In a white paper jointly published today with channel shift experts, Trapeze Transformation, they say that current initiatives are unlikely to substantially reduce the Digital Divide and that a new “Systemic” approach is needed.
While the UK as a whole has become one of the most digitally enabled nations in the world, with more than 80 per cent of households having broadband and averaging three internet enabled devices, there remains a persistent minority who have never been online and a larger group who only use the Internet in a limited way.
The research suggests that statutory bodies in local communities, including the local council, Job Centre Plus and Housing Associations, will only succeed in tacking digital exclusion if they collaborate with voluntary sector organisations and the private sector to build an evidenced based “digital ecosystem”.
According to Dr Gail Bradbrook, co-author of the report: “The current approach is too fragmented. It is only by combining resources and aligning approaches that local communities will be able to identify the digitally excluded, draw on publically available training funds and ensure that every individual gets the training they need to go online and stay online in the long term”.
Dr Bradbrook continues: “I hear it suggested that we can somehow “procure” digital skills like we are buying socks for the army, but this is a complex issue with many partners having a role in ensuring access, skills and motivation. No one budget is going to pay for this and yet digital skills are crucial for our Digital Nation goals.”
As technology moves forward at an alarming pace some of those who have been helped to get online struggle to understand new devices and systems; Citizens Online’s own research show that 20% give up and go back to the offline world within 12 months.
The report also highlights the critical importance of providing frontline staff with digital skills. Dr Gerald Power, an expert on digital channel shift, said: “The question that always comes from the public sector is ‘We have built the online service, but how do we get the customers to use it?’. This piece of work represents the first serious attempt to answer that question. We are creating a roadmap that enables everybody with an interest in this area to understand the issues in a more sophisticated way and then be able to develop a long term sustainable solution.”
Citizens Online manage the Get IT Together Programme, a UK programme of community digital inclusion projects, funded by BT, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Communities 2.0 and local partners. Each project runs for three years and covers a particular geographical area with a locally agreed focus to help disadvantaged groups. This, along with extensive consultancy work, has provided a wealth of experience and independently verified research to evidence the paper.