Working together to achieve more: TalkTalk and Tinder Foundation

TalkTalk have long been a partner of Tinder Foundation, and one we’ve always been very proud to work with. Chief Executive Dido Harding has been a vocal supporter of digital inclusion, and the work of Tinder Foundation, and I’ve always welcomed the advice she has provided us as we’ve grown as an organisation and expanded our work to support almost 2 million people to improve their digital skills.

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Recently, we’ve been building a strategic partnership with TalkTalk that we think will have a real impact on supporting digitally excluded people to improve their skills, and particularly help them to keep themselves safe online.

Through the UK online centres network, we’ve supported over 250,000 people to improve their digital skills just this year, and so we’ve got a pretty good understanding of what people are worried about, what’s holding them back, and the barriers and concerns we need to tackle. We see so many people who are really worried about being able to keep themselves safe online, and who are being held back from experiencing all of the positives about the online world due to their concerns about online safety and security.

Next week is Get Online Week, and there will be thousands of organisations all over the country supporting people to improve their basic digital skills through tackling some of the barriers people face to getting online, and by showing them how the internet can be made relevant for them. We’re delighted that, thanks to our partnership with TalkTalk, we’re able to provide these organisations with a new online learning tool that will help them to break down some of these barriers, and to help people learn how to keep themselves safe and secure online.

The course will be hosted on our Learn My Way platform, recently relaunched, which contains a whole host of courses to help people get to grips with the skills they need to get on in a digital world. The website, and all of the courses on it (including this one) have been designed in consultation with the people who will benefit from it, and the new internet safety course is a great addition to it.

This is just one small bit of a wider partnership with TalkTalk, which will ensure we can reach many more people, and support them to use the internet safely, without worry. As a small charity with big ambitions, the support of an organisation like TalkTalk is crucial to helping us to expand our impact, and so we’re delighted to continue working with them to develop new solutions.

Government plans to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations

Amid all of the noise this weekend – ahead of the Conservative Party Conference – about Brexit and grammar schools, the Government has quietly leaked a new policy that seeks to make the UK one of the most digitally-skilled nations. This will mean that there will be “publicly-funded basic digital skills training being offered free of charge to adults in England who need it”.

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This makes asking for free, publicly-funded basic skills learning a right for any adult who needs them, and this will be enshrined in the upcoming Digital Economy Bill.

Wow. Great news. There are 12.6 million people in the UK who don’t have the basic digital skills they need to function in a digital world. This means they’re missing out on jobs, flexible and convenient digitised public services, and personal savings of over £700 a year. And, it’s not just the people who are missing out – it’s the country too, with the Commons Science and Technology Committee saying that poor basic digital skills mean the country is missing out on £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

It’s music to my ears to hear a policy statement that says not being able to use the internet is as important as lacking basic skills in English and Maths. A real policy for the 21st century.

However, is this just ‘business as usual’? This new entitlement will be paid for by the existing Adult Education Budget which is all already allocated, mostly to Further Education Colleges.

Will FE respond appropriately or they will just tweak their plans enough to show willing and carry on as they’ve always done?

The people who lack basic digital skills are the same people who also lack jobs or have low skilled jobs; they lack good qualifications, and are living on low incomes. These people need to be at the forefront of the plan.

Let’s not kill this policy with traditional and expensive classroom learning in formal institutions. Let’s accelerate this policy using brilliant online learning like Learn My Way. Online learning drives up quality through a guarantee for user focus, excellence, and the right content for the right outcomes. Online learning can also drive down costs as it can be scaled easily and quickly. Online learning can empower people themselves to self-serve and take control to improve their own basic digital skills (assuming they have a little skill to start with).

And online learning can provide a universal curriculum for hyperlocal community-based providers who can blend it with great, personalised, informal and local support.

Online learning can deliver high quality at scale, and should form an essential element in the Government’s plan for a 100% digitally skilled nation.

This new policy is really great news. I’m delighted.

I just hope that we don’t miss the huge potential impact a well implemented policy can have on millions of people’s lives. I’m sure we will know more over the coming weeks.

DCMS press release is here.

Digital: fuel for political engagement

So the big, but not all that surprising, news this weekend was the result of the Labour leadership election, which was won by Jeremy Corbyn. The support that Corbyn has built over the past year, particularly from grassroots supporters, has been impressive and the test now will be whether this can be translated into political activity in constituencies. I’m keen to see how much of this activity will be digital, and whether it will make any difference to the way we do politics in this country.

