February saw the launch of One Digital, a £2m Lottery-funded programme to recruit, train and support 1,400 Digital Champions to help 9,500 people develop basic IT skills. It brings together Age UK, the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations, Citizens Online, Digital Unite, Affinity Sutton and AbilityNet to reach groups including those with disability and accessibility needs, young adults looking for work, the over 65s, and users of third sector organisations.
“The mission and objective at Go ON was to use the transformative power of the internet to improve the prospects of individuals, families, communities and organisations,” explains John Perkins, QIPN’s guest blogger this month. “Our work at Dot Everyone builds on that through our basic digital skills projects of which the project featured in the blog is one example.”
Over 12.6 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills, including 4.5 million older people. Research by Experian found 40 per cent of working age social tenants have no access to the internet and yet the majority of these who are of working age will be affected by Universal Credit which is being rolled out as ‘digital by default’.
Although Spring Online will not take place this year, it does not leave a vacuum. “We’ve made all the assets we’ve produced in the past available on our website but there’s just no specific date,” explains Digital Unite’s Katharine Teed. “Many of our partners, including a lot of housing associations, began to run their own activities under their own steam, so there’s a legacy. We ran the campaign for 14 years and it’s become very expensive to run, so when our sponsors weren’t able to continue this year, we took the difficult decision not to run a proactive campaign.”
A key feature of past Spring Online projects has been the Digital Champion element, now central to the One Digital programme. According to Citizens Online, one in five people don’t stay online without ongoing support, so the peer support offered by Champions both engages new users who recognise ‘someone like me’ but is also more sustainable than a six week training programme, as help can remain on hand as needed.
Right now, the biggest issue for many landlords, and money advice agencies, is the introduction of Universal Credit. The transition for claimants has been found to be challenging enough, with 89 per cent of tenants falling into debt before their first payment during trials, but the government has also made it ‘digital by default’. Claimants will be generally expected to apply, and manage their claim, online using a system that is not always intuitive and prevents users from even saving their application part way through if they find they need to provide information they don’t have to hand. In 2014, Experian also found that 51 per cent of tenants felt unable to claim benefits online.
“Universal Credit may be an opportunity, as it will make people think about it and may inspire them to start, but you can’t start getting someone online by talking about Universal Credit. You have to start with what they’re interested in,” explains Katharine Teed, acknowledging that three quarters of non-users (77%) say they are just not interested. “They’re more motivated if it’s about keeping in contact with friends and family, or finding information. You can’t start with form filling and ticking boxes. People have to build up to become competent and confident. However,”
John Perkins agrees: “There has to be a balance between incentive or motivation led activity and more mandate led activity, regardless of how that balance sits.
“As in all change programmes, a steady flow of change will be less intimidating for people than a ‘big bang’. We use the expression 'first steps' when people engage in the online world. This enables people to build their confidence and competence steadily over time, and this is reflected in the learning models used in the local projects we support.”
So, beyond forcing people to get online, how do we encourage them to take the first steps?
“In terms of engaging the more reticent, it's really down to finding the hook or motivation that piques someone's interest. That can be anything from social engagement (such as sharing photos or music with friends and family ) through to finding better deals online, or keeping abreast of hobbies and interest areas. There truly is something for everyone out there.
“However, our project work is supported by a thread of online safety, especially if we are working with a more vulnerable group. Risk exists as part of life, just because a 'special offer' or similar is on line doesn't change that. The simple guidance is that if it looks too good to be true then in probably is. Collective industry bodies such as Internet Matters, the Internet Watch Foundation and many more give sound advice for people to follow.”
According to Digital Unite, 69% of people with poor digital skills are social groups C2DE. Quids in! magazine has spent the past eight years targeting social tenants in this profile and officially launches its digital edition next month. “We know there is a massive overlap between digitally excluded people and those who need help most to manage their money,” says the magazine’s publisher Steve Faragher. See Quids in! editor, Jeff Mitchell's blog on developing the new online publication.