Boosting UK Basic Digital Skills

Written by John Perkins, Senior Project Manager, Doteveryone

It’s 2017 – surely everyone has Basic Digital Skills now?

It may be hard to believe, but there are still more than 12 million UK adults (nearly 25% of the population) who can’t use the internet effectively. This leaves them at significant risk of being left behind socially and economically as technology becomes ever more integral to daily life.

From a business perspective, 1.4 million UK SMEs don’t have basic digital skills either. And only 50% of sole traders are using the internet to help their business thrive.

To find new ways to tackle this skills shortage, Doteveryone (previously Go ON UK) launched two one-year programmes in Croydon and Lewisham to help those who are hard to reach. Our report was published in January.

Our Successes

During the lifespan of the project, independent research showed that the number of people with basic digital skills increased by 9% in Croydon and 10% in Lewisham. That means they can apply for jobs, enjoy hobbies and interests, and get better deals on shopping and services.

So far across the two boroughs we have helped more than 6,300 people to do this for the first time.

We focused on small and micro businesses too. Our Digital Connect project helped them to understand how their businesses could grow and thrive through increased basic digital skills, saving time or generating new opportunities.

Our Challenges

The “hard to reach” really are just that! Projects with niche groups such as older people or people living in social housing need careful co-design to ensure that their motivation and how they might benefit are fully understood.

Managing a complex series of projects with a broad range of partners and stakeholders proved to be a challenge. However, by agreeing on what we wanted to accomplish and by working together to achieve it, we were successfully able to deliver a programme that really helped people increase their skills”

All activities need repeated, and often offline, engagement. Whilst word of mouth from learners to other potential participants proved more valuable than we expected, backing that up through “trusted faces in local places” was essential in sharing information and credibility. Using libraries, community centres, and community spaces to provide leaflets and encouragement were critical. Increasing awareness of the project required a great deal of input at a local level. More promotion like this could have seen even greater participation levels.

Lessons Learned

We learned a great deal as you would expect from this type of project. The main things were:

  • Going ‘hyperlocal’ is the most effective way of engaging the hard to reach.
  • People learn best from repeated, informal, face-to-face and one-to-one support.
  • There is no ‘magic formula’ or model through which people can be engaged.
  • Understanding people’s motivation to learn something new is critical.

How It Might Be Scaled

Taking a similar approach on a future project would require a great many things. The “top five” would be:

  • Secure budget to cover costs for connectivity, equipment and other essentials.
  • Work with local partners from the private or public sector offers a ready source of volunteers and broader support to maximise engagement.
  • Make it simple for people and organisations to engage and show their support. This applies to people, businesses and community groups, and to partners.
  • Have easy ways in which those everyone involved can share knowledge, experiences and best practice.
  • Use offline methods to engage with the offline community. Leaflets, handouts, posters, and even street furniture can help to drive up awareness of the project.

What Should Happen Next and Who Should Do It?

Having demonstrated how this type of approach can work, our report provides the foundation on which future, larger projects can repeat our success. To deliver at scale will require budget, resources, people, places, and planning.

Helping the UK to become one of the most digitally skilled nations is definitely achievable, but will need local activities to drive towards that. From our experience, local authorities working in partnership with community groups are best placed to own and drive this. By working together, they can  set up local schemes to give people, businesses and communities the confidence and competence in their basic digital skills both to benefit them individually and to keep the local, and national, economy competitive and thriving.

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