Digital Inclusion…… We’re not there yet!
From Andrew Jacobs, Head of Financial and Digital Inclusion, Welsh Government
For the vast majority of us, we can’t imagine a life without the internet. For work, learning or recreation we increasingly rely (possibly too much sometimes) on digital technologies. Yet, too many are still missing out on the benefits of the internet, with around 15% of adults in Wales offline. Many more however lack the full range of basic digital skills needed to fully benefit from digital technologies, which include the ability to manage information online, problem solve online, communicate safely, transact securely and create basic digital content.
We’ve come a long way
Digital exclusion (based on regular internet use) was 34% in 2010, which shows the progress that’s been made. But we must go further. If we are to get the maximum benefit from our significant investment in digital infrastructure through our Superfast Broadband programmes, and create a truly digitally inclusive society, we must all commit, as employers, employees and citizens to helping those who are still not benefitting from the digital world. Our Digital Inclusion Framework and Delivery Plan, which will be updated over the summer, sets out the vital role dedicated Welsh Government digital programmes like Digital Communities Wales (DCW) and Hwb can play. But, more importantly, it highlights how this agenda goes wider – it really is an all-society issue.
Convenient access to Public Services – another reason to be online
We know more and more vital public services are becoming digital, so we need to ensure everyone can access them. We know Rural Payments Wales are doing some great work to support Farmers engage with technology. This proves digital exclusion should not be used as an excuse to avoid delivering excellent digital public services, but act as further motivation to develop even better, more user friendly digital public services to help persuade even the most resistant to use them.
Digital Communities Wales (DCW)
Our DCW programme works with organisations across all sectors, including public service deliverers, which are well placed to help support the digital skills of their service users/customers to help them unlock the whole host of opportunities available to them. The DCW website has a wide range of case studies and blogs which highlights its work with partners.
The numbers of signatories to the Digital Charter are increasing on a weekly basis with many partners making the pledge and signing up to Digital Inclusion principles for their organisations. We are now up to over 220, with many more to come.
The DCW programme has been extended for a further two years so it can continue to build on its work to develop sustainable digital inclusion activities and contribute to the ambitious goal set out in Taking Wales Forward to help 95 per cent of people gain at least the basic digital skills needed for the 21st century by 2021.
Embedding digital skills as part of the health agenda is proving a really effective way of engaging the digitally excluded. Activity tracking devices, like the Fitbit, are proving to be a useful digital inclusion tool. We’re working with organisations around Wales, including in Neath, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Ceredigion where the activity tracker is helping people gain a better understanding of digital technology, whilst supporting their health and wellbeing!
Welsh Government staff have embraced this, using their volunteering time to support digital sessions in libraries and other community venues. Intergenerational learning is proving very effective – Welsh Baccalaureate students are supporting their local communities with digital skills sessions; DCW has worked with girl guides, scouts and the police cadets so our young people can share their digital skills with those who need support.
We must continue to build our army of volunteers – both formal and informal – to keep pushing this. We must remember that technologies will keep changing, so we all need to provide help to support people through these changes, to the point where they are confident users who don’t feel the world’s leaving them behind. This includes work colleagues, many of whom are not making the best use of the digital technologies at their disposal.
With so many friends and family members owning a vast array of digital devices, whether we’ve bought our relatives their first new device, or handed down our old ones, we should commit to spending time with them to show them the possibilities. Start small, and be prepared to stick with it………it’ll be very rewarding if you see it through!