Bridging The Gap – Crossing The Digital Divide
Working in technology can be a thrilling vocation, enabling businesses, organisations, societies and individuals to come together and engage in innovative and life-enhancing ways. One of the things that is less obvious when sitting behind a screen and designing a new customer journey or new widget is that technology, wonderful as it is, can widen the gap between the digital have and have nots. A very simple example of this during the pandemic was the challenge of enabling millions of school children to access education in the midst of a lockdown. Were devices suitable, did they have bandwidth, did they have data?
In the UK digital exclusion is an increasingly important social issue as services become more and more digitalised.
One of three core values that Enterprise Blueprints was founded on is CONTRIBUTION and we are very proud to be associated with Good Things Foundation who are working hard to bridge the digital gap. Working alongside partners such as Lloyds Bank, JP Morgan and many others, the work of Good Things Foundation is changing peoples lives by enabling digital access.
I recently met with Natasha Early from Good Things Foundation to catch up on our project with them and she shares a rich set of resources on the impact of digital exclusion.
Hello Natasha, it is great to speak with you today. Can you share what your role is?
Hello David, thank you! My role at Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, is to develop and strengthen relationships with current funding partners and through advocacy and networking encourage new funding partners to join our mission.
We are proud to be associated with the work of the Good Things Foundation. Can you share what is the mission of Good Things Foundation?
Our vision is a world where everyone benefits from digital. We want people to be digitally able, equal and safe, so they can be happier, healthier and better off. Since 2010 we have supported 3.5 million people to gain digital skills and our mission is to have supported 6 million by 2025. We work in cities, towns and communities through a network of community partners to help people thrive in a digital world.
When you talk about digital inclusion, how big an issue is it in the UK?
Each year we gather the facts and stats about digital exclusion in the UK, we have just published our latest infographic Digital Nation UK 2021 and it highlights the scale of the issue; 10 million people in the UK lack the basic foundational skills needed for our digital world, 1.5 million people don’t have internet access at home, 2 million households struggle to afford internet access and 14.9 million people have very low levels of digital engagement.
A lack of digital skills and access can have a huge negative impact on a person’s life, leading to poorer health outcomes and a lower life expectancy, increased loneliness and social isolation, less access to jobs and education.
Digital inclusion means everyone can access a device, data and digital skills support to live well – and safely – in a digital world.
We are working on a project with you to develop a playbook. What is a playbook and how will help cross the digital divide?
A playbook is essentially a how to guide, but less prescriptive. It offers insight and ideas that can be used when supporting people to cross the digital divide, but offers enough flexibility to adapt to different needs and barriers that present. It’s something that can be dipped in and out of as opposed to followed rigidly. Our community partners are supporting a diverse range of people who are experiencing a variety of challenges and have varying aspirations and goals from the support being sought. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to helping people cross the digital divide and that’s why we chose to create this resource as a playbook.
This particular playbook focuses on digital skills for employability and is being created at a time when nine in ten businesses say a basic level of digital skills is important for employees yet 8.7 million employed people have the essential digital skills for life, but not for work.
Through the playbook we aim to put a spotlight the range of needs and potential journeys that people may go on to become better equipped for todays world of work. We have included deep conversations with those from underrepresented communities, mid life career transitioners and those without access to devices or connectivity as these groups are at most risk of being left behind.
We work with large organisations on their digital transformation that has accelerated dramatically over the past 18 months. As they transform, what can organisations do to ensure that no-one is left behind in a digital future?
In the UK we’re world-leaders as a tech powerhouse, but the digital divide holds us back. It is blocking progress on the Government’s Ten Tech Priorities for a tech-savvy nation.
Over the last eighteen months, we’ve seen communities, charities and businesses come together with emergency solutions for digital exclusion for families and those at most risk. It’s been fantastic to see that collective effort during the pandemic, but the digital divide was with us before the pandemic and will become wider still unless we maintain momentum. We know that this is a fixable problem, so we must and should fix it.
As organisations transform they must consider those least able to access and engage with the technology being created. Inclusive design is one approach; engaging and learning from those most at risk of exclusion as a result of the transformation. Including their needs in the design process could address some of the challenges at source. Another way is to engage with the digital inclusion agend. We have published a blueprint to fix the digital divide in which we share three areas of focus that organisations can get behind. We encourage investment in digital skills so everyone can use the internet for life and work, community support so everyone has somewhere local to go for internet help and affordable internet so everyone has the everyday internet access they need. By getting behind these initiatives organisations can ensure that no one is left behind.
If our community wants to find out more or do more, what can they do?
We’re working hard to close the digital divide but we need to work together. If organisations are able to support us by donating devices, supporting us to give data to those in need, or funding vital skills support, they can find out more at www.goodthingsfoundation.org