.  

As part of my role on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy back in 2015, I spoke to a number of women in sessions in communities up and down the country. These women felt that they didn’t have a role to play in democracy or local campaigning. They didn’t feel that they could make any difference or that politicians would listen to them. And they didn’t have any interest in how laws were made or in what happens in the Houses of Parliament, which for many people I met was hundreds of miles away from where they lived.


Speaker's Commission

Me with the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy in 2015. Image courtesy of http://www.parliament.uk.


This project has grown from that insight – and from hearing how powerless the women I spoke to often felt to change issues in their own lives, whether that was unaffordable childcare, poor housing, or a lack of part-time employment opportunities.

Many women nowadays are using both social and traditional media to campaign for these issues – but the women who often have the most to gain are the ones that are missing out on these opportunities.

We’re hoping this project – which will work with 35 local organisations in the Online Centres Network – will find ways to make democracy relevant and to engage women and show them how they can make a difference. This might be through hearing from influential female politicians or changemakers, showing women how to develop their own local campaigns or teaching them about the importance of their vote. We’ll be making democracy, politics and campaigning relevant – and I hope in a world where what goes on in Westminster often feels very far away, this will make a real difference to the women who get involved.

I don’t think what we’re planning is easy – as I found on the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy many people felt that politics, democracy and politicians were irrelevant to them. I don’t think it will be easy to engage these women, and I don’t think everything we do will be a success. I promise that we’ll share some of the lessons we learn along the way.

I’m sure, however, that Voicebox Cafes will be a powerful example of the role digital can play in addressing social challenges.

If you think you can help or would like to get involved, do get in touch. I’ll be sharing stories from the project as it develops, so don’t worry as I’m sure this is one project I’ll keep coming back too.

I can’t wait to get started.

The Digital Health Lab

What does it mean to stay happy and healthy? Some people would say it’s eating well and exercising, others would say it’s being able to stay ‘in the know’ and in control of existing health conditions. What these tasks have in common is that the internet can be used to make them easier. And that’s where our Widening Digital Participation project with NHS Digital comes in.

This week we’re shining a spotlight on this project, not least because the project has been shortlisted at the Digital Leaders 100 Awards for Cross-sector Digital Collaboration of the Year, but also because we’ve engaged 104,300 people through this second phase of the programme so far since April last year.

Building and developing

In the first phase (September 2013 to March 2016) we supported a total of 221,941 people to learn digital health skills. In the third year, through our research, we discovered that the behaviour change of people moving more of their health transactions online would mean potential annual savings of £3.7m in saved GP visits and £2.3m in saved A&E visits. That’s savings of £6 million in just 12 months. These savings alone represent a return on investment of £6.40 for every £1 invested in the programme.

At a time when the NHS is increasingly strapped for cash, we’re happy to help them save a bit of money and alleviate pressure on services by teaching people to use the internet to manage their health. Just to be clear, we’re promoting the use of digital as one channel to help with how people manage their health, and this channel sits alongside the other telephone and face-to-face support people can and should continue to have access to, such as NHS 101, Pharmacists, GPs, Health Clinics and A&E.

Our second phase (that started last April) has identified ‘pathfinder’ partners, that’s CCGs, GPs, Online Centres, third sector organisations, Councils and more with a specific idea to test if (a) it works and (b) if the idea can be replicated and scaled.

What are our pathfinders doing?

There are 13 live pathfinders currently and they’re piloting different ways to embed digital inclusion into healthcare. Here’s a little taster of what they’ve been up to:

  • Digital Health on the High Street, Nailsea: Nailsea Town Council purchased the old butcher shop on the High Street, turning it into a community space that can help Nailsea residents improve their lives through engaging with digital technology and their health. They’ve engaged 870 people, supported 120 people in-depth and recruited 21 Digital Champions.
  • Young Carers, MYMUP, Bradford: We’re working in partnership with MYMUP, local third sector organisations and education establishments in order to support young carers. MYMUP is an online platform that is helping support young carers with their resilience and mental health. We’re working with them to discover the ways that digital support can improve the lives of young carers and also increase access to health information for the people that they care for.

There is so much more to read about what our pathfinders have been up to on our ‘micro-site’, so please do have a look.

It’s not just about digital skills

Good Things Foundation is social change charity. We believe in helping people to improve their social outcomes powered by digital, so through programmes like Widening Digital Participation the health benefits aren’t limited to reading NHS Choices or booking a GP appointment through an online booking system or ordering a repeat prescription for delivery to your home. It’s other things like reducing social isolation – learners who normally live alone and spend most of their time alone can get some company when they go along to their local centre to learn about digital – or improving their mental wellbeing and confidence by interacting with other people.

The benefits to individuals, their communities, and to the NHS of the Widening Digital Participation programme are potentially huge. We’re looking forward to finding out the new and exciting ways that our next 7 pathfinders will help the most vulnerable in our society to become happy and healthy.

And here’s just one story to bring it all to life…

#LocalDigitalSkills – making digital inclusion happen, together

The unique selling point of the Online Centres Network is the localised approach for digital skills learning that only they can provide. Being the CEO of Good Things Foundation for the past six and a half years, I know this area well, so I was delighted to be asked to chair the local arm of DCMS’ Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) as part of my role on the DSP Board, along with MB Christie from Tech Nation. I hope you caught up with my and MB’s blog when we announced this in February – it’s worth a look if you’ve not read it.

Just before Easter we hosted a ‘Creative Summit’ in Sheffield, bringing together people from tech companies, Local Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the Online Centres Network, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Department for Education (DfE), and others, to talk about localised approaches to digital skills learning. This is a bigger agenda than ‘just’ digital inclusion as it includes all levels of digital skills for everyone at all ages, including businesses and charities, and recruiting talent. Because digital skills are essential for economic strength and social inclusion.

And we have a big ambition – we want there to be Local Digital Skills Partnerships all over the country. It’s a very big tent as everyone has different experience and a different area of expertise to contribute. When we all have a shared goal it makes sense for us to join forces, rather than work against each other.

At our Creative Summit we kicked off the co-production of a Local Digital Skills ‘Playbook’ – part guide/framework and part inspirational examples. Or it will be! The Playbook is currently in draft form and will be launched, in draft, on our Local Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP) Medium publication very soon. And we’ll be asking everyone who’s interested to take part in refining and adding to the final version. Adopting this joined up approach to creating an important product like this is exactly what we need to make sure it’s relevant, effective, and can become a real tool for success. Watch this blog as I’ll let you know as soon as the public draft is launched.

I was pleased that we had representatives from Local Enterprise Partnerships at the event. LEPs are a collective of local authorities and businesses from an area. In England there are 38 LEPs and the impact and influence they have means they can make a real difference on the subjects that really matter.

For this project they can play an important part, representing the views in their respective regions and, following the publication of the first ‘Playbook’, bringing it forward and using it as a tool to make digital skills happen for people and businesses in their areas.


Me and MB at the Creative Summit

The Creative Summit was a great session and I’d like to once again thank everyone who attended. The next one will be held in the Summer and I’m sure by then that the Playbook will have evolved and developed into a truly useful and exciting tool. If you’d like to be on the invite list do let me know.

I can’t wait to see where this takes us.