Taking Be Connected on the road

One of the things I’ve been personally most proud of in the past year is establishing Good Things Foundation in Australia. In the UK, the Online Centres Network is essential to the way we operate. Together we’re a big club with a shared vision – a shared vision of improving lives using digital as an enabler, and a vision of a better society and a better world as a result. I know this is what we do in the UK because of our research and our evaluation as well as by talking to our Network members and to the people they’re helping. In Australia we’re starting to do this too with a new ‘big club’ – the Be Connected Network.

At the end of April I hosted six Be Connected Network Partner events in Australia – in Perth, Melbourne, and Geelong. It was great to take Be Connected on the road and lovely for me to meet organisations who are, or would like to be, part of the Be Connected Network.

It’s so nice to meet people face-to-face. In this digital world it’s great that I can co-work with people on opposite sides of the world virtually (in Sydney and Sheffield) but it’s also nice to meet people face-to-face sometimes too.

In Perth I loved it when one woman, who was thinking of joining the Be Connected Network said to me “I came along today to find out what the catch is; but there’s no catch!” Indeed there isn’t!

In Melbourne it was great to hear new collaborations starting there in the room with Network Partners talking about sharing resources as well as forming new ideas for how they could achieve more together.

And in Geelong a new cooperation was born between three Network Partners talking about how they could share volunteers and signpost between each other as they all helped people learn basic digital skills in Ballarat.

I was amazed and thankful by people travelling long distances to get to the events.

We talked a lot about all of the grant programmes that Network Partners can apply for – including the $50,000 Network Capacity Building Grants. I’m a bit jealous as we don’t have these grants in the UK, and they’re really going to help us to both innovate and scale across Australia with digital inclusion.

Not everything is perfect – a couple of Network Partners said they had older people they were supporting who didn’t want to set up an email address and therefore they couldn’t register on Be Connected. So we responded and we’ve written this guidance note which is now on our Resources page. All the Network Partners love the free online learning courses on the Be Connected website but wanted to know what new content is coming – so we responded with this overview leaflet. I’m glad the Good Things team in Sydney have been able to respond to these issues and are keeping the conversations going.

The thing that I loved the most is how similar so much of our work is in the UK and Australia. One Australian Network Partner said she had been working for 10 years and didn’t know other organisations helped older people to learn how to use the internet – I’ve heard the exact same thing in England. In Australia and the UK I love hearing the stories about people living in our countries having come from all over the world and now being in touch with relatives back home via the internet. Partners in both countries have told me about the 80 something year old or the 90 something year old who is now buying their pet’s food online or video calling a distant grandchild for the first time.

But most of all I loved hearing the passion from the staff and volunteers about spreading the message that the internet can help people to make their lives a little bit better. And then they just get on with it – be it in Geelong (AU) or Gravesend (UK), or in Perth (AU) or Plymouth (UK).

I’m really glad that Good Things is doing our bit to support community organisations and libraries in Australia, the UK, and in Kenya, to help people thrive in today’s digital world.

Thank you to our Good Things team in Sydney for making me feel so welcome.

Good Things Aus

Good Things Aus – hello world!

NOTE: If you’re in or near Townsville, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide, Sydney or Tamworth, you’re very welcome to come along to one of our upcoming Be Connected events. (Sadly I won’t be there but others from the Good Things Sydney team will be.)

Digital and social exclusion are intertwined – let’s tackle them head on

Yesterday, I attended the launch of Lloyds Bank’s UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, where I sat on a panel Q&A session, as did the Chair of Good Things Foundation’s Board, Liz Williams. This Index is an eagerly anticipated piece of research which has been released annually for the past three years – the largest measure of financial and digital capability of people in the UK.

Helen

The headline stats

One of the key findings from this year’s Index is that there are now 4.3 million people (8%) in the UK with zero Basic Digital Skills – this is 470,000 fewer people than in 2017. Though the proportion of UK citizens with the full five basic digital skills has barely changed with 11.3 million people (21%) having limited abilities online.

There are three key tasks that the UK population are unable to do:

  • Create something new from existing online images, music or video – 23.2 million people (43%) can’t do this;
  • Verify the sources of information found online – 13 million can’t do this (24%);
  • And fill out an online application form – 8.6 million people can’t do this (16%).

A stand-out stat is that there are 3.2 million people on the cusp of the full five skills. If they were to gain the missing digital skill, there would be 8.1 million people without basic digital skills.

