It really is the most wonderful time of the year. No, I’m not feeling prematurely festive but right on the coattails of another fantastic Get Online Week, it’s now time to think about our annual Digital Evolution conference. This year we’re calling it Digital Evolution: Digital. Social. Global and it’s taking place on Wednesday 21 November, at our regular venue of the BT Centre in the City of London.
The conference has become an essential date in many people’s diaries, and, now into its seventh year, it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Not only is it an opportunity for us to bring together Online Centres, partners and stakeholders to celebrate all we’ve achieved over the last year, it’s also a chance to get inspiration for the future. Our speakers, panellists and delegates always come brimming with questions, ideas and ambition for their communities.
As an organisation Good Things Foundation has expanded hugely over the years – we now have a bigger team and broader horizons. Social inclusion and tackling social challenges through digital is a huge focus for our work.
We’ve also gone global. Good Things Foundation Australia has had an incredible first year (more on that next week), and we have a successful pilot in Kenya moving into its second year. As such, it seemed only fitting for this year’s conference to reflect these changes.
Self-described digital evangelist Dr Sue Black will be chairing the event. I’ve known Sue for many years now, and she’s a true inspiration and a real leader on the UK tech scene. I know she’s going to bring lots of energy, experience and knowledge, so I’m delighted to have her as part of the day.
During the day we’ll be discussing some new research we’re launching around limited internet users and how we can support them. We’ll be showcasing what’s new in the digital and social inclusion sectors, as well as what’s happening overseas as well. Plus, there’ll be a chance to network with peers, partners and friends – over coffee, lunch and even a glass of wine at the end of the day.
And following popular demand, we’ll also be bringing back our Design Studios – where we’ll be helping community organisations to develop practical ways to tackle some of the challenges they’re facing, leaving them with tactics we hope can make a real difference to the people they support.
The conference completely sold out last year, and we’re expecting this year to be the same, so make sure you book your tickets as soon as possible. They’re available on Eventbrite here.
On 30th November we hosted our sixth annual conference – Digital Evolution: Social Change. There were around 200 people there – many of our partners in the Online Centres Network as well as many of our national partners. I wanted to share my opening speech from the event, I hope you like it:
Rather unconventionally I want to start by saying thank you! Thank you to everyone for all of the hard work you’ve been doing this year, particularly our Network Partners and my team who are amazing and who have had an incredible year so far.
Last year I showed the trailer from I, Daniel Blake. Now, Ken Loach has made it free on YouTube, so if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no excuse. The reason why I showed that trailer was because we know people like Daniel Blake are real. This is not fiction – it’s fact. We meet Daniel Blakes every time we’re in an Online Centre and many of you meet your own Daniel Blakes every day as you work in those tough communities, our poorest communities, where people are finding it hard to find work, to tackle the welfare system, to get on. The thing that I love about the work that we all do is that we don’t just give people digital skills, we give them confidence, resilience and we give them hope.
In February this year, we celebrated 2 million learners and I met two people that I want to tell you about. Marita who won the Learning for Health Award has an amazing story. She was actually someone that we featured when we reached one million learners when she had undiagnosed fibromyalgia and she had used her new internet skills to get diagnosed and get treatment. But, between the one million and two million marks, her teenage daughter Chance was diagnosed with spine cancer and Marita said if they hadn’t had the internet, they would have felt in the dark. It was amazing that she and her daughter can actually use Marita’s new skills, to use the internet for health, to actually feel like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Thankfully, Chance is now in remission.
The other person that I want to mention is Margaret. She was the winner in the Learning for Life category. She’d been struggling with alcoholism her whole life but luckily for her, she was able to get support from Blenheim REAL down in South London and they helped her to focus on something else, to focus on something new – learning on Learn My Way. The reason I’m singling out Margaret is because of my own personal experience in meeting her. When I gave her that award and shook her hand, she wouldn’t let go. She just kept saying “Thank you so much. My family are so proud of me. My family are so proud of me. They’ve never been proud of me before.”
At Good Things, we have developed five underpinning principles for the work that we do and I hope that they resonate with you. The first and most important principle is that ‘we are committed to helping people improve their lives’.
Often when I talk to people about a ‘Network’ they think it’s a map with some dots on it. They think it’s bricks and mortar. But that’s not the point, it’s really about the people in the network. It’s about the people making that change and having that impact. It’s about us all working together to achieve social change. So our second principle is: ‘We lead a movement for social change’. Please do take a look at the video below to see for yourself the impact of the Online Centres Network.
Our third principle is: ‘We use digital technology to make change happen’ – of course we do! But the important thing here is that the work we do, the impact we all have – with people – is powered by digital. It’s digital in our back office as well, digital to provide you with those additional services, products and content, that really help you to turbocharge what you do. It’s digital to help us to unite, share and organise.
