We all need to make the case for a digital inclusion infrastructure and secure buy-in across the private, public and voluntary sector.
It is not unrealistic to imagine a future when the majority, if not all, government policy interventions are delivered primarily on a digital first basis. Work needs to accelerate embedding inclusive design that develops digital inclusion. Activity is underway in pockets of government policy, such as in the Digital Health and Care directorate4. This needs to be rolled out consistently across all policy areas. The development of a framework and assessment tool to support new policy initiatives should be prioritised. Such a framework would explore how new digital services or policy interventions support the development of digital inclusion and a transition from ‘assisted digital’ support via face-to-face interactions or telephone, for example, through to digital inclusion. It should also be used in the iterative review and refresh of established interventions.
We need to see a similar commitment from the private sector, especially those businesses that are closing high street units, levying financial penalties for non-digital engagement, or providing part of the essential digital inclusion infrastructure e.g. devices and connectivity. There has been progress in this space, such as Vodafone’s Charities Connected campaign, but there is still some distance to travel.
In the voluntary sector there is already a high level of activity to tackle digital exclusion, where organisations are closest to those at risk of exclusion. However, commitment isn’t universal or fully embedded at an organisational level. Those working in frontline roles that can have the biggest impact need senior management support and buy-in to embed digital inclusion activity.
We can only create an effective digital inclusion infrastructure through co-ordinating our efforts and making the right contributions in the right places.
We acknowledge an appetite for a more ‘place-based’ approach to digital inclusion in Scotland. This has been enabled to some extent through Connecting Scotland, and there is opportunity to build on this. At a local authority level, organisations from both the public and voluntary sector are more connected and embarking on a more coordinated approach to addressing digital inequality. This should include clear and consistent local pathways to address digital exclusion, with clear messaging and awareness illuminating these pathways. A placed-based approach can build on this localised approach, harnessing community assets and working collectively to address emerging need. On an infrastructure level, whilst the ideal is a 1-2-1 home connection, place-based approaches can identify the most appropriate places for one-to-many connections and galvanise the other elements of digital inclusion around these.
A nuanced understanding of individual, local and community barriers acknowledging a far broader scope of issues than might initially be apparent is required if interventions are to be successful. This can help provide local networks to support people and also support emerging issues around trust. The theme of trust and fear of digital has been raised by multiple stakeholders as the primary barrier for inclusion. At a local level the opportunities for cross-sector collaboration have been identified as a means of overcoming some of these trust barriers.
There is also appetite for creating new structures and networks to enable collaboration within communities and share resources. This could include supporting organisations to better identify community assets and partnership opportunities to build capacity to provide digital skills support.
We need to resource a digital inclusion infrastructure through a commitment to public spending, in-kind support, and contributions from the private sector.
There are several mechanisms that can be used to influence the digital inclusion landscape. The change we want to achieve determines which organisations are best placed to influence relevant stakeholders. It is critical that we identify the key stakeholders and levers that can accelerate sustainable digital inclusion alongside the right influencer to maximise impact.
It is important to acknowledge that funding and capacity is often a challenge for organisations tackling poverty and inequality, and long-term solutions must explore how to support these organisations to fulfil their role effectively as well as embedding digital support.
Despite a range of funding programmes to support digital inclusion a few years ago and more recently during the pandemic this is being promoted less and less. There are very few, if any, funding opportunities specifically for digital inclusion. This does not mean that the ability to include this type of activity has disappeared. It could be seen as a success of the knowledge that an embedded model to digital inclusion is most effective. When organisations are designing and developing projects and reviewing and refreshing activities to apply for funding, digital inclusion activity should be embedded and costed as part of this. Funders should understand that digital inclusion activity is a fair and needed element of many projects that are not outwardly labelled as ‘Digital Inclusion’.
Many organisations across all sectors are developing tools and resources to support this digital inclusion movement across the UK and beyond. Different methods of learning chime with different people and having options and choice is important in supporting people on their digital inclusion journey. Often there is a focus, particularly from corporates, on England where there is a greater population. The structure of digital inclusion support systems within Scotland means that there is a greater chance to integrate the corporate social responsibility offers into these support systems.
Resourcing can look different depending on the organisation. It is important that organisations make the right contributions in the right place. No organisation bears the responsibility for the entirety of a person’s digital inclusion journey, but playing to our strengths we can all contribute to a connected and collaborative digital inclusion infrastructure.