A #UKDigitalStrategy for Everyone

As someone who has been campaigning for digital inclusion for more than 15 years, a Government Digital Strategy which starts with an ambition to “close the divide – to ensure that everyone is able to access and use the digital services that could help them manage their lives, progress at work, improve their health and wellbeing, and connect to friends and family” bodes well.

I have long argued that we need to be bolder and more ambitious if we are to become a truly digital nation and digital economy, outstripping the likes of Singapore, Finland, Sweden and Norway – and critically, if we are to create a fairer and more inclusive society by giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of digital technology.

So, does the detail of the Strategy match up to the ambition?

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Karen Bradley MP at the launch this morning

 

At the launch of the Digital Strategy this morning, I was heartened to hear Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport, commit to digital skills and digital inclusion as one of the seven central tenets of the Strategy.

The plan for digital skills and inclusion focuses on three themes:

  • Digital capability for all
  • Digital skills for the digital economy
  • Working together

In summary:

  1. Digital Capability for All

Government will:

  • Undertake a feasibility study on viability of using outcome commissioning frameworks such as Social Impact Bonds or payment by results, to tackle digital exclusion
  • Develop the role of libraries as ‘go to’ providers of digital access in partnership with Good Things Foundation and other national partners
  • Use the Council for Digital Inclusion to increase collaboration
  • Invest £1.1m through NHS on projects to support digital inclusion.
  1. Digital Skills for digital economy.

Government will:

  • Continue to invest in CPD for teachers
  • Support Raspberry Pi and the National Citizen Service to pilot inclusion of digital skills and careers in NCS programmes
  • Embed digital skills in technical education for young people
  • Implement a new entitlement to free digital skills training, as part of the publicly-funded adult education offer, ensuring a commitment to lifelong learning of digital skills
  • Fund Ada, the National College for Digital Skills, to develop an online learning platform to help develop coding skills
  • Develop a common digital skills language to help industry articulate the digital skills they are seeking in a widely understood way
  • Develop the Tech Talent Charter to ensure a more diverse tech workforce
  • Develop a Cyber Security Skills Strategy.
  1. Working together: a more collaborative, coordinated and targeted approach to digital skills

Government will:

  • Create a Digital Skills Partnership to examine options for improving the coherence of digital skills provision eg. by setting ambitions for increasing the types of training on offer and agreeing how it can be targeted where it is needed most.

Across other areas of the Strategy, I’m pleased to see that the government is committed to encouraging innovation in digital for social good, and investing in better digital skills for businesses.

Recognition of the cross-sector partnerships, which are so essential to the digital inclusion sector, is welcomed, including the significant new pledges by businesses such as Lloyds Banking Group – which has pledged to train 2,500,000 individuals, SMES and charities in digital skills – and Google – which will launch a Summer of Skills programme in coastal towns alongside its existing digital skills programme – with whom we’re already working to support digitally excluded people.

This is a comprehensive basket of measures which goes further than any other Digital Strategy in recent years in tackling digital exclusion and lack of digital skills. I welcome the bold ambition, and it feels like we’re at the tipping point of committing to a 100% digitally included nation.

As a member of the Council of Digital Inclusion, there are a few points which I’ll be picking up over the coming weeks:

  • Firstly, don’t forget the important role of the third sector in becoming a digital nation. Libraries are vital places for digital support, and commitments from the private sector are essential, but there are thousands of community and VCS organisations providing support for digital skills – often with no public funding – without whom this country cannot achieve its digital ambitions.
  • Ensure there is flexibility in the application of the universal entitlement to free digital skills for adults to include both those who want a qualification, and those who want to gain basic digital skills but don’t necessarily need a qualification, and also to make sure we get some innovation into the sector.
  • Embed digital skills in the work of Jobcentres, so that jobseekers have a much clearer route to gaining digital skills and applying for Universal Credit. This could be a key focus for the new Digital Skills Partnership, which will play a crucial role in helping people to access digitally-focused jobs at a local level. I spoke about this at the DWP Select Committee late last year.
  • On looking at new financing models for tackling digital exclusion, I’ve talked to a number of experts about Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) for digital inclusion, who have advised that SIBs may well achieve the same outcomes as alternative finance models, but for more money. I look forward discussing this issue with Government colleagues.

Social mobility is an underlying theme throughout the Strategy and it is clear that the driver is a digital economy which is both ‘stronger and fairer.’ Amen to that.

I’m confident that the Digital Strategy marks the beginning of a new, more energised, and cohesive framework to close the digital divide, putting digital skills on an equal footing to English and Maths as an essential skill.

I look forward to Good Things Foundation playing our part to make this happen.

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet…

…for Auld Lang Syne – or so the song goes that we sing at the end of every year. Christmas and New Year are great opportunities to reflect on the last 12 months and to celebrate all of your successes, and for Good Things Foundation there have been a lot.

Here are my top Good Things moments from 2016 (in no particular order):

  • Becoming a charity

We long talked about becoming a charity and in March, thanks to the efforts of my team, we were finally able to make that leap. I was really pleased because the status fits with our ethos of supporting people to improve their lives for the better. What’s more, we were also able to retain our mutual status, making us one of only a handful of organisations to do so. It was a long and challenging journey but it really set us up for the road ahead – to reach the 12.6 million socially excluded people without digital skills across the UK.

  • Receiving my OBE from Prince Charles

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2015 I was awarded an OBE for services to digital inclusion. In February I visited Buckingham Palace to receive my OBE medal from HRH Prince Charles. It was a really proud and fun moment for me, especially when I made Prince Charles laugh. It was great to receive such a high profile award for something that I feel so passionately about and that I just ‘do’ as part of my day-to-day working life. And I’ve been lucky enough to meet the prince again since.

helen-obe

  • English My Way celebration event

The first phase of our English My Way programme ended earlier this year and we held a celebration event at the beginning of May to commend the achievements of all the amazing learners and centres who were involved in the project. We know that there are still so many people across the UK who are unable to speak English and they’re missing out on so many opportunities, from applying and obtaining jobs, to everyday things such as ordering food in a restaurant. Seeing the difference that English My Way made to the lives of people is simply heartwarming and I wanted to re-share the video from our celebration event, so that if you missed it the first time you can see all the wonderful things the project has done, and will continue to do as we progress through phase 2.

  • Liz Williams becomes our new Chair

In May we made the announcement that Jim Knight, who has been our Chair for the last five years, was stepping down but staying on as a Patron of Good Things Foundation. I was very sad about it but also very happy about the fact that we found a new Chair in our long-time board member Liz Williams from BT. Liz already knows us very well – which is fantastic. She’s exceptional, committed and inspiring, and she recently did a tremendous review for the government on a basic digital skills qualification. I’m really looking forward to working even more closely with Liz and I know she’s going to bring so many new ideas and insight to her role as our Chair.

liz

  • NHS celebration event

As our Widening Digital Participation programme with NHS England drew to a close, we wanted to do something special to recognise our three year partnership. So in July we held a celebration event at the House of Lords in London, marking the launch of the final evaluation report produced by our research team. We invited along a lot of our partners but, most importantly, we invited the people who worked so hard on the ground throughout the entire three years. From helping the elderly to transforming lives, these people were the ones that made the project so successful, and it was only fitting that they were there with us to celebrate everything it achieved.

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Alicia and Victoria from the mHabitat centre at the launch of our report

  • Reaching 2 Million Learners

Following Get Online Week 2016 we were delighted when the counter on the (old) website finally hit 2 million learners. That’s right – since 2010 Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network have helped this many digitally excluded people to realise the benefits of getting online – which is amazing. It’s a key milestone which shows the real scale and impact that our work is having across the UK. We’re celebrating this achievement with the 2 Millionth Learner Awards, which is currently open for nominations. If you know an inspiring and amazing learner who deserves a real treat at the beginning of next year (a trip to a prestigious award ceremony at the BT Tower in London to receive a distinguished award), nominate them today.  

2m-learner

  • Get Online Week’s 10th birthday

In October we held our 10th annual Get Online Week and I wanted to celebrate the big birthday by going out to 10 events to meet amazing learners and partners. There were so many incredible people doing incredible things and I especially enjoyed The Connection at St-Martin-in-the-Fields, just a few steps from Trafalgar Square in London. This amazing day centre does everything they can to help homeless people in the capital, from a digital skills drop-in and lessons to the provision of job interview clothes. I met a Big Issue salesman called Steve and I gave him a Learn My Way certificate – he told me his story and how the internet has helped him. I heard so many stories when I went on my Get Online Week visits and I was just so pleased that we’re able to help those in the Online Centres Network to help the people that need it most.

  • Rebranding as Good Things Foundation

At our conference in November I announced that we were changing our name from Tinder Foundation to Good Things Foundation, and we’re taking the network along for the ride, rebranding them as the Online Centres Network. In a move that was either crazy or brilliant, we also launched two new websites on the same day. I love the new name. We do good things all the time and it used to be our tag line – ‘We make good things happen with digital technology’. I feel like it reflects what we do much better than our old name did – and, of course, we will no longer be confused with ‘that’ dating app. I love the new names and I hope you do as well.

Helen launching new brand.png

  • Our fifth birthday

So, my final amazing moment of the year was when Good Things Foundation, the little social enterprise that I started, had our fifth birthday last week (1st December). Along with the Online Centres Network, we’ve continued to grow and evolve. Although our birthday celebration was a bit sad with Jim stepping down as Chair, looking back on everything that we’ve achieved in 2016 I feel that we’re ready to press on with our mission to ensure that everyone can benefit from digital.

On behalf of myself and the whole Good Things Foundation team I just want to thank the network and all of our partners for your hard work and your role in our continued success.

I personally would also like to thank the Good Things Foundation team. You’ve achieved so much this year, the redevelopment and launch of new look Learn My Way and our new websites to name just a few. You are amazing.

2016 has been a truly crazy year. The Brexit vote happened, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and so many talented people were taken from us – I personally spent a lot of time listening to Purple Rain back in April.

But for Good Things Foundation it’s been an incredible year of change.

I’m off to Australia today to round off the year working with partners doing digital inclusion down under. As I won’t return back to the UK until Christmas Eve, this will probably be my last blog post of the year. I think it’s very fitting. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year. I’m looking forward continuing our mission to ensure that everyone in the world has the opportunity to benefit from digital and information technology in 2017.

All the best, I look forward to working with you in 2017.

Ch-ch-changes…so the song goes…

Our annual Digital Evolution conference was yesterday, it was so great to meet old friends and to make new ones. Working with a network full of inspiring, committed and expert people is so fulfilling, and us all getting together is an amazing experience. And it’s not just digital that’s evolving – yesterday I announced a new name and brand identity showing how Tinder Foundation and the UK online centres network are evolving too. Just in case you missed it, I announced a new name and logo for both and two sparkly new websites to accompany them: say hello to Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network.

logos

The question that has occupied us for a very long time now, is ‘how can we make good things happen with digital technology?’ It used to be our strapline when we first became Tinder Foundation and ‘doing good things’ has always been at the heart of what we do. Whether that’s helping the 12.6 million people who lack basic digital skills in the UK to find work, become healthier or just to stay in touch with family and friends more easily. We like to think that these skills, to them, are ‘good things’.

As time has passed, the words ‘good things’ just seem to keep cropping up again and again. For the past six years we’ve focussed on bringing digital confidence to those who can most benefit from them – growing and nurturing the Online Centres Network, building the Learn My Way platform and supporting over 2 million people to take their first steps with digital.

The landscape we’ve been working in has been rapidly changing and we’re talking to more partners, and extending our work to focus, not just on digital skills and inclusion, but more broadly on the impact that technology can have on solving some of the challenges that disadvantaged people face in the UK today – and across the rest of the world.

We’ve grown and built our own skills and capacity. We can see the huge potential to address some of the key social inclusion challenges we face, seeking out the hardest to reach and leveraging digital tools to make good things happen for those who need it most.

Gradually, it became clear that we needed to find a new name to better reflect what we do and to bring the Online Centres Network even closer to us. When we sat down and had a good think about what our name could be, those two words that kept cropping up, cropped up again. And we knew we’d found what we’d been looking for. So we chose Good Things Foundation.

What our new name means

This new name reflects our strategy, our ambition to use digital to address some of the most pressing social challenges we’re facing, working together with partners to help make good things happen – to change the lives of millions of people.

Focussing on the future, we’ve rebadged and repositioned the UK online centres network, as the Online Centres Network, so we can focus on the huge impact that these grassroots organisations can have working together with each other, and with the communities that support them.

Of course, we’ll still be providing the same support as ever to the Online Centres Network, including accurate data and MI, high quality training, support and resources, and the chance to take part in national programmes, campaigns and initiatives that have a real impact. The new Online Centres website, will help us to do this even more effectively.

From talking to members of the network, and other partners who value them so highly, it’s become clear that being part of a network is the key element in what makes the Online Centres Network so successful – sharing ambitions and challenges, and working together to achieve a common aim.

It’s the good things we can achieve together that matter and at Good Things Foundation, working together will be key to what we can achieve.

Thinking back, it has been fun at times to break the ice with “No, not that Tinder” but the confusion hasn’t always helped us to connect with everyone in the right way. We’re really excited about our new name, new brands, and our new websites. If you haven’t had a chance to look yet, please do check them out.

Now let’s move forward and work together to make even more good things happen.