I’ve written before about having a vested interest in the impact digital technology can have on the political process, having been a Commissioner on John Bercow’s Commission on Digital Democracy. The work of the commission left me inspired but ultimately depressed – although it became clear that technology has huge potential to disrupt our political system, and engage many more people, I’m unconvinced of how much will change in our current system constrained by many things, including, the incentives to support one of just two parties.

Digital exclusion

Right now, it feels like there’s a movement of motivated young people supporting Jeremy Corbyn – this means young people are becoming more engaged in politics which can only be a good thing. It also means that Mr Corbyn has put emphasis on things that interest the younger generation, including the digital skills agenda, evidenced by the recently released Digital Democracy Manifesto, which pledges a £25bn investment in high-speed internet, digital citizen passports and open source software.

I responded to the manifesto with my own thoughts on Politics Home saying that it’s a great step forward but highlighting that Mr Corbyn had missed a couple of important steps that I think need to come first: a clear commitment to ensuring excluded people have the skills they need to really benefit from technology, and a plan to inspire millions to take up the tools he’s promoting as game changers. I’d encourage Jeremy to read the report published by the Commission, Open up!, which not only talks about how we can make better use of technology to affect the democratic process, but importantly how we can engage those who are harder to reach, and less likely to be engaged with politics.

People who are digitally excluded tend to be older and poorer, and although older people tend to engage more with democracy (eg. vote), poorer people are much less likely to be both politically and digitally engaged. Data also shows that people on lower income, tend to explore and experiment less online. These are the kind of people that Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party are hoping to reach, and there’s a real opportunity for the party to use digital not just to engage people who are already digitally savvy, but those that aren’t as well.

Podemos

There’s a really interesting example of how digital has affected the democratic process in Spain, and I think we should be taking lessons from it. Podemos is a left wing political party and although they’re just a baby (they were founded in March 2014), they’re the second largest political party in Spain by number of members (433,164) and the third largest in the Spanish parliament with 69 out of 350 seats.

Podemos’ views really align with those of Tinder Foundation – they seek to address the problems of inequality, unemployment and economic malaise – and they’re very engaged in digital, believing it can help to tackle social challenges.

It would be great to see a UK political party putting the focus on digital and it’s potential to tackle social challenges. Podemos proves that in Spain at least you can be a successful party rooted in transparency, and digital is the fuel for political engagement.

So why am I still depressed? Sometimes when I look at politics in the UK I wonder to myself whether we have the right political motivations and structure to really change things? Does a two party system deliver us the best options? Do our politicians know what the real issues are that are affecting people across the country, and do they know how to handle them?

I’d love digital to be the silver bullet to cure our political worries, but, as always, it’s the people who need to want to change. I think digital can really help to give power to the people – all of the people – and hopefully, through Jeremy Corbyn’s “new kind of politics” which appears to be attracting new people, we can begin to see some of the impacts of this.

Dementia, digital, and doing things differently

At Tinder Foundation, it’s our job to make good things happen through digital technology – and to make them happen for the hardest to reach, most isolated and excluded audiences. That includes the 850,000 or so people in the UK with dementia – and their carers.

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Godfrey, 68, was knocked sideways by his Alzhiemer’s diagnosis. He describes the disease as like  ‘living life in slow motion’. He stopped socialising, and shut himself away. One day, one of our UK online centre research partners (Age UK South Tyneside) visited his care home, and were showing some YouTube videos of old music performances – including Frank Sinatra. He went over to see what was happening.

Gradually Godfrey learned how to use a tablet. He needed a lot of help – a few simple icons to press for each activity he wanted to do – and different smells to help him recall the processes for each one.

Now Godfrey can Skype his son or daughter with just a touch of a button. He can look up his favourite musicians, and find new music. He’s become a fan of Seasick Steve, and his Grandson in Australia thinks he’s ‘cool’. He’s ordering his prescriptions online now, and he’s found out more about Alzheimer’s disease – so he feels more in control. He’s also joined some specialist groups so he’s getting out and about more.

In Godfrey’s own words, “You don’t realise what you can do until you try it out and it has really helped me stop feeling sorry for myself, snap out of my depression and start looking forward to things again.”

I believe digital skills really can help everyone and anyone live better, more fulfilling lives. And at Tinder Foundation we’ve had a look in greater depth at the role of digital skills and community-based support in improving the health and wellbeing of families affected by dementia.

Today, we’re launching a new research report – Dementia and Digital: Using technology to improve health and wellbeing, that begins to track the impact of technology on both people like Godfrey who have dementia, and their carers. It also scopes out the challenges and barriers to engagement and delivery, and what really works to make technology work well for these audiences.

