I’ve been to a couple of events up here in Scotland over the past 10 days or so where Digital Inclusion & Participation have been very high on the agenda.
At The Gathering at the SECC in Glasgow, Digital Inclusion & Participation was on the agenda for third sector organisations. Making sure they were getting the most out of being on-line was a big talking point. It is important that organisations in this sector leverage the power of the internet to help promote the work they do and reach out to other organisations and individuals.
There was a lot of talk about giving people a reason to be on-line, just giving someone the tools to get on-line is often not enough, you also need to show them the power of the tools and give them the desire to use them. At Talk About Local we have spent almost 5 years showing people the power of being on-line and how they can use the internet to research, promote and amplify their cause. We have done things like showing people the benefits of being on-line in a park in Fulham or in a McDonalds in Chelmsley Wood. Once they have the desire and see how relatively easy being on-line is they feel more confident and able to deal with the more serious things such as applying for benefits or making payments for rent or council tax.
A lot of the people we have trained have self selected themselves by coming along to one of our training sessions. We are acutely aware of the other section of people who don’t have the digital skills, low literacy, lack of desire and what probably looks like an insurmountable hurdle to get over.
At the Channel Shift Camp in Glasgow last week I spoke to a lot of people from local government and housing associations about Digital Inclusion & Participation for these people who have absolutely no experience of the internet. How do we engage with them, give them some basic skills and help to build on their confidence?
With the change to Universal Credit more people are going to have to do things on-line and we need to make sure that they are given the basic skills and tools that are required.
I heard of examples of where low cost internet connections and hardware have been provided to families by a housing association to help them get on-line. Even with these low cost options, people were reluctant to take up the offer of getting on-line. On the face of it it seems very neighbourly of a housing association to be making these offers to its residents but in reality there is an ulterior motive. Housing associations have moved form a very secure income stream with rent being paid to them directly by the government to a far less secure environment where they have to rely on the tenant to make payments to them each week or month. By giving cheap internet access and equipment it is helping to secure their rental income, at some level. I’m not sure what other training goes on with the residents of the housing association but if the main focus is about making rental payments (which is important) then you are hardly building a desire to be on-line.
Broadband connections are relatively affordable for a lot of people but unfortunately not everyone. In one of the Channel Shift Camp sessions I said that broadband should be classed as the 4 utility and housing associations & local authorities should make it available in their social housing, even to the point of it being free for tenants to connect to council & landlords websites, banks, sites like the BBC, ITV and local newspapers.
Until broadband is more available to people on benefits or low incomes libraries are often promoted as the place where people can get on-line, but libraries are often grand imposing buildings associated with learning and can be intimidating to someone with low literacy. For the ones that do make it though the door and on to a PC, the general rule is you get an hour. I like to think I have a reasonable level of literacy but I’m not sure that I’d like to attempt a 30 page form for housing benefit on a library PC in an hour, and that is without the security risks associated with using a public PC to send personal information.
There are of course the excellent UK Online Centres from the Tinder Foundation where people can go to get on-line and will get support and assistance which can be an alternative to a library PC. We have a long and happy relationship working with UK Online Centres here at Talk About Local.
We have worked with people from school leavers to octogenarians showing them the benefits of being on-line and it is vitally important that we continue this work with the people who need it most, those on low income and benefits.
It has long been said that the people who can benefit most from being on-line are some of the poorest in the country, being on-line with basic skills allows them to do price comparisons, shop around for a better deal on gas, electric, insurance etc. we need to find way of working with these groups to give them the skills and desire to be on-line so they can begin to improve their position.
We don’t have the solution for making sure everyone is digitally participating but we would love to work on it with you. If you are from local government, housing associations or any other organisation and would like to talk to us about how we can work with you and do interventions with groups to help give them the on-line skills they need, please do get in touch with us.
You can read our response to the Royal Society of Edinburgh interim report on Digital Participation here.