Considering the growing digital divide when delivering successful service design

Written by Caroline Williams, Senior Marketing Manager, Sopra Steria

Digitising services is often a great way to achieve delivery at scale. Not only does it enable efficient scaling, user empowerment and channel shift, it also enables speedy data capture and processing, and real time data analysis.

However, when creating such digitised services, it’s critical to fully consider the growing digital divide amongst users in the UK and across the world. While we push forward to create slick automated experiences, there continue to be many people excluded from those services because they lack the skills and/or technology to be able to engage online.

To ensure the success of any digital transformation project, taking a full-service journey approach is required. This will help ensure the back-end processes are closely aligned to the front-end interface. Engaging with skilled and experienced consulting in such transformation projects, and in BPO operations, is a good place to start.

In 2022 Ofcom presented a report, Digital Inclusion Among Adults in the UK which uncovered a series of findings which highlight the digital divide:

  • 6% of households did not have access to the internet at home in December 2021.
  • Those more at risk of digital exclusion included older citizens; the most financially vulnerable; those not working; people living alone; and people impacted by a limiting condition e.g. hearing or vision impairment.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic enabled some adults to gain new digital skills and enjoy the benefits of being online, but for others the digital divide has become more entrenched as an increasing number of everyday activities and services have moved online.

So, as digitalisation accelerates, the digital divide becomes more acute, and those who are being left behind are often those who need the most help and support. This is where skilled and experienced design teams come into their own. Through detailed user research and testing, services can be launched that are truly inclusive.

While we might associate the digital divide with emerging markets and countries lacking in digital infrastructure, here in the UK we face similar challenges.

The Lloyd’s Bank Digital skills 2021 Report revealed that 11 million (21%) of the UK’s population lack the Essential Digital Skills needed for everyday life. While only 40.5 million (76%) of the UK’s population can use video and communication tools like FaceTime and Skype.

The Covid-19 pandemic created a polarised evolution in digital services. While many people will have gained better access to services as they shifted online, and many users were prompted to invest time and money in accessing digital services – buying devices and learning how to use them – many were further excluded as traditional face to face delivery of services ceased. With increasing digital exclusion, we are likely to see further inequality, including financial.


Delivering digital inclusions for the good of society

Sopra Steria’s design team, along with our friends at cxpartners, are working with many clients to ensure services are designed with digital inclusion in mind, so as to not leave anyone behind. The team is particularly proud of the recent delivery of a service for vulnerable people who were previously considered ‘off-grid’ – they weren’t using the service. The team quickly identified that some users would need paper forms as opposed to signposts to the digital services online. It was critical that the paper versions encouraged users to contact a caseworker via the telephone. This prevented them from either failing to make contact due to lack of internet access, or from getting lost and unable to navigate the online service.

Our proven approach that enables inclusion and access, includes:

  • working collaboratively with different disciplines — product managers, service designers, content designers, UX designers, user researchers — and bringing different perspectives to design projects
  • prioritising user needs
  • understanding and empathising with users
  • recruiting diverse users for discovery and testing phases
  • recognising and celebrating similarities and differences
  • staying informed and sharing knowledge — training, talks, podcasts, blogs, news
  • adopting an ethics-by-design approach

Focusing on inclusion supports the drive towards delivering true social value from digital services. Adopting an ethics-by-design approach is one of the most important ways organisations can create the trust that can only come from inclusive and accessible services.

Ethics-by-design necessitates an understanding of technology users, their values, beliefs and expectations with regard to data use and technology.

It’s very much a team effort. By working collaboratively and sharing knowledge, experience and expertise, we’re able to create user-centric services that are both inclusive and accessible, and that deliver good for society as a whole.

Read More Digital Inclusion


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