This small, in-depth research follows on from our three year programme with NHS England to widen participation in digital health. Our aim has always been to reduce health inequalities – recognising the huge crossover between those who are digitally excluded and those at risk of poor health.

It is important to note that carers deserve as much of our time and support as the people they love and care for, and have equal prominence in our report. With so much on their plates already, they were often reluctant to add digital skills to their to-do lists, or to facilitate the learning of those they cared for. Once engaged, though, carers have found digital technology a lifeline. It is a way to create space in their lives for themselves, accessing support, saving time on everyday tasks, and helping the people they care for find both coping strategies and memories.

Ken Brown looks after wife Val, who has vascular dementia. As her appetite has faded, he’s been able to use the internet to research if this was part of her illness, find reassurance and new recipes and tactics to help her start eating more. For Ken, the internet has just made life that bit easier. “It means I’ve got somewhere to go, rather than sitting and thinking ‘what do I do now?’”

Digital doesn’t solve any problems all by itself. But it can help us do things differently, and in doing so make a difference to health, wellbeing and quality of life. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with the NHS, with frontline health and care professionals, and with organisations that support people with memory loss and their carers, to ensure these benefits can be realised as widely as possible.

The full Dementia and Digital report can be found on our website. I do hope you enjoy reading it. If you can help us expand our work and take these findings forwards, please do get in touch – hello@tinderfoundation.org.

 

Miles together

At the end of August I spied the Australian Digital Inclusion Index – a new report highlighting the extent of the digital skills gap in Australia and setting down a benchmark to measure future action. I found it particularly interesting as we’ve just started working with an Australian organisation called Leep – and their CEO, Cecily Michaels, is coming to speak at our conference in November.

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Me and Cecily at Harbour Bridge, Sydney

 

As I read the Index, although we’re about 9,500 miles apart, I couldn’t help but feel like there are a lot of similarities between our two countries when it comes to digital exclusion – and here’s why.

In the UK there are 12.6 million people who lack basic digital skills; in Australia the key barrier for some people to getting online and maximising the benefits that doing so can bring is digital ability. It’s clear to me that there is a digital divide in both of our countries and it’s important for organisations – like us and like Leep – to make sure we’re bringing digital skills to those who need it most.

The UK online centres network supports several different groups, from jobseekers to homeless people to older people, and one group that we focus on in particular is disabled people. There are 5.9 million people in the UK who have never used the internet before, and of those 3.3 million are disabled. In Australia the stats are similar: the report states: “People with disability have a low level of digital inclusion (44.4, or 10.1 points below the national average). However, nationally, their inclusion has improved steadily (by 2.6 points since 2014), outpacing the national average increase (1.8 points).”

Leep and Tinder Foundation are now working on a project together in Western Sydney, called the “Leep in Network” – a movement for digital inclusion and people with disability. The aim is to support people with disabilities to develop the basic digital skills needed to participate in society and experience all the benefits that being online can bring. Anyone can join the network: organisations, businesses and councils who are offering services to increase digital inclusion for people with disability, such as learning opportunities, access to free WiFi or computers.

Partners will feature on the network’s free online searchable database – created by us here in the UK – so that people with a disability in Western Sydney can find an opportunity that suits them to develop their basic digital skills. We’ll also be keeping partners up-to-date with newsletters and resources to support them with their digital inclusion programmes.

We will be sharing and tweeting the new tools very soon, so watch out for those, especially if you’re working in or interested in Western Sydney.

It’s all about teamwork

I couldn’t be happier that we’re working with Leep to deliver this project, and hopefully this is just the beginning of working together. We may be 9,500 miles apart but we’re working very closely together.

As an organisation, Tinder Foundation wants a world where everyone can benefit from digital – not just people in the UK. We want to take the digital inclusion message far and wide and we want to reach out to those who need our help.

I really can’t wait for Cecily to share our partnership journey at the conference later this year – make sure you don’t miss out on that one. And in the meantime, please do take a look at the Australian Digital Inclusion Index. It’s a very interesting read and proves that digital exclusion isn’t a nationwide problem, it’s worldwide – and there’s work to be done.

Ditching devices? We don’t need to detox

I returned to work this week after being on holiday for a fortnight. I felt relaxed and ready to get back into the swing of things. I sat down to catch up on all the digital inclusion news that I may have missed while I was abroad and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the key finding from Ofcom’s annual Communications Market Report. The headline: “Fifteen million UK internet users have undertaken a ‘digital detox’ in a bid to strike a healthier balance between technology and life beyond the screen.”

I thought it was a joke.