And it’s digital that supports your blended approach to supporting people to develop that digital understanding and personal confidence using Learn My Way. Today, we’re officially launching the new logo for Learn My Way. We’ve done this through working with you – with users. It’s like the conference it’s an ‘evolution’, not a ‘revolution’.
Our fourth principle is: ‘We do what works’. It seems so simple but it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of. We do what works and we’re tenacious. We keep on going. We deliver.
We also advocate and are advisors for government and other partners. We’re not buffeted by the world around us.
We’re also tenacious about piloting and testing and going back to the first principle, working with the people to make sure that we’re not doing anything that we don’t need to do. Because we’ve got to do the right thing.
We always do what we say we’ll do. An absolutely underpinning part of our behaviours is that we have integrity and every single one of the team would say that too. We always do what we say we’ll do.
Our last principle is that ‘we’re ambitious about the scale of our impact’. I’m ambitious and the older I get the more ambitious I get because I realise my time is running out and I want to use every minute of every day to have as much impact as possible in the world. I know my team and many of you feel the same way because the work we do is so important. It’s not just about helping one Margaret, one Marita or your equivalent of a Daniel Blake. It’s about helping tens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people like Margaret, and Marita, and Daniel Blake, and now by working together we’ve actually surpassed 2.3 million people that we’ve helped so far since 2010.
This year we’ve taken that ambition and that scale a little bit further by going to work in countries in other places around the world. In July, Emily and Michael went to Kenya to launch a new pilot working with libraries across Kenya to see if Learn My Way and the Digital Champion model can work for people across Kenya. Already we know that two people who have used Learn My Way in one of those libraries have now gone on to get jobs that they wouldn’t have got before. And we’re evaluating our work to see how digital inclusion can drive social inclusion and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
And the very big news is that in 2017 we set up a subsidiary organisation in Australia, we’ve set up a new office in Sydney. We have a $25m contract with the Australian Government ($20m of that is for grants, and it’s over 3-years) – to help older people thrive in a digital world. Then we have Jess, our new Director running things over there, and Jess is with us here today. In Australia, we have already set up a movement for social change with over 650 Network Partners joining us since August. Yes, we are ambitious about the scale of our impact.
I asked my team recently if they knew the story of JF Kennedy going to NASA and talking to the man he met sweeping the corridor. He asked him what he does and he said: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” I asked my team what their equivalent is and they said: “I’m helping to create a world where everyone benefits from digital” – “I’m helping at least 3 million socially excluded people improve their lives through digital” – “I’m working not only in digital inclusion but in social inclusion or both at the same time.” They also said – “I’m helping empower and enable people all across the world” and one colleague said, “I’m helping to make the world more equal”. We can be ambitious about the scale of our impact when we all share the passion and commitment to improving people’s lives.
So that’s our strategy: We’re committed to helping people improve their lives; We lead a movement of social change, and that means everyone, not just us and our network partners, anybody that we work with and anywhere in the world; We use digital technology to underpin our work and to make change happen; We do works; and, We’re ambitious about the scale of our impact.
And it’s only by working together that we can make good things happen.
If you’d like to watch my full conference speech, you can do so here.
I’ll soon be back from Australia – thankfully, just in time for our annual Digital Evolution conference. For me, this is a highlight of the year as not only do I get to meet inspirational and knowledgeable members of the Online Centres Network, but it’s also a great opportunity to catch-up with partners and stakeholders from the various different organisations we work with.
I’m looking forward to the whole event but here are six things in particular that I really can’t wait for.
Since we established our new Design and Innovation Directorate in April, they’ve been helping the Good Things Foundation team to do things differently. This includes everything from designing interventions for some of our hardest to reach users, to helping us work more efficiently as a team together. Now, we want to share these new approaches with you, to help you discover new and exciting ways to tackle digital and social exclusion in your community. We’ll be talking about quick techniques used by some of the most successful organisations in the world – something you really don’t want to miss.
For the past two years, our conference has been chaired by the wonderful Maggie Philbin OBE, and we’re delighted she is chairing the conference again this year. Maggie is the co-founder and CEO of TeenTech CIC and has presented for the BBC, including on TV shows that I love such as Tomorrow’s World and Bang Goes the Theory. She’s always interested in hearing about how people are using digital for good and I just know, as always, that she will be a wonderful addition to the conference agenda.
We’re welcoming a great variety of speakers who are all bringing something unique to the table. The conference will cover a range of themes, including the power of technology for good and how we can achieve a stronger Britain through digital,so I’m sure you’ll unearth plenty of questions and ideas to discuss with fellow delegates during the day – and afterwards.
A problem shared is a problem halved
The conference is a great opportunity to meet other Online Centres and those working in the fields of digital and social inclusion. We’re all in this together as a big club with a shared vision, so whether you’re meeting over a coffee or a sandwich, or if you simply get chatting to the person you’re sitting next to, it’s a great opportunity to make new contacts, share new ideas and get some advice to help you tackle any problems or issues you may be facing.