Making it happen

The big question surrounding this final headline stat is how can we make this a reality? How can we help these 3.2 million people to gain that one missing skill?

It’s Good Things Foundation’s aim to make social change happen through digital. Our UK-wide network of Online Centres support the hardest to reach in society, not just through teaching them about computers and the internet, they are real pillars of support and trust that people can rely on.

A lot of the people who visit Online Centres face some form of social exclusion which can contribute to them being digitally excluded. This year the Index contained key stats on inclusivity as well as digital skills. 3.5 million people with a registered disability are offline – that’s 25% – and 28% of those over 60 are not online, with an amazing 84% of this group saying that nothing at all could motivate them to get online.

The benefits are clear:

  • 10% of the workforce do not have basic digital skills, but if they did, they could be £13,000 a year better off.
  • 4 in 10 people say that being online helps them feel less alone; 21.2m people are less lonely due to digital.
  • 5 in 10 people say that the internet has helped them find a job.

As more and more people get online, the ones who are still left behind become harder and harder to reach. That’s why we need Online Centres. It’s the level of trust and honesty that they offer that these people need and in their own local communities – on their street. They won’t open up to just anyone.

As the digital and social exclusion crevice narrows, it deepens, but thankfully, more and more people are coming together across the sectors, abseiling gear in hand, to make sure we can reach and support those in need to live life to their fullest potential with digital.

An Australian Big Club With a Shared Vision

As I write this blog I’m literally halfway between Australia and the UK as I travel back following three weeks helping the Good Things Australian team in Sydney. I’m feeling inspired as I reflect on Good Things’ new normal as a Group with a subsidiary on the other side of the world, as well as reflecting on how much we’ve achieved in such a short period of time in Australia.

 

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Me with Good Things’ Data Design Manager Tom and National Director Jess at Parliament House in Canberra

 

Something to shout about

Two really big milestones for our Australian team happened in my last week in Sydney.

We reached 900 Network Partners in our Be Connected Network in just six months – that’s from all over Australia, every State and Territory, and in metro, regional and remote areas. This is a huge achievement and I hope it means that what we have on offer is really attractive. Talking to some of our Network Partners they are also really enjoying being part of something bigger – a big club with a shared vision – and we’re looking forward to providing ongoing advocacy and support for digital inclusion at a hyperlocal level.

We also held our first and only physical face-to-face partner meeting for organisations who are working with us to capacity build the Be Connected network. We’re working with around 10 organisations who come from different geographies and from different types of organisation. Including:

  • In New South Wales, we’re working with Leep – an organisation who are experts in recruiting and motivating volunteers and who are now embedding that expertise in digital mentors.
  • In Western Australia (WA) we’re working with the Australian Seniors Computer Club Association (ASCCA) and two project coordinators from the very North of WA and the very South of WA – both remote areas – and they will be working with organisations wanting to join the Be Connected Network and supporting them mainly via video calls.
  • In Victoria, we’re working with two very different organisations. Lively is a new non-profit start-up linking young unemployed people (18-25) with older people who want help with their internet skills. ECCV (Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria) is a much older organisation who works with social clubs and seniors clubs in Melbourne and Victoria who are from specific ethnic groups.

It was wonderful to meet all of the Capacity Builder projects. We will continue to have webinar meetings face-to-face but we won’t geographically be in the same room again – nor, even in the same time zone (in the Australian Winter there are five time zones across the country).

My reflections on leading and working in a Group really feels like I’m working for two organisations who have the same vision, the same goals and ambition but with different governance, different funders and in an opposite timezone. Working with teams on opposite sides of the world is challenging but also rewarding.

A big thank you

I really need to give huge thanks to Jess Wilson our National Director in Australia who is doing a great job keeping all of the plates spinning from the practical recruitment of network partners to engaging a range of stakeholders and bigger partners. Our plan is to keep the team small in Sydney and for UK staff with relevant knowledge and expertise to help us set up all our digital tools and systems and processes.

A huge thanks also goes to Fran Coleman who is leading the teams in Sheffield (our UK base) to support our Australian counterparts. Both Jess and Fran inevitably spend a lot of time out of the 9-5 just to make sure they can talk to each other.

Ooroo aka goodbye for now

When I’m in Australia there’s all the thrills and excitement of working for a start-up, except this one has a three-year contract with the Federal Government and colleagues in the UK with years of experience. Those thrills come with the knowledge that there’s so much to do, there’s so much opportunity and if you work 24 hours a day you’ll never do what you need to do.

