How 3 Local Councils are Tackling Digital Inclusion

How 3 Local Councils are Tackling Digital Inclusion

The connection between digital inclusion, wealth and health was brought to the forefront in a recent discussion between leaders from Wigan Council, Stockport Council and Lambeth Council at PublicTechnology Live

The pandemic has exacerbated the need for internet access to conduct every aspect of citizen life – whether that is for work, relationships, shopping, education as some examples. More than ever it has demonstrated how a lack of digital skills and access to tools can have a negative impact on socio-economic mobility.

Digital inclusion is now ranked as a top priority for local authorities, providing an opportunity to build on the important work that was already underway in this area. “Digital inclusion needs to be fundamental in all our conversations” says Alison McKenzie-Folan, Chief Executive, Wigan Council as she explains her approach as empowering communities to lead happier and healthier lives.  

But in what ways has the digital inclusion agenda progressed this past year and what can we expect in the future? The discussion brought out 3 key themes. 

  1. Partnerships  

Across Lambeth a primary focus for the past 12 months has been connecting its rich community and voluntary sector by setting up a new Digital Inclusion Network, enabling it to share information and devices more effectively. The council has played a key role as convenor, coordinator and collaborator, says Chloe Bernard-Grahame, Strategy & Partnerships Manager at Lambeth Council.  

These partnerships have helped to establish a connection with hard-to-reach digitally excluded communities and shaped more meaningful support though the additional benefit of shared knowledge and expertise.  

  1. Mentoring  

In Wigan, the closure of libraries and community hubs became the driving force behind a new mentoring programme to provide residents with digital support. Aptly named ‘Techmates’ this support service has been helping people like Dorothy, who was deaf and living alone. Through the mentoring service, she was able to get a device and connect with her friends and participate in video calls.  

Another volunteer has helped a couple who had never embraced tech before. Mentoring support opened up a world of possibilities for them both and will have changed their relationship with technology for the long term, beyond the pandemic. 

  1. Access to Devices  

In Stockport, 87% of the population is online in some way. But as Kirsteen Roe, Service Director, Citizen Focus at Stockport Council explains this also means that there remains 40,000 people who aren’t. And whilst people may be classified as being ‘online’ many are still struggling with devices and data packages.  

Through a device lending service, the council has lent 307 devices and data packages over this past year and has a waiting list. The service has encouraged people and businesses from across the area to donate unused or unwanted devices through the council. 99% of participants with the scheme say that it has positively impacted their lives. 

The Future 

As we look to the future continuing to address the digital skills challenge will be imperative. Whilst there is a Government skills roadmap, this is a complex challenge with a no one size fits all approach.  

For some digitally excluded groups, reach is the major challenge. Evidence suggests that the most digitally excluded are also the most likely to not access adult education. Tapping into the existing community and voluntary networks already connecting with these groups can be a way to attach digital skills to other interactions and overcoming this challenge. 

Furthermore, with 80% of jobs now requiring some kind of digital skill – and only 48% of the workforce equipped with these skills, working with colleges and businesses to equip young people now going into the workplace remains an utmost priority. 

Digital inclusion leaders at Wigan, Stockport and Lambeth clearly highlight the deep connections between digital inclusion and health. The pandemic has been a facilitator for positive action in this area but there is still a long way to go to ensure that every citizen has access to the internet and can benefit from the opportunities that come with that.  

To view the full discussion, please click here

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