What's the problem?
The journey to digital inclusion has to start with motivation.
An individual has to want to be online, and this won’t be the case for everyone. Digital should always be a choice, and for some people it’s a case of not knowing what we don’t know or what being online can offer. For others, it can be a choice not to engage because of fears of being online. The most common reasons for not using the internet in 2022 were a lack of interest and concerns about privacy and security. This tells us that there are two sides to motivation:
While there are many people who would like to go online, but don’t have the confidence or ability, we must acknowledge that some people may never want to use technology or the internet. They might be unknowingly online through various messaging, news or banking apps. These people are primarily in the 65+ age group. Experience shows that many of the people in this group can be motivated to get online when they find the right activity that piques their interest. For some, the internet has opened up new experiences and significantly improved their quality of life. The key for this unmotivated group is finding the right individual ‘hooks’ to show them that the internet and technology can enhance their day-to-day lives.
With a focus on the digitisation of public services, it can be difficult to inspire people who are digitally disengaged. The discourse around digital inclusion has shifted from ‘finding the hook’ - understanding the person and their individual motivations to use the internet – to removing the element of choice, fun and enjoyment. Refocusing our intention for why people should be online in a way that encourages, supports and motivates them is key to success. Reminding people that the internet can be an environment of fun and discovery is crucial.
However, the thought of being online can be daunting for many people. We regularly hear stories of people being scammed, having their identities stolen or being subject to online harassment and abuse. There are risks to being online, and for some people, these risks will be more pronounced than others. These barriers will remain in place for this group of people unless they can be supported how to identify and manage risk of harm online.
We also need to understand and appreciate that mindset can change, and the motivation to be online can be lost. A loss of trust in digital spaces, services or systems can negatively impact on someone’s decision to remain online.
What does good look like?
People being supported to build the confidence and motivation to safely engage digitally through trusted relationships in a way that is meaningful to them, understanding the value of technology and understanding their rights around data and privacy.
Those who believe the internet is neither interesting nor useful need to be convinced of the opportunities that it offers them. Work with these groups indicates this process happens through 1-to-1 conversations with people they trust and have a relationship with, rather than ‘computer experts’. Therefore, a key measure of the success of digital inclusion initiatives is the extent to which it enhances someone’s life.
Research has shown there is no ‘magic formula’ or model for engaging with people. Understanding people’s motivation to learn something new is critical and this requires a unique approach to each individual.
Support by someone a learner knows, in a way that adds value to their lives, hobbies or interests, is effective in building skills and confidence. Practice has identified that embedding this element of digital inclusion in an activity which someone already participates in is much more successful than targeting people to attend a new service or organisation. The phrase ‘trusted faces in local places’ was coined by dot.everyone to articulate the relational value of this concept.
Device lending libraries and device loan schemes can play a vital role in helping someone build their motivation to be online. Stirling Council Libraries are one example of such a scheme.
Beyond individual motivation, there is also the issue of overcoming specific barriers in relation to data privacy and security. This can be partly addressed through embedding online safety messaging in digital upskilling activity. However, there is a broader need for digital services to be more transparent about any data privacy implications, in accessible and plain English terms. Data privacy can be complex to understand, even for those in roles supporting people to get online.
Across all sectors, we can do more to reduce barriers and help people understand the benefits of being online. This requires a commitment at an organisational level to understand the benefits of being digitally included for the communities we serve, alongside our own services, and to take action to promote these benefits.
What needs to happen?