Back in the UK, I have to hit the ground running reporting to the Digital Skills Partnership Board on Tuesday. It’s always great being in the Sheffield office and with our Sheffield team, they’re so positive and so focused and so productive.

My final thoughts as I jet back to the snowy UK is that I really am proud to lead such an effective organisation on both sides of the globe and I couldn’t do it without the support of so many amazing people.

Until next time Sydney…

My Year in Review: top five moments for Good Things Foundation in 2017

As the end of 2017 comes racing towards me, I’ve been reflecting on our biggest and best moments and wanted to share with you my top five for the year. It’s been so difficult to choose just five as there have been so many amazing moments, so many fabulous projects we’re running, so many great partners. Anyway, here’s five:

  1. Two Millionth Learner Awards

What it’s all about – helping people have better lives through digital. This year we celebrated the amazing milestone of passing two million people we have helped, alongside our partners in the Online Centres Network, since 2010. In February, we celebrated some of those two million people as well as showcasing the hard work of the Online Centres. We had lunch up the BT Tower in London, followed by the Award ceremony itself. It was an inspiring day with many tears shed, and even though a few months have passed, I still feel fuzzy when I think about how much that day meant to people like Marita and Margaret. Read my blog about it here.

  1. Launching Good Things Foundation Australia

When we won the contract from the Department of Social Services in Australia in June, we were both excited and nervous. Expanding to another country on the other side of the world was such a great prospect but also a little scary. We set up our subsidiary and began recruitment of the Be Connected network, the Online Centres Network’s Aus counterpart. We recruited our new director Jess Wilson who has now met the entire UK team having visited us just this month, and we’re delighted to have recruited almost 800 Network Partners into our Australian digital inclusion network since mid-August. I’m very excited about what else we’ll be achieving in Australia in 2018. Take a look at the Be Connected website.

  1. Digital Evolution: a movement for social change

Our 2017 conference was one of the best ones yet. For the first time it completely sold out and we had lots of amazing speakers, including Molly Watt – a true inspiration – and Campbell Robb – the passionate CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. To see just some of the day’s highlights, take a look at our round-up video below.

  1. Winning Digital Leader of the Year

At the DL100 Awards back in June, I was surprised and honoured to receive the Digital Leader of the Year award, a real accolade in the digital inclusion community. I didn’t just win the award for me, it was for the whole Good Things Foundation team and the Online Centres Network too. I’m so proud of everyone for all of the amazing work that you all do. Read more about it here.

  1. Launching our pilot in Kenya

Our second worldwide venture of the year was when we launched Digital Life: Kenya, a pilot project we’re running in collaboration with the Kenyan National Library Service (knls). We’ve developed a custom version of Learn My Way and two of our team, Emily and Michael, travelled to Nairobi to run Digital Champion training for 20 librarians to help them support their library members to learn about ways to use the internet for the first time or to use it more. There have already been some success stories with two learners from Kinyambu Library securing jobs after developing their digital skills using Learn My Way. Take a look at the short report about the project so far, launched last week, and our project page on our website.

I also want to mention our big three projects we’re running: with DfE there’s the Future Digital Inclusion programme that helps hundreds of thousands of people a year develop better basic digital skills and understanding; English My Way continues to go from strength to strength, supported by DCLG, we’re helping people with very little English language to grow in confidence and in community connection by learning to speak and understand more; and the NHS Widening Digital Participation is leading 20 design-led pilots working with medical practitioners, CCGs, and Online Centres in 20 towns and cities around the country. And I want to mention Lloyds Banking Group, Google, Talk Talk, MIND and Homeless Link for all of their help to deliver more reach and increased learning. It’s also been a year when we’ve developed more pilots including working with the Money Advice Service for a random control trial to improve financial capability.

We’re leaving 2017 with many uncertainties in the UK from Brexit to the rollout of Universal Credit. There are so many social challenges facing both individuals and communities – so many issues that need to be tackled. But one thing’s for certain, Good Things Foundation, the Online Centres Network will be here to provide support and help those who are most in need.

I want to thank the amazing team at Good Things Foundation – I really am so lucky to work with such talented, committed and hardworking people. We can’t achieve so much in the past 12 months without a lot of effort. Thank you to my team who share my passion for a better world through digital and who usually have a big smile on their face.

If 2017 is anything to go by, it’s onwards and upwards for 2018 as we continue to go from strength-to-strength. Watch this space as I’m sure 2018 will be another exciting year.

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.