It’s Digital Leaders week and I’ve been pondering for a while what leadership in Digital Inclusion means at the moment. It feels like the right time to share my thoughts.
At the beginning of the pandemic the leadership we needed felt crystal clear. It needed to be very strong and very visible. Whilst we were in various forms of lockdown creating as digitally inclusive a society as possible was going to be critical to people’s health, wellbeing and ability to work and socialise. SCVO’s track record in the digital inclusion sphere enabled us to lead a partnership with Scottish Government and hundreds of public and voluntary sector organisations called Connecting Scotland. We distributed more than 61,000 devices, internet connections and skills support to those digitally excluded.
Towards the easing of lockdowns, I was also clear that it would be all too easy for those who hadn’t been at the heart of the matter for a number of years to feel as though the digital inclusion job was done. Just look at the number of people who were online for the first time during the lockdown periods. Alongside Connecting Scotland many other initiatives, including the databank developed by Good Things Foundation and other local and national schemes, were a valuable additional resource and well – wasn’t everyone doing on-line pub quizzes?
For those of us in the heart of digital inclusion the answer of course is NO. The pandemic was the beginning, a mass awakening to the numbers of people who were not online. The cost-of-living crisis will see more people digitally excluded as they make decisions around where to spend their precious, ever reducing cash. There is still so much to be done.
So – where are we now and what type of leadership do we need in this space? Not wanting to sound like a broken record, I’m about to sound like a broken record. We need visible and loud leadership to continue.
Reflecting on, and synthesising work done over the last decade, colleagues Aaron Slater and Dr Tara French have developed a soon to be published paper defining and exploring five pillars of digital inclusion.
The five core pillars of digital inclusion, that people need in a sustained way are - the skills and confidence, motivation, a device and affordable connectivity alongside well designed, easy to use digital services. Enabling this culture and landscape remains critical.
For a long time the focus has been on skills, confidence and motivation. The actions that an individual can do to support themselves and those they care about to get online. This remains important, friends, family, charities and other voluntary sector organisations have led the field for long enough. It’s time for industry to step up and double down on the elements that they have control over.
As technology advances there is a greater array of potential devices that we ‘could’ own. But which is the critical piece of kit we need? How about access to a range of lending library schemes so that people can ‘try before they buy’ to make sure the device is genuinely the right one. Someone could also borrow a different bit of kit if they only need it for a short term. Let’s take a note out of the book of increasingly popular tool, bike and even fancy clothes libraries?
So, we in the voluntary and community sector, along with enlightened colleagues within the public sector will continue to lead the agenda and do what we can to support the development of skills, confidence, and motivation alongside designing our services well. But it’s time for industry to step up. They must think more broadly than what they can do with corporate social responsibility or environmental, social and governance strategies and make sure that we have full digital inclusion as that enabler for achieving human rights for everyone.