Our showcase session
We’ve brought together three very knowledgeable individuals to really get into the nitty-gritty of digital and social inclusion and tell us how those two things are so very closely linked: our COO & Director of Social Inclusion Charlotte Murray; Good Things Foundation board member and programme lead at Starting Point Online Centre, Nicola Wallace Dean; and Amy O’Donnell, ICT in Programme Lead from Oxfam. This is sure to be a thought-provoking session and one not to be missed.
Raise a toast with us
And sixth, I’m really looking forward to our post-conference drinks reception. Those who have attended previous Digital Evolutions will know that we usually have a pre-conference event or an unconference. This year, we’re doing things differently hosting this informal gathering at the BT Centre after the event. This is a great opportunity to mingle with those who you haven’t yet spoken to and with the drinks included in the price of your ticket, it’s certainly a less stressful alternative to pushing your way through the busy London rush hour, and helps that hanging around for the off-peak tickets home.
When I arrived at the Labour Conference in Brighton the sun was shining and I immediately saw Jeremy Corbyn being chased by a small number of people wearing “I love Jez” t-shirts and running after him shouting “I love you Jeremy”. Overall the conference felt very upbeat, the small number of MPs and Shadow Ministers I heard speak were full of a renewed energy, and new ideas.
When I arrived at the Conservative Conference in Manchester it was raining and cold, and the demonstrators were loud and hurled abuse at everyone in the vicinity of the conference secure zone with the hope that some of the people were Conservatives with some power. Inside however, and in the Fringe events, MPs and Ministers were confident and bold. And, of course, their ideas are becoming policy.
Two themes that emerged from both conferences were digital and poverty
Tinder Foundation doesn’t just work to close the digital divide – we’re working to close the opportunity divide as well. We work with local partners deep in communities to ensure that people aren’t excluded from jobs, skills, health care, human contact, savings, social mobility and other opportunities due to their lack of internet knowledge and confidence. In 2015, in the UK, not being able to use the internet deepens exclusions that already exist, and the people most affected are poor or elderly and often isolated.
I went to a Fringe session on Child Poverty at the Labour conference and on the Working Poor at the Conservative conference. A common message from both is about facing up to the reality of poverty in our communities. And of the importance of joining up across departments, across sectors and across local (and hyperlocal) organisations – which is easier said than done!
In fact “joining up” was a big message from (now Lord) Francis Maude, who appeared to me like a man proud of what he’s achieved in the past five years with GDS (Government Digital Services) and a bit more open now it’s not his ministerial post.
Rachel Neaman from Go ON UK was also speaking, and usefully exploded some myths about digital exclusion. Many young people can’t fill in forms online or complete a CV, so we do have a problem with some young people – they’re not all digital natives. And almost half of those lacking basic digital skills are of working age – either stuck in low paid jobs or stuck with no job and no digital skills to apply for them. Rachel also said it’s not acceptable that people suffer from poor bandwidth, and that real affordable solutions for the people who can’t afford a connection need to be addressed and fast. We can’t accept the stereotype that people’s grandparents are the only people who remain unconnected and under skilled. It’s a much bigger problem than that. It’s a 10 million people sized problem.
Both Parties were clear that jobs are the way out of poverty, but they have to be jobs that pay a decent wage
People who are in low paid work in their 30s and 40s are likely to stay in those jobs for at least 10 years. I’d like Tinder Foundation, and our excellent community partners, to continue to work to build people’s resilience and to more explicitly show how basic digital skills can be a platform to many important pathways out of poverty. Yes, it’s about building skills to help people get work and to get a better job, and it’s about linking people to the partner organisations who can help them with the complexity of their lives.
The good news is that Matthew Hancock (now Minister for the Cabinet Office and in charge of GDS) in his closing remarks in a Policy Exchange fringe event about ‘digital opportunities and threats’ said that digital inclusion was extremely important, he said he was committed to the “massive liberation new technology is bringing …. services must remain universal, and available to everyone”. Well, you know I agree with that.
The Government is clearly committed to increasing the number of great quality online public services available and to increase the number of people using them. Everyone who can now, or could with support, should also see the value, convenience and quality of these services. This will help save money, but also the experience is usually better than other channels. Digital inclusion can save the Government money, and improve information and transactional services for everyone.
Going back to the opportunity divide
For those on the wrong side of the opportunity divide there’s a danger that if we don’t keep working as hard as we can and in as targeted a way as possible, the digital divide will exacerbate the exclusions that already exist in our society.
Although their drivers may be different to mine, the great news is that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party seem to agree that digital inclusion is important to our economy and our society.So, we’ll keep working hard, with partners, to help provide a solution to close that digital divide – and opportunity divide – as fast as we can. It’s good to know we’ve got the politicians behind us.
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.