After chatting to my colleagues I realised that it was all true. On one side of the spectrum, in the UK there are 12.6 million people who lack the very basic internet skills; on the other side there are 15m who are so sick of technology that they’re purposefully spending time away from it. The question I have is: why would anyone want to do this?

The Ofcom research says: “The [research] reveals how our reliance on the internet is affecting people’s personal and working lives, leading many to seek time away from the web to spend time with friends and family.”

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Image courtesy of Ofcom

I don’t think this is the reason. I think the reason that so many people have decided to spend time away from the web is because it’s the ‘fashionable’ thing to do. There may be some people who genuinely believe their addiction to tech is affecting their lives, but to me, the problem is with the person, not with technology.

It’s all about balance. All of the digitally included population can choose how much (or how little) digital channels they engage with.

Many people spend more time than they should online because they have a deep-rooted ‘fear of missing out’. Addiction is human nature and technology simply presents new options for this.

The internet makes things easier

Thinking about when I was on holiday for the past two weeks, the idea of going through it without the internet just seems absurd. Technology has been developed over time to help make our lives easier, and I genuinely think that it does. I was able to do my check-in online before reaching the airport, I had all of my travel documentation stored on my phone instead of printing out masses of paper, and even when I reached my holiday destination I was able to do things like look up a TripAdvisor review of a restaurant we thought looked nice to see if it would be a good place to eat. Another thing that I did with my Kindle was download an audiobook before a long train journey, so I could listen to it whilst still being able to take in the gorgeous scenery outside the window.

I didn’t spend my whole holiday stuck to my tablet/phone though – hence why I managed to miss the launch of Ofcom’s report – because I know that it’s OK to not be on Twitter replying to tweets, and I know it’s OK to not reply to an email immediately as soon as it comes through. If something is that important and needs an immediate response, the person will call me.

Smart-snubbing

One aspect of the report that I found particularly interesting (and also quite entertaining) is that 26% of adults have sent texts or instant messages to friends/family while in the same room. Can you believe it?

Smart-snubbing

Image courtesy of Ofcom

And 40% of adults (that’s four in every 10 people) felt they’d been ‘smart-snubbed’ at least once a week, with 17% saying it happens to them on a daily basis. Up until now I had no idea what smart-snubbing is – it means to ignore someone because you’re too engrossed in your smartphone or tablet. This is a prime example of obsession.

To all the ‘digital detoxers’ out there I say, if you want to visit or talk to your friends and family more, just do it! If it’s not possible because they’re in another country, like my son for example, technology isn’t a hindrance, it becomes an enabler. It means I can use services like instant messaging to get in touch with him and make calls through data and WiFi without the big phone bill that used to come with international family contact. I’d never dream of going on a ‘digital detox’ because it would mean not being able to do things I need to and want to do.

Tuesday poll

Yesterday we put a poll on the Tinder Foundation Twitter account asking whether our followers make an effort to spend time away from their phone and the internet. 42% of respondents said that they do, whilst 58% said that they do not. I’d be interested to chat to those who said they do, to find out exactly why they think that they need to.

The internet makes our lives easier in so many ways and to me, giving that up intentionally seems absurd. Maybe my earlier hypothesis was right; maybe the ‘detoxers’ really are just doing it because giving technology up is the ‘in’ thing to do. If that is the case, I can’t wait to see what fad comes next.

Take a look at Ofcom’s Communications Market Report 2016.

Reboot UK: The film adaptation

At the beginning of July, I attended an event at BFI Southbank in London to view three films, marking the end of the Open Cinema portion of our Reboot UK project. It was a combined event with the Pathways to your Future programme – a Cisco-funded tech internship programme.

It was an inspiring two hours and a great way to spend a Monday afternoon seeing how the Reboot UK programme has benefitted people, and hearing from some of the partners involved, including Homeless Link and Evolve Housing, really brought home the huge impacts the programme has been having.

I’m very proud of Reboot UK, which aims to help families in poverty, homeless people and people with poor mental health to improve their wellbeing through digital. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’m about to say it again: there are 12.6 million people in the UK who lack basic digital skills and the groups who are being supported through Reboot are far more likely to make up a portion of this number. They are at greater risk of social exclusion and have the most to gain from improved digital skills and access to online resources.

You can find out more about Reboot UK on the Tinder Foundation website, but the real reason I wanted to blog about this afternoon at BFI is because I want to share the videos. They were created in conjunction with three Reboot UK delivery partners: Leeds Mind, Evolve Housing + Support and Abington Centre of Education and they really demonstrate the impact that the project has had and show how it will continue to support those most in need.

Abington Centre of Education:

Evolve Housing and Support:

Leeds Mind: