Six things you don’t want to miss at this year’s Digital Evolution conference

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.

Design differently

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.

Celebrity guests

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.

Industry experts

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.

See you there 🙂

Sold? Book your tickets now.

Making good things happen in Australia

I’ve been spending the last few weeks in Australia and this week was a big one. Christian Porter, Minister for Social Services, launched the Be Connected programme on Wednesday; he said: “Be Connected is another important step towards the Government’s goal to foster digital skills, access, and inclusion to empower everyone to thrive in a digital world.” We care about this as we’re working with the Australian Government to grow a digital inclusion movement for older people all across Australia. There is a great video about the programme you can take a look at here.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me and the team – both in the UK and in Australia. It’s felt at times like we’re working for a start-up – meeting very important people in Canberra one day and getting phone lines installed, buying stationary and moving office furniture around the next. Of course, we’ve been working hard, meeting hundreds of new partners – national partners, state partners, and many, many local partners. And we’ve been getting used to our new policy and sector landscape and partners in Australia.

We’re excited to be working with the other Be Connected partners – the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and we’re learning lots from them.

 

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Me with new director Jess Wilson at the Online Safety – On the Edge conference

 

Looking back over the few months, I’m amazed at how much we’ve achieved; recruiting a team, including a great new Director Jess Wilson, holding nine events, meeting over 200 people and growing our network, which is now over 400 organisations strong.

I’ve met so many enthusiastic people, who are already having a huge impact on supporting older Australians to improve their digital skills and who are brilliant members of the network.

None of what we’ve done in Australia would be possible without the experience we’ve gained through running the Online Centres Network in the UK, and I’m proud that the UK government has been so forward-thinking in investing in a network which is now being replicated internationally.

The impact we’ve had in the UK has been amazing, as showcased at our 2 millionth Learner Awards earlier this year, and I’m already ambitiously planning on having a similar impact in Australia.

We’ve got exciting plans for the coming months, as we’ll be growing the network further, going out across the country to meet lots more people, and building many more partnerships that will help Good Things Foundation Australia to grow. Our mission is a world where everyone benefits from digital – and that’s just what we’re planning on making happen.

Seeing is believing

I’m currently in Australia working on the Be Connected project, setting up a new network of digital inclusion centres in Australia, quite similar to the Online Centres Network in the UK. A lot of what I do is inspired by the amazing work of the Online Centres and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about using our UK experience here on the other side of the world. Now, thanks to two new videos which we launched in the UK last week, I can share that amazing work with others too.

The first video is about the impact of the Online Centres Network. The story is told by a handful of network members and it’s their passion and commitment to improving people’s lives and their communities through teaching digitals skills that really puts the point across in this video. I always say that Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network is a big club with a shared vision and I think this video really shows that we’re all in it together. Take a look and see for yourself.

If you run a community organisation or you know of one and you’d like to explore the benefits of joining the Online Centres Network more, take a look at our second video because not only does it summarise everything that being a member has to offer, it shows how great it is being a part of this big club.

If you’re a member of the Online Centres Network, if you believe in the work we do and share our vision for a world where everyone benefits from digital, or if you simply love the videos and feel inspired by them, please do share them on your channels (websites or social media) and spread the word about the Online Centres Network and all the amazing and dedicated individuals who are working hard everyday to help people overcome social challenges.

An exciting future for Good Things Foundation

If you follow me or any of the team on Twitter, you’ll have noticed we’ve been advertising some exciting new jobs. These new jobs are part of a new way of working at Good Things Foundation that will see us grow as an organisation, develop new cohesive programmes that drive social change, and test and pilot the best approaches to helping people to improve their lives.

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Our mission is a world where everyone can benefit from digital. Everything we do is to help us achieve this mission. All our work is now focused in two new programmes: digital inclusion and social inclusion. We have projects and partnerships within these to ensure we’re having the biggest impact possible.

Our Digital Inclusion programme is led by Adam Micklethwaite. We want to close the digital divide once and for all, and ensure everyone has the skills, self efficacy and confidence to thrive in a digital world. The Digital Inclusion programme will include our large-scale DfE-funded Future Digital Inclusion programme, which has already helped hundreds of thousands of people to improve their basic digital skills, and it will include other important projects including training Digital Champions, developing new content, supporting rural hubs, and helping small businesses funded by partners including Lloyds Banking Group, Google, Prince’s Countryside Fund, and TalkTalk. The programme will also include place-based approaches, working with councils like Leeds and Sunderland. We’re also going global to share our digital inclusion expertise and ideas with projects in Australia.

Our Social Inclusion programme is headed up by Charlotte Murray. We want socially excluded people to have better lives and we achieve this by using digital to drive positive social outcomes and tackle some of our most pressing social challenges. Our Social Inclusion programme has at its heart tackling inequalities such as lack of English language skills, loneliness and isolation, and financial exclusion. The programme includes our work with the Money Advice Service, the Department for Communities and Local Government, Comic Relief, NHS, HMRC and the Big Lottery Fund. As with digital inclusion, we’re also going global with social inclusion with a pilot in Kenya to assess the social impact of digital literacy alongside the Sustainable Development Goals. Charlotte and her team will ensure what we’re doing in this space has deep impact on the most excluded in society today.

A third new Directorate will drive a new way of designing and innovating interventions that make a difference in digital and social inclusion. This new Design and Innovation Directorate is led by Bea Karol Burks. Our aim is to pilot and test new approaches to tackling both digital and social exclusion interventions and projects that can then be scaled. I’m really excited about this new approach that we’ll be taking, and piloting and design won’t just be a new team, but a new approach we’ll be taking to ensure our work is having an impact.

Thanks to everyone who has supported Good Things Foundation – from staff past and present, to our partners across the country who have made what we do possible. I’m really excited about the future, and I know we’ll continue to have a huge impact – through our network, our digital platforms, and our partnerships. If you think you can play a role, and you’re passionate about the things that we are, then do get in touch.

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.  

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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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.