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When I started We Are Digital from my bedroom, newspaper clippings adorned my wall of Martha Lane Fox running Race-Online-2012 as the country attempted to get online before the Olympics. Age UK helped people in local “ITea and Biscuits” sessions, UK Online Centres was just getting started, and everyone quoted the “10 million” UK citizens people who had low/no digital skills.
Ten years on, we are all disheartened to see that despite all the hard and brilliant work that is going on across the sector, there has not been enough change yet, and as we walk out of the pandemic into the cost-of-living crisis never has our work in this sector been more important.
It’s a difficult problem we’re all trying to solve. While We Are Digital, including the third sector, government and big business, all share the belief that a digitally healthy nation is good for individuals, communities and the economy, it is perhaps this shared business case that has resulted in a somewhat fragmented approach. Funders are out there to solve the problem (including government and corporates), the third sector has a tremendous amount of organisations ready to help the most vulnerable people who need it most, but the cross-sector solutions that have been designed appear disjointed. In short, we’ve noticed that nothing yet appears to be available that brings it all together.
So, how can we make the changes needed to bridge the digital divide within welfare and to see real impact?
As a member of the Digital Poverty Alliance, I am a firm believer in tackling this issue head-on, not by pouring more money into this issue but by stopping and totally rethinking how to solve digital poverty once and for all. The need is still there, but it strikes me that we need to step back and look at the very core operating model of the sector; the way it works in practice. This may in fact be more important than even what the support output is.
It isn’t something that can be done overnight, and it isn’t something that can be done alone. There are huge changes that need to be made and problems that need to be tackled, such as welfare markets (e.g. digital skills, debt advice, social care) with minimal technology and a ‘left behind’ perception. There is a diverse supply chain in the industry, with thousands of providers, big and small, both commercial, charitable and others. But of these many welfare projects and organisations run in silos and we don’t use the very tech we all preach for people to use, to #jointhedots and connect everything together to deal with the very different systems (booking, delivery and reporting) with no customer-centric integration.
At We Are Digital, we agree with the Digital Poverty Alliance and believe we need a new way, a focus on the individual – a true customer design approach. A new delivery method. The solution isn’t in helping more delivery; it is in a new way of doing things. Our attempt to break this new ground is to not focus on the WHAT (output) but to focus on the HOW. How do people want help? How can digital-support services be run at scale, more efficiently and more impactfully?
We do this by bringing all services under one roof, powered by a true transformational tech/delivery platform, to walk the talk as a digital practitioner and to help people wherever they are and however they need support. We also believe in behavioural science when tackling this issue; we know there is a greater impact when people are helped at a point of need, where the value exchange is at its peak.
This solution has a subtle difference to what has gone before it: seeks to not displace the huge ecosystem of amazing providers already out there but instead knit them all together for the first time–a true one-stop shop to end digital poverty, not a fragmented journey but multiple journeys based on user needs.
Imagine the NHS 111 service, but for digital skills, hardware, connectivity and support, all together under one roof. We don’t want people to somehow find the motivation to use digital, only to find that solution is only answering part of the problem or such a complicated user journey that they can’t complete the journey. We believe in meeting people when and where they need help in their existing journey, whether helping them out of a financial problem or supporting them with the digital skills, connectivity or hardware they need. Most importantly, we want build this centralised platform to focus on how they need the help, face to face in their home, via a local community centre or via a telephone call or remote video session, wherever they already are.
We see this as inventing a new category of “weltech” (welfare technology) that we refer to as: “building a better airport, not flying the planes.” It won’t be easy to make this centralised platform, but we think it must be done and we are excited to bring it to market.
We Are Digital is now backed by Europe’s top Social Impact Funds (Si2, Ascension via the Fair By Design Fund, Triplepoint and ClearlySo). We Are Digital helps people to get online, access essential government online services, manage money and debts, gain new jobs and ultimately help people improve their lives.
Matt has been voted as one of the Top Ten Digital Leaders and is nominated for the Digital Leader of the year award. He will be speaking at the Digital Leaders conference on 21st June.
To speak to Matt, please email: [email protected]
To vote for Matt, please click hereTo find out more about Digital Leaders, where Matt will be speaking, go to: Digital Leaders Week® 2022 by Digital Leaders Week® (digileaders.com)